For myself I can point to a number of events that together began to coalesce into a political consciousness. One was the 1977 General Election. I was about eleven and I remember being in a clothes shop in Coolock which my mother used to often bring me to (in school the teacher asked how our parents were voting and a forest of hands went up for FF, for some reason myself and a friend put ours up for FG, but that wasn’t the case at all as will be seen below and I’ve wondered why I did that). The results were on the radio in the background and I remember being absolutely fascinated by what was being said and the sense of excitement about it. A year later there was the La Mon bombing by PIRA and my sixth class teacher in the National School in Kilbarrack put up photographs of those who died there on the class room noticeboard. Counter-intuitively two years later I found a copy of Freedom Struggle by PIRA in my fathers collection of books which had a strong influence on me for a while. In my home my mother and father would have been broadly traditional social democrat while my father in particular was a republican in his inclination, a fluent Irish speaker, was himself active in the Wood Quay campaign and matters relating to Irish culture and heritage (and was involved according to his own account in SF in the late 1950s) so that was a more generalised influence that at times extended to support for the ILP but more often was directed towards FF). So I think it was more a case of that broader positive attitude towards the left (even towards the USSR at times and most certainly towards national liberation struggles – as with Cuba and so on, and tellingly to both Israel and Palestine and those against apartheid in South Africa, and a scepticism towards the United States and in particular its cultural and political hegemony) that would have provided a foundation on which my own attitude towards the left was then able to develop. I also remember in my early to mid teens reading about Allende and being very impressed by what he sought to achieve. Thatcher was not popular in the house, particularly due to massive unemployment, but also in terms of attitudes to the North. And by 1981 and the hunger strikes one of the teachers in school who I respected most wore a black armband – though while hazily sympathetic to them I don’t know that it pushed me to anything approaching actual activism.
In terms of bringing this altogether into an even partly cohesive whole, that wasn’t to happen until later, in my late teens, and certainly nothing that would make me describe myself as a Marxist until then. In fact prior to that I had begun to read and feel an affinity with anarchism.
But I considered myself on the left from fifteen or so onwards (in the Gaeltacht around that time we were asked what parties we’d vote for and just two of us put up our hands for the… Labour Party – though during one of the elections in the very early 1980s I remember watching the election returns with my Dad and his being very impressed by how SFWP was doing), and when I had the curious experience of repeating my leaving in a fee-charging school I was very aware of class differentiation there compared to the Community School I had been in previously. I also was extremely sceptical of some of the rhetoric there of classmates in relation to the invasion of Grenada in 1983 when some of them were making out the Soviets had installed missiles there.
Which led on to a fateful meeting in a pub in Howth a little later with a former schoolmate from Kilbarrack who was a member of a party which was in the process of jettisoning the name Sinn Féin and who was clear that while anarchism was well intentioned if I really wanted to change the world there was a much more immediate way to do so and a party just right to join…