Where and when to start. Grew up in a middle class household in the sixties and seventies. In a little middle-class housing development in Kilbarrack. When I was a young kid we were surrounded by farmland.
I was a good boy and I thought the world was perfect. I remember seeing pictures on the telly of rioting and destruction in the north and thinking “Why are people being so bold?” The da was very interested in current affairs. He was a CJH FF supporter. But never a member afaik. My folks met in Ailtirí na hAiséirighe. They actually intended to bring the kids up through Irish but gave up on that because I think of the impracticality of it. But the cúpla focal was part of our upbringing for sure. Both sincere and devout Catholics too. Go ndéana Dia trócaire orthu beirt. I líontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn.
A big Dublin Corporation housing development was built on much of the farmland around us. Kilbarrack became a mainly working class area. It was tough for us poshies. I remember a new kid asking me where I’d lived before. He couldn’t understand it when I said I’d always lived here. Him and all his neighbours came from inner city Dublin mostly. Snippets of conversation I remember: “Who’s better do you think, footballers from the flats or from the houses?”. And young lads asking each other where they used to live and answers like “North Strand” “Ballybough” “Henrietta St” and the extra respect that would be shown when a boy answered “Sherriff St”.
I was always interested in politics and the north and all that. I remember the da coming home with a few jars in him (a very rare occurrence) as the results of the ’77 general election came in. He was ecstatic with the FF landslide. He absolutely hated the coalition government and Cruise O’Brien in particular (fuelled by the fact, as he said himself, that he’d actually voted of CCO’B in a general election in ’69 I think). When CCO’B would be on the news or even quoted my da would almost spit “Bullshit. Bastard” at the screen. So I started getting interested in the two nations idea; in revisionist takes on Irish establishment narratives of Irish history. Why? I still wonder! I honestly think it was related to looking for attention from my da. But this is about memories not psychotherapy so I’ll leave that there. More to follow.
I’ll keep going while I’m on a roll. Class. Some time in my teens I started wondering about the difference between me in my little middle class environment and the kids in the Corporation houses. And I figured out that where you end up in life is pretty much an accident of birth. So I think that was class consciousness. I was a socialist because, like, duh. To me it was obvious, I don’t know why but it was.
At O’Connell’s CBS in my teens there were three lads in my class who were members of the Provisional Na Fianna. And one in another class who I think (you could never be sure with this lad!) was a member of the Official Na Fianna. So mid seventies there was lots of politics at school – more national question than class though. Then I went to UCD and hung out with a bunch of blokes and we’d talk politics over the sandwiches at lunchtime. One of them reminded me once that I often took a strong nationalist line in those discussions. But I didn’t join anything then in my late teens, early twenties. I was quite shy and passive. Too passive to join anything. Got a job then in Dublin City Libraries. Joined the union, got onto a committee. By then, somehow I was an SFWP supporter. On the committee there was an LWR woman and an SWP chap and a Mili and memorably one time a bloke from Strabane who, in a chat after a meeting, told me he was an official unionist.
Pat McCartan, a solicitor, was the SFWP candidate in our area. I read about him and liked that he was allegedly a bit of a maverick in SFWP – representing some of the IRSP people in the Sallins trials for example. There was a general election I’m guessing ’82 or ’83 and I voted for McCartan twice. Voted for my brother who was over in London, just to annoy him, him being basically a Provo fellow traveller imho at the time.
The Dunnes Stores anti-apartheid strike was on and I was working in town and two days a week we had split shifts. So we were off from 1pm to 5pm and me and a few others would go down and join the picket line. More good conversations and discussions. I remember I met Joe Higgins on the picket and we had a chat and when he heard I wasn’t a member of anything he told me he’d get the local Mili to give me a bell. He never did. But by that time anyway I’m pretty sure I’d decided I was a stick. I also went on a summer holiday to Bulgaria with the CYM around then. One of the CYMers was a first cousin of a very non-political friend of mine.
My first cousin was the WP candidate in our area in the local elections. I remember she called to the house just for a family chat and as she was leaving I said “You have my no.1 by the way”. To which she responded “Good to hear”. I had a habit of buying the CPI’s Irish Socialist and the WP’s Irish People and reading them on the train into town. So I filled out the little form in the Irish People and applied to join. And attended the classes in Gardiner Place and turned up at the house of the leading local WP activist not long after for my first branch meeting. Where I met WBS amongst others :).
Tosach maith leath na hoibre.
So, just for the crack.
I remember I was having a few pints in Club Uí Chadhain (the WP club) a couple of years later. Some oul lads were asking me about my experience of joining the party. So I told them I remember walking up Gardiner St on my way to new members’ classes one evening. On a corner of Gardiner St and Mountjoy Square there is a big house belonging to the Vincent De Paul Society. In the window above the Georgian(?) door was a big plaster statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As I passed by, I asked the BVM to give me a sign if I was straying from the correct path. As I looked at the statue I saw it stir. Her left hand rose and she gave me a clenched fist salute and a rather saucy wink. And I knew then I was doing the right thing.
That got a laugh … and a couple of pints.