As part of the Irish Left Archive project, we are gathering personal accounts and recollections from activists on the Left of their involvement in political activity, parties, organisation and campaigns.

We hope that in addition to the document archive, these accounts will provide a social context to political participation. If you are or have been involved in Left political activity of any kind or at any level, we'd be grateful if you would also add your experience to the collection. You can submit your account here

Accounts can be filtered using the topic headings or by keyword using the form below.

5 entries matching your filters.

FergusD #3986

Well at the branch meeting where my name was proposed as a member of the International Socialists (the U.K. group that became the SWP) in 1974-5 I was ‘expelled’, along with others. So I still don’t know if I had been actually a member. I later joined the BLP (somewhere to go) but I can’t remember that, it wasn’t very memorable. The discussion was probably about a jumble sale.

Alan Myler #3924

Joining a party was a process of almost 3 decades of frustration on my part, arguing endlessly with anyone who would engage about politics, especially after a few drinks. But it was the GFC in 2008 that pushed me into activity, the fear that my kids were going to live in a worse future than I had experienced myself, the realisation that nobody was going to do anything about it unless we all do something about it. So in my naivety I applied to join the Labour party in the run up to the 2009 local elections. I was allocated to the Navan branch and spent a very enjoyable few weeks out canvassing with one of the local candidates, talking to people on the doorsteps. Then after the election I went over to the Trim count centre, which was very exciting, the tally, the hubbub. Our candidate didn’t get a seat on the council but Labour had a few wins in the county so the feeling was quite upbeat.

So that in the aftermath of the election, nothing. No activity. No meetings. And eventually a branch meeting which I found very unsettling where I realised that the ambition of the party was limited to a tiny horizon and that the big issues and questions that had motivated me to get actively involved in politics just weren’t on the radar. The final straw was an invitation to visit the party conference in a big hotel in Mullingar where myself and a handful of other newbies were invited into the back bar where the party bigwigs were gathered, a meet and greet with the notables as it were. Not my scene at all. So I resigned shortly afterwards and started looking more seriously at alternatives.

I went over to Dundalk to hear Kieran Allen promote his book about the crisis, but nothing about him or the SWP attracted me. I went up to Dublin to attend a CPI public meeting which was very good I thought, but the CPI seemed too small. Incidentally I realised later on, having met him via the CLR, that I had been sitting beside SoS at that CPI meeting. I had been reading the CLR for a good while by then and found the discussions very engaging. I found myself agreeing with Garibaldy a lot. I liked WBS’s positive but critical assessment of the party. I read The Lost revolution book. So I applied to join the WP via email. No response. I applied again. And then one saturday I was visited at home by the national organiser, we had a chat, and a couple of weeks later I was invited to a meeting in a hotel in Navan where I was sat down across the table from Sean Garland. I almost shat myself. But I came away from the meeting very impressed about the seriousness of the party. So with the odd up and down in the meantime I’m still a member 10 years later. Not actively so these days, but still paying my party dues. By standing order these days, the era of the stamps on the back of the party membership card has passed.

Colm B #3922

I had completely forgotten about this until this thread went up, but the first political organisation I joined was not the WP but the Celtic League. As a teenager with leftish tendencies but coming from an Irish speaking family with strong cultural/political nationalist roots, I was attracted to the Celtic solidarity message of that alliance of small, largely leftist, nationalist groups from the Celtic countries. They had very strong anti-nuclear position cos of Carnsore, Sellafield and similar issue in Brittany.

By the time I was around 18 though, I was heading rapidly for stickidom and shedding the nationalism at speed. For some reason, I thought my new comrades might find out my shameful secret so, rather than just not renewing my subscription, I sent a formal letter of resignation to the poor Celtic League declaring my allegiance to socialism and my renunciation of nationalism. And I soon bought into Smullen’s “nuclear power station in every county” line as well! Maybe I should have stayed in the Celtic League :)

At one of the new members classes I attended in Gardiner Place when I joined the WP in 1982, a fella said something along the lines of “Hitler wasn’t all bad … jobs, autobahns etc.” Perhaps surprisingly, the full-timer who was giving the class, dealt with it in a calm, reasoned way – briefly explaining the nature of fascism, the Holocaust etc.

In a strange way, it illustrated a good point about the WP at the time: it wasn’t just attracting pre-cooked lefties but also your average Josephine/Joe with all the contradictory opinions that people tend to have.

In the late 80s the new members classes were devolved to the constituencies. In Dun Laoghaire that really was the end of them – new recruits got one visit from a party activist to give them the basic info, but even that soon stopped. This change facilitated (but did not cause) an influx of, mainly middle class, opportunists who would later play a key role in DL. Their politics was basically slightly leftish liberalism, their main attraction to the WP was its public reps reputation as competent, it’s anti-provo stance and it’s solid record on the “social issues” such as divorce etc. In hindsight, I can see that a primary attraction for them was also the growing prospect of Gilmore winning a Dail seat bringing power and influence at least locally.

Joe #3917

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.

Worldbystorm #3911

For myself I noted that I met a former school friend in a pub in Howth one evening. I hadn’t seen him in a year or two and we started talking about politics. I expressed my attachment to various anarchist figures and while he wasn’t dismissive he made the point that if I was genuinely interested in doing something political I should think about joining the Workers’ Party.

I’m not sure what happened next though thinking about it I think we must have exchanged home phone numbers and he likely rang me up to go to a meeting of the local cumann of the party. I’m not sure there was any great consideration on my part about what was a fairly big step – I was happy enough with the outline of the politics of the party, even as someone with a Republican tilt to my politics, and the emphasis was, from him, on work on the ground, in the local area and linking that into broader concerns. It was very very pragmatic, almost, and this was presented as a virtue, mundane. I think that for me the significance of the step was the sense of actually doing something as distinct from talking about it as I had previous to that (I should add that my family was broadly supportive having an experience of members of the British Labour Party and my father being involved in Sinn Féin in the 1950s according to himself and having a slight involvement at CPGB Summer Camps through working in London a little later, though he was somewhat dismissive of the latter experience). I recall being welcomed in and a friendly reception but the point being made that this was a probationary basis.

However from that point on I attended meetings there regularly and to all intents and purposes was treated as a full-blown member.

There was another aspect, since there were a series of educational classes in Gardiner Place for prospective members. I have a feeling that I went to just a handful of them. I’ve no clear memory what they entailed and no notes from then. Reading accounts of earlier members and the emphasis placed on the educational process that seems to have been largely absent. In fact I seem to recall that I didn’t managed to make a couple of them and that the local cumann was happy enough to discretely wave me in anyhow.

That said the one and only time I saw Seán Garland close at hand in that period was while in the room at one of those classes, when he poked his head around the door, took one look at the assembled multitude, and promptly retreated.

And that was the probation period after which I received my party card, which I still have somewhere and which I remember meant a lot. Little ‘stamps’ that went into it on payment of weekly subs.

So there I was a fully signed up card carrying member of the Workers’ Party and all of this before I was twenty.