Agnes Henry, an anarchist from Tipperary (1850-1915)

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Born in Tipperary in 1850, Agnes was one of the millions of Irish who had to emigrate in search of a living.  Because British imperialism sought to keep Ireland (apart from a small area around Belfast) as a supplier of cheap food and labour to their empire, there was little industrial development and many had to leave Ireland to find work.  Agnes went to London.

She was a student of pre-school education, and together with a veteran of the 1871 Paris Commune, Louise Michel, she ran the International School at 19 Fitzroy Square.

Along with others, including future British Labour Party leader Ramsay McDonald, she lived in a communal house at 29 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury until it closed in 1892.  The tenants had their own rooms and but ate their meals together, which was considered far from respectable at the time.  According to historian Nick Heath she annoyed other tenants by wanting to discuss anarchism over breakfast!  The Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta, then in exile in England, made frequent visits to discuss anarchism with her at this address.

She wrote for the anarchist paper Freedom and conducted speaking tours of England and Scotland making the case for ‘anarchist socialism’.  Among her writings are Women under Socialism (1892), Anarchist Communism in Relation to State Socialism (1896) and The Probable Evolution of British Socialism Tomorrow (1896).

Also in 1896 she attended the Congress of the Second International held in London, acting as a delegate for French syndicalists unable to attend.

Towards the end of the 1890s she was one of several anarchists to join the Independent Labour Party, representing some temporary loss of confidence within the English movement.  Other indications of this were the decline of both open-air and printed propaganda, with the movement not recovering until around 1903.

Heath’s researches show Agnes Henry was listed on the Roll of Honour of Suffragette Prisoners 1905-1914 (compiled by the Suffragette Fellowship around 1950, based on recollections of participants), and appears to have been one of those arrested during the pre-World War 1 campaign.

One of her last public appearances was in 1912 when she spoke at a rally in Trafalgar Square as part of the successful campaign to prevent the deportation of Malatesta from Britain.

Letter to Freedom about the Carmaux strike in France

Report of a speaking tour in 1893

“In anarchism I see the only base for women to escape marriage without love and obligatory maternity, and the degrading laws and servile customs to which women of all classes have been subjected for so long”.

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Elisee Reclus, anarchism, geography and Ireland

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Author’s Abstract

“This 2017 paper addresses the role of Ireland and Irish republicanism in the geography, biography and political thinking of the French anarchist geographer Élisée Reclus (1830–1905).  This paper sheds new light on the construction of a scientific and political discourse, one which was radically opposed to external and internal colonialisms in the Age of Empire, analysing primary sources such as Reclus’ texts and correspondence, along with his transnational networks.

Elisee Reclus

It draws on present-day debates on ‘geography and anarchism’, postcolonial Ireland and international circulation and localisation of knowledge.

Finally, it is a contribution to evaluating the importance of the ‘British Isles’ as a place for production and reception of the geographical and political works by both Reclus and the other anarchist geographer Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921), scholars and militants who lived there in different periods of their respective careers.”

Ferretti sees the importance of Reclus’ statements for present debates “in the specific features of anarchist internationalism and anti-colonialism, ideas that closely linked the national question to the social one”.

Direct links between Reclus’ circle and Irish Republicans can be seen in the correspondence between Maud Gonne when she was editor of L’Irlande Libre, and the French anarchist Jean Grave.

Although peppered with academic language, Ferretti’s paper adds to our knowledge of both anarchist georgraphy and anarchist anti-imperialism in the late 1800s.

Thanks to Liam O’Rourke of the Irish Republican Education Forum for bringing this to our attention.

An Anarchist Communist in Dublin (1894)

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From the Irish Times of April 26th 1894

What makes this newspaper report interesting is that it confirms that some form of anarchist organisation existed in Dublin after the demise of the Socialist League, whose Dublin branch was overwhelmingly anarchist, in 1887.   Indeed, as Fintan Lane has written in his Practical Anarchists We: “Nevertheless, at the end of the 1880s anarchism still had a real presence in Dublin, in part sustained by solidarity work for the ‘Chicago anarchists’, men convicted, on threadbare evidence, for alleged involvement in the Haymarket attack of August 1886, when a bomb was thrown at police in Chicago.  Meetings and debates on the issue were organised, with one event held in October 1887, weeks before four of the men were executed.

Moreover, Thomas Fitzpatrick travelled to Chicago in August 1888, returning the following year to give a ‘first-hand’ history of the case at a packed public meeting on 11 November, the second anniversary of the executions.  There were also visits to Dublin by leading international anarchists, such as Max Nettlau (April 1888) and the Irish-born Dr John Creaghe (November 1889).  Creaghe probably attended Fitzpatrick’s public meeting; he was present primarily to participate in a discussion at the Progressist Club on ‘Anarchism versus Democracy’, a debate that lasted three evenings because of ‘the great number desirous of speaking’.”

The Central Lecture Hall was at 12 Westmoreland Street, later the home of Bewley’s Cafe and today a Starbucks.

The guest speaker, Fauset McDonald, was a doctor specialising in tropical diseases and one of the founders of the British fortnightly paper The Commonweal.  He later moved away from anarchism and was a member of Socialist Parties in Australia and New Zealand in the late 1890s and 1900s.

However it transpired that McDonald had also become a racialist.  He was condemned by his former comrades in an editorial in the “Commonweal” in July 1907 when he became president of the New Zealand White Race League (which opposed Chinese immigration)..

A Wee Black Booke of Belfast Anarchism (1867-1973)

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Historian Mairtin O Cathain’s A Wee Black Booke pulls together reports of anarchism in and around Belfast in the years from 1867 to 1973.  With no local movement for much of this period, the pamphlet looks at some individuals whose political activity merited mention in the media of the time. O Cathain’s work stops before the emergence in the late 1970s of the groups from which contemporary organisations Workers Solidarity Movement and Organise can trace their roots.

Some readers will be aware of the Irish Citizen Army’s Captain Jack White who became an anarchist after seeing the Spanish revolution in practice. The others will be unknown to all but historians. Bolton Hall and William Baillie emigrated to the USA, where Hall was involved in communal experiments, propaganda, and union organising.  Baillie was more of an individualist, though he still realised that “personal freedom was tied inexorably to collective and economic freedom.”

John McAra was a Scottish anarchist who came to speak in Belfast, where he was arrested and jailed. A group did form from his activity, but appears to have died away after the First World War.  Jack McMullen was a public speaker and socialist with anarchist sympathies, who campaigned against slum housing and unemployment in the 1920s and 1930s.

Finally there is John McGuffin, a founder member of the Belfast Anarchist Group, who was involved in the early Peoples Democracy and the civil rights movement.