Irish anarchists “are the least educated of all” (1900)

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In this British newspaper report from the Daily Chronicle of August 8th, 1900 readers are told that Irish anarchists in Britain “are the least educated of all” and “there are no Anarchists in Ireland”.

Leaving aside the stereotype, then common in England, that the Irish were a dim-witted lot, the “no Anarchists in Ireland” assertion is open to question.  What public presence, if any, anarchism had in the 1890s and early 1900s is only beginning to be looked into.  However we now know that there were active anarchist groups in the years before and after, thanks to researchers like Fintan Lane and Mairtin O Cathain.

In the years after the Dublin branch of the Socialist League declared for anarchism in 1886, anarchists like Thomas Fitzpatrick and Michael Gabriel had some influence in the labour movement, as evidenced by their election to the Executive of the National Labour League.

We also know that there was an anarchist group in Belfast in the 1900s. They brought over the Scottish anarchist John McAra, who spoke against the monarchy from the steps of the Belfast Custom House in 1908.  This had resulted in him being charged with sedition, and jailed for three months.

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The Daily Chronicle was a British newspaper published from 1872 to 1930, when it merged with the Daily News to become the News Chronicle, which ceased publication in 1960. It’s political stance was broadly supportive of the Liberal Party.

Thanks to Sam from the excellent Come Here To Me blog for this cutting.

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Belfast attends 1912 Anarchist conference in Leeds

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From the Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History (no.47, Autumn 1983) we have a report of Belfast anarchists being represented at the 1912 Anarchist conference in Leeds. Other than a mention that at least one delegate was present from Belfast, we have no further information about whether a functioning anarchist group was being represented, nor who the delegate was. Any further information will be welcomed. The report here is the one given to the Leeds Jewish Anarchist Group by its delegate.

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We do know that there were anarchists in Belfast at that time. John McAra, a Scottish anarchist spoke from the steps of the Custom House in 1908, which saw him arrested, charged with sedition and then jailed for three months. This was considered newsworthy enough to be reported in the Kentucky Irish American newspaper of Saturday, April 4, 1908.

The Belfast anarchist group which formed at this time appears to have died away after the First World War.

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.