Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

Socialist whodunnits, the Catholic Church and being ‘left in the lurch’.

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IMF Orders

Occupy march, Cork 2011

Q: To Keep A Bird Singing begins during the Crash in 2010. Noelie and Hannah, two of the main characters in the story, are keeping their heads above water. We meet Noelie for the first time in a charity shop. Was there a specific reason why you chose that time period for the story?

A: The Crash here in Ireland felt like a reckoning, the past catching up with us and exacting revenge. There had been so much hot air around the Celtic Tiger and that it had heralded a new dawn in Irish history – we were a country that people were immigrating into rather than emigrating from for a change. Then, that ended. Austerity, cuts, unemployment, mass emigration all over again. A time of reckoning is a time when you look more closely at what’s going on around you; maybe it’s a bit late in the day but you do it anyway. I think that’s some of the backdrop to the story.

Q: And Noelie and Hannah?

A: They are ‘stayers’. What I mean is that when the Crash hit, people in droves once more. It’s national affliction 😉 ‘Oh there’a problem here, right I’ll be off so.’ However Noelie is older, in his late forties when the story gets underway. He’s been made unemployed, as many were, and he feels less able for emigration. He has to stay and that means he is more prepared to ask questions about the Ireland he is stuck in. Which is what gets him into trouble.

Q: It isn’t clear at first what Noelie has stumbled in to. In the beginning the story is light-hearted. He finds his missing punk records collection. It seems like a lucky break. Then matters rapidly descend into danger.

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Bell & Howell Home Movie Camera c. 1960

A: What do you do when the cops are the criminals? It’s a problem, right? The normal avenues of complaint aren’t open to you. In To Keep A Bird Singing, Noelie and Hannah learn about the plight of a local man, Jim Dalton who has gone missing. It soon becomes clear that the cops, Special Branch that is, are probably involved. That’s how the story gets going and that’s when things really start to get difficult for them.

Q: So the cops are not heroes?

A: There is one very good cop in the book but he’s dead. Another more minor character, a police woman, is also portrayed in a positive light. So they are not all bad. Far from it. But the story in a way is about those elements of the police involved in the secret state.

Q: Which means what?

A: The activities of Special Branch and others elements inside the state security apparatus who are a law onto themselves. In the UK you have had the likes of Mark Kennedy and his involvement in deep infiltration, targeting left-wing groups, trade union activists and environmentalists. Absolutely corrupt, disgraceful activity sanctioned high up inside the police force. In Northern Ireland too all sorts of criminal activities were engaged in by RUC Special Branch. Collusion with Loyalist paramilitaries in conjunction with M15. Sectarian killings were orchestrated to stoke up sectarian hatred. There was state involvement with death squads. And we shouldn’t forget what happened at Kincora House in Belfast where elements in state security knowingly looked the other way when informed that child abuse was taking place.

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Memorial at St Patrick’s School for Boys [Upton, Co. Cork]

Q: Pretty ugly.

A: It doesn’t get much uglier.

Q: The book has been described as a socialist whodunit. Is this because of the focus on this secret state?

A: Ellie O’Byrne in the Irish Examiner called it that. I guess it is the issues that arise in the story but I think it is also a description that emerges from the characters in the story. The Crash has hit and both Noelie and Hannah are feeling the pinch. However both of them have activism in their background – of the grassroots kind, I mean. Noelie in particular was stuck in a campaign against the Council’s decision to privatise rubbish collection and so on. The anti-austerity protests are also in the air as the novel opens, and Noelie’s thinking of getting involved. The key characters are lefties.

Q: They cross swords with powerful people. The shadow of the Catholic church is there. The business community is also close to hand. What sort of Ireland is this?

A: Things are changing in Ireland – as evidenced by recent victory in the repeal of the 8th Amendment here [which banned abortions in the Republic.] However the Catholic Church is still a powerful force in terms of its wealth, influence and its connections. It still commands in sectors of the health service and in education. So the power of the Catholic Church is also the backdrop to the story.

Q: Noelie and Hannah could walk away from the trouble they see but they don’t?

A: They live in an Ireland where a lot of things have been swept under the carpet. The story is set in 2010 but in terms of the book, a year earlier a ground-breaking report had come out about the industrial school network in Ireland – the Ryan Report. This set out for all to see how brutal and vicious the systematic punishment of poor families and children had been in Ireland at the hands to the state and the Catholic Church. Another report in the air as the story gets underway has to do with the Catholic Church’s role in child abuse and in protecting clerical child abusers in the Dublin Archdiocese. Noelie and Hannah are living in an Ireland where it’s getting hard to look the other way.

Q: Although some people remain good at that. IMG_5967

A: Indeed. But others stand up in extremely difficult situations when faced with injustice and wrongdoing perpetrated by the powerful. Sometimes – and I think we know this – standing up for what is right is, effectively, a death sentence and yet people do it. Near when I was finishing writing the book, the Honduran activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead by paramilitaries linked to state security. She was threatened with murder so many times but she wouldn’t give up. And they did murder her in the end. I think, for what it is worth, the story is trying to celebrate bravery but the bravery of the underdog.

Q: As To Keep A Bird Singing moves on we begin to see something a lot darker – a group of abusers are possibly involved. They have protection though, from on high, from inside the Irish state. Is this based on a real situation.

A: The story is fiction and in another sense it isn’t. Did the Irish state protect abusers? Without doubt, yes. The Catholic church wrecked havoc on the lives of many children in Ireland right up until recent times. Abuse happened and often it was known that if certain children were sent to certain places they would be abused there. The courts not only didn’t stop this, it insisted on sending these children into these place and then, further to that, it then protected the abusers who abused in those institutions. Take the case of Fr Donal Gallagher. He was a notorious abuser and there were a myriad of complaints made against him. His order, the Vincentians, did absolutely nothing of substance to stop him. But the Gardaí failed repeatedly to pursue him too. There is a quote in the Murphy Report [p357] which really tells it all in my view.

The sergeant who conducted the investigation [into Fr Gallagher] stated in his report: “Fr Gallagher is a professional man and strikes me as a sincere and genuine individual. I can see no useful purpose to be gained by the prosecution of Fr Gallagher at this late stage”.

So I think you could argue in general that, yes, the Irish state by being so consistently negligent did abet child abuse. Was there a more sinister angle to some of this convenient ‘negligence’ on behalf of the Irish state or people acting on its behalf? I think we’d be naive not to think so.

Q: Do you think your own politics has helped in writing the book?

A: Hugely. Your politics determine what way you look at the world. In crime writing and so on its hard to avoid politics in some way. Even the murder, mayhem and gore brigade deal with it because it is all around in almost anything that goes on. But ‘political’ crime in sense of criminality deriving from how society is structured, from the reality that we live with under capitalism, gets off very, very lightly. You have to go to the Continent, to Italy and France to find any substantial body of work. That’s the way it  looks to me anyway. But there is also a certain amount of ‘feed people what they are used to eating’ attitude around too. The popular impression of crime is that it is mostly constituted by gangland based violence or vicious person-on-person crimes in which women in particular appear to come out the worse. ‘Political’ and ‘white collar’ crime, apart of course from people supposedly ripping off the dole say, is largely ignored. I remember an example a few years ago, to do with crime book related to the chemical industry. As I know something about the area I thought I’d have a read. Now there are no end of examples of pharmaceutical and chemical corporations plundering the environment to maximise their profits – engaging in criminal activities to get their way too. But who was the criminal in this book?  It turned out to be a crusty environmental activist who having lost his bearings decided to pollute an entire river to get the local chemical plant in trouble. I mean really like. In other words plots that fit certain tropes which coincidentally just happen to support the status generally do better with agents and publishers. Big surprise?

snowden

Edward Snowden broke the bad news. 

Q: Surveillance features as an important element of the story. But it only become clear as the story crisis deepens that it is having a crucial role in what is going to happen.

A: I think that’s it. If you don’t resist surveillance isn’t really an issue for you. If you do resist then the surveillance becomes a real factor that you have to contend with. Nowadays the state is able to spy right into the very heart of our lives and when it needs to it does so with a tap of a keyboard.

Q: In To Keep A Bird Singing, Noelie and Hannah don’t know who their enemies really are. The people they are up against are ‘faceless’ and some continue to be until the end.

A: This is another reality. I mean one of aspects of recent human rights abuse – everything from drone assassinations to rendition etc – is that the perpetrators are never identified. The State has at its disposal hired killers who we – the public – have no right to know about. I mean if we look closely at this it is beyond shocking. This ‘legitimate’ secrecy that the State has reserved for its covert operation in our name is a grave threat to our security. In To Keep A Bird Singing the faceless nature of those behind one of the deaths is a key factor. Can one ever get justice if one doesn’t even know the identify of the criminal involved? If they are protected by state secrecy legislation it’s nigh impossible.

Q: The story ends on a positive note but only just. Would you agree?

A: The story is not over. In a number of ways actually. As was pointed out to me by a kind reader of the book, Noelie has been left in the lurch, romantically speaking. So at the very least that has to be sorted. Other matters too are there to be followed up. But yes at the end of To Keep A Bird Singing, Noelie and his friends have made progress but at a price. It’s reality, no? It is very hard to get justice without making a sacrifice. Everyone who fought for the freedoms we now have – from advances in working conditions to women’s suffrage – put a lot on the line. They knew they had to but importantly they thought and knew it would be worth it too.

** My thanks to ml for taking the time to do this interview with me. 

Links Suffer the Little Children and Haunting Cries are informative and disturbing accounts of the industrial schools network here in Ireland.

Industrial Memories – A response to the Ryan Report

Crimes of the Bon Securs Order – The Tuam Babies

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The Punk Bit …

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SLF NYC

         I was a Stiff Little Fingers fan [c. 1980]

The truth is my punk records were stolen many years ago and it was a blow. What that says about my state of mind or the state of my life back then – this was in the early half of the eighties – is another question but it’s true that I took the loss badly. It was not that I was an obsessive collector of punk and New Wave records, but I had a decent collection, tempered by yearly visits to Portobello Road market in London.

I was lucky to have an uncle who lived in Paddington and he attended the market religiously on Friday and Saturday morning every week. My brothers and I often went to stay with him in the summer months during the seventies and through that I got to know the ins and outs of Portobello market in west London: where the ‘tourist’ end was and where the locals went. Under the Westway flyover, there were often plenty of punks and lots of punk records, new and second-hand, to be had; I spent a good deal of time there sifting through the records stalls. Further down the market , in the direction of Notting Hill, there was Rough Trade of course – another Mecca for anyone interested in punk back then.

45s

Thankfully my collection of 45s survived the theft.

Douglas Street

Being broken into is an unpleasant experience. I was living on my own in a fairly decrepit flat on Douglas Street when it happened – working my way through my Masters when the theft took place. Some money was  taken and a few other bit and pieces but the record collection’s disappearance was the big loss. I can’t remember for sure now but I think the thief was caught – he attempted to cash a cheque from a campaign cheque book I was holding; I tended to volunteer then for jobs like ‘treasurer’ or ‘secretary’ – and after being told to return to the bank with ID if he wanted to cash said cheque, he did and was duly arrested. He never revealed where my prized collection was however and, as I recall, the garda detective involved was not that interested either.

I spent awhile haphazardly combing through various second-hand record stores in Cork hoping to spot one of my treasures, hoping indeed to see any part of my collection again but I never did; the records were gone and I suppose were soon dispersed in every direction.  That, in a sense, was the end of the story.

Charity Shop

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Castle Street, Cork

Years later and at a very different stage in my life, my record collection came back into my mind. By then I had two children and they were attending The Cork School Project (Educate Together) located on Grattan Street in Cork. I often dropped them to school and collected them later to bring them home again. This involved walking through town and one shop of particular interest that we often passed was on Castle Street (pictured) off North Main Street. A charity shop along the street was well known for making an art form of its interesting window displays.

This was the noughties and records and LPs were not yet back in fashion as they are now. There were boxes of vinyl lying on sale at giveaway prices in the shop and I often checked them, somewhat absent-mindedly, but with an eye for any of the gems that I had lost all those years ago. I wondered about the idea of finding my collection again and what that would feel like after all this time. It would be strange and odd too, right? Now what if I found the entire collection still intact, what would that mean?  It never happened but I did have an idea for how a story – probably set in Cork – could begin.  All this time later it is how To Keep A Bird Singing begins.

Related Links

The Road To Letterfract

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CNPLast year I gave a reading at Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway as a guest of Over The Edge. I read Capricorn, a short story I wrote about an elderly Irish exile, Hallisey, who has chosen to live in a remote area of the Pilbara in north-west Australia. An unexpected phone call reminds Hallisey of what happened to him as a child at St. Patrick’s Industrial School (Greenmount) in Cork. As the story progresses it becomes clear that Hallisey has lived in silence and alone with what he suffered at the school for all these years. Now, finally, provoked by the phone call, it appears that he may tell someone about what happened to him; understanding at last why it is essential to talk about what happened long ago.

I knew about Letterfract’s reputation. In part because I was in Galway and in part because I had been writing about the legacy of the industrial schools for a number of years, I felt I should take the opportunity to go there and see what now remains of the infamous institution. The school itself closed in 1974 and I wondered what, if anything, existed now that bore witness to what had happened there. I had heard that the original school building  still existed and I wanted to see that. But what else was there?

STARK

Letterfract - Then and Now(1)It takes about an hour and a half to get to Letterfract from Galway. The trip through Connemara National Park is a highlight. On the day I made the journey, it was cold and overcast. The national park is bleakly beautiful. It was said about Letterfract Industrial School that it was crueller than the norm due to its remote location on the edge of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. Even today it still feels like the journey across county Galway to Letterfract is a journey into isolation.

Except that today Letterfract is anything but isolated. It is a busy, tourist-centred locality, a gateway to a multitude of adventure based activities involving  the national park and the nearby coastline. Signposts direct the visitor to pub food, accommodation and to this company and that one offering different tourist experiences. Letterfract has had a modern make-over and in some ways epitomises the reinvention of Ireland’s western coastline. Here, in a place still wracked by emigration, a small community has clung on to assert a new way of using and making a living from the location’s natural beauty and amenities. On the day I visited, although at the end of the tourist season, there was a steady stream of people and activity around the shops and pubs. In the summer period I figured Letterfract got quite busy.

I understood that former industrial school was near the centre of Letterfact so I was surprised when I couldn’t find it. I realised that I had made a very basic error : the old industrial school building was there, dominating one quadrant of the main crossroads that is the centre of Letterfract. My mistake was that I was looking for a building fitted out in monochrome. Now, brightly repainted in red and yellow, the main building looked nothing like its former incarnation. In fact the building complex is now part of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.  A public park and picnic area in the foreground, screened by trees further helped to offset the domineering image that the industrial school once wore as a badge of pride. In the end, still unsure that I was in the correct location, I accepted that I was indeed looking at the former institution by virtue of the building’s position relative to Diamond Hill. Many of the iconic photographs of Letterfract Industrial School (see below) were taken with the austere peak in the background. Today that same vista is easily observed.

UPTON, ARTANE, BESSBOROUGH, TUAM …

It was a disconcerting sight – a place of abuse and a place where cruel punishment was meted out. Despite the passage of time, despite the make-over, it was hard for me not to think about what happened there. I was bothered too by the precise change of use: the former penal institution was now a part of a place for advanced learning. That seemed to me to be a travesty. The Letterfract building – because of what it was – has so much to tell us about ourselves. But that it seems is not of interest to some. I walked over to the main building. Close to where the old entrance was once located there is a plaque under the window with a poem on it: Show Day by Mary O’Malley. The poem, one of a series in the Letterfract Poetry Trail is a moving elegy to location and emigration. It can be listened to here.

Is there anything more, I wondered. There must be. I walked around. Students came and went. A group of young backpackers were picnicking on the grass despite the cold conditions. I wondered what they knew about this place. A casual visitor would not learn anything by walking around. There is nothing to warn anyone about what happened here; on the contrary in fact. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that an effort has been made to obliterate the past but there is doubt that someone is intent on not drawing any attention to what this place once stood for either. I was reminded of a visit I made to St Patrick’s Industrial School at Upton outside Cork a  number of years ago – as part of research I was doing for my novel To Keep A Bird Singing. That complex is now a functioning day care centre in the Bandon area of Cork. I was told when I went there that it was not possible to walk around the main building for ‘health and safety’ reasons. St Patrick’s is another site of abuse where care has been taken to obscure the past.

God Was Living Close By But ...There had to be more. Letterfract’s Catholic Church is on an elevation at the rear of the main building complex. A path leads to steps and then to another short path: I arrived at the front of the church. It is literally a stone’s throw away, underscoring for me the role that the Catholic Church played in the regime of abuse at Letterfract: the church was the overseer to the crimes that happened there, but it also very much a witness too.

GOD COULDN’T HEAR ANYTHING … AGAIN

It is not my intention here to trawl through Letterfract’s litany of crimes. One example will suffice to give the reader an idea of what the place was like. Taken from the Child Abuse Commission’s report published in 2009 it concerns a Brother Vernay who in 1940 made a complaint to the regional body overseeing the Christian Brothers regarding serious mis-doings at the institution. By passing his own boss at Letterfrack, Vernay outlined the case of a number of boys who were regularly being punished in public at the school by a few the Brothers. The method of punishment was the problem: the Brother were using horsewhips on the young boys. Yes, that’s correct, horsewhips. Pointing out that (even then in 1940) the ‘instruments used and the punishments inflicted are obsolete even in criminal establishments’, Brother Vernay went on the draw attention to the fact that knowledge of the severe punishments being meted out at the school had permeated to the community living around the industrial school. In his letter to the regional head of the Brothers, he noted that ‘people were talking’ and that this was causing disquiet both inside and outside the industrial school. Worried by the damage to the Order’s reputation, Vernay asked for an intervention. This happened and it appears that Vernay’s complaints were upheld. However little it seems was ever done to any of the assailants or to the superior at Letterfract who it seems ‘wasn’t even reprimanded.’ The Commission also found out that no apology or recompense was made to the victims. That was the sort of place that Letterfract was. Children beaten in public using horsewhips. Just one example. The entire chapter on Letterfract in the 2009 report (The Ryan Report) makes for grim reading, I tell you.

Behind the church there is narrow lane. It is a part of one of the recommended walks in the area. A backpackers hostel is close by. A little further on, on the opposite side of the road, there is a sign on a pillar: Letterfract Industrial School Graveyard.  I walked up to the cemetery. At the entrance there are two more poems from the Letterfract Poetry Trail. By Paula Meehan, these are The Boy From The Gloucester Diamond  and The Cardboard Suitcases and they can be  heard here.

DIED AT A YOUNG AGE

The grave yard is relatively small and compact and is surrounded by tall trees; it is quiet and sheltered. Inside there is a careful arrangement of small headstones in two main plots. Walter Footer died as a young boy. Edward McDermot died aged 8. William Fagen died aged 13. John Kelly died aged 15 … Died Died Diedand so on they go. I figure that there are a lot more buried here than there are names for. The cemetery is really a mass grave and this is underlined by the headstone pictured on the right. At one end, a plinth supporting a cross is draped with a tattered and bleached Irish Tricolour. Fitting. There is also a small memorial to the Letterfract boys erected by Connemara National Park.

I sat down. There was no one else there when I visited. Certainly this was a place to meditate on the wrongdoings that took place at the industrial school. What were these boys’ stories I wondered. How did they come to be sent to Letterfact and how did they die? The graveyards is a peaceful place. Thought has gone into it and it is well maintained. I felt that here at least what happened in the past is both respected and understood. It is good to see that.

LONG REPRESSED, RENDERED INVISIBLE

In a number of location in Ireland right now, a battle is being fought by activists to simply have just this – a proper cemetery such as that that exists at Letterfract. PillarIn Tuam (Galway) and in Cork at the Good Shepard Convent (Sunday’s Well) and at the Bessborough Mother and Baby (Blackrock) efforts are underway to identify the full extent of a series of mass graves that are probably located in those places. The situation at Tuam is particularly heart-wrenching. A large number of babies and children’s bodies were dumped in mass grave at the Tuam site without any care to record who they were or to mark their places of burial in any way. These ‘unwanted’ (by Catholic Ireland’s mores) were unceremoniously dumped. The Irish government has been embarrassed into looking into the matter in more detail but it is now claiming that a full and exhaustive excavation of the site would actually cost too much.  In the two Cork locations, there is also resistance to efforts to identify and mark who is actually buried at those sites. The Catholic orders and institutions are refusing to make records fully available. Even more telling in the two Cork cases, the property and buildings involved are either in the process of or have actually been sold to private developers who wish to turn these former sites of institutional abuse into apartment complexes. For many it is a race against time to extract the information and prove that these sites must by properly excavated and respected. At least at Letterfract, this small precious cemetery has been salvaged from the steamroller of progress and the process of ‘active forgetting’ at least partially stalled.

HeroesBut are cemeteries enough? At Letterfract? At Tuam or in Cork? Most definitely not. Cemeteries are needed. Each individual buried in each of these places is also entitled to a proper headstone as a minimum. None of this should be in any dispute – even though it is. But we need a lot more too. We need a museum and a permanent exhibition space which will the tell the story of the industrial schools, the Magdalene Launderies and the Mother and Baby homes.

Such a facility would and could perform a number of functions. Firstly, it would act as repository for all the records related to these institutions of abuse – a place were all the information (print, audio and photographic) can be safely stored and made available for future generations so that they too can learn and understand what happened. Such a place could also facilitate scholarship into what took place and help with explaining how such abuse practices could have taken place. There are still so many aspects to the entire edifice of institutional abuse that we do not fully understand. We need to know a lot more about the perpetrators for example. Who were they, why did the behave as they did, why have they been protected as they have? Thirdly such a facility, if properly structured, could act as a place where we as a society might be able to look at what happened, attempt to understand what happened, and learn more about the legacy of widespread institutional abuse.

Pillar2As I see it there is a conscious effort (by the Catholic Church) and an unconscious effort (by the state) to facilitate us forgetting what happened. The idea is to render almost invisible what happened at these industrial schools, Laundries and Mother and Baby homes. In part the point is to salvage the reputation of the Catholic Church but these efforts are also a societal aversion to acknowledging who we are and what the price was for becoming the Ireland that we are today. Many of us have been raised to be good at looking the other way. Here now, around this matter of institutional abuse, our acquired talents have taken on a societal dimension: turning away from facing up to the truth and the reality of what was done by us and in our name. We have the left the victims to scramble after small crumbs of justice.

We are talking about a shameful period in our history and we need to face up to it. At Letterfract, we can see today what the preferred solution looks like: the past is not hidden away anymore but it is certainly kept at a distance from the public’s eye. It is no longer feasible to say the past didn’t happen – the victims after all have refused to go quietly and won’t be silenced – but Irish society is still happy and comfortable with leaving things largely unseen. At Letterfact you have to search for the past and this is at one of the most infamous of all the abuse institutions in our country.

So if we are to be honest about all of this we need the following:

  • Firstly, full publicly-funded excavations of all the burial sites. Every effort to be made to identify all the those buried in all mass graves. Where there is suspicion about the causes of death, criminal investigations to follow.
  • Secondly, a commitment to the creation of a publicly funded facility to highlight and explain what happened. This facility – a museum – should be located at one of the former institutional sites of abuse. A site should be identified as soon as possible for this facility.
  • Thirdly, we must oppose the sale of any of these former sites of abuse by the religious orders to private developers until full disclosure and recompense is made to all the victims.

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Review of Living Anarchism – José Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement

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Living AnarchismJosé Peirats and the Spanish Anarcho-Syndicalist Movement by Chris Ealham [AK Press] Available here.

This review first published in Ideas and Action (Oct 2017).

547398_10150758746726023_1766635136_nOn the cover of Living Anarchism, the publishers, AK Press, point out that the anarchist movement in Spain in the lead up to the revolution in 1936-37 was the ‘the largest anti-authoritarian movement’ ever created in the world. It numbered in the hundreds of thousands and resulted from a conscious and deliberate intervention by anarchists in the everyday world of work and community. Anarchists sought to build a new world in the shell of the old and they were surprisingly successful in significant ways. Living Anarchism is testimony to this. Not a history of Spanish anarchism as such, it is nonetheless a window into the life of that movement seen through the life of one its key activist, José Peirats.

So who was José Peirats? The son of labourers from Valencia province, he moved to Barcelona at a young age with his family in search of work and a future. Suffering illness and numerous privations, Peirats eventually found a home in one of the city’s vibrant rationalist schools. However his education was short-lived and at a young age he entered the workforce proper as a brick-maker. Gravitating to the anarcho-syndicalist union, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT), he became a key activist in the L’Hospitalet area of Barcelona. Peirats lived through it all: at the young age of 28 he was in Barcelona as the Spanish Revolution got underway. He witnessed the enormous achievements and hope that the revolution generated and he witnessed, in time, its demise and defeat. In exile at the age of 31 he spent a great deal of the remainder of life documenting the rise of Spain’s anarchist movement, going on the produce The CNT in the Spanish Revolution – an extensive, three volume history of the largest workers’ union in Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. In the last period of his life he said,

“I’ve done almost everything in the CNT: I’ve organised strikes, organised workers, spoken in assemblies, meetings, and given conferences, written articles, attended congresses, used pistols, and, some- times, explosives; I’ve been in jail and collected lawsuits, mainly for libelous press articles. I know what it means to be naked and take a beating in a police station. I was the only secretary of the CNT in exile to enter Spain clandestinely when they were still shooting people!”

9781849352383_72Living Anarchism is broken into ten sections (if one includes the excellent summation) which can broadly be divided into two parts – the period leading up to the revolution and period after the revolution’s defeat. If the first section of the book is then a celebration of what anarchism was capable of building when its activists put their minds to it, then the second section is, in contrast, the tragedy of defeat at the hands of fascism and what that came to mean.

Exile

Exiled to South America and later France, Peirats struggled like many of his comrades to make sense of the defeat that had befallen the anarchist movement in Spain. Defeat is never easy and the tragedy was compounded by exile and isolation. A movement of Spanish anarchists abroad came into being but it was riven with division and acrimony. Peirats, more than most, understood the dilemma: the past could not be ignored and yet the movement, if it was to survive and rebuild, needed to move on too. It was a delicate and difficult line to walk along.

Peirats was clearly a product of the university of the class struggle and his early years and reputation as a resolute union activist in the cauldron of Barcelona was something that he never departed from. However, another side to the activist was his strong interest in the practice and spirit of anti-authoritarianism. A significant part of his life – perhaps deriving from his own early exposure to the rationalist/ free school movement in Barcelona – involved a commitment to the ‘athenaeum’: essentially self-organised community centres envisaged as ‘a focal point of social ferment’ for the locality around it. These centres hosted a library, debates, music recitals, evening classes and threatre productions. Before and during the revolution, as well as afterwards in exile, it was this activity surrounding the ‘athenaeum’ that Peirats returned to and was involved with again and again.

Although the person who emerges from his book appears exceptional in many respects, Peirats would have been the first to dispute this, it seems. Describing himself at one point as a ‘worker ant’ he believed himself to be very much a part and a product of the CNT. Clearly he was a talented activist, writer and organiser, but there emerges from this biography a man whose dedication to revolutionary change was absolute. By no means without faults – and this is explored in Living Anarchism – Peirats nevertheless had an abiding grasp of the importance and value of anarchist ideas. Given that he had witnessed the highest point of achievement and an avalanche of low points in its aftermath, he remained largely upbeat, understating near the end, ‘I did what I could despite many obstacles’.

Durruti

In terms of Spanish anarchism we hear a great deal about people like Durruti but activists like Jose Peirats, it seems to me, were a lot closer to the soul of Spanish anarchism. For Peirats anarchism was about democracy, education and the class struggle. In contrast Durruti was far more liable to be off taking a pot shot at some bishop or other – a headline grabbing activity but not necessarily as productive as it sounds or looks.

In 2010, the historian Chris Ealham produced what is undoubtedly one of the best social and political histories of anarchism, namely Anarchism and the City – the story of the rise of anarchism in the Catalonia port city of Barcelona. Now with this account of Peirat’s life he had done us a further service. He admits at the outset that ‘there are many aspects of Peirats life that he finds admirable’ and while this must certainly colour this work, it does not distract from what is a clear and concise account of an anarchist activist’s lived life in revolution and defeat.

Matters have moved on hugely since the revolution in Spain in 1936-37 and Peirats as much as anyone saw this in full measure by the time his life came to an end in 1989. However there is a great deal to learn from this book. The Spanish anarchists combined a practice of militant class struggle with a broad visionary belief in human desire and emancipation. Whatever about claims, dreams and aspirations, in the end it takes people to make politics happen: Peirats was clearly one of those who excelled at this task.

A book to read and treasure.

 

Let our memories run through our veins …

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Lorca 1The grave of Federico García Lorca has never been found but it is believed that his remains lie in the hills to the north of Granada, Andalusia close to the town of Viznar. He was probably executed on August 19th, 1936 – 71 years ago.

Lorca is regarded as one of Spain’s must important modern poets and dramatist and while his reputation was well established at the time of his death, it was not sufficient to save him from his fate at the hands of Franco’s henchmen. Although Lorca was left-leaning , he was also a gay man: these facts alone condemned him to an early death. He was one of ten of thousands who were murdered in Spain during and after Spain’s Civil War (1936-39) for no other reason than being deemed undesirable to Franco’s fascist regime. Today there’s a memorial at the site where it is believed that Lorca was killed..

Location

The easiest way to get to the site is to travel to Viznar itself, about six miles from Granada and then take the road going to Alfacar. About 3 km along, the road take a sharp reverse turn and makes its ways along a hillside; to the south there are views back to Viznar. A short distance from the turn, on your right (looking uphill or to the north), there is a layby (clearly sign-posted) where you can leave your car or bike. The general area is known as the Sendero Barranco de Viznar  (Viznar Ravine Trail) and is popular with walkers and trekkers. Close by is a second signpost indicating that this area is important for other reasons too: Lugar de Memoria Historica de Andalucia [Place of historical memory]. 

Lorca

Lorca 3A path leaves the layby and winds uphill through an open pine forest offering shade. There are undulations and gullies on a both sides of the path. After about five minutes you will come an area of flatter terrain marked by a number of log fence boundaries. A flat low-lying slab of stone bears the inscription of a line from Lorca’s poem, Prelude – Love :

 

El viento esta amortajado
a lo largo bajo el cielo
[The shrouded wind lies full length beneath the sky ]

A short distance on there are a number of larger flat slabs which bear an array of memorial plaques. Some are dedicated to individuals such as that to Delores Rozalez Vinez – They Silenced Your Voice But Not Our Memory. Others are dedicated to lists of people executed in the quiet secluded area – Executed in Viznar Ravine on 23 October 1936 is followed by a list of thirty names. Further along there is a large gully. A square upright monolith stand at one end. Flowers have been left in a number of places and the monolith bears the inscription:

Lorca Eran Todos
18-8-2002
[Lorca was all]

There is stone terracing for sitting on. When we visited Viznar it was quiet and there was no one else around. Since the trees provide welcome shade from the sun, it is by no means an unpleasant place to stop at and rest for a bit. However,  under the ground, lie the remains of many hundreds of people. Some have been identified but many remain unidentified. It is difficult today to imagine the summary violence that would regularly taken place at the site over many years following Franco’s victory.

Anarchists

Viz 6It is believed that Lorca was executed along with two well-known militants of the CNT, the anarcho-syndicalist union which was a leading force in the Spanish Revolution. The remains of these men – Joaquín Arcollas Cabezas and Francisco Baladí Melgar – have also not been identified. A plaque placed at the Viznar site by the CNT reads:

“Let our memories run through our veins. We remember everyone who lies in this gully. To the anarchists who are scattered under this earth. To our deceased we do not cry, we try to emulate them in the fight for a social revolution and against the fascism that they faced”

Lorca 2Various other memorial plaques are testimony to the broad range of people who were killed outside Viznar. Trade-unionists, left-wing activists, feminists, cultural activists and many, many others all fell victim to Franco’s knife. The context for the extermination was succinctly put by General Emilio Mola who stated at the outset of the Civil War what the point of the military uprising was:

“It is necessary to spread terror. We have to create the impression of mastery eliminating without scruples or hesitation all those who do not think as we do. There can be no cowardice. If we hesitate one moment and fail to proceed with the greatest determination, we will not win.”

Although Lorca’s reputation is the main reason for the memorial at Viznar, many of the other plaques present at the site are as moving. Each and everyone tells a story of resistance and remembering. This one to Miguel Gomez Poyatos is a perfect example.

MIGUEL GOMEZ POYATOSViz 7w
Murdered in this place on Sept 5th 1936.
We have never forgotten you
We will never forget you.

 

They may be able to kill the rooster
that announces the dawn
but they cannot stop that dawn arriving
 (your grandson Emilio)

 

Direct Action For Kids!

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We Did It Together!Introducing a children’s book with a difference!

Their lives are turned upside down when a luxury golf course invades their headland. The worms try to negotiate but their efforts are met with insecticide. Our long, wriggly friends have had enough! They decide to take action… 

A story for children and (ssssssh) adults too.”

What The ‘Rich’ Dream Of …

 

old-head-of-kinsale-cork-ireland-wild-atlantic-way

The Old Head of Kinsale – Privatised!

In 1979, a millionaire property developer purchased the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork, Ireland for the measly sum of just €300,000. His dream was to build a luxury golf course on the headland and in 1997 that dream came true. Soon after, access to the traditional walks and wild coastline at the Old Head was restricted to ‘club members’ only. A popular campaign – Free The Old Head – fought back but the developer had the courts and the gardaí on his side. In effect, the headland was annexed for the exclusive use of a small group of wealthy golfers. Today it costs €30,000 per year for membership at the Old Head Golf Links. Alternatively you can pay Green Fees of around €1000 for the dayThink that wrong? So do we! 

Rebellion!

charter of rights (2)

We live here too!

 

The Worms That Saved The World was inspired by the campaign to keep access to the Old Head free and open to all. The story is about a community of rebellious earthworms who fight to save their home when a luxury golf course takes over their headland. The worms are in for a tough fight but it turns out that they are made of tough stuff. Worms haven’t been around on this planet for as long as they have with knowing a thing or two!

Solidarity, Direct Action!

A plan 2

Mutual Aid, Solidarity – It’s Our Best Chance!

 

Including thirty-five beautiful illustrations by artist Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World celebrates solidarity, direct action and standing up for your rights. It’s a joyous book featuring ‘mutual aid’, collective struggle and guess what? In the end, the worms win! Here is a story for all the young people in your life and it can even be enjoyed by adults too!r

r

Get A Copy!

party at the end 2

We did it together!

 

Now distributed in England, Scotland, Wales and across Europe by AK Press!

In Ireland a list of shops stocking The Worms That Saved The World here.

Normally retailing at €10/£10 

If you need more information, send up an email

Written by Kevin Doyle

May 24, 2017 at 3:46 pm

News about The Worms That Saved The World

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Where To Buy The Worms That Saved The World

A plan 2Buy DIRECT here. Great offer!

€10 (incl. P+P) per copy to anywhere in the world!

Contact us by email or on Facebook to arrange the order.

Email: thewormsthatsavedtheworld AT gmail DOT com

or contact here on Facebook.

Bookshops

We are stocked at the following shops:

In CorkVibes and Scribes (21 Lavitt’s Quay) and Key Books (Quay Co-op, Sullivan’s Quay). In KinsaleBookstór (8 Main St.). In Carrigaline: Carrigaline Book Shop (Main Street). 

In DublinThe Winding Stair (Lr. Ormond Quay) and Connolly Books (Temple Bar). 

In Kildare: Woodbine Books (Kilcullen)

In Galway: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop

In England: London at Housman’s Books (Caledonian Road, King’s Cross) and Bookmarks (Bloombury Road, WC1). In Liverpool at News From Nowhere. In Nottingham at Fives Leaves Bookshop.

In Holland: Amsterdam at Het Fort van Sjakoo.

In Australia: Jura Books (Sydney)

For UK & Europe-wide distribution please contact AK Press (Edinburgh, Scotland).

For USA, Canada and Worldwide distribution please contact AK Press (Oakland, California).

Free2Download

What People Have Said About …

“An inspirational story for children … entertaining and beautifully illustrated …”

Pet O’Connell, review in Evening Echo, Cork

“Everyone should get one of these books for children close to them. It is beautiful, refreshingly different with a very important message. I love it! You won’t have come across a book for kids like this….ever. A new trend hopefully.”

Niamh Leonard, artist, Cork

“… the characters in the book … reach out to people across the world …”

BookforLittles, USA

“I got my books in the post today. I love it!!! Will recommend it to all my friends and family.”

Maeve Caraher, Louth

“Looks charming.  Look forward to sharing it with the younger generation.”

Noam Chomsky

If you are looking for something unique, new and really wonderful …

Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, Galway

“An inspiring tale that celebrates all that is good about community and solidarity.  Beautifully illustrated with colourful characters that will delight and charm and written in a style that will appeal to children and adults alike, this is a book that should be in every classroom and school library in the country.  Its message that when we support each other we can tackle anything is delivered in a way that will appeal to children, and to the child in all of us.”

Gregor Kerr, primary school teacher, Dublin

“The mighty, the arrogant and the swaggering brought low by the humble worm — what’s not to like in this charming tale of working together for what’s right and good? Up the worms!”

Theo Dorgan, poet

“High quality production, a fun and relevant story. A very child-friendly approach to political activism.”

Letterbox Library staff

“A unique take on conservation and protest – strong messages told through a lively text and attractive illustrations – I like it!”

Inclusion Manager, Primary School (via Letterbox Library)

 

News articles about The Worms That Saved The WorldSpark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)

 Background Articles

Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links)
About “The Worms That Saved The World”
Interview in Look Left

Connect with The Worms That Saved The World

Facebook and Twitter for The Worms That Saved The World
Kevin Doyle
Spark Deeley

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