• Delivered at the Four Martyrs Commemoration, Castletown Co. Wexford, Saturday, December 11.
Liam Mellows was born on May 25, 1895 in Manchester, England to William Joseph Mellows a sargeant in the British army and Sarah Jordan, of Inch, Co. Wexford. His father was transferred, with his family, to Dublin. During Liam’s early years in Ireland he lived with his grandparents in Castletown, Co. Wexford.
When he reached school age he attended the military school in Wellington Barracks in Cork and the Portobello garrison school in Dublin. After he finished his schooling he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the British army. However the call of his country and his republican convictions were so strong that he devoted his life to the freedom of Ireland.
In 1911, he purchased a copy of Irish Freedom, the revolutionary publication of the time and after a meeting with the great Fenian Thomas Clarke he joined Na Fianna Eireann, the republican boy scout movement.
On 7 April 1911 he was sworn to secrecy by the Irish Republican Brotherhood. He was self motivated and self reliant and cycled everywhere. When he was proposed for the post of Organiser he founded sluaite at Dolphins Barn, Ferns and Enniscorthy here in Co Wexford.
Mellows was organising sports in Tuam in 1913 when he was introduced to James Connolly at Countess Markievicz’s residence. Connolly was recuperating after his hunger strike. He had been arrested along with a number of others in Dublin during the great lock out of 1913. Connolly was charged with inciting people to cause a breach of the peace in a speech he had delivered. While Connolly’s co-accused agreed bail and surety terms, he refused to either find bail or sureties and was sent to Mountjoy Jail for three months.
Connolly was deeply impressed with Mellows when they met and told his daughter Nora ‘I have found a real man’.
Mellows was a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and was on its Organising Committee. Mellows would experience a number of splits during his revolutionary life. When the national movement split with John Redmond and his followers betrayal, sending thousands of Irishmen to their death in Britain’s war, Mellows stated: ‘A minority… still stood true… It is to these, who in the first instance, considering neither their size not their influence, nor shrinking from the terrible outlook that confronted them, stood out for principle first as against ‘safety first’, that Ireland is indebted for her salvation as a Nation. Had they, acting along the lines of least resistance, adopted an attitude of expediency, no matter with what ulterior motive, all would have been lost and the final object of England’s Irish policy accomplished.’
He was arrested and jailed on several occasions under the Defence of the Realm Act and was active during the Howth and Kilcoole gun running operations. He was sent to Galway, and made his base at Athenry for the revolutionary movement.
On Sunday 18 May 1915, Mellows was apprehended at gun point at an anti enlistment demonstration but got away.
He started a training group at Kynoch’s Fort, south Galway recruiting men from miles around. On 1 July he was arrested at Courttown Harbour. He was sentenced to 3 months and sent to Mountjoy Prison. Months later he was with volunteers at Tullamore, when they were attacked by machine-guns, and fleeing the Hall over rooftops, made off by motor-bike; Mellows returned a week later and was arrested. The British took him by train to Arbour Hill Prison, before he was shipped to England and Reading jail.
With the help of Nora Connolly and his brother, Barney, who changed places with him during a visit to the jail, he escaped and returned to Dublin, via Glasgow and Belfast, disguised as a priest. He stayed at St. Enda’s school in Rathfarnham where he received his orders from Pearse and Connolly before travelling west to Galway on Good Friday proceeding the Easter Rising .
During the week of the Rising he led 700 IRA Volunteers in attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary stations at Oranmore, and Clarinbridge in Co. Galway and took over the town of Athenry. After a week British troops and the cruiser Gloucester were sent west to attack them.
In the aftermath of the Rising over three hundred Galway Volunteers were deported to jails across England and Scotland. However Mellows and a number of other local IRA leaders were able to evade capture.
After the Rising Mellows escaped to the United States. He was arrested and detained without trial in the “Tombs” prison, New York, on a charge of attempting to aid the German side in the First World War.
Mellows hated the capitalist-imperialist society and it is obvous his vision of a free Ireland differed from that society. In a letter to his brother Barney he reiterated his revolutionary philosophy and his belief that the Irish people would primarily have to rely on themselves to free themselves:
‘The sooner the people of Ireland turn their eyes away from and give up hope of securing their independence through this tír [country] the better. It is all cant, hypocrisy and big talk – bluff from start to finish and can at present be only compared to Russia previous to Revolution… The trusts and capitalists run politics here. The whole system – commercial, financial, legal and social is built on graft. Honesty is an unknown quantity. The bigger the bluff, the greater the man. The greater the rogue, the more wealthy respected and protected… journalism here accounts to fiction… Hope to God emigration is finished for this country has been the grave of the Irish race. A reaction on part of the American people is setting in though and a spirit of unrest is beginning to manifest itself. People will take long time to wake up though.’
After his release in 1918, he worked with John Devoy and helped to organise fund raising visit to America in 1919–1920. He returned to Ireland to become Irish Republican Army “Director of Supplies” during the ITan War and responsible for buying arms.
Mellows was completely against the acceptance of the Treaty.
”There would no question of civil war here now were it not for the undermining of the Republic. The Republic has been deserted by those who state they still intend to work for a Republic. The Volunteers can have very little faith at this moment in the Government that assembles here, because all they can see in it is a chameleon Government. One moment, when they look at it, it is the green, white and orange of the Republic, and at another moment, when they look at it, it is the red, white and blue of the British Empire. We in the Army, who have taken this step, have been termed “mutineers,” “irregulars,” and so forth. We are not mutineers, because we have remained loyal to our trust. We are not mutineers except against the British Government in this country. We may be “irregular” in the sense that funds are not forthcoming to maintain us, but we were always like that and it is no disgrace to be called “irregulars” in that sense. We are not wild people.
On June 25, 1922, he and fellow Republicans Rory O’Connor, Joseph McKelvey and Dick Barrett, among others, took over the Dublin Four Courts. They were bombarded from a gunboat on the Liffey which the Free State borrowed from the British army. They surrendered after two days and were imprisoned in Mountjoy. Mellows had a chance to escape along with Ernie O’Malley, but did not take it.
Imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, Mellows, O’Connor, McKelvey and Barrett were executed by Free State firing squad on December 8, 1922
The issue of the acceptance of the Treaty is not just a historical event but is central to modern day Ireland. And the issue boils down to whether you believe that the sovereignty of Ireland lies with the Irish people or it lies with the British state.
As Mellows stated: “We have acted up to this in the belief that the authority for Government in Ireland has been derived from the Irish people. We are now going to change that. If this Treaty goes through we are going to have authority in Ireland derived from a British Act of Parliament, derived from the British Government under the authority of the British King.” In 2021 Fenians do not accept any treaty or document that makes Ireland anything less than a sovereign free nation from the centre to the sea.
The same way that Labour and Capital can never be reconciled, Mellows knew that Irish Freedom and British imperialism could never reconcile “ I could never see how the interest of the British Empire and the national aspirations of Ireland could be reconciled and I did not believe at that stage that they could be because the Irish Republic and the British Empire are such vitally different things, one imperial and the other [the] antithesis”
Mellows stated: I hold you cannot deny the existence of the Irish Republic and remain a Republican. This Treaty is a denial of the Republic. We are not looking or seeking for Irish independence. Irish independence existed since 21 January 1919, and it is not today we ask for the Republic. We are defending it.”
And thousands of men and women have given their lives for the Republic with dozens of men and women still in Irish jails today there in defence of that Republic.
It must never be forgotten that it was in fact Irish men who executed Liam Mellows and at least 80 other Republicans in their attempt to enforce British state writ in Ireland.
In rebuilding a revolutionary movement we must be conscious of wrong ideas and deviations and must exert an ideological struggle at all times. For over a century former republicans have crossed the line and enforced British rule and the partition of Ireland on the people. Revisionism and reformism manifested in the revolutionary movement and capitualted to what Connolly called in inverted commas “practical poltics”
Mellows was against the stepping stone argument. Like nowadays where we are told a united Ireland is inevitable, only a matter of time, and that it is only around the corner he knew this argument in favour of spontaneity was the forerunner to revisionism which leads to reformism.
The historic struggle in Ireland for Irish freedom has been substituted for a United Ireland, and now a shared Ireland. Again Mellows foresaw what was to come:
‘We know the day when you had the Irish O’Donnell’s the ‘Queen’s O’Donnell’s,’ and the Irish O’Reilly’s the ‘Queen’s O’Reilly’s.’ I wonder will we ever see the day when we have the Irish Republicans the ‘King’s Republicans’… Men will get into positions, men will hold power, and men who get into positions and hold power will desire to remain undisturbed and will not want to be removed, or will not take a step that will mean removal in case of failure.’
Since the execution of Mellows we have seen other generations of former republicans become enforcers of imperialist rule and attempt to police their own communities in the occupied territories. They have begun to think along the lines and grooves which their oppressors wish them to think. Mellows said “The British Government has always sought, during the last century of this struggle in Ireland, to get the consent of the Irish people for whatever it wants to impose upon them.” For this revolutionary socialist republicans have to struggle against. We must never deny our own agency, independence and freedom.
He stated that the Free State was a bulwark against the Republic and that no change could come through it. The Free State, a vassal state which was created by a British act of parliament not only serves British imperialism nowadays but European and US imperialism also. Mellows stated: “Irish history… left the impression that it was to England that Ireland was indebted for such civilisation and progress as was in the country… Parliamentarianism and the corruption that follows closely in its wake had sapped their national spirit.” This remains the case today with an inferoirity complex that looks to the US, EU and Britian to redeem ourselves.
Only for men and women like Mellows and graves like this across the nation, Ireland would be but a region of the so called United Kingdom and Britain. It is force and force of arms which make a nation. Mellows knew that “Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one”.
And that new society would be a sovereign, independent Ireland with the Irish people controlling all the wealth and all the wealth producing processes in the country.
Mellows was executed on the 8th December 1922 when Ireland was a semi-colonial and colonial state. That remains the case to this day and we have to always make it clear that we live in a colonial and semi-colonial country. We sit on the shoulders or giants like Mellow and the task of establishing the Peoples Republic of 1916 relies on a new generation of Irish revolutionaries to carve our own future. Beirigi bua!