The Government should establish a Citizens’ Assembly on Irish unity as the conversation on achieving a united Ireland gathers pace, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has told a commemoration to mark the centenary of the execution of leading republican, Liam Mellows.
Speaking in Wexford on Friday, Ms McDonald said Sinn Féin and republicans were ready to bring to fruition the aims of Mellows to achieve a 32-county socialist republic that would not only provide national independence for Ireland but economic liberation of its people.
Ms McDonald recalled the circumstances in which Mellows fought for the republican ideal when, together with others who saw the signing of the Treaty and acceptance of dominion status and of the Crown as a betrayal, he occupied the Four Courts in April 1922.
“When republicans occupied the Four Courts in April 1922, they were reasserting the right of the Republic to exist. When their former comrades turned the guns of the enemy on them, a Civil War was sparked, engineered by the British to maintain its empire in Ireland,” she said.
“As the Free State rained British artillery down on the Four Courts, the republican garrison faced the dying of the light, the heartbreaking loss of the unity that had driven the cause of the independence struggle and the betrayal of the republic for which so many of their friends had given their lives.”
She noted how Mellows, when asked by a member of Cumann na mBan when the spirit of the republic would rise again, in sorrow, conceded that it would take some time but in hope, he said that one day “a new generation would step forward to reclaim the great ideal”.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred at Mellows’ grave at Castletown in Co Wexford where he was reinterred in 1924 following his execution in Mountjoy Gaol in 1922, Ms McDonald recalled the darkness that followed when Mellows and others were executed by the Provisional Government.
“Friends, the yard in Mountjoy Gaol is sacred ground. A century on, its walls reverberate still with the echo of the shots fired by the Free State soldiers that ended the lives of four Irish patriots – four volunteers who bravely stood by the Republic.
“In the early hours of December 8th, 1922 Joe McKelvey, Rory O’Connor, Dick Barrett and Liam Mellows were woken from their cells and told that they were to be executed. There would be no trial, no pleas, no pretence of legality.
“The Free State Government openly described its execution order as one of reprisal for the killing of Seán Hales TD the day before. They were not the first republicans to be executed by the Free State, nor would they be the last,” she said.
Ms McDonald said the first executions of republicans by the Free State had begun in November in the Stonebreakers’ Yard in Kilmainham with the shooting by firing squad of “four young republican prisoners, Richard Twohig, Peter Cassidy, John Gaffney and James Fisher.”
“Erskine Childers ... was executed later that month for possession of a revolver gifted to him by Michael Collins. His execution marked the culmination of the demonisation of this principled, committed and talented republican activist by both the British and Free State governments.”
“And just a week before Mellows and his comrades faced the firing squad Joseph Spooner, Patrick Farrelly and John Murphy were executed in Beggars Bush Barracks, another four republicans among the 81 republicans executed by the Free State during the Civil War,” she said.
“The ferocity of the executions intensified the bitterness of the Civil War. The dream of the republic was sacrificed for a partitioned, reactionary Ireland in which power has rarely been wielded in the interests of ordinary people. Working people were kept down and often impoverished.”
Women were denied their place as equal citizens under the shadow of Magdalene laundries and Mother and Baby Homes, she said. “The egalitarian spirit espoused by the women of Cumann na mBan, women who sustained the revolution through its darkest days, was denied.”
Ms McDonald said Mellows’ thinking was deeply influenced by James Connolly who he had met on several occasions at the Dublin home of Constance Markievicz in the years prior to the Easter Rising. It was Connolly’s socialist vision that Liam Mellows held so tightly, up until his dying moments in Mountjoy, she said.
“It has long been said that O’Connor, McKelvey, Barrett, and Mellows were chosen for execution to assert the Free State’s authority across all four provinces. However, there is no doubt that the bullet fired at the chest of Mellows was fired at the heart of the socialist republic, such was his influence.
“In his prison Diary, Mellows wrote: ‘So called money and the Gombeen men are on the side of the Treaty, because the Treaty means imperialism and England. We are back to Tone – and it is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’,” she said.