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Thread: Liam Mellows and political theory during the Irish Civil War, 1922

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    Default Liam Mellows and political theory during the Irish Civil War, 1922

    Article on Liam Mellows and his attempts to concoct a political and social policy for the Republican cause during the Irish Civil War (last in an eight-part series).

    Rebel Thinker: Liam Mellows and the Philosophy of Resistance, 1922 (Part VIII)

    When the Four Courts surrendered to the Free State on the 30th June 1922, Mellows was among those of its garrison who was taken prisoner. Denied any other outlet in Mountjoy Prison, Mellows threw himself into his writing.

    In a series of three letters, the so-called Notes from Mountjoy, composed from late August to September 1922, he spelled out an ambitious set of policies to cut the authority out from underneath the Free State while winning the hearts and minds of the masses.


    (Liam Mellows)

    It was on these texts that Mellows’ reputation as a pulpiter of Republican Socialism rests, earning him the admiration of other notable figures, such as Peadar O’Donnell – to whom Mellows was "the greatest apostle of the creed of [Wolfe] Tone in our day" – and Gerry Adams, who described 'Notes' as being "as relevant today as they were when first written."

    Mellows' thesis was that, for the Republicans to win, they had to look beyond themselves and rediscover their radical roots:

    We are back to Tone – and it is just as well – relying on that great body, ‘the men of no property’. The ‘stake in the country’ people were never with the Republic. They are not with it now and they will always be against it - until it wins.
    Among the pillars of society which had turned against the Republic was the Church, for which Mellows’ pen abandoned its usual analytical tone and almost flew off the page in rage:

    Hierarchy’s abandonment of principle, justice and honour by support of Treaty. Danger to Catholicism in Ireland from their bad example – their exaltation of deceit and hypocrisy, their attempt to turn the noble aspect of Irish struggle and to bring it to the level of putrid politics

    (Irish Independent, 22nd September 1922)

    Unsurprisingly, such vehemence did not make him many friends. The 'Irish Independent' would publish the letters in September 1922, complete with headlines such as COMMUNIST REPUBLIC and DANGER TO CATHOLICISM, in case readers were unsure as to whether or not they were supposed to approve.

    While reprinting the Notes in 1965, the Irish Communist Group ruefully noted how difficult the work had been to find, let alone read:

    One can see the Blue Paper in the National Library in Dublin if one meets a co-operative librarian who knows where it is kept. It is not catalogued. Over the past forty years there have been mysterious references to the Notes in Irish left wing circles, but these have only been published once (in the 1950s).
    Even Mellows' colleagues were wary of what he had to offer. "I fear his ideals prevent him from seeing the same Military-outlook as others at times," Liam Lynch complained to Ernie O'Malley.

    When Mellows was sentenced to death on the 8th December 1922 in retaliation for the slaying of Séan Hales, a visiting priest, Father Piggot, found him "in a strange mood for one who was to die in a few hours. He was obviously agitated and talkative, and I believe, elated that he was going to die for Ireland."

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