October 2011        

Party news

CPI archive opened to the public

On 31 August the CPI archive was handed over to the Gilbert Library in Pearse Street, Dublin, part of Dublin City Libraries and Archives, where it will be known as the Seán Nolan and Geoffrey Palmer Communist Party of Ireland Collection. The donation was formally accepted by the mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague, on behalf of the citizens of Dublin. The ceremony was also attended by the Cuban ambassador to Ireland, Teresita Trujillo.
     In his presentation speech the general secretary of the CPI, Eugene McCartan, said: “The collection itself is rich in both its diversity and the spectrum of material from a whole range of organisations, from trade unions and community groups, and when it is all finally handed over it will be a unique and distinct collection of Irish communist materials in one place.
     “The collection is named after two stalwarts of our party, both since departed our company, Comrades Seán Nolan and Geoffrey Palmer—two names not readily identified in the public mind with our party but two very central comrades in the work and life of the CPI.
     “Seán Nolan, born in Marlborough Street in Dublin’s north inner city, joined the first Communist Party of Ireland in the mid-1920s. The party was founded in 1921 by Roddy Connolly—son of James Connolly—and other leading figures, such as Seán McLaughlin, second in command to James Connolly in the Citizen Army in the GPO. Seán Nolan was a central figure in the re-establishment of the CPI in 1933 and was from then onwards one of the key figures of the party. He ran the first public bookshop, New Books, just a few hundred yards down this very same street.
     “The second person, Geoffrey Palmer, was a long-time activist, born and reared in Dublin, as was Seán. Geoffrey was an activist, selling papers on demonstrations, on street corners or door to door and a regular contributor to our own papers but also to the national papers as well. He lost his hearing and developed seizures as a result of a severe beating with bicycle chains he received from the gangs that used to attack and attempt to break up meetings of the CPI . . .
     “Both these individuals gathered up the leaflets, posters, newspaper, letters, pamphlets etc. and built up this unique historical record of the actions and activities of Irish communists and other working-class and republican activists.
     “Within the archive you will meet many other courageous working-class activists, people like the two Mooney brothers, Johnny and Stevie, and their sister, Máirín, born and raised in Pimlico; the husband-and-wife team of Lily and Seán O’Rourke; Esther MacGregor from Crumlin, whose son died on the battlefield of Spain; John Curley from the north side of this city; Ned Connolly from Co. Longford; the militant and fighting Red miners from Castlecomer; the scattered rural activists fighting for the rights of farm labourers and the right to join a trade union.
     “Recorded are the street battles against the Blueshirts, the struggles of the unemployed, and the efforts of past generations of communists attempting to bring unity and to build bridges between the Catholic and Protestant sections of our working class.
     “You will meet working-class intellectuals like Paddy Carmody, George Jeffares, Seán Murray, and Betty Sinclair, alongside Packy Early, the Leitrim IRA volunteer-turned-communist in the 1920s and 30s and leader of building workers, and less well-known communists and anti-fascists who laid down their lives on the battlefields of Spain. You will also find the materials by and about the person who was the public face of our party for many decades, Michael O’Riordan, also, sadly, no longer in our ranks.
     “There are many more, too many to mention, who reflect the deep roots of the Communist Party of Ireland in the history and culture of our people and in particular within the Dublin working class, though not just of this city but also the working class from Belfast to Cork, from Dublin to Mayo.
     “This collection reflects the rich tapestry of the life and experience of the Irish working class—a class denied its place in the official histories of our country, a class that is encouraged to have no other aspirations than to be the hewers of wood and drawers of water, most certainly not to aspire to becoming the leading force in our society.
     “This collection we hope will give an opportunity to all those interested in exploring not just the Irish communist movement but the actions and activities of working-class activists for nearly a century. No doubt some will approach its contents hoping to confirm their preconceived views of what Irish communists stood for as “agents of a foreign power.” Those who approach it with more inquisitive and enquiring minds will find a much richer and more varied picture of our society and the work of communists. They will find expressed on the pages of our newspapers and leaflets sharp words of anger at the limitation and burdens placed upon working people, the rural poor, and small farmers, but they will also find the presentation of and the passion for what tomorrow could be if a new course and direction was won.
     The collection will give a window not only into the world of Irish communists and Irish workers but also to the wider world at a time when this country was inward-looking and insular. You will find records of money collected from the workers of Dublin in the hungry 50s and 60s, when money was very scarce, to be sent to South Africa to defend Nelson Mandela and other ANC leaders, and reports of the struggle against colonialism around the world, the voices and actions of people who sincerely and firmly believed in the working-class principle of “an injury to one is the concern of all,” a principle that is so sadly lacking in our labour movement today and the wider society.
     “There are many threads within the collection, both of individuals and the struggles of workers, that can be drawn together to construct the rich tapestry of working-class life, to give voice to the rich and diverse experiences, the pain and hardship endured, the hopes and dreams of Irish workers for a better tomorrow.”

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