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Anarchism in Ireland: Wikis


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Irish anarchism has little historical tradition before the 1970s, and as a movement it only really developed from the late 1990s – although one organisation, the Workers Solidarity Movement has had a continuous existence since 1984. Anarchists have been active in Ireland as far back as 1886, but these were short-lived groups or isolated individuals with large gaps between activity.



The first mention of an Irish connection was the Boston-based Irish nationalist WGH Smart who wrote articles for a magazine called The Anarchist in 1880/81.[1] In 1886 the English anarchist, Michael Gabriel, arrived in Dublin and moved to Bayview Avenue in the North Strand. He was a member of the Socialist League - an organisation whose best-known members were the libertarian Marxist William Morris and the anarchist Joseph Lane. A branch of the League was formed and it is known that anarchist publications were among those distributed by them. Around the same time, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) wrote the article "What's in a name (how an anarchist might put it)" at the request of Charlotte Wilson for issue no.1 of 'The Anarchist' in 1885. Shaw had been taught French by the Communard Richard Deck, who introduced him to Proudhon. Later he was embarrassed by unauthorised reprints. Shaw was never an anarchist, but a Fabian socialist.Among Irish writers, Oscar Wilde notably expressed anarchist sympathies, especially in his essay The Soul of Man Under Socialism. [2]

Around 1890 John Creaghe, an Irish doctor who was joint founder (with Fred Charles), of The Sheffield Anarchist, took part in the "no rent" agitation before leaving Sheffield in 1891. He went on to become the founding editor in Argentina of the anarchist paper, El Oprimido, which was one of the first to support the 'organisers' current (as opposed to refusal to organise large scale organisations). In 1892 English anarchists visited Fred Allen at the Dublin independent offices to see if his "Fair Trial Fund" could be used for anarchist as well as Irish Republican Brotherhood prisoners.[3] In 1894 at Trinity College Dublin's Fabian Society "over 200 students listened sympathetically" to a lecture on "Anarchism and Darwinism"[4]

In the 20th century Captain Jack White, was active as an anarchist in the 1930s after returning from the Spanish Revolution.[5] [6]

Modern development

In the late 1960s, as the civil rights campaign took off, People's Democracy, before it became a small Trotskyist group, included some self-described anarchists such as John McGuffin and Jackie Crawford. Crawford was one of the group who had sold Freedom in Belfast's Castle Street in the late 1960s. There was an anarchist banner on the Belfast-Derry civil rights march. PD members, including John Grey who went to become librarian at the Linenhall Library in Belfast, contributed to a special issue of the British Anarchy Magazine about Northern Ireland in 1971.

In the early 1970s some ex-members of the Official IRA became interested in anarchism and developed contact with Black Flag magazine in London. Among names used were Dublin Anarchist Group and 'New Earth'. Their existence was brief and not widely known.[7] A number of jailings for 'armed actions' saw the group disappear. Two members, Noel and Marie Murray, were later sentenced to death for the killing of an off-duty Garda during a bank raid. Reprieved after an international protest campaign, they were released a few years ago. In 1970 there existed a hippy commune in a squatted house on Dublin's exclusive Merrion Road known as the Island Commune, which ended when one mentally disturbed participant tried to poison others. Some inhabitants, including Ubi Dwyer of Windsor Free Festival fame, sold Freedom outside the GPO on Saturdays.


Origins of the movement

The first steps towards building a movement came in the late-1970s when a number of young Irish people who had been living and working in Britain returned home, bringing their new found anarchist politics with them. Local groups were set up in Belfast, Dublin, Limerick and Dundalk. Over the next decade anarchist papers appeared, some for just one or two editions, others with a much longer life. Titles included Outta Control (Belfast), Anarchist Worker (Dublin), Antrim Alternative (Ballymena), Black Star (Ballymena), Resistance (Dublin) and Organise! (Ballymena). Bookshops were opened in Belfast (Just Books in Winetavern Street) and Dublin (ABC in Marlborough Street). All of these groups attracted people who identified themselves as anarchists but had little in the way of agreed politics or activities, and no organised discussions or education about anarchism. This imposed limits to what they could achieve and even to their continued existence - all groups were short-lived, had little impact and left no lasting legacy.

In 1978, ex-members of the Belfast Anarchist Collective and the Dublin Anarchist Group decided that a more politically united, class based and public organisation was necessary. Their discussions led to the Anarchist Workers Alliance, which existed from 1978-81, although only to any substantial extent in Dublin.[7] It produced Anarchist Worker nos. 1-7; documents on the national question, women's liberation, trade unions, and a constitution.

Active organisations

There are several anarchist organisations operating in Ireland:

  • Organise!, a small class struggle anarchist organisation based in Northern Ireland was formed in 2003 from a merger of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, Anarchist Federation, Anarchist Prisoner Support and a number of individuals.
  • The Dublin-based Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group (RAG), a group for female anarchists was formed in 2005 and has published four issues of a magazine, The Rag.[1]
  • There are also a number of organisations which, while not explicitly anarchist, share much in common with the anarchist movement. These include the Grassroots Gatherings (2001—present), the Dublin Grassroots Network (2003-2004), Grassroots Dissent (2004—), Rossport Solidarity Camp (2005—present) and Seomra Spraoi (2004—present).


  1. ^ The Raven no.6
  2. ^ David Goodway, Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow., Liverpool University Press, 2006 (pgs. 62-92).
  3. ^ Owen McGee in The IRB, page 216 based on Dublin Metropolitan Police report
  4. ^ Owen McGee in The IRB, page 218 based on Dublin police report
  5. ^ Jack White : Irish Anarchist who organised Irish Citizens Army
  6. ^ Misfit : An Autobiography by Captain Jack White. Dublin : Livewire publications, 2005 (2nd edition).
  7. ^ a b Glossary of the Left in Ireland 1960-83 Gralton Magazine, Aug/Sept. 1983.

Further reading


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