Kath Grant; Journalist and Trade Unionist

Reinstate Phil Turner - Rotherham Advertiser demo(1)
Kath with Phil Turner at Rotherham Advertiser dispute 2015

Kath is from a Lancashire radical working-class tradition. Born in Rochdale in 1950,  she spent her first five  years living with her parents and grandfather in “The Mount”,  the Irish area in the centre of the town. Her grandparents were Irish and Scottish.

Her parents were  active in the trade unions in the   factories and mills in the town. Her mother, Annie, took part in the cotton strikes of the 1930s. Her father, Jim,  was blacklisted as a union activist in the 1930s and had to leave the town and go south to get work. Sympathetic to communist politics he did not join the British Army until the Soviet Union joined in the war  in 1941. Posted to Europe he was part of the liberation forces at the Belsen concentration camp – something he never spoke about.

After returning  to Rochdale, he was elected as union representative at Turner and Newall, a company that would become notorious for its use of asbestos in its manufacturing process, resulting  in a  campaign to expose it.  Kath remembers union members visiting their house for advice from her father.

In 1955 the family moved to a new council house – part of the post war housing expansion –  where  her sister was born. Kath decided at the age of 11 that she wanted to be a journalist, although her teachers told her “it is not a job for a girl.”  Leaving school at 16 with academic qualifications and shorthand and typing she became a clerk. For the next two  years Kath  attended night school,  improving her shorthand, and typing and obtaining A ‘levels in English and History.

Becoming a journalist

She borrowed an employer’s directory from the library and started writing to newspapers asking about jobs as  a journalist. Eventually the Heart of England group responded and offered her a traineeship at the Banbury Guardian. Kath  was now indentured for three  years to the paper where  they gave her on-the-job training as well as sending her off to college in Preston for block release and to obtain her professional qualifications i.e. National Council for the Training of Journalists.

One of her features was about the shooting dead of 10 innocent people by the Parachute Regiment  on a council estate in Ballymurphy, Belfast in 1971. (It has become known as the Ballymurphy Massacre.)  Kath spoke to a social worker who  had observed the events. “I had to argue with my editor to get it printed but I had a photographer with me who backed up the story.”  Fifty years later, in May 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologised to the families of Ballymurphy.  Kath’s article was probably one of the first in the English press about the Ballymurphy Massacre.

In 1974, when working for the Eccles Journal,  a feature she wrote about the discrimination facing gays and lesbians was pulled by the printer. Kath says “I argued with the editor. He was happy to take paid advertisements from the gay community.”

Working on the alternative press

Disillusioned over the censorship of her article about gay people she started working voluntary for the Rochdale Alternative Paper and did agency office work to pay her bills.

RAP Ltd was   a workers cooperative, set up in 1973,  which published Rochdale Alternative Paper, and also  printed and published newspapers, magazines, books, and pamphlets with left wing sympathies.

One of the co-founders Dave Bartlett summed up the role of RAP as to  “upset the establishment, challenge the powerful, and support and be the voice of the ordinary man”

In 1977 RAP used the Government’s Job Creation Programme to employ Kath for a year: she covered issues including landlord racketeering, the National Front standing in local elections and Turner and Newall.

RAP was taking up the issue of asbestos and its effect on the workforce at Turner &Newall’s. Kath’s father showed her the paper. He later died from the symptoms of asbestos and Kath wanted to expose how hazardous the conditions were at a major firm in Rochdale. At that time death by asbestos was not a recognised workplace condition. The company knew from the 1950s about the link between asbestos and cancer –  but hid the research –  and  continued to use it in the production process until the 1970s.  Kath’s  research would be used in a ground-breaking documentary by Yorkshire TV called Alice A Fight for Life in  1982.

Political work

In the 1970s Kath was involved in some of the big issues of the day. She took part in an anti-National Front march in Bradford and was arrested. Refusing to pay the fine she was prepared to go to prison,  but her mother stepped in and paid the fine  because she wanted Kath to attend a family do that weekend.

Kath joined the Troops Out Movement who were calling for British troops to be withdrawn from Ireland and for a united Ireland. Kath says,  “I always saw Ireland as an important issue.” As part of a broad left grouping, she organised a meeting where an Irish trade unionist would speak in Manchester Town Hall with   the  aim of  building  up support with local trade unions.  

The National Front flooded the meeting and,  after they were asked to leave, they laid siege to the building. Kath had to call on the Anti-Nazi League, who were also holding a meeting in the same building,  to disperse the NF.

NUJ Branch Secretary

In 1979 she moved to the Stockport Advertiser where she was branch secretary of the National Union of Journalists – a position  she has held in different workplaces over the years.  A proposed merger between the Advertiser and Express led to a nine-week dispute between the union and management. This was a time when all members of the workforce were in the union.  Through joint union action across   all papers in the group all the NUJ members threatened with redundancy were offered a job or redundancy on favourable terms.

In her next job at the Wilmslow Express and Advertiser Kath took up the issue of women in prison. She wrote six articles about  Styal Prison and the lives of the women there.

Changing Times

The 1980s  saw massive changes in the relationship between unions and management in the newspaper industry. A dispute at the Stockport Messenger owned by Eddie Shah saw a major industrial dispute begin a process that would affect all trade unions in the UK. He wanted to break the closed shop agreement that existed across the provincial papers in the newspaper industry. Six National Graphical members took strike action in July 1983 and were sacked. NUJ members refused to cross the picket lines and were  also sacked.  The company used the new anti-trade union laws –  1980 and 1982 Employment Acts –  to make illegal the  boycotting of work and advertising and secondary picketing at Bury and Warrington.

Many trade unionists saw this as an attack on all trade unions and they organised across the country to join the NGA and NUJ on the picket lines. In November 1983 over 4000 union members confronted a large  police force including riot  squads. Kath was there and recounts,  “It was very scary. It was the middle of the night and we were chased across the fields by riot police. I saw people being arrested for doing nothing and,  although I gave evidence to support this in court cases, they were still found guilty.” The strike finally ended in May 1984 and the sacked workers were found work elsewhere.

Kath, like many trade unionists, believed this was a trial run for further disputes which involved unions trying to build solidarity across the labour movement. She says,  “It was a test for all unions from Wapping and News International to the Miners Strikes in later years.” The NUJ was derecognised in most big papers and a new individualistic culture replaced one of union membership and collective action.

She was then working on the Leigh Journal and covered the Miners’ Strike 1984-5. One of the miners’ wives alerted her to the presence of police officers on the picket lines who were not wearing police identification. Kath rang the Police press office for a comment and then  wrote the article.

The next thing that happened was that the Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, John Stalker,  was on the phone to her editor. He accused her of not  getting a police response before printing which was not true. But Kath remembers,  “The editor caved in and gave Stalker a right of reply where he denied the accusation.”

Return to education…and union activities

In the 1980s Kath went to Bolton Institute of Higher Education to get a degree in English Literature and Philosophy. She was lucky: during the course her Mature student grant was abolished.

Kath met her partner Mick in 1978 and in 1991 their son Sean was born. She now worked freelance and was able to work from home and around her childcare responsibilities.

By 1994 she was back involved with her union activities and in the post of treasurer and then secretary.

In the early 2000s the Manchester and Salford NUJ branch took up the case of exiled journalist Mansoor Hassan who was forced to flee Pakistan with his family when he received death threats as a result of his exposure   of political corruption. It took six years until Mansoor and his family were given settled status in the UK. 

Kath’s branch worked  with local organisation RAPAR ( Refugee and Asylum Participatory Action Research) to help negotiate the complicated asylum system. She says,  “We have around 10 branch members who have come to the UK to seek asylum over the last 20 years. Most of them now have refugee status but we have two members who are still going through the asylum system. There are other exiled journalists in NUJ branches throughout the UK. The Branch has run campaigns for journalists seeking asylum and supported others – who did not want a public campaign to protect family – through the asylum system.”

70th birthday first

Kath with three chairs of RAPAR that she worked with over the years – Barly, Mansoor (who is also an NUJ colleague) and Manjeet.

Looking back

The media is very different from when Kath started as an apprentice , which  do not exist today. Journalists are more likely to start their training on a degree course. It also means that the opportunities for women like Kath, who came from a working-class background, are more limited.

 It is now  dominated by the internet, not  print. Gone is the security of a union organised workplace. A deregulated media means that journalists are now expected not only write copy but film, edit etc  and work across various media platforms.

Kath says,  “It has always been hard for young people who are black and/or working class to get into journalism and this is still the case. Young people from working class backgrounds simply cannot afford to take the freelance, unpaid or intern routes into journalism. There are some newer  schemes like the Local Democracy Reporters, a partnership between the BBC and regional news organisations, which have provided extra opportunities for young (and older) people to work as journalists. The LDR scheme should be extended to include independent media. It would have made an enormous difference to the Salford Star for example.”

Kath thinks that younger people are now seeing the benefits of being in a union. “As far as the union is concerned,  we are now getting more applications from young journalists at the big regional news groups like Reach and Newsquest, from the BBC staff and freelances, other broadcasting areas,  magazine groups and websites. Interest in joining the Union is often the result of low pay, stressful working conditions, redundancies etc  So not much change there!”

The job may have changed but the challenges are still there with  Issues such as the use of Artificial Intelligence and the work of photographers. Threats to journalists have become more widespread due to the use of social media while the freedom of the press has become a big issue across the world. Recently she was  heartened to see the collective action of new, young journalists out on the picket line opposing the cuts in BBC local radio.

Kath  loves being a journalist. “It is a great job. I have worked with great people – most of them NUJ activists. Originally my ambition was to get a job on the Observer’s Insight Team but I am glad I stuck with regional news. Working on local press has meant that I was able to take up an issue and report on it positively.” 

70th birthday second

Kath with Sean,   Sophie, and Manjeet.

For more information about joining  Manchester and Salford NUJ contact Kath at kath.northernstories@googlemail.com

Posted in human rights, labour history, Manchester, Middle East, North of Ireland, Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women, political women, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My review of “Where are the Elephants” by Leon Rosselson

Leon R

Leon Rosselson has been writing and performing songs  for over sixty years. In this memoir we find out about the man, his motivation for his songs and his views on society and politics today.

Born into a London Jewish family, Leon breathed in the communist politics of his parents and community. From this experience he developed his own views of the world and used the art of song writing to tell stories and  join with other people in struggles.

 “From my childhood into my teenage years I seem to have followed a song trail leading almost inevitably to a place and time when I would be writing songs.”

Leon never joined the Communist Party but, in his youth, he joined the London Youth Choir which  was a left-wing organisation. With  them he travelled to the Soviet Union and took part in  their alternative to Eurovision; the World Youth Festival.

In the 1950s the Soviet bloc was in meltdown as Khruschev exposed Stalin’s crimes, Russian troops rolled into Hungary in 1956  and many people left the Communist Party. Not Leon’s father, though:  “For him, the Russian Revolution, led by Lenin and the Communist Party was the great hope for the world. How could he abandon it?”

The threat of a nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union drove young people like Leon into the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and onto  their march to Aldermaston in 1958. CND wanted a silent march,  but the LYC and many other musicians made sure there was plenty of music during the four-day trek.

The 1960s saw revolutions in thought and action across the world.  Like many others Leon  took up the cause of the Vietnam War – which was on  television every night  – and led to a mass campaign in this country. He sang at benefits and protests. He produced an LP with poet Adrian Mitchell called “A Laugh, a Song and a Hand Grenade” and  had a book of fifty of his songs published. (There is one notable omission. Leon, like many other commentators on this period, fails to mention the Civil Rights Movement in the north of Ireland and the opposition to British rule.)

Leon is now in his 80s and in this memoir he looks back over his life and wonders what happened to all that hope for a better world. “All I know is that the end of Soviet style communism was not the end of history, that there is always hope, that people will always struggle against what is and will always envision a better, kinder, saner, more peaceful, and harmonious way of living together and respecting the natural world and those who make a home in it.”

Over the years he has written many songs, released over a dozen albums and songbooks and 17 children’s books.  He does quote from his songs which reflect his life, his politics and are sometimes sad,  but often very funny. Some such  as “The World Turned Upside Down”  about the Diggers of 1649  are the soundtrack to the left-wing history of this country.  But he asks the question why in the mainstream of the English labour movement that there is no tradition of politically conscious, singable songs. He laments this silence.

He recalls how he and musicians from the Hackney Music Workshop decided to go down to the Grunwick strike picket line in 1977: their aim  was to sing and give hope to the strikers. But no one joined in:  –  “they looked and listened as an audience.”  The Grunwick strike was defeated, one of many such over the years.

Leon is Jewish and his political outlook has been shaped by a belief from an early age that Jews should always be on the side of the oppressed.  “Being Jewish, even secular Jewish, means that you never quite belong, you are as my song says, looking at the world from the outside and so may be more sceptical of received truths, patriotisms, and nationalisms.”

Several chapters in his memoir takes up the issue of being an anti-Zionist Jew. He jokes about the rise of “zionusitis” –  “a disease that has become increasingly fashionable in these grim times.” He recounts how in 2014 an elderly Jewish couple misheard the word “hummus” as “Hamas” and fled screaming from a restaurant. The source of this illness, he advises,  can be traced “to a small self-styled democracy somewhere in the Middle East which calls itself Israel and claims to be Jewish. Whatever that means.”

Missing from this book is a list of his works. In the final  section of the book, he is interviewed by friend and singer/songwriter Robb Johnson. 

“Where are the Elephants?” is much more than one man’s life story. It is a reminder to all of how important song and political activity are in the struggle to make this a fairer, gentler society. And how important Leon Rosselson  is in the history of that struggle.

Buy it here

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Mrs. Mavis Sheerin: an Englishwoman in Derry in 1972

Mavis Sheerin

Mole Express was a Manchester  alternative magazine, first published in 1970, which  ran for 7 years and published 57 issues.  It gave a voice to the anarchist subculture, publishing articles that exposed corruption and injustice, and  offered people a network of support and an alternative lifestyle.

In  the June 1972  issue Peter Hannon  interviewed Mrs Mavis Sheerin, an Englishwoman who three  years earlier, with her Derry-born husband Patrick and children, had returned to the city of his birth. She had  lived in Manchester for 30 years,  married Patrick in 1954 and set up home in Stretford.

The article “Derry: A Housewife Speaks” exposed the systemic discrimination faced by Catholics in Derry and across the British occupied North of Ireland.

Hannon asked Mrs Sheerin what Derry was  like when they  arrived in 1969. “There were a few riots. But I was not much surprised,  I had seen these things on television – I had seen police batons…The frustration was obvious -it was all the unemployment and that was about being Catholic. The Protestants had all the amenities which are part of life in England.”


They stayed with Patrick’s mother to begin with,  but the could not find any homes to rent. “Now in England there would have been some sort of chance but not here. We put our name down for council houses and looking back now I think it would have been easier if we had been Protestants.”  She and Patrick had to put the children in a home whilst they literally walk  the streets looking for housing.

Through the Derry Housing Action Committee –an organisation set up in 1968 by socialists and tenants to highlight  the discrimination faced by Catholics and to take direct action against housing conditions in Derry – they got  a two-bedroom council flat. But it was in the Protestant area of Derry.

When rioting broke out  youths attacked them. “They used to throw bricks through our windows and we were shouted at all hours of the day and night ‘Get out you Fenian bastards’. I was glad when the Army arrived but they did nothing.”

In 1970 the family moved to a council house on the Creggan,  a large Catholic estate.


In July 1971 the British Army shot dead two young men in Derry and support for the IRA soared. Gun battles and  bomb explosions became routine. in August the Westminster government gave the go ahead for the  unionist Stormont government to bring in internment:  the aim being to destroy the Provisional IRA by arresting their leadership and crushing the rest of the movement on the streets.

On 9th  August at 4.30am hundreds of troops moved into nationalist  areas,  arresting 340 men in the first hours.

Mrs Sheerin   recounted : “They took 17 men that night. I remember being woken about 4.30am by people shouting. ‘They’ve lifted. They’ve lifted men. They’ve raided the houses.” Everyone rushed out. Women banging bin lids on the pavements woke people up and people rushed onto the streets and barricaded off their areas.”

No Loyalists had been arrested, while  political activists from the Civil Rights Movement and Peoples Democracy had been  taken.

The Resistance

Mrs Sheerin felt that there would not have been violence “if the Army had not started it. The whole place is barricaded. The Army lit the place up the other night with flares for no reason at all but to frighten us.”

She now joined the Northern Ireland  Civil Rights Association and became the secretary of the Derry branch.   “As well as the campaign we deal with social problems, personal problems, unemployment benefits, housing and so on.”

Bloody Sunday

On 30th  January 1972  an anti-internment march took place in Derry. Mrs. Sheerin and fifteen thousand people gathered in Creggan and the march set off shortly after 3pm. An hour later 13 men and boys were dead – innocent and unarmed – they were shot by the British Army’s Parachute Regiment. A 14th man died from his wounds and 17 others, including two women,  were injured. It became known as Bloody Sunday.

“In my opinion, “Mrs Sheerin told Mole Express, “ the intention was to shoot so many to put an end to the resistance and it did not matter who they were. I knew five of them and they were there just to march. I think they brought in the toughest men they had but they underestimated the people. They are closer together now than they ever were.”

Mrs Sheerin was not the only English woman in Derry at that time. “There are 30/40 English people here. We gave a press conference all together after Bloody Sunday but the reporters were not interested in that and they didn’t turn up.”

Peter Hannon asks Mrs Sheerin what she would like the British public, the neighbours she left behind in Manchester to do? She replied “I would like them to look further into what’s still going on over here. I’d like to get across why people are still marching and fighting. People don’t take risks like this unless they have something real to fight for.”

Mole Express is available in  the archives  in Central Reference Library,  Manchester and the Working Class Movement Library.Irish people and some political activists in Britain did take action over events in the North of Ireland as  discussed in  Michael Herbert’s book “The Wearing of the Green”. Buy it here

The Bloody Sunday Inquiry also known as the Saville Report was set up by Prime Minister Tony Blair in 1998.  Mrs Sheerin gave evidence on day 125  and you can read it here. Its report was published on 15th  June 2010.

The then Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that the paratroopers had fired the first shot, had shot at unarmed civilians, and killed one man who was already wounded. He apologised on behalf of the British Government.

Visit the Museum of Free Derry here


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My review of “But You Did Not Come Back” by Marceline Loridan-Ivens

but you 1

Marceline Loridan-Ivens  (19th March 1928 – 18th September 2018) was a French Jew, an activist in the French Resistance and the Algerian resistance, an actor, a filmmaker, and a writer.

In 1944 at the age of 15 she was arrested by the Gestapo with her father for their resistance activities, In this book, written  75 years later,  her anger screams out from the pages. But also  her love for the father,  who was brutally taken away from her.

When they were held together in Drancy (the internment  camp in Paris where arrested Jews were held prior to deportation)  her father  knew that he was not going to survive and said to Marceline:     “You might come back, because you’re young, but I will not come back.” She says:  “That prophecy burned into my mind as violently and definitively as the number 78750 tattooed on my left arm a few weeks later.”

After their arrest Marceline and her father were separately deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland from where her father’s family originated. They did meet, once, as they passed  each other on the way back to the camp. “I fell into your arms, fell with all my heart-your prophecy wasn’t true, you were alive.” Marceline was beaten by the guards,  but her father managed to hand her a tomato and an onion and she told him the number of her prison block.

By  a miracle  her father managed to get a note to her in the camp. “I can see your writing, slanted to the right, and four or five sentences that I can no longer remember. I’m sure of one line, the first: “My darling little girl” and the last line too, your signature: “Shloime”.  But what came in between, I don’t know anymore.”

Marceline survived the camps,  but her father as he had predicted, did not. She returned to a  France where the collaborators with the Nazis were  still in jobs and running the country. Rejected by Israel, where she  had planned to move to,  she  took  her anger and desire for political change into activity to support other colonised people such as Algeria  which in the 1950s and 60s  becomes the biggest cause for   French left. “The more I demanded reparations for the Algerians, the more I felt I was being paid back myself, felt I had found my place. They were Arabs, I was Jewish.”

She met  filmmaker Joris Ivens (18th  November 1898 – 28th  June 1989) who became the love of her life. With him she makes many films about post war struggles for independence including Algeria and Vietnam,  and shares in his hopes for a different and fairer world.  “I had married a man of your age, an heir to the exalted nineteenth century that believed in the continuous, automatic progression of History.” But in the end: “he too left me alone in the ruins of the twentieth century.”



Marceline  says:  “I would like to run away from the history of the world, from this century, go back to my own time, the time of Shloime and his darling little girl.” But she does not and that is the inspiring theme of this book.  She takes the anger and pours it into her life work and  tries  to make sense of a world that seems to be going backwards. Ultimately this is an inspiring book that challenges all of us to become active in opposing inequality, fascism, and injustice.

Watch a documentary about her: “Marceline. A Woman. A Century”  True Story.

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My review of “On Dangerous Ground A Memoir of the Irish Revolution” by Maire Comerford. Edited by Hilary Dully

on dangerous ground

Maire  Comerford  (1893-1982) was an Irish revolutionary:   this book  is her story of her life until the age of 27 years,  recording  her role in the turbulent politics of Ireland from 1916 to 1927. Her editor Hilary Dully, a family member, completes her life story using Maire’s  own  archive.

Maire  was born into a privileged family in Wexford., but her life turned upside down when she witnessed the 1916 Rising when for  six days an armed rebellion against British rule in Ireland took place in Dublin. Several Republican groups including the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Citizen Army and the women’s organisation Cumann na mBan took part. A proclamation of Irish  independence from Britain was read and circulated around the city. After the Rising was defeated,  the British executed 14 of the leaders,  while a further  1400  imprisoned.

Maire, like many others,  was inspired by these events:

“It was not death but the call to freedom, and the new illustration of its meaning, which captured us; a flag on a pole, a proclamation that spoke the truth, and men deciding themselves how best to die, if die they must – these were the things that suddenly counted more than anything else in Ireland.”

She went on to become  active in Cumann na mBan , the Republican  political party Sinn Fein and the Gaelic League which promoted the Irish language. Moving to Dublin in 1919 she threw herself into the politics of the War of Independence.

Her memoir is written from the standpoint of an activist and this is what gives it   legitimacy. Maire  was an intelligent and dynamic person,  using  a bicycle in her political work. She  zoomed  around the country moving arms, transporting dispatches, investigating the destruction of homes,  and taking part in all aspects of the politics of the era.

What also stands out is also the way that  Maire  gives prominence to the activities of the women involved in the Republican movement – which would have been rare when she wrote this memoir in the 1940s and 1950s.

Cumann na mBan (The Irish Women’s Council)  was set up on  2nd April  1914 in response to women’s exclusion  from the all-male Irish National Volunteers. Over the years 10,000 women, from all classes,  took part in the struggle for independence,  but their role has until recently been marginalised in most  histories of the fight for the independence of Ireland.

In 1917 it was Maire’s  job to organise Cumann na mBan branches in every parish in north Wexford. “Evening and night hours were spent bicycling uncounted miles over the little roads where once the 1798 men had marched. With that soil under one’s feet, and a job to be done, it was heaven to be young.”

Máire_Comerford 3

Maire (centre) with Cumann na mBan comrades in 1940s.

By 1919 Marie is working for Alice Stopford Green, a historian and Republican ,  and living in the heart of the  politics of revolution.  She describes the struggle at a street level. “The women selling apples and flowers on the sidewalk, with their capricious aprons ever ready to catch a smoking revolver, a packet, or an un-discharged bomb “Drop it here,  son” – from a man in a tight corner.”

Marie has some interesting insights into the relationships between men and women in the Republican movement. “There were those who worked easily and naturally with women, in full trust and confidence: and then there the ‘mystery men’ who only wanted us to do what we were told and ask no questions.”

But it is the women of Cumann na mBan after the  end of the War of Independence  whom she condemns. “Why did Cumann na mBan let down the feminist cause down when the war was over?”  and “It  never occurred to me to doubt that the Republican Government, when we put it in power, would do justice to both sexes equally and, of course, to all of the people.”

In 1921 negotiations took place between the Republican government  and the British government. Michael Collins, Sinn Fein MP for Cork, and military strategist for the Irish Republican Army took the lead and the Anglo-Irish Treaty was agreed. The Partition of the island was written into law, Ireland remained within the British Empire while  the new government would have to swear an oath to the King.

Opposition to the Treaty led to the Irish Civil War with Collins’ former ally,  Eamon de Valera,   leading the anti-Treaty forces, which Maire joined.  She refused to accept that  “Ireland was required to bow to the sovereignty of England. She must abandon the Republic. Any servant of the Republic must now consent to an oath to the British King George… all we knew was that the Republic of Easter Week and the First Dáil was betrayed.”

During the 1922 election Maire was active,  and,  although she was not entitled to a vote (being a woman under  30),  she did so anyway.   “I knew I had earned the right to vote, and was determined to have my say.” She impersonated a dead woman and voted.

Playing a  full part in the Civil War she was arrested and imprisoned and only released after 27  days on a hunger strike. Maire  was then sent by De Valera to the U.S.A. to  raise funds and promote the Republican cause. Returning home after nine months she experienced poverty and loneliness when  living on a small poultry farm.

Her memoir is a reminder of the important role that many women have played,  and continue to play,  in their commitment to a united Ireland free of British rule. Sadly, like the biographies of  many activist women, it was not published until after her death.

She ends her story thus.  “We were from various strata of society but we were rank-and-file Republicans in love with the new freedom that we hoped to make secure. I have written the story of our efforts as I knew them and to explain how, in the end, we were driven underground, pushed down by the pressure of a soul-destroying political defeat, which followed the forcible partition of our island all those years ago.”

marie comerford 2

Maire in her later years.

In 1973 as part of his documentary “Curious Journey” Kenneth Griffiths interviewed Marie. You can  watch it here

Buy it here

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Following in My Mother’s Footsteps; the lives of Lily Wild and Hilary Jones.


In these two articles I want to highlight the lives of Lily Wild and Hilary Jones: a mother and daughter. How did they cope with being  mothers, wives and being politically active in political parties, their trade union, and their communities.

Northern suffragist Hannah Mitchell described her own struggle with being a wife, a mother and a political activist as having “one hand tied behind me.”  My first article looks at the life of Lily Wild during one of the most turbulent periods of history in this country.

Lily in hat

Young Lily

“We joined the Young Communist League for a better life “


Leah Wild  – known as Lily Wild (nee Clyne) (1917-2004) – was a familiar figure at Communist Party  events and demonstrations in the Manchester area. Born into a Manchester Jewish Communist family she was part of a community that was persecuted and as a girl and woman she joined with her contemporaries to fight back in a lifetime of political activism.

But, as a working-class woman who worked and had children, Lily was never  at the forefront of campaigns or demonstrations. Her story is the story of  many women who were (and still are) the backbone of movements,  but are often invisible in the published histories.

Lily  was born in 1917, the year of the revolution in the Soviet Union. Her father, Morris, had fled Petrograd in 1905, after his brother was shot outside the Winter Palace during a demonstration. Miriam, her mother, escaped from a town outside Warsaw and the  pogroms against Jews by Russian Cossacks. They met and married in Manchester.

A Jewish community had been in Manchester since 1794. In the 1840 Jews from Eastern Europe flowed into the inner-city areas of Redbank and Strangeways. More orthodox,  they set up their synagogues and found employment in workshop trades. By the late 1880s  some Jewish people were active in trade unions and a number of  radical  political organisations. By 1914 the community numbered 30,000,  although  the political activists were a small part of this.

Morris was a presser in a factory, working  long hours in a factory as a presser from 6am to 10pm sometimes  but could turn his hand to any part of the production of clothes. We know little about, Miriam,  except she worked in the home all her life and  bore  seven  children: two boys and five girls. They lived in the predominantly Jewish area of Cheetham Hill  in north Manchester. Lily remembered,  “when we got to our bus stop the conductor would shout “Little Israel.”

Miriam and Lily

Miriam and Lily

Whilst the family were not orthodox Jews, they observed the festivals. The children went to mainstream schools,  although the boys attended Hebrew school.

Morris  could not read or write in English so the  oldest son Joseph , aged 9, used  to read to him when he was at work in the factory. “I used to take him his tea and read the Daily Worker and books to him as he had his tea and for a little time when he was pressing.” Lily and her sisters also read the newspapers to him and,  when they got older, went with him to political meetings.

Most of the children followed their father into the clothing industry in local factories. Aged 14 years Lily left school,  but her father was not keen on her starting work. Perhaps he wanted her to stay home and help Miriam with her siblings and  the housework. But Lily  “was dying to get wages and give the money to my mother.” Morris asked at his factory and Lily was taken on but not paid any wages to begin with . It was only after a month when she was producing good work that she was given just   2/6 a week. “It turned me off machining but I stayed working in it for most of my life.”

The Communist Party of Great Britain was set up in 1920 and a Manchester branch was founded  in August of that year.  Children of immigrant Jews such as the Clyne siblings were attracted to a party that took on board the problems they faced,  including  racism,  poverty and unemployment,  as well as welcoming the  revolution in Russia. 

The Young Communist League was set up in Manchester in  1922 , and by 1925 there were two YCL groups in Manchester with 55 members. By the late 1920s a Cheetham Hill  branch of the YCL existed.

YCL in 1930s

YCL in 1930s. Lily at front kneeling.

Lily’s oldest brother Joseph  was the first to join the YCL and visited the Soviet Union. Lily wrote to him in 1932 to tell him she had joined the YCL and enclosed a photo of herself in a new outfit. “He wrote back and didn’t care about me joining,  but said he did not like my new outfit and that I looked too old in it!”

Joining the YCL provided not just a political view of the world through meetings and demonstrations,  but a social life of dances, films  and rambling. Lily and her comrades rented two cottages in Derbyshire so they could escape industrial Manchester, with  the girls were in one and the boys in the other. Her brothers, Joseph and Max,  took part in the Mass Trespass of Kinder Scout in 1932 and  Joseph was one of the arrested.

Lily and sister Bella on cycling hols 2

Lily (white blouse) and friends on cycling trip.

The rise of fascism in the 1930s at home and in Italy and Germany  drew more young Jewish people into the YCL. Cheetham YCL became the biggest in Manchester with 100 members. Together with the Salford YCL and its smaller membership, both were predominantly Jewish with estimates ranging from 75% to 95%.

In 1932 the British Union of Fascists was set up by  Oswald Mosley.  Mass meetings were held by the BUF  in Manchester from 1933 to 1937. By September 1934 it was estimated that there were 1500 fascists in in Manchester,  of which 250 wore black shirts,  with another 1,500 in Salford.

In 1934 a fight took place between the fascists and the communists  outside a meeting of the Blackshirts in Manchester addressed by Mosley, during which  Morris and Lily were arrested by the police. They were found guilty and fined £1 and 5s.

Lily newspaper clipping

This was just one of many battles where communists fought  to stop the fascists spreading their poisonous message of hate. Young Jewish people, knowing what was happening abroad ,  were determined to stop the fascists entering their area, selling their newspapers, and recruiting other people to their cause. Lily recalled, “All our friends felt the same way and were in the YCL. It felt like all Jews were progressive or communist minded.” Lily was one of the contingents in  October 1936  who stood alongside the anti-fascists at Cable Street in London  who stopped the Blackshirts invading their community.

After July 1936 supporting the Republican cause in Spain  dominated the lives of the YCL. Out of the 20 Manchester and Salford Jews who volunteered to go to Spain at least 13 were members of the YCL or YCL Challenge Club.

Whilst the men went to war the girls and women worked for the cause by raising the issues about the Republican cause, collecting money in the “Aid for Spain” campaign, and taking food parcels to Basque children in the camps that sprang up around Britain.  Lily’s parents took in a Basque refugee, Angel, who became part of their family.  The women would visit Spanish Republican prisoners who were held in camps and her sisters Freda and Bella married two of them; Felix and Juan “Jack.”

In 1939 as war broke out Lily was still living at home – 381 Waterloo Road in Cheetham Hill  – and working as a machinist. The CPGB did not support the Second World War until June 1941 when  Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the party now called it an anti-fascist war.

In 1942 Lily’s life changed completely. She moved out of the family home and  had a daughter, Hilary. She continued to work full time in a clothing factory and contend with all the prejudices  as an “unmarried mother”  whilst staying active in the political events of the day…


In my next article I will be tracing how Hilary followed in her mother’s footsteps….


I am very grateful to Hilary for lending me tapes of interviews that Bill Williams did with the Clyne sisters Lily, Freda, Bella and Rose and their brother Joseph (Judel).  They are accessible at the Manchester Jewish Museum.

Also, the PHD thesis by Rosalyn D. Livshin “Nonconformity in the Manchester Jewish Community; The Case of Political Radicalism 1889-1939” (2015). It was invaluable.

Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, interesting blog, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

My review of “A Very British Conspiracy The Shrewsbury 24 and the Campaign for Justice” by Eileen Turnbull

a very british conspiracy

In 2023 many trade unions are taking strike action due to a cost-of-living crisis amongst working people, while  the  Tory government’s response  is to  threaten  further  anti-strike  legislation. A Very British Conspiracy is a reminder of the lengths a Tory government will go to crush the trade union movement.

It took a campaign of 27 years for the story to be told and for the quashing of the convictions of the strikers. One question that struck me is why the trade union  movement  left it to Eileen and her comrades to take on this battle.

Eileen was married to Tommy,  who worked on building sites across the northwest in the 1960s and 1970s. It was dangerous, dirty work with little solidarity between workers and no health and safety protection. He left the industry after an accident but was an activist in the Transport and General Workers Union (now Unite): they were both hopeful when they heard about the National Building Workers Strike in 1972.

For the first-time labourers and skilled workers were united in demanding the end of “The Lump” and a joint pay claim for all workers. As Eileen says,  “Building workers were serious and wanted to change the balance of power in the industry.” They took on the barons of the building industry including McAlpines, Laings and Wimpey. In September 1972 the strike was settled and the unions had won the biggest pay rise in their history.

But it was not over. In  fact,  the fallout from the strike would devastate the trade union movement for years to come and ruin the lives of those who took part. Five months after the strike thirty-two building workers were arrested for offences that were alleged to happen on building sites in Shropshire and North Wales during the strike. Finally, after the trials six pickets were imprisoned, sixteen received suspended prison sentences, one was found “not guilty” by the jury and one was  “not guilty” by order of the court. They became known as “the Shrewsbury 24”.

Eileen Turnbull is one of the heroines of this story. A working-class woman,  she was educated through the trade union movement,  and was there right from the days of the trial through to the quashing of the convictions of the Shrewsbury 24.

eileen turnbull

Eileen Turnbull

She worked for the GMB trade union  and had the confidence to take up the mammoth task of unearthing  the truth, about how and why Des Warren,  one of the leading pickets,  received three years in prison. His life was changed completely,  and even after his release he was blacklisted and suffered life changing health problems.

In 2006,  after Des died, the Shrewsbury 24 campaign was born and Eileen became its unpaid researcher. Again, the question must be asked; why unpaid? The trade unions could have easily paid her wages. Later, the campaign was forced to borrow money to pay their legal bill.  Successive Labour governments could have squashed the convictions – but they did not. Eileen also undertook an M.A. and PHD so that she could gain access to archives and to answer the question: why were the men  prosecuted?

Eileen concluded that “The outcome of the trials was the result of concerted action by building trades employers, Conservative politicians and the state to halt the emerging and successful trade union tactic of flying pickets and the growing strength of trade unionism in the building industry”.

This history is personal to me. My  father was a building worker in the UK in the 1970s. He was one of the many Irish men who were an important part of the workforce of the building industry in this country. Inspired by the National Building Workers strike of 1972 he joined the union and the strike. One of the few criticisms I have of this book is that the role of the Irish in trade unions has not been recognised. There are few histories written about the importance of Irish workers to the Labour movement. But it can be read about in the books of Dónall Mac Amhlaigh, the plays of Jim Allen and in the song “Ordinary Man” sung by Christy Moore.

The story of the Shrewsbury 24 Campaign is an inspiring one. There are many lessons that the trade union movement can learn from their search for the truth and justice. It was, for Eileen,  “a long and winding road of discovery to find the crucial evidence which was to finally overturn this miscarriage of justice… These prosecutions should never have taken place. The fact that they did is a salutary lesson for all trade unionists today.” 


Buy it here.

If you live in Greater Manchester, you can borrow a copy here

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Patti Mayor: Preston artist and suffragette

Mayor, Patti, 1872-1962; The Half-Timer

Half Timer Patti Mayor

In the little gem of an art gallery in Oldham I came across the work of artist and activist Patti Mayor. Born in Preston on 1 May 1872 as Martha Ann Mayor, she was known as Patti, one of five siblings. Her father owned his own company and the family lived a comfortable middle class lifestyle. Patti was able to study at the Slade School of Art and Paris, for instance.

Patti was born into era of rapid change with the  rise of trade unions , the creation of the Independent Labour Party and the campaign for Votes for Women.

The Women’s Social and Political Union  was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903 in Manchester. It hit the headlines when her daughter Christabel Pankhurst and their friend  Annie Kenney disrupted a meeting of Liberal Party speakers at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in October 1905. Fined,  they refused to pay and were imprisoned.

The Preston WSPU was set up after Annie Kenney spoke at a meeting in Preston with local suffragette Edith Rigby. Patti joined  the group met in a room above a tea merchant’s in Glover’s Court in the town centre.

Women such as Patti were attracted to the WSPU  because of its militancy over the campaign for the vote,  and perhaps  because the organisation used art to promote their demands. 

Working class women in Preston worked in the weaving industry – both as single and married women – and  they knew their value to the country’s economic prosperity and  thus were angry about their working conditions and the fact that   they did not have the vote. They took this anger into the WSPU to change the system.

Preston WSPU, like many branches in the early days, brought together these disparate groups of women. They funded their office and activities  by sales of work and social evenings.

“Preston members have been very successful with their three days sale of work (held to clear off the debt of £35 on their offices), and their efforts have been encouraged and fortified by gifts from various Lancashire comrades. It has been another demonstration of the good comradeship of women, and the sale has, in fact, been a three days’ At Home, when husbands and sons came in to help, and townsfolk took the opportunity of showing their sympathy. Much propaganda work has been done informally, as well as by two delightful performances of Miss Beatrice Harradea’s comiedietta, “Lady Geraldine’s Speech” given under Miss Pattie Mayor’s active stage-management.” (Votes For Women 5th November 1909).

Several of Patti’s art works are of working-class  girls and women. One of the famous is “Half Timer” which is a portrait of 12-year-old Annie Miller. She worked as a tenter at Horrockses  textile mill in Preston.  Half timer refers to the fact that she worked half a day at the mill and then got half a day’s education. Although after working 6 hours in a mill she probably slept the rest of the day.

Patti chose to take this portrait to London on 12 June 1908 for one of the biggest demonstrations organised by the WSPU, the London for Women’s Sunday, a suffragette march and rally, when over 300.000 women from across the country gathered to show their support for the vote and to prove to the Liberal Government that they were serious about their campaign.

ticket-one London Sunday march

Ticket for London march 21 June

It was reported in  the WSPU newspaper “Votes for Women”  that: “Talking of banners reminds me of the gem possessed by the Preston branch, which contains an oil-painting of a Lancashire lassie by Miss Pattie Mayor and bears the legend “Preston lasses mun hae th’voat”. At a social gathering held this week in the Geisha Rooms, Preston, Miss Mayor was presented with a bouquet on behalf of  the local Union.”

“Half Timer” is a powerful image. Patti portrays Annie with great dignity and respect and there is no sense of voyeurism. Patti reflects her politics in her choice of subjects.

We know little about her politics beyond the WSPU. What did she think about the undemocratic politics of Mrs. Pankhurst? Did she support the First World War alongside Edith Rigby? Or did she oppose it like  her friend Joseph Garstang who went to prison rather than be conscripted?

Read more about him here

Patti  died in 1962: her work was distributed to galleries in Lancashire. And although she was well known in her time, she was not included in Elizabeth Crawford’s book on “Art and Suffrage A Biographical Dictionary of Suffrage Artists.”

Visit the exhibition it finishes on 28 January.

I could not find a history of Preston WSPU but once again turned to “One Hand Tied Behind Us” by Jill Liddington and Jill Norris and their wonderful account of the Lancashire suffrage movement. Buy it here

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Manchester Irish in Britain Representation Group and Grass Roots Books Radical Bookshop (and later Frontline Books)

GrassRoots scans_0004

In 1981 a new wave of Irish activists became involved in not just the campaign for a united Ireland but also in campaigning for the  civil rights and equality for the Irish in Britain: the Irish in Britain Representation Group (IBRG).

The early 1980s were critical times during the conflict in the North of Ireland, it was a time of the hunger strikes when 10 young men died for their right to political status. It was also a time when 40,000 Irish people each year were making the journey across the Irish Sea to Britain.

It was a time when Irish people of different generations were becoming active in a new wave of activism including organisations such as the Troops Out Movement, the Irish Abortion Support Group, and the Irish in Britain Representation Group. It was a time when there was an active group of people in the Labour Party , the Labour Committee on Ireland, who fought for a progressive policy on the North of Ireland, supported the rights of the Irish in this country and at council level prepared to fund groups, such as IBRG.

Manchester IBRG was one its first branches and its members were involved in the formation of the national organisation.  In 1986 I moved back to Manchester and revived the branch as it was not that active. It  was based in a Catholic centre that was also not easy to access and it was dominated by some reactionary men.

The new branch had more women members than men and  included many younger people who were second generation or over from Ireland and had a different,  more assertive attitude to their Irishness. It included older women who were part of the traditional Irish community but were looking for a new organisation to reflect their lives and experiences. Although not party political most of the members were from a left/feminist background.

In the 1980s asserting oneself as Irish was deemed as making a political statement. Anti-Irish racism was part of everyday life and at all levels of society. Discrimination against Irish people was rampant and it was an issue that galvanised the Irish community in Manchester with IBRG taking the lead.

The war going on in Ireland and the state’s use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act made Irish people very nervous about getting involved in Irish organisations. Attracting members was not easy. We asked GRB for a post box so that we could receive mail and use the shop’s address to send out mailings. We were “Box 9”!

GrassRoots lBRG membership ed

IBRG Membership Leaflet

IBRG was effectively banned from most Irish Centres in  Manchester either  because they were run by right wing business people who opposed our politics or they were worried that if they did host our meetings, they would attract police attention and lose their licence. We held our branch meetings in Manchester Town Hall and the Students’ Union of Manchester Polytechnic (now Manchester Metropolitan University). In 1988 Liam Bradshaw of St. Brendan’s Irish Centre in Old Trafford offered IBRG space to have meetings and organise events.

We were very grateful to GRB (and later  Frontline Books) for the support they gave us. Located in the city centre it made access easier  for an Irish community spread across the city. Also, for a community that had a radical past (and future) the bookshop was an ideal place for us to have our mail box and meetings.   In March 1990 we sent the shop  a donation of £15 as a thank you for their support.

GrassRoots scans_0003

GRB had an excellent selection of Irish books, fiction, and non-fiction. They produced a questionnaire which they asked us to circulate to our members to inform them when they were buying new books. They also offered to put on a display of IBRG work at the shop.

When we produced an IBRG magazine (An Pobal Eirithe) they agreed in April 1988 to sell  10 copies.

ape 1990

In 1990 Grass Roots Books became Frontline Books.

An example of the hysteria that was prevalent at that time was that one day at work I got a phone call from Neil Swannick at Frontline asking me to immediately go to the shop and retrieve a parcel that had just arrived. I worked outside the city and so  got to the shop later that day. The parcel was waiting for me at the desk at the front of the shop. I opened it in front of Neil. It was a video sent from Ireland about the Hunger Strike Campaign, that I was going to use at a meeting.

Over the years 1986-1995 we held several meetings at the bookshop. This included;

History and the Irish Community 11 September 1991 with Ruth and Eddie Frow.

GrassRoots scans_0002

Irish Women Writers 17 September 1991 with writers Moy McCrory and Berlie Doherty.

Manchester  Festival Women Writers and Men Writers events 23 & 30 Sept. 1992

Historian Liz Curtis (author of “The Cause of Ireland”) meeting Frontline 17 March 1994

Hugh Callaghan (Birmingham 6) book launch in May 1994.

Hugh Callaghan meeting 1994

Bernadette Hyland (IBRG) and Hugh Callaghan

In IBRG Minutes of 19 September 1995 an Irish political prisoner contacted IBRG asking for people to send him books. I circulated this to members and said that if they were not happy to use their own address to send the books they could do so via our box at the shop.

The bookshop was of course much more than a place to hold meetings and receive mailings. It was a welcoming space for people who had never been involved in politics. It was a place to meet other people  looking for alternative views about the world and to get involved in activities. It was a place to find radical information in pamphlets and books that were not available anywhere else.

The archive of IBRG can be accessed at the WCML see

Contact the archive of GRB at grbhistory@gmail.com

For further information see  leftontheshelf/research which has a listing and bibliography of radical bookshops and hosts a newsletter on the history of radical bookselling.

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My review of “Ireland’s Hidden Diaspora: the “abortion trail” and the making of a London-Irish underground,1980-2000 by Ann Rossiter

Irelands Hidden Diaspora

Growing up in Manchester in the 1970s I had been subject to my Catholic (largely Irish) secondary school promoting an anti-abortion agenda and encouraging students to get on buses to attend Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child demos. I avoided this.  I was quite anti the school anyway, and when I went to Hull University, I joined the  National Abortion Campaign and took part in their meetings, demonstrations, and lobbies.

Returning home in my holidays and proudly wearing my NAC badge I was stunned by my Irish Catholic parents announcing that they supported abortion rights. They had seen too many women being treated harshly for becoming pregnant.

In the 1980s I was proud to be a member of the Irish in Britain Representation Group– an organisation which supported abortion rights for women on the island of Ireland.

Ann Rossiter’s book is an important historical account of how for twenty years members of the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group (IWASG) and the Irish Abortion Solidarity Campaign (lasc) supported Irish women in their journey across the sea to London to have an abortion and also campaigned to change the law in Ireland on abortion.

During this time every year around 5,000 women from the Republic of Ireland and 1,500 from the North of Ireland travelled to Britain to get an abortion. They were met by Irish women who had settled in London in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Some of the women were second and third generation.

Ann comments “We were our bit of the Irish community.”  They were part of the alternative Irish community in London. In the 80s the Irish community in Britain numbered five millions while 40,000 Irish were coming into the country every year. Women made up a sizeable part of that influx.

The political environment was not easy for the Irish. The early 1980s were critical times during the conflict in the North of Ireland, it was a time of the hunger strikes when 10 young men died for their right to political status. And the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act against the Irish community in Britain turned the Irish into “suspects” but it also led to the creation of grassroots groups which were prepared to challenge this racism and discrimination. Irish people took this anger into creating groups such as  IBRG,  solidarity groups including the Troops Out Movement and Labour Party groups such as the Labour Committee on Ireland.

Irish women were a significant part of the growing Irish community and their presence and alternative view on what it meant to be Irish could be seen in the creation of organisations such as the London Irish Women’s Centre in 1983. A Centre that had “a feminist ethos concerned with both welfare issues and women’s self-empowerment.”

Abortion law in Ireland on both sides of the border was one of the most restrictive in Europe. One thing that all male (and some women) politicians on both sides of the border have agreed on is their opposition to any changes to this draconian policy. Ann says that Anti-Choice lobbyists “brought disproportionate influence to bear on fearful politicians.”

According to Ann the creation of the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group in the 1980s “was based on a longstanding tradition of Irish women, and sometimes men, whether living in Ireland or Britain, helping out in difficult circumstances”.

Facing hostility from the majority of London-Irish organisations, and to protect the privacy of the abortion seekers and its members the IWASG became an underground movement. Activists spoke of their work in the Feminist Review “It is a subversive activity – enabling women to have terminations undermines the dominant values of both the Church and the State in Ireland.”

The IWASG worked alongside the Spanish Women’s Abortion Group in London. They were two separate groups but worked jointly to ensure that all  women got the best deals from the clinics. They also did surveys to check women’s experiences of the termination once they had left the clinic.

Working with other organisations was an important aspect of IWASG, a factor that is only recently being recognised. These organisations which included health and reproductive rights organisations, abortion providers, women’s centres, and women’s voluntary groups.

The IWASG was an Irishwomen- only collective from its early days. Anti-Irish racism and a hostile environment in Britain during this period drove women into the IWASG and other Irish community organisations.

It was an informal support group, which provided information on obtaining a legal abortion, helped with the travel arrangements, met women from stations and airports, provided overnight accommodation and financial support. But it also provided a non-judgemental and supportive environment.

Travelling over from Ireland was stressful for the women and made more so by the impact of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the constant sense of surveillance and the fear  of being stopped under the legislation. During the 1980s over 80,000 people were stopped every year on their way into this country, the overwhelming majority of whom were never charged with any offence.

The Irish Abortion Solidarity Campaign , took up the campaign to support a woman’s “Right to Choose” onto the streets. IASC was set up in 1990 following a picket of the London Irish Embassy over restrictions imposed by the Republic’s Supreme Court on the provision of the names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion clinics abroad to women in the South.

Fast forward to 2021 and a report from the Abortion Support Network shows how little things have changed

Statistics released today1 (21 June) show that hundreds of Irish women are still forced to travel to England for abortion services, despite provision of services in 2019. The Department of Health reported that 206 women from the Republic of Ireland and 161 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for an abortion, representing 60% of all people who gave an address from outside of England and Wales.  

The data indicates that at least 30% of Irish people who have an abortion overseas cannot afford to travel without financial support. In 2021 ASN funded 59 clients from the Republic of Ireland to travel for their abortion, and helped many more with information on accessing an abortion in-country. The average grant ASN makes to Irish clients is €800.  

This book is an important oral history of how London Irish women supported abortion seekers over twenty years and campaigned to change the law on both sides of the Irish border. They were politically and financially independent.

It also breaks the silence around abortion seekers in Ireland and amongst Irish organisations in Brittain and is an important contribution to the history of the Irish in tishis country. Ann’s work gives a voice to the women who supported some of the most vulnerable and exploited women as they made that lonely journey from Ireland to Britain. It is a testament to the courage and determination of the women activists. It is a template to other generations of women on how organise and support women at a time in their lives when they were most in need of sisterhood.

A copy of Ann’s book is now part of the Irish Archive at the Working Class Movement Library . The IBRG archive is also at the WCML.

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