The Irish Collection at the WCML: a new chapter- the role of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. Part One.

Opening of Irish Room.jpg

Opening of Irish Collection 1990. Tony Coughlan Executor of Greaves Collection and me, secretary of Manchester IBRG


Over the centuries the Irish  have played a key role in the labour and trade union movement in this country. The Working Class Movement Library has some of the most important archives which  document this activity and show the continuous thread between generations of Irish and British activists.

In the Irish Collection are the archives of  Tommy Jackson and Desmond Greaves. Tommy Jackson (Thomas Alfred “Tommy” Jackson 1879-1955) was a founding member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain,  and later the Communist Party of Great Britain. He was a leading communist activist,  newspaper editor and a freelance lecturer.

Desmond Greaves (C.Desmond Greaves, 1913-1988), was a political activist and labour historian. He joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1934 and in 1941 joined the Connolly Association. The Connolly Association worked to organise Irish workers into trade unions and campaigned for a united Ireland within the Labour movement. In 1948 he became the editor of the Connolly Association’s newspaper the “Irish Democrat” and remained so until his death.

My friendship with Ruth and Eddie Frow and their comrades in the Communist Party and the trade unions showed me the important link that there was and still is between the Irish and radical history in Britain.  In the WCML they ensured that this history was collected, they wrote articles and pamphlets to promote this history and always encouraged other people to research and write up that history.  They showed  the continuous link there is and was between  generations, from the United Irishmen to their contemporaries such as  Tommy Jackson and Desmond Greaves, while local activists such as Mary Quaile had made a tremendous contribution to labour and trade union politics.

In 1981 a new wave of Irish activists became involved in not just the campaign for a united Ireland but also civil rights and equality for the Irish in Britain. The early 80s 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. The 80s was a time when 40,000 Irish people  each year were making the journey across the Irish Sea to Britain.  It was a time when a new generation of second and third generation Irish people became active in a variety of organisations from the Troops Out Movement to 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 who fought for a progressive policy on the North of Ireland, supported the rights of the Irish in this country and  most importantly, prepared to fund groups such as IBRG.

IBRG Haringey

IBRG Haringay 1980s

Set up in 1981 the IBRG was a community based organisation with branches across the country. There  were several in London plus Birmingham, Cardiff, Coventry, Manchester, Bolton, N.E.Lancs, Leeds and Merseyside. Over the years branches flourished  and declined by turn, reflecting the problems of organising events and activities and finding activists and funds to keep going.

This new archive will link up with the Jackson and Greaves archives in  telling the story of IBRG from 1981-2002. It has much material on the Manchester branch but there are Minute Books from other northwest branches as well  national documents, minutes of meetings, leaflets, reports, photographs, videos and ephemerae.

I hope the archive will show what inspired people like me to get involved in IBRG,  but also why, as a working class women, it made sense for me not just to be a member of my trade union but also to follow in the footsteps of many other Irish people to campaign for equality for the Irish in this country  and  a united Ireland.

I am  now cataloguing the  IBRG archive and will be posting about it  as I work through the material.

About lipstick socialist

I am an activist and writer. My interests include women, class, culture and history. From an Irish in Britain background I am a republican and socialist. All my life I have been involved in community and trade union politics and I believe it is only through grass roots politics that we will get a better society. This is reflected in my writing, in my book Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women and my involvement in the Mary Quaile Club. .If you want to contact me please use my gmail which is lipsticksocialist636
This entry was posted in Catholicism, Communism, education, feminism, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, Salford, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Irish Collection at the WCML: a new chapter- the role of the Irish in Britain Representation Group. Part One.

  1. rebelbreeze says:

    Really looking forward to this. I was in Lewisham IBRG founded in 1986, which was very active and also for a number of years, like yourself on the Ard-Choiste (England-wide Executive).

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