The IBRG archive at the WCML. Part Four; How Irish women played an active role in IBRG.

In the 1970s the Irish community in Britain was represented by the Federation of Irish Societies; an organisation made up of mainly men who were Irish born. IBRG was set up in 1981 because of the F.I.S.’s reluctance to speak out on the issue of the Hunger Strikes in the North of Ireland and to recognise the discrimination and deprivation facing the Irish in this country.

IBRG reflected not just a more politicised generation of Irish born in this country,  but an organisation that was 50/50 women and men. From 1981-2001 there was a female president (Maire O’Shea), two female chairs (Bernadette Hyland and Virginia Moyles), as well as officers including Bridget Galvin, Judy Peddle, Laura Sullivan, Caitlin Wright, Majella Crehan and Jackie Jolley. There was a Women’s Subcommittee, a Women’s Officer, IBRG women’s meetings,  while in  common to many radical  organisations at that time, crèches were provided for all national meetings.

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National IBRG Officers; Laura Sullivan, Diarmuid Breatnach, Virginia Moyles and Pat Reynolds

Manchester IBRG reflected this national trend. It was made up of Irish born, second and third generation women with ages ranging from 20s to 50s, and comprised students, public sector workers,  single women and mothers.  A separate women’s group was set up to organise events that spoke to Irish women’s experiences. The women taking part included Ann Hilferty, Joan Brennan, Eileen Carroll and Linda Ryan.

Tensions between traditional Irish organisations in Manchester, the Council of Irish Associations,  and IBRG came to a head in 1988 over the content of Irish Week, which was organised and funded by Manchester City Council as part of their wider policy over Ireland.

IBRG were excluded by the official Irish Week Committee  (made up of traditional Irish organisations, mainly men) from  a meeting to confirm events for the Week,  although two members of IBRG did manage to  attend. At that meeting the events organised by the IBRG Women’s Group, including a showing of a video on strip searching and a women’s only day, were voted down. Confusing another event about the Birmingham Six with IBRG they also vetoed a meeting about the campaign.

Across local and national media the rightwing representatives of the C.I.A. tried to justify their position.   Tom McAndrew, spokesperson for the C.I.A.,  defended their objection to the Birmingham Six meeting on the grounds that it  had “no place in a large cultural event”. There is a file in the archive with the correspondance relating to the Irish Week.

Manchester City Council, and Councillor Graham Balance, to his credit, and to the dismay of McAndrew and his organisation, defended the right of IBRG to our events and ensured that they were included in all the publicity.  But a separate Irish Week magazine was produced by the C.I.A. which excluded  the Women’s Day and the Birmingham Six meeting.

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The Women’s Day was called Mna nha’Eireann (Women in Ireland) and was a day of workshops run by Irish second generation writers, including  Maude Casey and Moy McCrory. Issues covered included education, class and growing up Irish in Britain. It’s hard to understand in 2018 how threatened the traditional Irish men and their organisations felt by such an innocuous event!


Mna nah’Eireann (Women in Ireland) Day

London had a bigger Irish community, and because of funding by GLC and leftwing Labour Councils,  there were many organisations run by and for the specific needs of Irish women. Each year there was a London Women’s Conference. In  1989 IBRG had a woman chair, Bernadette Hyland, the first of any national  Irish communnity organisations, and she gave one of the keynote speeches  at the conference. Bernadette said; “I would like to actively encourage Irish women to join the IBRG..we need to reflect the experiences and realities of both Irish women and Irish men”.

In 1991 IBRG Women’s Officer Majella Crehan produced a submission to the Irish Republic’s Commission on the Status of Women.  IBRG women joined with other women’s groups to raise issues including strip searching and abortion. IBRG supported the annual Women’s Delegation to the North of Ireland and IBRG women usually took part, often paid for by IBRG branches.

In the 1990s International Women’s Day was a highly politicised event. It was not about lifestyle or confidence building –  and it certainly was not a branded event.  The National Assembly of Women organised the IWD on 9 March 1993 at the Pankhurst Centre, and the speakers included Maria A Florez, Cuban Ambassador and Bernadette Hyland of IBRG.

Manchester IBRG held many events, and whether it was a conference, a film festival, a book launch, women and their lives were a constant theme.

Irish women were visible in IBRG meetings, both locally and  nationally,  and represented the organisation in Britain and Ireland.  In the 1980s and 1990s women were a significant part of the Irish community in this country, mnay of them want to assert themselves as Irish and demand justice and equal rights, and IBRG reflected this in its activities.

Read more about IBRG in Michael Herbert’s book “The Wearing of the Green” here

Posted in feminism, human rights, International Women's Day, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

My review of “Revolting Women”a new play about Sylvia Pankhurst.

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Mikron Theatre’s new show “Revolting Women” is a  contribution to the commemorations of the extension of the vote to all men and a small group of middle-class women in 1918.  Centre stage is the radical Pankhurst Sylvia who broke with her mother and sister to promote the cause of working class women and men and universal suffrage.

The play concentrates on the period from 1911 to 1918. Sylvia moves to the East End of London and sets up the East End Federation of the WSPU in a shop in Bow,   one of the poorest areas but an area that had a militant working class and  was close to the House of Commons so that they could easily demonstrate there.

sylvia at bow

Sylvia speaking in Bow

Sylvia (played by Daisy Ann Fletcher) was the youngest Pankhurst who,  unlike her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel,  believed that it was working class women who should be centre to the struggle for the vote and for a new, more equal society. The play captures the tension between the Pankhursts through a series of letters to Sylvia written by Christabel who had fled to Paris to avoid imprisonment from where she issued dictats.

Sylvia finds comradeship with local woman Lettie (Rosamund Hine) and we are taken through one of the most intense parts of the suffrage campaign. It’s a time when the government, under siege by women prepared to go to prison for their rights, uses forced feeding and then the “Cat and Mouse Act” to wear the women down. I have to say the song used in this part “Tell me a tale Miss Wardress” seems unbelievable and totally inappropriate.

Mikron is not a political theatre company – most of their shows are happy stories ranging from the chocolate industry to the Women’s Institute – and  they have a deserved reputation for good stories told through great songs and music.

“Revolting Women” is no exception,  but it is also a serious story and one that does not end well for the main protagonist Sylvia.  Trying to keep the audience involved through upbeat songs and comic moments , even when the storyline was the opposite,  for me  undermines  some of the real history of this period.  One example of this was the use of a male actor (James McLean) playing Christabel in the background as Sylvia reads her sister’s  increasingly threatening  letters.

It is not a story that ends happily either,  as Sylvia was devastated in 1918 when the movement is split,  and her mother and Christabel welcomes a new franchise bill that only gives a small number of propertied women the vote. Her response was “Saddened and oppressed by the great world tragedy, by the multiplying graves of men and the broken hearts of women, we hold aloof from such rejoicings. They stride with a hollow and unreal sound upon our consciousness.”  (Workers’ Dreadnought, 16 February 1918)

Again, Mikron is trying to hard to give us a happy ending,   concentrating  on  the 17 women standing for election in 1918, including Christabel. But it was Sylvia’s comrade Irish revolutionary Constance Markievicz who was  the first woman to be elected to Parliament. Strangely this is not mentioned.

 “Revolting Women” is an excellent production and at a time when a present day Pankhurst (great granddaughter Helen) is prepared to line herself up with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, the story of socialist Sylvia and the role of working class women in the suffrage campaign is a worthwhile story to tell.

Buy tickets here

Posted in Communism, drama, education, feminism, human rights, labour history, political women, Socialist Feminism, Uncategorized, women, working class history | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

My review of “Where are you really from” by Tim Brannigan

tim brannigs


In the 1970s I went to a girls Catholic (read Irish) secondary school in south Manchester. Most of the girls were like me, second generation Irish, with a sprinkling of Irish born, like my friends who were had recently arrived from Dublin.

There were a small number of  black girls in the school who to me were just school friends. Marilyn( who fancied my brother) and Bernadette who was held up as a role model for the rest of us. I had little awareness, at that time, of how difficult their lives as black Irish people were going to be.

This only became apparent to me  when many years later when, as an activist in the Irish community, I was doing some research on Irish identity,  and one of the women I interviewed  told me  that she had found out she was adopted. Her real mother was an Irish woman who had had an affair with an African man.

Tim Brannigan in his book “Where are You From” tells a similar story,  although it took place in another Irish community across the water in the North of Ireland.

It is a familiar story; a woman goes out on the town, meets attractive man and has an affair which leads to a pregnancy. Only this is 1966, the woman is married, the man is African, and  there is no legal  abortion so Peggy (Tim’s mum) has to find a way of giving birth, not telling her family that it’s going to be a black baby, and keeping her marriage and family together.

The story of how Peggy cons everyone into believing she has had a stillbirth,  whilst the baby is then whisked off to a local children’s home says a great deal  about the tenacity of the woman.

One year  later Peggy, who has kept in touch with Tim, brings him home as an “adopted child.”  Tim grew up in a Republican family in Belfast during the so-called “Troubles”. Being black there was different from the rest of Britain. “In Northern Ireland, I may not have been unique but I was certainly a rarity, a “novelty” as some people described my presence”.

But racism did exist.  Tim grew up in a society where racist programmes such as The Comedians and Till Death us Do Part were mainstream alongside a nasty political agenda led by politicians including Enoch Powell.

Outside school Tim had to contend with living in a community that had British soldiers walking down their streets. “It was soldiers from the British Army who introduced me to the full range of racial insults”. One incident stands out when  a black soldier tries to bribe eight year old Tim with a pound note for information about the IRA.

“Where are you really from” is not just Tim’s story but a story about an important period of Irish history. In 1972 the British Army shot dead 14 innocent people in the Bogside in Derry and Tim witnessed the reaction in his community. “The bloody conflict was intensifying and my family was right in the thick of it. I was six years old.”

Intertwined with a deepening political crisis in Ireland Tim also had to deal with his mother telling him the true story of his birth. But his response was “I was happy with my place in the world. I was still  me; still  black, Irish and Republican.”

Being Republican meant joining Sinn Fein, being part of a community that supported the IRA and  in time Tim going to prison. He had been framed by a local informer and was to spend five years in jail. But no ordinary prison; these were the H-blocks where Republican prisoners were organised into a “commune”. “It’s very existence was a challenge to the prison authorities. It gave a socialist, collective to every aspect of our lives.”

Tim left prison in 1995 as events changed in  the North of Ireland. He went onto to become a journalist, stayed in Belfast, spent the last year of his mother’s life looking after her, and finally met his father.

“Where are You Really From” is unique as a  memoir of a working class black Irishman.  His story is made all more more interesting because he grew up in a Republican community in Belfast in one of the most turbulent periods of its history.  Unlike some of my black Irish friends he survived his origins because as he acknowledges : “I had a hero for a mother who fought from the day I was born for what she thought was right and what was best for me.”



Posted in book review, Catholicism, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, North of Ireland, Uncategorized, working class history, young people | Tagged , | 2 Comments

My review of ‘Kill all the Gentlemen’ Class struggle and change in the English countryside by Martin Empson

kill all the gentlemen


In this new book Martin Empson reminds us that class conflict did not start with the Industrial Revolution and urban struggles. In this well researched history he begins with  the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 and then  take us up to today’s globalised  food market, where in the UK  few people now  work on the land and most of us are alienated from the process of food production.

Empson is a socialist,  and central to his story is the celebration of the ordinary people. As he says; “When we learn about the history of England, we rarely hear the full story of what happened…this book celebrates the rural class struggle for equality, justice and a better life that through this, hopes to inspire people today.”

And indeed is much to be inspired by as Empson recounts the stories of heroes such as John Ball, Jack Straw and Wat Tyler,   and all the anonymous heroes of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. They challenged their feudal slavery, refused to pay the hated poll tax and literally took  up arms to kill the officials who tried to enforce the tax,  burning  down properities and laying  siege to iconic buildings including Rochester Castle.

The book then  takes us through some of the most important struggles as the people challenged the authority of the monarchy and sought for civil rights and equality in a very authoritarian state.

One of the interesting chapters is on rebellions during the Tudor era. Forget Hilary Mantel’s histories of the aristocracy or the latest BBC take on this period. Instead read about the women of Exeter who in 1535 physically opposed the destruction of  a local priory, St. Nicholas  in Exeter,  part of King Henry’s policy of destroying the power of the church. For them, it was not about religion but maintaining a charitable institution. So they rebelled .

 “The women of Exeter   rallied outside ‘some with spikes, some with shovels, some with pikes, and some with  such tools as they could get’, trapping the workmen who were  taking down the roodloft of the church.”  Soldiers  had  to be sent in   to stop them.

By the C19th  agricultural workers were organising themselves into trade unions, the difficulties of which are well known in the case of the Tolpuddle Martyrs.  Empson challenges the way in which their case has has been turned into an industry marked by an annual festival. It has now become very distanced from its poor rural roots and is  dominated by the celebs of the trade union movement and a particular London based political and media class.

More interesting for me is the story of  union organisation and rural strikes of the 1870s. A strike in Ascot, near Chipping Norton, for instance, saw the farmers bring in scabs from a local village. A group of women, armed only with sticks, blocked the entrance to the fields. The women were taken to court and seven received ten day’s hard labour and nine got seven days.  The locals rioted: “Eighty pounds was raised in their support (Arch noted £5 of it came in pennies) and the women were brought home in style, cheered much of the way as they travelled in a ‘handsome drag drawn by four thorough-bred horses.’  And all the women were given £5 each and a dress in the union colours!”

Empson’s book is not just about the past. He also  comments about today: “While 17.2% of the British population live in rural areas ( about 11 million people) only 1.13% of the total working population is employed in agriculture.” Trade unions, largely the Unite Union, continue to defend the rights of agricultural workers but it’s not easy in an industry  in which   “by the 1980s and 1990s the average farm worker saw more of his employer during his working  time than he did of any fellow worker.”

Today most people are very distanced from the food we consume – although the rise of the vegan diet says something about concerns for animals and food production. Whether it also reflects an interest in the agricultural industry and those who work in it is another matter.  Empson believes that to address the issues of rural poverty and the production of high quality food in a sustainable way must include challenging big business’ domination of agriculture and protecting the rights of workers from the fields to the food factories.

And  he sees it not as a national,  but an international issue:“When you take a walk in the British countryside today or look out of a train window, the struggle of Wat Tyler, John Ball, Jack Straw…..and countless unnamed and forgotten men and women might seem very distant. But their compatriots in rural communities around the globe continue a struggle that has never been more important.”

Buy it for £14.99 from

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The IBRG archive at the WCML; Part Three;Publicising IBRG to the Irish diaspora.

IBRG mag 1


In 1987 IBRG was six years old and growing as new branches were being started across the country. Communicating with the Irish communty  was not as easy then as it is today. In the 1980s  some  Irish people were visible in traditional organisations such as Counties Associations and at Irish Centres, in political organisations such as the political parties and left groups such as the Connolly Association.  But for many, and particularly radical women, they were unlikely to join anything with Irish as a prefix. During the 1980s over 40,000 Irish people were coming to Britain to look for work and reaching out to them was not going to be easy.

an pobal eirithe” ( The Risen People) the new magazine of the IBRG was produced to “promote the objectives of the IBRG”. This included to communicate with the Irish community in Britain, to promote the rights of Irish women and men, (note;women first!) to promote the cause of self-determination for Ireland and the Irish people. It was funded solely  by IBRG and individual branches were given copies to sell.


The title in Irish was challenging as most Irish people (born in Britain or on the island of Ireland) were not Irish language speakers,  but it was a bold statement  with the aim to challenging  the neglect of the language and restate its importance to the Irish community.

Five copies of the magazine were produced between 1987 and 1991. It publicised the activities of IBRG branches across the country, aimed to recruit new members and debated some of the most important issues for Irish people living in Britain.

The first issue included an article by the Cathaoirleach (Chair) ( Irish was used for all officer posts and names of meetings) Gearoid MacGearailt  which was taken from his speech at the 1987 Ard Fheis (AGM). In it he reflected on the way in which IBRG had changed over the years as had the community. “We have developed the ability to be a community organisation and a pressure group at one and the same time.”

Gearoid highlighted the creation of the  Women’s Sub Committee and the magazine included several articles by and about women. They ranged from an article about the Women’s Sub Committee, women in Irish history, strip searching,  but also the first part of an interview with Gerry Adams, leader of Sinn Fein. Second generation Irish woman Laura Sullivan in Issue 1 wrote, one of several articles, on being Irish and working in the public services. “Uniting together we have a strong voice and far greater influence. We are no longer invisible and can’t be ignored.”

In apr  crucial issues to the community  such as anti-Irish racism were debated  and put into a historical and contemporary context. It was an issue that the organisation came back to constantly whether challenging the racism of the Irish joke in programmes such as the “Comedians”; campaigning  for the repeal of  the Prevention of Terrorism Act which targeted the Irish community;  or objecting to the  discrimination by local councils in its service provision.

In Issue 2 Micheal O Cnaimhsi wrote about his branch in North East Lancashire – an area that had a proud history of Irish activism including the birthplace of Land League leader Michael Davitt.  Michael described how difficult it was to organise the Irish when redevelopment had destroyed places where Irish people would gather,  including pubs, Irish centres, etc. in addition  local authorities  were ignoring  the needs of the Irish. But this did not stop the branch in March 1987 producing a report “The Irish in Lancashire” detailing the needs and aspirations of the Irish.

Irish in NE Lancashire


Over the five issues a picture was drawn of Irish community activity across Britain. It reflected the discussions and debates going on about what it meant to be Irish in the C20th and took on many of  the issues that the more established Irish establishment did not want to acknowledge,  particularly how the conflict going on in the North of Ireland was impacting directly on  the Irish in Britain.

Issue 1 brought up the cases of the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four and by issue 4 in Spring 1990 the editorial board were welcoming the release of the Guildford Four :  “But our joy was accompanied by bitterness and resentment that the Four had spent fifteen years in jail for offences of which they are innocent, that the Birmingham Six, Judith Ward, the Winchester Three and many others are still in prison.”

Issues 3 and 4 had front pages which highlighted campaigns around justice for the Irish. The  editorial in issue 3 reflected on the year of 1988 “ a dreadful year for the Irish, and indeed anyone who cares about the relationship between Ireland and Britain.”  Articles highlighted the broadcasting ban on Sinn Fein, Irish political prisoners in British jails,  as well as the rights of Irish gays and lesbians, Bolton IBRG, and the mental health of the Irish.

apr gave a voice to activists who were not members of IBRG including Tom Walsh, stalwart of the Liverpool Irish community, whom over many years had supported Irish people stopped at the port of Liverpool under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In issue 4, in an interview he explained the work he  did supporting detainees and their families without any support from the establised Irish community organisations.

tom walsh

Tom Walsh


By Issue no. 5 the Birmingham Six had been released. It was the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916 and the last issue included articles ranging from the history of women in 1916 and a bibliography of the history of the Irish in Britain ,to articles by guest writers including Raymond Crotty on getting the vote for the Irish in Britain in elections in the Republic of Ireland and   Des Wilson on alternative education practice in West Belfast.

Articles on culture including language, music, book reviews, and  poetry ran   through the five issues. As does the crucial issue “The Right to be Irish” by Padraig McRannall (issue 4) which concluded that “For we too are part of the working class struggle in Britain for a better life for all including our own community and every other community.”

The archive can be accessed at the WCML. This is one of a series of blog posts which I am doing as I archive the IBRG documents.

Posted in education, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

My review of “Poster Workshop 1968-1971” by Sam Lord with Peter Dukes, Jo Robinson and Sarah Wilson.

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It is the May elections this week and the title of this book will resonate with many people: they are that disillusioned with the political process and politicians.  But this book is not about politicians; it is about how people at a grassroots level, 50 years ago, really did believe that they could change society and not just here but over the water in the North of Ireland,  in South Africa and in  Vietnam.

This book tells the story of the Poster Workshop in London and how they  used the new technology of screen printing, which allowed people to produce cheap and accessible posters  to convey important messages for all kinds of political movements.

The Poster Workshop was part of a bigger worldwide  movement which began in France in May/June 1968 when students alongside workers went on strike,  challenging the right wing government and demanding seismic change in society. It was a movement that spread across the world, offering hope for people at a grassroots level to turn society upside down and make it a fairer and more just place to live.

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It was not just about challenging the system –  but combined with the new hippy counterculture – threw it back on individuals and groups to produce an alternative lifestyle, one that was based on a do it yourself politics,  reflected in actions which ranged from squatting to the occupation of factories. And Poster Workshop responded to  this; “ working without bosses, and with an open-door policy, they invited people to come in and print their own posters.”

PW 9

It is hard to imagine in these days of Facebook and Twitter the difficulty in the 1960s for groups to get their message out and respond quickly  to events. The Poster Workshop and other “peoples printshops” were crucial in passing on skills to activists to make their own pamphlets, leaflets and newsletters – and,  most importantly,  having “peoples printshops” to print them cheaply. But it was part of a vibrant political culture; “These groups didn’t just find new forms to raise political issues, but also took their performances to “the people” on protests and pickets, in tenants and community halls and squats.”  

pw 10

The story of how the Poster Workshop started up is fascinating. Radicalised by the Vietnam War,  art school graduate Sam Lord built a screen printing table in his kitchen and started producing political posters. A meeting with Jean Loup, a French Tunisian, who had been active in the Atelier Populair – a student-occupied print workshop in Paris which produced posters to promote the revolutionary activities in 1968 – led to the creation of the Poster Workshop.

The Poster Workshop was a mixture of art graduate and activists,  and it inspired other people, including a Cockney pensioner called Scriv, to design, print and maintain the workshop.

They didn’t just  travel  around the country and beyond to pass on their skills to other groups,  but went over to the North of Ireland where an often forgotten struggle of the 1960s was being played out.  The Poster Workshop were invited  by  People’s Democracy: a political organisation that campaigned for civil rights for the Catholic minority (at that time most of whom  could not vote in elections) and a united socialist republic.


Art school graduate Sarah Wilson  went to Belfast and  showed people how to make the posters. “In a small community centre a board was put up inviting people to write down ideas for slogans. They were checked every day, and the best selected for new posters.”  When the locals could take on the work themselves Sarah then moved onto Derry to start another workshop.

Not surprising to those of us involved in Irish politics, it was only in Belfast that people who fly posted were arrested by the British Army, and one  was sent to prison for three months. In Britain fly posting was seen as a minor offence,  usually resulting in a fine,  but it reflected how much more serious were the politics going on in North of Ireland.

Leafing through this book it tells us so much visually about the politics of the era. The posters are beautiful, anarchic and direct. They shout out against unfairness, injustice and discrimination,  but they also encourage and inspire in a way that art work today does not. Maybe because they were part of a grassroots movement that belonged,  not just to the poster makers, but to the society at that time.

Unfortunately, at the moment, there is lots of nostalgia around about past events and sadly, many of them such as Grunwicks and the Miners Strike, where we lost. And although today, through social media,  we can communicate fast and direct,  the technology is not communal, it is not about sharing a creative process,  and very often does not empower people.

The power of the story of the Poster Workshop and all the groups and individuals involved screams out; yes we can do it, we can change society and we will do it together.

“In our youth we danced for liberty and personal freedom, not the liberty to exploit and oppress, but to turn our dreams of equality into reality. Let’s continue dancing!”

Buy it for £10 here


Posted in anti-cuts, book review, Catholicism, Communism, drama, education, feminism, human rights, Ireland, labour history, North of Ireland, political women, Socialism, Socialist Feminism, trade unions, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The IBRG archive at the WCML; the rebirth of a Branch. Part Two





Today most of us involved in our trade union or community organisation use the internet,  including FB and twitter to communicate with our members. In the period of this archive there was no internet and contact with members was made by sending letters,  while minutes of a meeting were written in books.  There was a great deal of paper as leaflets and  posters were produced to publicise events.

IBRG Manchester existed from 1984 to 2002 but there are gaps in the minutes. There are no minutes for the organisation before 1986, although  the branch did exist because it produced the defining document “A New Deal for the Irish Community in Manchester” in  October 1984. As is often the case people take or misplace files.

1986 is an important year for Manchester IBRG as the branch was  revived with new people, particularly women, who joined  and changed the profile of the organisation.  One of the documents, handwritten by me as secretary of the branch,  sums up a year’s organising, so it  must be March 1987. I may have written it for the branch AGM or a national meeting as it also refers to the other northern branches.

IBRG document 1987

The notes sum up some of the problems of restarting the branch including  “wresting authority from older members.” When I came back to Manchester in 1986 the  Manchester IBRG meetings were held in Our Lady’s Catholic Centre in Moss Side.  To me, and other second generation Irish ( particularly women), it was anathema to have anything to do with the Catholic church. Also, the branch was more of a drinking club for some quite reactionary men.

Taking the meetings away from this inaccessible venue was crucial to bringing in new members,  which was not easy as the Irish community was scattered across the city. In the minutes the branch meetings take place in various venues from Manchester Polytechnic to Manchester Town Hall to St.Brendan’s Irish Centre in Old Trafford.  Traditional Irish centres , except for St. Brendan’s,  were wary of what they saw as a “political group” using their premises. This was not surprising given the police activity at the time which intensely surveilled the Irish community. It also reflected  the views of some of the older generation,  who were quite happy living in what I termed a “Celtic twilight” ignoring the bigger political issues facing the Irish in Britain and on the island of Ireland.


New members

This change in the profile of the branch is shown in some of the earlier minutes when it votes to donate £15 to a Bolton IBRG member, Margaret Mullarkey, so that she can go on the annual Women’s Delegation to Ireland (ie the  North of Ireland). Another issue taken on by the branch is highlighting the use of strip searching of Republican women in prisons in Ireland by holding a meeting to publicise a national campaign.

In the 1980s Manchester had a left wing Council run by Graham Stringer which had a progressive policy on Ireland, due to the influence of an  internal  Labour grouping: the Labour Committee  on Ireland. There was also a local Troops Out Movement as well as remnants of older republican groups such as Sinn Fein.

IBRG was not a party political group,  but lobbied the Council to ensure that the Irish were given a proportionate say in their policies for ethnic groups in the City and to try and reflect the reality that the Irish were the largest ethnic minority whose needs had often been marginalised.

The Council had a Race Unit and a Race Committee which sought to represent communities in the city. In the mid 1980s the representatives from the Irish community included Ann Hilferty, a respected member of the community and who joined IBRG. The other representative was an Irish Catholic priest, John Ahearne. This reflected the nature of the established  Irish community at that time ie largely Catholic and conservative.

IBRG took up issues around anti-Irish racism that lit a spark within the larger Irish community. In London in 1984 the left wing Greater London Council sponsored a new book on anti-Irish racism written by Liz Curtis called  “Nothing But the Same Old Story: The Roots of Anti-Irish Racism showing that it was as old as Britain’s colonial involvement in Ireland.

Nothing but


At a national level IBRG  produced policies on anti-Irish racism which led to our branch being involved in activity  on this issue eg  one of our members stood  in a bookshop and read out the Irish jokes to challenge the management. But anti-Irish racism could be found in all parts of the establishment.  One of our big campaigns was against the racist stereotyping of Irish men in an educational booklet produced by the Equal Opportunities Commission. We encouraged local Irish people to pass on their examples of racism to the Council’s Race Unit,  who would also write letters to the offending organisation.

Challenging anti-Irish racism and discrimination was part of establishing a positive Irish identity,  particularly for new generations of Irish children. It drew the links between the Irish who lived in Britain and those on the island of Ireland.  IBRG nationally called for a political settlement in the North of Ireland: one that would take into account the view of those on the island of Ireland as well  as those  in the diasporas  of Britain and abroad.

When the Labour Council invited representatives from Sinn Fein to visit the city in 1986 we took part. IBRG’s policy on the conflict in the North of Ireland was about encouraging all parties to get involved in the political process. Over the years IBRG was one of the few Irish community organisations that encouraged the inclusion of Sinn Fein into the process and the right of the Irish in Britain to have a say in any long term settlement.

But,  whilst this activity found support within certain sections of the Irish community,  those Irish people who were happy to use their Irish identity to gain jobs or positions of power in the establishment,   were not so happy.  This would surface in conflict  over various issues including the Radio Manchester  Irish radio programme  Irish Line which was taken away from Manchester IBRG and handed over to Irish acceptable to the BBC  and became the twee Come Into the Parlour. There was further division  over the first  Irish Week in 1988 when traditional Irish organisations tried to exclude IBRG events on women, the North of Ireland  etc.


Posted in education, feminism, human rights, Ireland, Irish second generation, labour history, Manchester, North of Ireland, political women, Socialism, Uncategorized, women, working class history, young people | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments