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Speech given by a representative of Republican Sinn Fein, at the annual Glencoe

Ailín | 18.02.2003 12:19

Sunday 16th of February 2003.
First of all, I would like to say that it is an honour to be invited to speak at this Rally on behalf of Republican Sinn Fein. I am here today in the spirit of solidarity and Celtic co-operation and long may it continue. The theme of my speech is Celtic Unity and its importance for the future survival of both our peoples.

The peoples of Scotland and Ireland have for far too long, suffered from England's imperial policy of divide et empera and its malignant offspring of racism and religious sectarianism. This policy has even been used to encourage Scottish peoples to view Scotland as consisting of two nationalities - Celtic Highlanders and non Gaelic Lowlanders. This insidious policy has also been used to set Celt against Celt by employing one subject people in the suppression of another. The use of religious sectarianism in both our countries has retarded the development of strong and united working class movements, and set back the achievement of full independence for Scotland and Ireland.

It is indeed tragic that people have been so utterly manipulated by a misunderstanding of history. Instead of being shown the reality of a common past, the unionists of Ulster have been deliberately subverted into believing a mythological history. Their view of William of Orange and the Battle of the Boyne is a dream of a world that never existed. One wonders how many of them would march to Glencoe to commemorate King Billy's ethnic cleansing in the Highlands of Scotland. The worst thing is that, lacking the realities of a common past shared with their fellow Irishmen and women, they are still disputing the realities of the present. It is a sad reality that many of our people are more willing to believe the simply myths of folklore rather than the grey complexities of historical reality. And that is the problem we are faced with today.

While the Orange Order and Unionist parties in the Six Counties assume a special relationship with the Scots, and not withstanding the disgraceful role of the Scottish regiments in keeping Ireland secure for England, a close examination of the historical ties between Scotland and England, affords us an alternative history to that issued by the Imperialists in their efforts to divide our nations against each other.

There were many examples of co-operation between the Scots and Irish and I am going to give you some examples. As gallowglasses - the Scots fought side by side with their Irish comrades-in-arms against the incursions of the Norman and English Kings on the soil of Ireland. In 1314 Bruces's Irish allies fought at Bannockburn and helped to achieve victory over the common English foe. The Celtic connection was recognised by Bruce when he told his Irish allies 'our people and your people, free since ancient times, share the same National ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom.' Two years later his brother Edward was invited to ascend the Irish throne and was crowned King of Ireland near Dundalk. Up to the eve of the Reformation and beyond, Elizabethan swashbucklers carrying fire and sword into Ireland had their advances disrupted by combined forces of Scots and Irish. And on that fateful Christmas Eve of 1601 at the Battle of Kinsale, which terminated the great rising of the northern chiefs against their English enemies, out of 900 Scots that fought on the Irish side, 840 were slain.
The Reformation and Plantation of Ulster interrupted the old friendly relations of Scotland and Ireland, but intercourse was not completely severed. Celtic co-operation of a very un British nature remained a distinctive feature of Scottish-Irish relations.

In 1746 the Irish Pickets fought at Culloden for the Jacobite cause. They had distinguished themselves earlier in the year against the same enemy at Fontenoy.

Scottish and Irish Republicans attempted to set up independent republics in 1798 through the United Irishmen and United Scotsmen. The famous young Scottish advocate and member of the Friends of the People, Thomas Muir, was sworn in as a full member of the United Irishmen. Not a lot is known about the United Scotsman whose efforts to set up an independent Scottish Republic have been carefully concealed by Establishment historians. We do know that it drew its main strength from the many immigrant weavers from Ulster who were already members of the United Irishmen.

Robert Emmet's trusted lieutenant and Scottish patriot, John McIntosh, was hung drawn and quartered in Dublin by the English, for his involvement in the abortive 1803 Rising.

We have the example of the activities of the 73rds Foot (a Scottish Gaelic speaking regiment), which mutinied and assisted O'Connor's Fenian troops in Kerry in 1867.

There is also evidence of further Celtic co-operation when the Scottish nationalist Highland Land league was founded, modelled on the Irish Land League.

The most obvious and celebrated Scottish connection is in the person of James Connolly, socialist republican and founder of the Irish Citizen Army. Born in Edinburgh's Cowgate district in 1868, Connolly was executed by the British for leading the 1916 Rising.

The importance of support from Scotland for the Irish revolution, can be measured by the statement made by the President of the Irish Republic in 1922, when he stated that "of all the children of Irish race in foreign lands, none have been more faithful than you in Scotland." While most of this support came from within the Irish community in Scotland, there is evidence to suggest that Scottish republicans played a significant role.

One of the main links between Dublin and Clydeside was Seamus Reader who, in January 1916, became the official representative to Dublin of the Scottish Divisional Board of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Reader was later to found the Scottish Brigade of the IRA that was organised into 33 companies and comprised of 2500 volunteers. Born in Glasgow he was to spend the remainder of his days in Ireland. In a letter to John MacLean's daughter Nan Milton, in 1968, he stated: 'I have many Irish ties here, but it is often I sigh for my own country.'

We know that a number of Scottish Republicans participated in the Easter Rising. One was the Scottish patriot Amlaidh MacAindreas, The author and patriot Ronald MacDonald Douglas actively supported the Irish republican cause. Another outstanding Scottish republican was Seamus Mac Garaidh, a native of Arbroath. In 1911 he formed a branch of the Scots National League. The League was a revolutionary nationalist body that supported the Sinn Fein principle of abstaining from Westminster. It was led by such outstanding patriots as Ruairidh Erskine of Marr and William Gillies. In 1918 Mac Garaidh was involved with Clann na Alba which sent practical aid to the Republicans in Ireland. He was a Scots Gaelic teacher and some of his class went to fight for the Republican cause. Mac Garaidh was labelled a 'dangerous extremist' in Scotland and official attitudes towards him forced him to emigrate to America in 1923. He had a deep love for the Irish people and was inspired by their history of resistance to English oppression. He thought of the Scots and the Irish as one race with identical objectives.

John MacLean, Scotland's great socialist republican, was deeply committed to supporting the struggle of his fellow Celts in Ireland. In May 1920 MacLean began to write numerous articles supporting the Irish struggle and urging Scotsmen, as fellow Gaels, not to be used as tools for murdering their fellow Gaels of Ireland. He published a pamphlet, 'The Irish Tragedy: Scotland's Disgrace' which sold 20,000 copies. In line with these sentiments MacLean organised a successful 'Hands off Ireland' campaign. Evidence of contact between MacLean and Irish Republicans is provided in a letter written to Nan Milton in the late 1960's by Seamus Reader. 'Your father had associations with the Irish Republican movement in Scotland. His activities were known to James Connolly and Sean McDermott of the Irish Military Council in 1916.

In a letter from Dublin on October 31st 1968, Reader acknowledges the contribution that was made by Scots to the Irish struggle. He states 'credit is due to the men of the Clyde Valley, the Clyde Brigade, the Scots Brigade, the Fianna na hAlba , the latter being the answer to John MacLean's pamphlet 'The Irish Tragedy'. They all saved Scotland from disgrace and we still have our noble tradition.' Fianna na hAlba was a Scottish volunteer force which was said to have contemplated military action in the 1920's for the liberation of Scotland.

Mention needs also to be made of the young Scottish republican and pan Celt, Ian Mackenzie Kennedy, who is believed to have hailed from Inverness-shire. He went to Ireland to pursue Celtic studies and learn Irish. He got caught up in the freedom struggle and was made a Captain in the Irish Volunteers. He stayed in the Ballingeary district of Cork, where he was made welcome as a Gael among Gaels. He is described as ‘a tall strapping young man in kilts carrying a set of war-pipes over his shoulder.’ He was known to his Irish friends as 'Scottie'. He fought with the West Cork Brigade and was killed in the counter Revolution by Free State forces in August 1922. His name takes pride of place on the Republican Monument in Macroom in County Cork.

Evidently then, there is a very different history to that created by the imperialists to divide our Celtic communities. However, it is high time that this subject is thoroughly researched so that history can be written with the pen of truth.

But what of the future. Republican Sinn Fein holds a long established position with regard to how we would like the Celtic nations to develop. We would like to see an end to the forcibly tied bonds with England and France and to look to a new unity based on the concept of a Celtic League. The old trade union adage that 'unity creates strength’ is a good one; and we believe that the combined struggle of Celts for cultural and political freedom would carry a far greater weight with world opinion than the isolated struggles of the individual, small, Celtic countries. Ever since 1976 we have proposed a Celtic League on the line of the Nordic Council or the Arab League. This would include a Free Ireland as well as an Independent Scotland, Wales, Isle of Mann, Cornwall and Brittany. We believe that such a linking would provide a counterweight to the power of England. The inclusion of our Celtic cousins in Brittany would help to balance against it being just an anti-English coalition. A Celtic League would be the way forward and the best hope for the future of the Celtic nations. It would also be consistent with James Connolly’s internationalist vision of a ‘free federation of peoples.’

The success of our respective struggles to a large extent, will be dependent on our ability to debunk the many imperialist myths that were manufactured in our so called seats of learning, in order to teach our children that the Celts have no past, no present and no future. The results are only too obvious when few Scots and Irish are aware of their own history and identity and instead are forced to glorify the history of the British Empire and taught to ridicule their own culture, politics and history. Which is why today’s Rally and other such events, are so important as a means of helping to raise awareness of what really happened in Scottish history and in order to dispel divisive sectarian myths.

We are well aware that large numbers of people of Irish descent in Scotland, continue to vote for Unionist parties. That is despite the fact that many of them will express support for a united Ireland. We shall continue to argue that this stance is not only contradictory, but weakens the cause of independence, and serves the interests of the British state. The Irish in Scotland should be among the foremost proponents of Scottish independence.

I would like to end by stating that the practical solidarity given by both the Scots and Irish in the struggle against the British state for the freedom of our two ancient nations in the past, provides the germ of this potentially symbiotic relationship whose promise must be realised in the future.

Scotland Out of Britain!

Britain Out of Ireland!

Scottish and Irish Anti-Imperialist Unity in the Struggle against the British State!