Freeman’s Journal, 21 May 1920.

In May 1920, East London dockers refused to load the SS Jolly George, a ship intended to carry arms to be used against the new Bolshevik state. Reflecting on the event years later, the communist activist Harry Pollitt remembered:

On May 15th, the munitions are unloaded back onto the dock side, and on the side of one case is a very familiar sticky-back, ‘Hands Off Russia!’ It is very small, but that day it was big enough to be read all over the world.

Certainly, the brave stand taken in London would have an impact internationally. The SS Jolly George sailed on without any armaments on board. The leaflets that littered the docklands of London made it clear; “no munitions must sail. No guns, aeroplanes, shells, bombs. Take no heed of cowardly politicians. With peace, Russia will light a beacon for the world.”

On 20 May, Dublin dockworkers followed the lead of their London equivalent. Refusing to handle British military equipment, Irish dockworkers introduced a new form of resistance into the country, which would quickly be adopted by railwaymen in the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union. Writing in his memoir Forth The Banners Go, the trade unionist William O’Brien recounted the tale:

…a member of the dockers’ section of the Dublin No.1 Branch came to see me late one evening. He told me there were two vessels coming to Dublin with munitions to be used in the war here. One of the boars had arrived and was ready to be started discharing first thing on the following morning. He said that he might be one of the casual dockers, hoping to be picked for this job.

The man was a Citizen Army veteran of the Easter Rising, not particularly unusual in the docklands of Dublin. 1916 veterans included Tom Leahy, who had fought in the rebellion with the Irish Volunteers, but transferred to the ICA in the aftermath of the Rising. He recalled that throughout 1917 and 1918:

The work went on – making train wrecking tools, hand bombs, and everything that would be handy and useful when required. Several British naval vessels came to the dockyard for repairs – as our firm was on the Government list for such – and several raids were made on these vessels for arms when most of the crew were ashore.

When news of this proposed radical action was brought to O’Brien’s desk, he informed the visiting docker that he would raise it with Thomas Foran, General President of the union. The following day, the men standing around waiting to begin work were told that the work was not to start. The munitions strike had begun.

On hearing of the political action at the Dublin docks, the second ship was then diverted for Dun Laoghaire. Here, the military were on hand to unload its cargo, but when it arrived at Westland Row station, workers there refused to handle the goods. This, as Padraig Yeates notes in his masterful study of Dublin in the period,upped the temperature considerably. While the dockworkers were casual workers who could be reallocated elsewhere, the railwaymen were permanent employers and members of the separate National Union of Railwaymen.


The Freeman’s Journal shows the goods which Dublin dockers refused to offload.

In Britain, large sections of the working class movement responded favourably to the actions of Dublin dockworkers, though there was no sympathetic action. From John Maclean, the Scottish socialist firebrand, came words of praise and hope; ” Irishmen now refuse to supply the Army of Occupation with the ammunition that may be used to kill themselves when off industrial duty. This is surely the most sensible thing Irishmen have ever done in their history of toil and trouble. Irish Labour may call an Irish General Strike to force the withdrawal of troops from Ireland.”

In the following days, the action taken at the docks and Dun Laoghaire would be replicated elsewhere. The Freeman’s Journal reported on 24 May that “Yesterday afternoon some men at Inchicore were ordered to take a train-load of wagons containing ‘goods’ from Amiens street to Thurles, from which place the ‘goods’ were to be distributed to three other centres. When it became known that the wagons contained munitions disembarked at Kingstown the men refused to work the train.”

To sections of the conservative press, the behaviour of dockers and railwaymen was scandalous. The ever reliable Punch illustrated news produced a sketch in a June 1920 edition showing an IRA gunman hiding behind a rural wall, joined by a railway worker, or “the blameless accomplice.”  The “Sinn Féin assassin” and the worker were conspiring hand in hand in the eyes of Punch. Still, the condemnation was nothing compared to The Irish Times at home, who believed that the workers involved were challenging “the fundamental security of the state and the fundamental rights of employers.”


A brave stand that began on the docks of Dublin spread nationwide, largely thanks to the militancy of railway workers. From arms in storage, the strike was widened to include the carrying of men holding arms representing Crown Forces. One Irish Volunteer, also employed at Mallow train station, recounted being dismissed from his job in his statement to the Bureau of Military History, noting that “when eventually 19 men had been dismissed for the same reason, the O/C Mallow decided to take the stationmaster prisoner and to detain him for a time.” The strike has real potential to create such tensions in work forces across the country.

The munitions strike was an effective tactic, proven by the infuriated responses to it from the upper-echelons of the British military and political class. In Westminster,  Hamar Greenwood thundered that “no government can allow railways subsidised out of the pockets of the taxpayers to refuse to carry police and soldiers.” Likewise, in his Annals of an Active Life, Sir Nevil Macready, Commander in Chief of Crown Forces, acknowledged the tremendous difficulty the munitions strike created for the movement of men across the island.

Some £120,000 was subscribed to support men victimised for their participation in the strike, but in the absence of sympathetic strike action in Britain, and with increasingly vicious physical assaults on railwaymen, the Irish leadership felt increasingly vulnerable in the dispute, which eventually wound-down in December. In November, the Government began closing rail lines, including the Limerick to Waterford and Limerick to Tralee lines,as well as trains into Galway city, which certainly instigated a fear among the public that the Irish railway system could be shut down in its entirety.

The British approach to the crisis was to present the railwaymen as acting under duress. A bogus “order issued to railwaymen in Ireland and signed by the Ministry of War of the government of the Republic of Ireland” was produced, though dismissed outright by the report of the Irish Trade Union Congress, which insisted that “the railwaymen acted from the beginning of their own initiative, and were supported by the National Executive, by the Trade Union movement, and the country generally. They dictated their own policy independent of any instructions from any authority outside the Labour Movement.”

As both an industrial action and an example of mass civil disobedience, the munitions strike is a part of the story of revolutionary Ireland which is deserving of a place in this on-going Decade of Centenaries. Working class militancy across the island of Ireland, from the (largely Protestant and Unionist working class) Belfast Engineers Strike of 1919 to the Limerick Soviet, demonstrated the power of organised labour here clearly. In refusing to load or carry the weapons of war, both dockers and railwaymen demonstrated a unique form of opposition to the British occupation of Ireland.


In 1965, BBC journalist John Morgan was sent to Dublin to gather some idea of the attitudes of the Irish public to censorship. Standing outside a Dublin bookshop, he began his report by commenting on the types of books that did sell in Ireland. In the window behind him, we can see an ad for Dan Breen’s memoir My Fight For Irish Freedom, as well as other titles focused on the revolutionary period and Irish history more broadly.

On the streets, Morgan encountered a variety of opinions, but most of the public seemed broadly supportive of some degree of censorship of the printed word and screen. There were some voices of objection ,but in the words of one young man, “we’re not as liberal as the British, who are after all not a Christian race if one is to say that at present day.”

By the second half of the 1960s, censorship in Ireland was beginning to unravel, in no small part thanks to the efforts of some high profile victims of the Censorship of Publications Board to publicly challenge the body. This year, Dublin City Council and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature will celebrate Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls trilogy, a series of books which were banned upon release but are now recognised as Irish literary classics. As the very deserving chosen title for One City One Book, thousands of people across the city will engage with the work of an author whose work was shamefully dismissed as “a smear on Irish womanhood” at the time of publication.

Refusing to accept the banning of her works, O’Brien was central to the high profile foundation meeting of the Censorship Reform Society at Dublin’s Gate Theatre in December 1966, which received international attention. While living in London, she returned to Dublin, banned books in hand, to address the rally that included leading voices from the world of theatre, academia and literature. Of her arrival, the Irish Examiner noted:

Edna O’Brien, the Clare-born authoress, landed at Dublin Airport on Saturday night with five copies of her books. She left the airport holding only the dust jackets of her novels. The customs officials had confiscated the books.


Evening Herald, 5 December 1966.

Few public meetings receive the level of attention that the launch of the Censorship Reform Society on 4 December 1966 did,but the sheer calibre of speaker at their launch explains the public interest. Among thirteen speakers, theatre director and actor Micheal Mac Liammoir, poet Brendan Kennelly and novelist James Plunkett addressed the meeting. The following day, the Irish Press reported that “twelve men and Edna O’Brien declared that the system branded authors as pornographers, obscene and indecent.”

Jim Fitzgerald, theatre and television producer, served as Chairman of the group and was a driving force behind the rally. Taking a similar line to other opponents of censorship in Irish life, including Sean O’Faolain of The Bell, he emphasised that the society were not against all censorship, as “the society was not being formed to challenge the bona fide aims of the Censorship Board where it concerned genuine pornography, but to lay the grounds for a system of appeal against a law which forbade the works of many true artists appearing on the bookshelves or bookshops and libraries in this country.”

Around a hundred people were turned away from the packed Gate Theatre, where the meeting began with actors T.P McKenna and Maureen Toral reading excerpts from Edna O’Brien’s latest work, which was then in legal limbo, having been seized by customs and other consideration by the Censorship of Publications Board. The Censorship Reform Society announced its intention to challenge the banning of O’Brien’s work in the courts, if the Board deemed the book unfit for Irish audiences.

Not all reporting on the meeting was friendly, Seamus Brady in the Irish Press was particularly scathing of O’Brien, while also suggesting a link between ‘corrupting publications’ and crime in other nations:

The National Council of Juvenile Court Judges in the United States,which is surely more entitled to speak on the subject, has come out sternly to blame corrupting publications as a major cause of the growth of sex and armed robbery crimes among juvenile delinquents. then we have Miss Edna O’Brien,who is becoming somewhat tiresome in her self-appointed role of acting as special advocate in pleasing the cause of our womanfolk. Well, whatever they may say in the free and exacting atmosphere of Britain about our censorship, we are certainly broadminded when it comes to affording public platforms for our cranks and critics. Miss O’Brien enjoys the freedom of the State-owned Radio Telefis Eireann for her views.

Frustratingly, the Censorship of Publications Board was not obliged to give any information on why books were banned. Less than a week after the Gate Theatre meeting, it was announced that O’Brien’s Casualties of Peace was the latest banned work, with the press reporting that “the ban is on grounds of indecency. A spokesman for the Board would give no further details.” With this being the case, the Censorship Reform Society called for “a system whereby a banned author could appeal to the courts”.


1st UK edition of Causalities of Peace, banned by the Censorship of Publications Board (Image Credit: Ulysses Rare Books)

Living outside of Ireland, O’Brien perhaps felt more comfortable challenging censorship than other Irish writers, who were sometimes victimised in their professional lives when works fell foul of the Board. Most famously, the fallout from the banning of John McGahern’s The Dark has contributed, at least in part, to his removal from a teaching post. To be banned, it was joked, an honour for an Irish writer. Still, as O’Faolain noted, it could also bring feelings of great anger. On learning that his book Midsummer Night Madness was banned, he later noted that “outwardly I laughed at the news. In my heart I felt infuriated and humiliated.”

How important was the Censorship Reform Society in changing things? In truth, censorship was already in the process of collapse. Bruce Arnold recalled that the body was short lived:

Some of us started the Censorship Reform Society. Edna O’Brien spoke at the Gate Theatre on the inaugural night. We had seen Edna’s novels banned, along with a host of other works of literature, and we wanted to fight this.

As with most Irish ventures, few offered financial help. In any case, the society was overtaken by events; censorship began to crumble.

The Censorship Reform Society did succeed in bringing public scrutiny on the Censorship Publications Board. Judge Charles Conroy, chairman of the board,  found himself in the spotlight after the rally, telling one journalist from Trinity News that “our main aim is to keep filth out of this country.” The student journalist came away from it all wondering:

Is the judge himself qualified to be on the Censorship Board? In my hour’s conversation with him he did not appear to have anything more than superficial knowledge of literature. The main attribute of all the members of the Board was their common sense, rather than their knowledge of literature.

1967 brought real reform to Irish censorship law, as now prohibition orders made on the grounds of indecency would expire after a period of twelve years, though they could then be reexamined then. The immediate effect of the reform was the unbanning of thousands of works. Undoubtedly, the controversies around 1960s works like O’Brien’s and McGahern’s had played a pivotal role in this change. If nothing else, the December 1966 meeting was an unprecedented united front against censorship from right across the artistic community.

O’Brien very beautifully described Irish censorship as being rooted in a “fear of knowledge, a fear of communicating our desires, our secrets, our stream of consciousness”.  This year, Dublin will rightly honour her work, and her contribution to intellectual freedom in Irish life.



Thomas Johnson, Secretary of the Irish Labour Party and drafter of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil.

The meeting of the First Dáil in Dublin’s Mansion House on 21 January 1919 was the realisation of Sinn Féin’s stunning electoral victory in the General Election of the previous month. For many of those in attendance,  it was a defining moment in their own political journey. The title of this post comes from the memoir of Máire Comerford, Cumann na mBán activist who watched it all from the gallery. She remembered listening to the speaker, as “we repeated the words of the Declaration after him, and felt we had burnt our boats now. There was no going back.”

Sweeping aside the old order of the Irish Parliamentary Party, the Sinn Féin electoral landslide was described beautifully by one contemporary observer as the “triumph of the young over the old.” Some of those who lost their seats had stepped aside graciously; in the words of one defeated Home Ruler, it was simply: “the passing away of a great movement, to be succeeded by another.”To the conservative British press, the result was horrifying, though the Daily Mail found some comfort in the fact that: “the victory of the Sinn Féiners, since they do not intend to come to Westminster, may indeed be regarded as a blessing.”

Sinn Féin’s election manifesto had been unambiguous about the question of Irish parliamentarians sitting in Westminster, pledging the party to: “withdrawing the Irish Representation from the British Parliament and…denying the right and opposing the will of the British Government or any other foreign Government to legislate for Ireland.” More ambiguous however was its commitment to: “making use of any and every means available to render impotent the power of England to hold Ireland in subjection by military force or otherwise.”

With 69 parliamentarians representing 73 constituencies, Sinn Féin could assert itself as the dominant force in Irish political life. Yet a century ago, it was a mere 27 elected representatives who gathered in Dublin’s Mansion House, reflecting the political turmoil of the day and the widespread suppression of prominent Sinn Féin voices.

Internationally, the gathering was front page news, with New York’s The Evening World telling their readers that: “probably no country except Ireland could present an episode as remarkable as the assembly of the Dáil Éireann (Gaelic for Irish Parliament) which was called to order in Dublin’s ancient Mansion House.” In London, the press reports noted that: “Dublin Castle has apparently decided to ignore the Dáil, as long as it is confined to talking.”

When the roll call of all elected Irish parliamentarians was read, 29 were ‘i lathair’ (present), many more ‘as lathair’ (not present), and others either ‘fé ghlas ag Gallaibh’ (jailed by the foreigner) or ‘ar díbirt ag Gallabih’ (deported by the foreigner). There was some laughter in the room when Unionist leader Edward Carson was recorded as ‘as lathair.’ Despite 29 being declared in attendance, there were 27 in reality.  Harry Boland and Michael Collins, while declared to be in the room, were both absent. It provided an alibi for other plans, and said something of the seditious nature of it all.

What took place at this gathering was deeply symbolic, and intended for the consumption of a global audience. As Europe was reeling from the fallout of World War One, and all eyes were focused on France and the peace conferences many hoped could bring permanent peace to the continent, a ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’ was read in the Mansion House in English, Irish and French.It explicitly stated that: “the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people.” Sinn Féin sought to give Ireland a voice at this new table of European diplomacy, maintaining that while it was a new day, we were an old nation: “Ireland today reasserts her historic nationhood the more confidently before the new world emerging from the War.”


Members of the First Dáil photographed on 21 January 1919.

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Early Houses of Dublin (2019)

In February 2015, I published an article listing the remaining 14 or so ‘early house’ pubs in Dublin city centre along with some brief historical background about why these bars have special licenses allowing them to open at 7am.

Delaney’s, North King Street, 1976. Note the ‘Bar Open 7am’ sign. Credit – dublincity.ie

In the last four years, one pub has been demolished and two have closed down. A further three have been put on sale or sold so their futures are uncertain.

The Dark Horse Inn on George’s Quay closed its doors in July 2016 and reopened as a Starbucks coffee shop the following month. I wrote a long piece about the history of the building here.

Ned Scanlon’s on Townsend Street closed and and the pub was demolished in October 2018.

‘Before and After’. Ned Scanlon’s, Townsend Street. Credit – John Fleming on Facebook

We’ve also heard that The Capel Bar on Little Green Street, which featured in a 2016 Dublin Inquirer piece, has closed in recent months.

So as far as I can assert, these are the remaining 10 ‘early house’ pubs in Dublin as of early 2019.


1. The Boar’s Head, Capel Street (Mon-Fri 8am; Sat 11am)

2. The Chancery Inn, Inns Quay (Mon-Fri 9am; Sat 7am). The pub (and five apartments) was on the market for €1.7 million in May 2018 so it’s unclear what the future may bring.

3. Delaney’s, North King Street (Mon-Sat 9am). This pub was up for sale in 2016 but no changes has affected it yet it seems.

4. M. Hughes, Chancery Street (Mon-Fri 8.30am; Sat 7am)

5. The Metro, Parnell Street. After sixty years in business, the current owners have retired and put up the pub for sale in October 2018. So time will tell whether the pub will continue to open early.

6. Molloy’s, Talbot Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

7. Slattery’s, Capel Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

8. Madigan’s, Connolly Station (Mon-Fri 8.30am, Sat 10.30am)


9. The Galway Hooker, Heuston Station

10. Padraig Pearse, Pearse Street (Mon-Fri 7.30am; Sat 9am)

11. The Windjammer, Lombard Street (Mon-Sat 7am)

Outside of city:
– The Fisherman’s Bar, attached to The Waterside pub, in Howth (Mon-Sat 8am)


My thanks to my friend Dorje for passing on a heap of old copies of In Dublin recently. An invaluable publication in the days before social media, it gave some sense of what was happening in the city. Dating from 1977 and 1978, these issues give good insight into culture in the city.  Many of the places advertised within remain loved parts of the city today.

Firstly, and most importantly, Grogans public house on South William Street.


There are two advertisements from the gay rights movement, firstly Tel-A-Friend (which in time became the Gay Switchboard), and secondly the Irish Gay Rights Movement, with its phoenix logo rising from the ashes. The movement was based at Temple Bar’s Hirschfeld Centre, which was also home to Dublin’s much-loved Flikkers disco.



Books Upstairs celebrated 40 years in business this year. This advertisement comes from their first year of business. We wish them every success for the next four decades (they are now on D’Olier Street)


In the days of cinema censorship, cinema clubs were hugely important. It cost 1.50 to join the Project Cinema Club:


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Jer O’Leary as Jim Larkin (Image by Donal Higgins)

Playing Larkin is a pleasure and an honour. Some parts are just performance tasks, but Larkin was one of the finest specimens of humanity; a wonderful mind, great courage with the heart of a lion, unusual vision, and a voice like rolling thunder.

-Jer O’Leary on playing the role of Larkin, Evening Press, January 1980.

There are many difficult audiences in this town, but if you haven’t, you should try explaining the ins and outs of the 1913 Lockout to a room full of school children. Against the backdrop of the centenary of the great dispute, I had the pleasure of trying this. They listened, though how much of it registered has puzzled me since. Following a brief historic overview, the next speaker was Jer O’Leary. The veteran and much-loved Dublin actor shook the walls of the Ringsend school, bringing the words of Jim Larkin to life. I think the children by the end had some sense of the power of the story.

Dubliner Jer O’Leary, the Bard of Drumcondra, lived many lives in one. As an actor, activist, artist and raconteur he was a frequent face on the streets of Dublin. His booming and distinctive voice could be heard across the street over any volume of Dublin traffic. He was, firmly and completely, a man of the Left. In 1967, a 22 year old Jer O’Leary joined the Republican movement, the beginning of a life-long involvement in republican and socialist politics that shaped everything he did.


O’Leary in the Project in 1986 at an exhibition of his labour movement banners. More on that below.

Football was a great love too. As the book The Lost Revolution rightly notes, “he delighted in reminding GAA devotees that the Dublin IRA’s commander in 1921, Oscar Traynor, had been a soccer player.” O’Leary may well have attended more FAI Cup Finals than Traynor himself, and was present in 1961 when Saint Patrick’s Athletic won the cup in Dalymount Park against his own beloved Drumcondra. Willie Peyton’s heroic goal that day is something I’ve heard of from many Pats fans that were in attendance, but nobody told the tale as well as Jer. Each time I heard the story from him it was as if Peyton was deeper and deeper into his own half. Eventually in the telling, he may as well have been in deepest suburban Cabra kicking a ball in the general direction of the stadium. Whatever the debate about where Peyton kicked from, he was certainly far from goal. When Drumcondra went to the wall, one of the great losses of Irish footballing history, O’Leary retained a grá for association football in Dublin. A great Celtic fan, like his late son Diarmuid who died in tragic circumstances on a trip to see the Hoops, he remained familiar with Dalymount Park as a supporter of Bohs. Still, like all true Drumcondra fans, he answered ‘Drums’ to the question of which Dublin team he supported. Those who kept faith with the sport are now spread across the football grounds of Dublin.


A Bohemian FC flag produced by Jer O’Leary, bringing together two of his great passions.

As a stage actor, O’Leary came to public prominence thanks to a legendary production of James Plunkett’s The Risen People, directed by Peter and Jim Sheridan. The production did tremendously well in Dublin, but was also taken to London as part of the Sense of Ireland Festival. A 1986 profile piece on O’Leary noted that “his most notorious moment on stage – which is also a legend in Irish circles – was his dramatic playing in Peter Weiss’s work, The Marat Sade.

The play, a Marxist view of the French Revolution, coincided perfectly with O’Leary’s vision for modern day Ireland. But one fine night at the end of the performance, the actor decided that modern Ireland and revolutionary France should bridge the gap of time. He told the packed house in a completely unrehearsed speech that the alleged Sallins train robbers, who were then on trial, were completely innocent. For his ‘unprofessional conduct’ he had to be rescued from the wrath of the cast, whose efforts to hang him fro the highest point of the dressing room were guillotined by the back stage staff.


There was something about Jer as Larkin that registered deeply with Dubliners, even if the Toxteth-born Scouser developed an accent more akin to Dublin’s north inner-city, the energy was a perfect replica. In 1993 he was centrally involved in the historical commemorations of the Lockout organised by the North Inner City Folkore Project, addressing a huge crowd from the window of Clery’s, and he would revive the role for further historic anniversaries. Countess Markievicz recalled hearing Larkin speak and feeling that she was in the presence of “some great primeval force rather than a man”. To try and be Larkin took a certain confidence, which Jer had in abundance.

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Dublin Pubs (Mid 1980s)

I picked up this book for $5 in the amazing Powell’s bookshop in Portland, Oregon during the summer.

It features 60 full-colour photographs of pubs across Ireland taken by Liam Blake with accompanying text by David Pritchard and Joe Reynolds. It was first published in 1985 with this softback edition republished in 1993.

I’ve included the 15 photographs of Dublin pubs which I am guessing were taken in the 1984-85 period.

The Brazen Head

The Brazen Head, 20 Lower Bridge Street, Merchant’s Quay. We visited this pub in our November 2009 pub crawl.

Doheny & Nesbitt’s

Doheny & Nesbitt’s at 5 Lower Baggot Street near St. Stephen’s Green. A pub we also visited in our November 2009 pub crawl.


Mulligan’s (now L. Mulligan Grocer) at 18 Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. A boozer we reviewed in our May 2012 pub crawl.


 The exterior of Slattery’s, 217 Rathmines Road in Rathmines. A pub we dropped into in our February 2010 pub crawl.


McDaid’s pub at 3 Harry Street off Grafton Street. Somewhere we visited in June 2010 for a pub crawl.

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