Born in England to a British Army father and a mother from Wexford, Liam Mellows and his family returned to Ireland when he was a young child. From an early age he became interested in Irish Nationalism and soon found himself a member of the Fianna Éireann and later joined the IRB in his early 20s.
Eschewing a British Army career, Mellows instead joined and became active in the fledgling Irish Volunteers and led a troop of Connacht volunteers in Co. Galway during the 1916 Rising. Poorly armed and underprepared, the Rising quickly fizzled out in Co. Galway. He escaped to the United States in the aftermath of the Rising where he became active with the Irish-American nationalist movement and laid the foundations for Éamon de Valera’s mission to the U.S. in 1919. Mellows was elected to the First Dáil in 1918 and became an officer of the Irish Republican Army during the Tan War.
An opponent of the Treaty in 1921, he participated in the occupation of the Four Courts and was arrested by Free State forces following the surrender of the Four Courts. While imprisoned in Mountjoy, he developed upon economic and social ideas to make Irish Republicanism a more relevant and politically cohesive movement.
Irish Nationalist Teleology
Although the National Party was founded in 2016 as a political entity, the Movement it represents is much older than that. Many parties founded in 21st century Ireland have sought to find their sectional niche in modernity; the Social Democrats founded in 2015 sought to represent the centre-left ‘Nordic model’ in Irish politics, Renua was also founded in 2015 from a rump of expelled Fine Gael TDs who sought to represent the interests of a centre-right business-orientated constituency in Irish politics, and the ‘parties’ known collectively as “Solidarity-People Before Profit” have murky origins representing various splits and splinters of the international Trotskyist movement. The National Party is a modern political force which represents the historic generational struggle to achieve unity and national independence. This tradition stretches from the first Gaelic opposition to the 1169 Anglo-Norman invasion, through to the formation of the United Irishmen and the development of early Republicanism, to the original Sinn Féin movement and the establishment of the sovereign Irish Republic, and which continues to the present day. Thus, the National Party’s origins as a political party may be relatively recent, but our ideological and spiritual lineage is far deeper than is acknowledged by media commentators or naïve spectators.
Liam Mellows is but one of the many Nationalists who we may count within our Movement’s historic ranks. His contribution to Irish Nationalist thinking has been invaluable, his writings must be studied, understood, and incorporated where appropriate into modern National Party ideology and policy. As such, this article will discuss three core ideological tenets of Mellows’ political thinking which are still relevant and have modern application today.
Liam Mellows was executed at the young age of 30. Many today forget the relative youthfulness of the key figures of the revolutionary period; Michael Collins was assassinated at 31, Liam Lynch at 29, and de Valera assumed the office of President of the Irish Republic at 36. In notes sent to Austin Stack and Ernie O’Malley from Mountjoy Jail dated 29 August 1922, Mellows reminded his Republican colleagues that “We must concentrate on youth – the salvation of our country lies in this – both boys and girls”.
Today, many of Ireland’s youth instinctively feel there is a deep sickness in their country. The National Party must provide the youth with a purpose, to educate them in the tradition of Irish nationalism, and to provide for them the means by which to truly serve their country. Mellows despaired at the many young men who joined the Free State Army and concluded that “they never had a proper grasp of fundamentals. They were absorbed into a movement to fight – not educated into it”. Mellows was writing in his historical context and thus the rightness or wrongness of the Treaty will not be expanded upon here, but his basic point stands the test of time: that National Party members, including but not limited to the youthful ones, must be politically astute and historically educated in the Irish Nationalist tradition. The National Party is not about chasing ephemeral seats or playing cat-and-mouse with the Left, but is about finally achieving Irish freedom. To achieve this we need a politically sophisticated rank and file.
A Deeper Irish Nationalist Social and Economic Philosophy
Mellows’ economic and social thinking as articulated in his jail notes has a clear resonance for the modern economic situation. The triumph of globalised ultra-capitalism has been incredibly detrimental to Ireland’s national wellbeing. Rampant individualism driven by consumer culture and unrestricted capitalism has contributed to the break-down of Irish society. In his writings, Mellows built upon James Connolly’s economic thinking and his famous maxim that “If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle., unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain.” Just as the idea of a United Ireland has never meant the simple annexation of the six-counties into a 32 County Free State, the idea of Irish independence has never meant a nominal independence which is still indelibly tied to the economic imperialism of a foreign power; be it the imperialism of the British Empire, the imperialism of the European Union, or the imperialism of 21st century international finance. Although the National Party does not espouse ‘socialism’ as that term is ordinarily understood today, we do espouse the deeper Irish concept of Meitheal which refers to the native tradition of cooperative- neighbourliness as the cornerstone of a nationalist economic policy.
Mellows believed that independence represented a threefold significance: “It is politics, it is intellectual, it is economic. It is political in the sense that it means complete separation from England and the British Empire. It is intellectual in as much as it represents the cultural expression of the Gaelic mind and Gaelic civilisation and the removal of the impress of English speech and thought upon the Irish character. It is economic because the wrestling of Ireland from the grip of English capitalism can leave no thinking Irishman with the desire to build up and perpetuate in this country an economic system that had its roots in foreign domination”. What Irish nationalist reading the words of Mellows today can disagree with this sentiment? An Irish Republic run on Irish Nationalist principles requires all three elements articulated by Mellows in this section: political, intellectual, and economic freedom. The Mellowsian threefold necessities of independence are blatantly disregarded today, take for example the recent ‘green-jersey’ attitude towards Brexit because ‘Ireland will become the only English-speaking country in the European Union and will therefore attract foreign investment’. This slavish attitude fails all three tests of Irish Nationalism, as articulated by Mellows; it celebrates Ireland’s status as a servile vassal-state of the E.U., it presents the dominance of the English language (and the diminished status of An Ghaeilge) as a great national virtue, and it cheerleads the ravages of international financial globalism upon Ireland.
By reading the works of our historical antecedents we are given the opportunity to enrich our understanding of Irish Nationalism, then and now. Mellows wrote that “The Irish Republic stands therefore for the ownership of Ireland by the people of Ireland. It means that the means and processes of production must not be used for the profit or aggrandisement of any group or class”. He did not write that the means and processes of production must be owned by the international proletariat. Mellows believed that, in other words, Ireland belongs to the Irish.
The great Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recalled that as a child he often heard the older people of his village offer the following explanation for the great disasters which had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened”. Solzhenitsyn continued, that having sought to study and analyse the history of the Russian Revolution for the past fifty years and having attempted to formulate a succinct reason for the tragedies which had befallen Russia, he could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened”. What was true for Russia then is true for Ireland today. The retroactive ultra-secularisation of historic Irish Nationalism has had detrimental effects. Virtually the only historians who are willing to acknowledge the role of faith as a motivating factor in historic Irish Nationalism are the Revisionist school, who invariably emphasise it to discredit Nationalists and portray them as religious extremists or irrational fanatics. Meanwhile within anti-Revisionism, the influence of (British) Marxists such as C. Desmond Greaves has led to a reaction against Revisionist tendencies by attempting to falsely secularise Irish Nationalism and siphon off its most steadfast elements to invent a cheek-to-jowl symbiosis with Atheist Marxism. Liam Mellows’ faith and his commitment to the Nationalist Movement were indelibly connected with each other. Before his execution he wrote that “those who die for Ireland have no need for prayer” and saw himself as being in the tradition of Irish nationalist martyrs. The spiritual faith which underpinned Mellows’ political-military tribulations sustained his conviction that he was fighting a Just War, or as An tÓglách referred to it, ‘the Holy War’.
The Irish Declaration of Independence passed by the First Dáil committed “our destiny to Almighty God Who gave our fathers the courage and determination to preserve through long centuries of a ruthless tyranny, and strong in the justice of the cause which they have handed down to us”. Such overt references to God and Irish history would be balked at today by many claiming to be Republicans. However, Republicans in 1919 recognised both the ruthless tyranny of England’s historic injustices committed upon the Irish Nation and that Irish resistance and endurance of these hardships was only possible by the faith of their ancestors.
There is today a blurring of lines, sometimes out of ignorance and sometimes deliberately, between Christianity and the Church hierarchy. Mellows wrote that the Catholic hierarchy of his day were “invariably wrong in Ireland in their political outlook”. But this attitude did not diminish his Catholicism, in fact it reinforced his convictions. In one of his last letters, he wrote “Ireland must tread the path our Redeemer trod. She may shirk as indeed she has shirked – ‘Put away with Chalice’ – but her faltering feet will find the road again, as indeed she is already finding it”. He recognised that the Ireland of his day was faltering from the ideology of Faith and Fatherland which sustained Irish people throughout the centuries. He sought to keep the faith and stand by the Republic.
By reading the corpus of texts of the Irish Nationalist movement we can better understand our position today and plan for the future. Liam Mellows is but one of a pantheon of Nationalists who fought and died for the cause of Ireland’s freedom. He is important for his attempts to formulate a deeper political approach while many of his anti-treaty colleagues were focused solely on the military angle. His belief in Ireland was underpinned by his devout Catholicism, he believed in the inherent goodness of the Irish people and their right to be free. This freedom did not merely mean a political separation from England, but the complete restoration of freedom in a uniquely Gaelic Ireland. His analysis was deeper than that of many others. He recognised the necessity of changing the social and economic policy of a politically independent Republic for the benefit of the Irish nation as a whole. We must hold men like Mellows in the highest esteem for their contribution to the Nationalist Movement’s intellectual development and learn from it. We should not instinctively adopt the caricatured positions of ‘the right’. Such labels are divisive, confusing, and outdated. We have an excellent tradition in this country of Irish Nationalism from which we can draw our inspiration and fulfil our need for ideological flourishment. By reading the works of Mellows and others we can build the authentic Nationalist Movement again.
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