The IRA’s decades of struggle to infiltrate, influence and exploit Irish nationalist organisations in support of its campaign of violent terrorism against Britain’s involvement in Ireland is best evidenced in the GAA, Ireland’s Gaelic Athletic Association.
Although the IRA’s primary weapon has always been its willingness to lie about its activities – IRA Army Council “enforcer” Bobby Storey published the IRA’s demand for continuing lies in 2010, five years after the IRA was supposed to have disbanded – there is ample evidence of infiltration of the GAA by the IRA and of collusion between the GAA and the IRA going back many decades.
According to Billy McKee, the Battalion was encouraged by Goulding to seek to infiltrate those types of organisations. This was mostly done in a covert way.
McKee says that he regularly met with Goulding at this time, as did Jimmy Steele, and the Battalion and Sinn Féin appear to have worked in tandem with Dublin to develop the infiltration strategy…
In reality, the I.R.A. was infiltrating organisations that its members would be involved with in the normal course of events. But the value of it lay in creating a broader spectrum of sympathetic bodies to support I.R.A. strategy.
For infiltration to be effective, though, it had to be particularly discreet or covert since an openly infiltrated body would be simply dismissed as acting as a mouthpiece.‘Belfast Battalion – History of the Belfast IRA 1922 – 1969’ – John O’Neill [p.204]
For the sake of an attempt at brevity, this post – Part 1 – will mainly confine itself to the period before the early 1970s and the IRA’s longest campaign of terrorism ending ultimately in its capitulation to British demands that it disband, decommission its weapons and participate in the two partitionist parliaments in Ireland – in fact, that it should copperfasten British rule in Northern Ireland by engaging in Her Majesty’s Stormont parliament while pretending that its traditional abstentionism from Her Majesty’s Westminster parliament continued to matter.
The short-lived ‘Smash Stormont – Principled Irish Stand‘ of Gerry Adams and Alex Maskey resulted in Stormont entirely Smashing the IRA and Sinn Féin.
Part II will deal with the GAA Provisional IRA Love Affair after the 1969-1970 period.
1887 – The Split
“The formation and early history of the GAA is arguably the most striking instance of politics shaping sport in modern history.”Richard Holt, Sport and the British. A Modern History (Oxford: OUP, 1990): 240
Within three years of its foundation, the GAA suffered a serious split that was nothing to do with sport but had everything to do with revolutionary politics.
At the GAA Anual Congress, the secret paramilitary organisation the Irish Republican Brotherhood showed it had successfully infiltrated the GAA when it overcame those backing the constitutionalist Irish Parliamentary Party/Home Rule faction by having the IRB’s candidate, Edward Bennett, elected President over his IPP/HR opponent, Maurice Davin.
The constitutionalist faction – led by Catholic priest Fr. John Scanlan – walked out and threatened to create a second GAA.
By the Spring of 1887 a number of leading IRB members, notably J.K. Bracken of Templemore (one of the founders of the Association in 1884), P.T. Hoctor of Limerick and John Boyle O’Reilly of Dublin had moved into positions of influence in the Association.
At the convention in Thurles Courthouse the IRB grouping in the Association moved to increase its control of it.
Their nominee, P.N. Fitzgerald, the leading IRB organiser for the south of Ireland, was elected to the chair, and this led to about 200 delegates led by Father John Scanlan from Nenagh withdrawing from meetings, holding another in the market-place in Haves’s Hotel, and setting up a breakaway organisation.
Meanwhile at the Courthouse the convention proceeded to oust the President, the renowned Tipperary athlete Maurice Davin, and elect E.M. Bennett of Clare as President.[Link]
At the foundation of the GAA three years earlier, three Patrons had been chosen with powerful symbolism.
To express the desired symbiotic relationship between the GAA and the Roman Catholic Church, nationalist Archbishop Thomas Croke was chosen as the first patron (after whom Dublin’s Croke Park is named).
This opened the way for the GAA’s eventual incorporation into Irish Catholic parishes and schools nationwide – most notably schools run by the militant Christian Brothers.
A second patron was Irish Nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, Member of Parliament and leader of the Home Rule League and later of the Irish Parliamentary Party.
Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in 1882 but was released after he agreed to renounce violent extra-parliamentary action.
A third patron was Michael Davitt, a leading IRB activist convicted and jailed in 1870 for ‘treason felony’ and arms trafficking who served 7 years in prison.
While sworn to armed resistance, Davitt was also associated with the Irish National Land League and Parnell and later with the Irish Parliamentary Party.
Davitt was jailed again in 1880.
The threat of a split was very real after the meeting, and the Archbishop of Cashel, Dr. Croke, threatened to resign as patron.
He also proposed a radical re-organisation of the central GAA, with each county having an independent management, the clubs being under local and county management rather than central control.
A reconvened convention was held in January 1888 and Davin was re-elected President, with both sides agreeing that unity must be achieved after the six month split.
Determined work throughout 1888 and an increasing tendency on the part of the local clergy to discourage participation in the GAA enabled the IRB to increase its influence at the 1889 convention and this influence was to remain.
In 1890 there were 810 clubs affiliated to the GAA of which 497 were controlled by the IRB, 191 by the clergy, and 122 were unattached.[Link]
GAA – Michael Collins – Bloody Sunday
Stretching across Ireland to immigrant America, the Gaelic Athletic Association has always been a prize cash cow and engine of influence which those of a violent revolutionary intent sought to harness, while those of a constitutional and non-violent belief wrestled to free from men of violence.
Above all, the GAA has always provided the IRA with a safe space to groom and recruit children and young men into a campaign of murder and bombing.
The GAA became the unfortunate victim of both the revolutionary Irish Volunteers (forerunner of the IRA) and the British forces most infamously on Sunday November 21, 1920 during a match between Tipperary and Dublin – a few hours after Michael Collins’ Irish Volunteers killed 14 British Intelligence Officers in and around Dublin, some of them in their beds.
In spite of well-grounded fears that the British forces would retaliate in kind for the 14 murders, the match went ahead.
The proceeds of the match were to benefit the “Irish Republican Prisoners’ Fund“.
One of the Irish Volunteer leaders from Tipperary who had participated in many armed actions, Tommy Ryan, was a player on the day.
A football blog records:
“Ryan was very involved in the Volunteer movement leading up to Bloody Sunday.
The day before the match, the Tipperary team travelled by train to Dublin.
On the train there was trouble between the footballers and the RIC.
Ryan and his teammates beat the men up and the group of RIC men quickly got off at the next stop. Tommy and his teammates were worried about who would be waiting for them but when they reached their destination nobody was there to arrest them.
They scrapped their original plan to stay in Barry’s Hotel and scattered among several hotels.
Tommy Ryan and Mick Hogan were the two Volunteer officers on the Tipperary team and they stayed at Phil Shanahan’s home. There they learned of the plans to execute the British intelligence officers .
While they were at Shanahan’s, D.P Walsh came with information about the morning’s mission. He asked Ryan to accompany him down to Shanahan’s cellar where there were revolvers and .45 ammunition held in porter bottles.
Ryan helped Walsh carry ammunition to Fleming’s Hotel in Gardiner place.
When Ryan returned back to Shanahans after dropping off the guns, he volunteered to take part in the mission the next morning. However, somebody had felt nervous about him knowing so much about it and for reasons unknown, he was told the mission had been postponed.
At 11am the next morning Dan Breen sent a message to Ryan saying that he was leaving for Tipperary and he advised Tommy not to go to Croke Park as it wasn’t safe for him.
Tommy wouldn’t let his team down and headed to Croke Park.
It is interesting to note that Irish Volunteer Leader Dan Breen warned only his fellow Volunteer of the danger of attending the match, but not the ordinary citizens.
Michael Collins was fully aware of the subsequent risk to the assembled GAA players and supporters when he ordered the killings hours before the match.
In the Bureau of Military History, Ryan retold his memories of the day [page 37]:
“I was about to take the free kick when a burst of machine-gun and rifle fire occurred.
The crowd of spectators immediately stampeded.
The players also fled from the field in among the sideline spectators, except six of us who threw ourselves down on the ground.
The six of us who remained – Hogan and I and four of the Dublin team – were I think all Volunteers.
It was while Hogan was running from the field to the paling that he got hit by a bullet.
Going across to Hogan, I tried to lift him up but the blood was spurting from a wound in his back and I knew he was very badly injured.
As I reached the paling, I saw one Auxie loading a round into the breach of his rifle and who appeared to be looking in my direction. I dropped to the ground, and a youngster near me fell, which I took to be from the shot that was intended for me.
Realising that I was a wanted man – the police had been looking for me at home a few days before I left – and that therefore I would probably be arrested at least, I cast about for some means of escape.
I was the only member of the Tipperary team who wore the national tricolour in my stockings and knickers and I realised that this fact alone made me conspicuous. I made a dash across Hill Sixteen and got out of Croke Park over the wall.”
There were 14 victims of the Croke Park “Bloody Sunday” shootings – exactly matching the earlier 14 killings by Michael Collins’ Volunteer squad.
Ryan later joined the National Army of the Irish Free State taking the Pro-Treaty side.
It was always the case that the activities of the Irish Volunteers/IRA were going to cost many civilian lives – but as Derryman filmmaker and IRA Volunteer Tommy Collins told me with regard to his bullet that missed British soldiers and killed 14 year old local girl Kathleen Feeney, civilian casualties were just “collateral damage of the revolution” – nothing to be overly sentimental about.
In fact, such casualties – even when caused by the IRA – usually gained the IRA public support.
Guns for Dissidents
Five years after the December 1922 establishment of the Irish Free State, the New York GAA smuggled Thompson machine guns and cash to the anti-Treaty IRA.
Another football blog records:
In the spring of 1927, the reigning All-Ireland champions Kerry travelled to New York for a fundraising and exhibitionary tour.
At the time the IRA had two members on the New York GAA board and several members of the Kerry footballers were also sympathetic to or members of the IRA, including captain John Joe Sheehy who was also contemporaneously the IRA commander in Kerry.
Sheehy ensured that a majority of the travelling Kerry team were loyal to the IRA and were willing to transport weapons home.
The players deemed suitably loyal to the IRA agreed to smuggle home a haul of Thompson sub-machine guns in their luggage.
The weapons were owned by the IRA and had been kept in New York for safe keeping during a time when many members of the IRA were being prosecuted and executed by the Irish Free State for conspiracies against the state.
In addition, funds raised from the trip were meant to be used for the Tralee sports field and local grounds, however, a proportion raised through games and dances during the trip was given back to the IRA for their efforts against the Free State.
McKelveys IRA GAA
Following partition and the establishment of the Irish Free State, the remnant of the Belfast IRA formed its own GAA Club named after IRA leader and Chief of Staff Joseph McKelvey who had been executed by the new Irish Free State in 1922.
The club had a base in Rockmount Street, just off the Falls Road, where an old wooden building, known as the McKelvey hut, was its base.
It is also clear, from various accounts in the 1920s, that it was openly known to be a base of the Belfast IRA as individuals who wished to join the IRA went there to ask about joining.
Its official name, when it is mentioned in the press, was McKelvey Hall, later (in the 1930s) being known as the McKelvey Recreation Club. By the mid-1930s McKelveys also used Pearse Hall, in the city centre, as their base…
Hugh Corvin (the Belfast IRA O/C), Davy Matthews (who was to succeed Corvin), Hugh Matthews (Davy’s brother and another future Belfast IRA O/C) and George Nash, O/C of one of the Belfast IRA companies were all prominent Belfast IRA staff members.
Others, like Joe McGurk who had been imprisoned the previous year for possession of arms and weapons, are well-known IRA men.
Visibly, McKelveys was very much an IRA team drawing on the small pool of active republicans left in Belfast. It was also very much an Anti-Treaty IRA side.
The O’Donovan Rossa club, which McKelvey helped found, was associated with Belfast IRA staff who had taken and, in 1924, still remained, on the Pro-Treaty side.
If other prominent South Antrim clubs, like Morans, Kevin Barrys (also originally an ‘IRA club’), Stephens, Parnells and Ardoyne had any associations it could equally have been to organisations such as the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
In that regard, McKelveys being left as the sole IRA-sponsored GAA club may be a reflection of the political landscape of nationalist Belfast in 1924-25.[Link]
In quick succession, Tyrone born McKelvey had been Belfast Brigade Commander, Commandant of the Third Northern Division of the IRA in charge of three IRA Brigades and later Chief of Staff of the IRA (after Liam Lynch) when he opposed the Treaty and fought in the Civil War.
McKelvey was one of the dissident IRA leaders during the occupation of The Four Courts.
After he and his comrades surrendered to the Free State Army forces, he was imprisoned until his execution by firing squad along with dissident IRA comrades Liam Mellows, Rory O’Connor and Richard Barrett in December of 1922.
Founded in 1924, the Joseph McKelvey Gaelic Athletic Club was named after the executed Anti-Treaty leader, who himself had been a founder member of the O’Donovan Rossa GAA club in Belfast.
The choice of the name and the founding of McKelveys GAC was linked in to the return of Lt. Gen. Joe McKelvey’s remains to Belfast from Dublin for burial in October 1924.
McKelveys burial was regarded by many Belfast republicans as the event which prompted the post-war re-organisation of the IRA in Belfast.[Link]
Although McKelvey ordered many IRA actions, one of his most prominent murders was that of Royal Irish Constabulary District Inspector Oswald Swanzy in Lisburn on Sunday, August 22nd 1920.
The IRA was always shocked, outraged and incredulous when its practice of murdering targets in front of their wives and children was ever employed against its own leaders.
After the shooting in March 1920 of Cork IRA leader Tomás Mac Curtain at his home while he was both Commandant of the IRA Cork No 1 Brigade and also Sinn Féin Mayor, the outraged IRA plotted revenge.
Believing that RIC D.I. Oswald Swanzy had been involved in the shooting, the IRA learned that Swanzy had been transferred to Lisburn in Northern Ireland.
IRA members from the Cork IRA travelled to Belfast where Brigade Commander Joe McKelvey arranged their transport to and from Lisburn where two gunmen shot Oswald Swanzy as he came out of church.
The IRA was fully aware and uncaring of the predictable response of Loyalists in Lisburn after an IRA police murder outside a Protestant church.
Catholic homes and businesses were burned out in UVF retaliation for the murder – events that would serve the IRA’s recruitment.
The GAA retains the “Joe McKelvey Cup” competition.
GAA O’Donovan Rossa – Absolute Dynamite
McKelvey had earlier founded another IRA GAA club in Belfast – in honour of IRB Dynamite Bombing pioneer O’Donovan Rossa who had been imprisoned for life in 1865 but was later freed in the Fenian Amnesty of 1870 after agreeing to exile in the United States of America along with a number of IRB comrades.
[For some inexplicable reason, IRA persons added the Fitzgerald War Cry “Crom Abú” to the O’Donovan Rossa logo – inexplicable because Maurice Fitzgerald who arrived in Ireland with the Norman invaders c. 1169 was a Welsh Planter and Adventurer who founded a Dynasty in Ireland – every bit as much a Planter as the Scots Elizabethan Planters the IRA movement now opposes…
The IRA/GAA/Irish Language proponents of “The Gael” as a kind of indigenous and racially pure tribe to be kept apart from “foreign games” and “foreign language” is and always was a racist fantasy.]
O’Donovan Rossa had immediately seen the potential of Alfred Nobel’s invention of Dynamite in 1867.
As Sarah Cole wrote in “At the Violet Hour”:
Dynamite held highly idealised associations. It offered new vistas of power, not solely for its potential to wreak destruction but also for its ability to terrify a wide public. The connotations of dynamite for radical politics are hard to overstate. It was the ultimate weapon of one against the many, of any individual with only a smattering of training … the dynamite bomb seemed tiny in proportion to its capacity to do harm; it could fit easily into a small bag or even a pocket.
Having raised $20,000 in America in 1876 for a “skirmishing fund” and the foundation of a Dynamite School no less to train would-be bombers, O’Donovan Rossa organised the first IRB Fenian bombing campaign in England in the 1880s with the usual civilian casualties, including children.
To avow oneself a friend of O’Donovan Rossa meant in the days of our fathers to avow oneself a friend of Ireland… it meant more: it meant to avow oneself a “mere” Irishman, an “Irish enemy”, an “Irish savage”, if you will, naked and unashamed.
Rossa was not only “extreme”, but he represented the left wing of the “extremists”. Not only would he have Ireland free, but he would have Ireland Gaelic. And here we have the secret of Rossa’s magic, of Rossa’s power: he came out of the Gaelic tradition. He was of the Gael; he thought in a Gaelic way; he spoke in Gaelic accents. He was the spiritual and intellectual descendant of Colm Cille and of Seán an Díomais. With Colm Cille he might have said, “If I die it shall be from the love I bear the Gael”; with Shane O’Neill he held it debasing to “twist his mouth with English”.
To him the Gael and the Gaelic ways were splendid and holy, worthy of all homage and all service; for the English he had a hatred that was tinctured with contempt.
He looked upon them as an inferior race, morally and intellectually; he despised their civilisation; he mocked at their institutions and made them look ridiculous. And this again explains why the English hated him above all the Fenians.Patrick Pearse, Oration at Funeral of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, 1915
O’Donovan Rossa publicised his England bombing intentions in his newspaper in the United States leading to unsuccessful British requests for his extradition.
He became so publicly associated with Fenian/IRB bombings of England that a cartoon was published in Puck, an American satirical magazine, showing him dropping Dynamite bombs on England.
To the first IRB terrorist Dynamite Bomber of English cities, Dublin City has a proud public memorial in St. Stephen’s Green:
The Irish on the monument – ní déanfaid gaeil dearmad ort go brách – translates as “The Gael will never forget you” – ‘The Gael’ referring to that imaginary racially pure indigenous group in Ireland wedded to violence, murder and bombing – to be kept apart from all things Saxon and Protestant.
The IRB/IRA Dynamite bombings in England were always going to kill innocent children, including this 7 year old boy victim in Salford:
‘Increasingly determined, bombastic and indiscreet, O’Donovan Rossa matched his incendiary rhetoric with action. In January 1881 his followers exploded a bomb in Salford, the first time a bomb had been planted in Britain to further a political cause.
The bomb destroyed some shops, injured a woman and killed a seven-year-old boy.
The British authorities, who began to monitor O’Donovan Rossa’s activities in the United States, observed that he had the ruthlessness of a dangerous conspirator without any of the guile.
Micheal Davitt, the leader of the Land League in Ireland, referred to him as ‘O’Donovan Assa’ and called him ‘the buffoon in Irish revolutionary politics with no advantage to himself but with terrible consequences to the many poor wretches who acted the Sancho Panza to his more than idiotic Don Quixote’.
Slowly and without much difficulty, the British infiltrated his organisation.
Nonetheless, the movement to bomb Britain continued sporadically over the next few years. Its culmination was Dynamite Saturday in January 1885, noted by James in another letter to Norton:
‘The country is gloomy, anxious, and London reflects its gloom.
Westminster Hall and the Tower were half blown up two days ago by Irish Dynamiters.’Colm Tóibín tells the story of Easter 1916’, in London Review of Books (31 March 2016)
Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa
‘became the personification of Irish resistance to British rule.
All the newspapers talked about him.
He was referred to as Jerry O’Dynamite or Dynamite O’Donovan Rossa all across Europe.’[Link]
It was at O’Donovan Rossa’s funeral in 1915 that Patrick Pearse famously uttered the dissidents’ pious ejaculation: “…the fools, the fools, the fools, they have left us our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves Ireland unfree shall never be at peace”.
The first event of the Irish 1916 Centenary Celebrations Programme was a State Commemoration of Dynamite Bomber O’Donovan Rossa’s Burial which was attended by Irish 26 Counties President Higgins and Taoiseach/Tee-Sock Enda Kenny.
‘On Saturday August 1, a state commemoration will be held to honour the centenary of the burial of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa.
The event will mark the beginning of the national 2016 commemorative programme.
In attendance shall be President Michael D Higgins, an Taoiseach Enda Kenny, members of the diplomatic corps as well as extended members of O’Donovan Rossa’s family and invited guests.
A letter writer to The Irish Times, Carla King of the History Department of St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, complained:
Accepting a conditional pardon in January 1871, O’Donovan Rossa settled in New York where he took up a position at the violent end of Irish nationalism, fostering a bombing campaign that extended through the 1880s and sabotaged efforts by constitutional Irish leaders to win British political and public support for Home Rule.
In 1882 his refusal to condemn the Phoenix Park assassinations drew from another ex-prisoner, the Fenian John O’Leary, the comment that “the time when O’Donovan Rossa had any claim to represent any appreciable section of the Fenians is long past”. His paper, the United Irishman, and his “bombing school” at Brooklyn acted as magnets for extreme nationalists and were carefully watched by the British secret service.
In 1887 Davitt held that O’Donovan Rossa “wittingly or unwittingly led other would-be conspirators into traps where they were condemned to long prison terms . . . His office in New York has been a veritable mousetrap for the British Consul”.
Above all, O’Donovan Rossa’s policy of terrorism (he enthusiastically espoused the term) in which ordinary English civilians, including children, were murdered simply alienated the public, undermining sympathy hard won through the efforts of Parnell, Davitt and others. At one point O’Donovan Rossa speculated about the possibility of releasing poison gas in the House of Commons, in which a sympathetic prime minister, Gladstone, would struggle to enact Home Rule for Ireland.
Then there is the moral perspective – while O’Donovan Rossa is a figure for whom we can feel some pity, his philosophy, with its commitment to mindless and counter-productive violence, launched a tradition of which we should be ashamed.
It is therefore deeply saddening that, at a time when the Irish Government and people are loud in our support of reconciliation after the experience of decades of bombing campaigns in British and Irish cities, the first act in our official commemoration of the 1916 events is to honour a man who dedicated his life to attempts to bomb his way to Irish independence.[Link]
It was not possible to re-enact for the Centenary Celebrations any of O’Donovan Rossa’s many Dynamite bombings and associated killings in English cities.
One Prod Less – Hyde Out
In December 1938 the GAA removed Protestant Douglas Hyde, President of Ireland, as a Patron of the Association because he had attended – in an official capacity – the Ireland v Poland International soccer match in Dalymount Park, Dublin.
President Hyde had broken the GAA’s infamous Rule 27 which sought to prevent the pollution of Ireland’s imaginary indigenous and racially pure “Gael” by non-indigenous cultural poisons…
The rule banned all GAA members from playing or watching in non-Gaelic games.
Non-Gaelic included rugby, soccer, hockey and cricket.
GAA members who broke Rule 27 were expelled from the GAA. This famously included Irish President and GAA-Patron Dr. Douglas Hyde who attended an international soccer match in 1938 prompting The Irish Times to write:
“The notion that the game by which a round ball is kicked only, and not punched as well as kicked, is detrimental to the national culture, is of course the most utterly childish form of humbug”.
The Irish Times did not address the underlying racist fantasy that those declared to be indigenous ‘Gael’ were to be kept purified from Saxon and Protestant poisons by means of apartheid.
For Hyde, this expulsion from an organisation founded by his long-term friend Michael Cusack and for whom Hyde had written the G.A.A. anthem The Marching Song of the Gaelic Athletes, was, ‘exceedingly distressing’…
Despite the outcry about the decision, on 9 April 1939 the annual Congress of the Association affirmed the decision of the Central Council in removing the name of Hyde as Patron of the Association ‘by an overwhelming majority’.
For Protestant Douglas Hyde, it was not the first time Irish nationalists had spurned his services.
For all his love and devotion to the cause of the Irish language – he had been the primary founder of The Gaelic League – Conradh na Gaeilge – in 1893, by 1915 it had been totally infiltrated by militant nationalists bent on fomenting a violent uprising leaving him no option but to resign from it.
(In the 1980 and 1990s, [Seán Mac Stíofáin] – the former Chief of Staff [of the Provisional IRA] – returned to working for Conradh na Gaeilge and in its centenary year, 1993, when he was the person of honour on a platform in O’Connell Street, Dublin, he did not appear to note the irony of its founder, Protestant Douglas Hyde, having resigned from it in 1915 in protest at its infiltration by armed struggle proponents such as him.
There were no objections from the Irish Language fanatics to honours being laid upon the PIRA Chief of Staff during whose tenure in the PIRA some of the worst atrocities were perpetrated against civilians, including The Bloody Friday bombings in Belfast and The Claudy Bombings in Derry, not forgetting the initiation of the IRA practice of Disappearing Corpses of abducted and murdered victims, beginning with Gerry Adams’ former friend Joe Lynskey in September, 1972.
Prods were not the ‘right sort’, being mostly of non-Gael Saxon origin and not members of the Roman Catholic Church:
One-time President of the G.A.A. and Fianna Fáil TD, Seán McCarthy, was of the view the G.A.A. was a central component in the larger republican movement, which he described as: ‘a combination of the Gaelic League, the G.A.A., the I.R.A. and the Catholic Church’, indicating the G.A.A. was a central component in Fianna Fáil’s vision of, ‘Irish-Ireland’.D. Walsh, The Party: Inside Fianna Fáil (Dublin, 1986), p. 34.
“The Gaeilic League is founded not upon hatred of England, but upon love of Ireland.
Hatred is a negative passion; it is powerful – a very powerful destroyer; but it is uselell for building up.
Love, on the other hand, is like faith; it can move mountains, and faith, we have mountains to move.Douglas Hyde’s view before he had to flee the organisation he founded.
GAA, IRA, USA – Infiltration Par Excellence
One young man, an Irish Volunteer veteran who joined the Anti-Treaty side and who had been interned by the Irish Free State forces until May 1924, was subsequently sent to America by the IRA to organise, infiltrate and prepare for a later stage of the struggle.
He was Michael Flannery from Tipperary.
During the failed 1956-62 IRA “Border Campaign” which the allegedly oppressed Catholics of Northern Ireland totally rejected (and which was put down by both the Irish and British governments’ employment of internment without trial), a President of New York GAA was sending both arms, ammunition and money once more to the IRA and that New York GAA President was Michael Flannery.
While Flannery became President of New York GAA in 1957, he was simultaneously Chairman of the IRA Benevolent Association.
Interviewed by that other emigrant superfan of the republican movement, Niall O’Dowd, Flannery’s decades of infiltration/”networking” on behalf of the IRA earned a plaudit:
Awestruck by the IRA veteran, O’Dowd sucked a rare admission from the willing Flannery that he had – back in the day – murdered persons:
By 1970, the Provisional IRA once more asked Flannery to raise monies on behalf of its armed struggle, but under the emotive guise of supporting “prisoners’ dependents” and in particular of those who were interned without trial.
Flannery and his associates founded Irish Northern Aid, better known as NORAID – which became the Provisional IRA’s single largest long-term fundraising body for the purchase of weapons, ammunition and explosives – while also sending hundreds of thousands of dollars directly to its Ireland contact none other than IRA leader Joe Cahill.
Flannery’s infiltration of Irish organisations in New York has been plotted in an academic study:
Flannery and his IRA masters’ influence and connections extended to the GAA, to NORAID, to the Gaelic League, to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, to Clan na Gael, to the IRA Benevolent Society, to the Irish National Graves Association, to the Holy Name Society, to the United Irish Counties Association – to name but a few that were visible in 1973.
John Kerry O’Donnell, president of the New York Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in the early 1970s and long-time lease holder and Manager of the MTA-administered stadium Gaelic Park in the Bronx, sponsored field days to benefit NORAID.
He also allowed cash collections for NORAID outside Gaelic Park on Sundays when games were played.
In a 1972 interview, NORAID activist Matthew Higgins admitted that Noraid had no control over how the raised funds were spent in Ireland and stated that if the republican movement ‘want they can spend it on weapons, but that is their concern.’
In spite of Irish government objections, Flannery was appointed Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City in 1983, four months after he had “beaten the rap” on IRA gun-running charges.
Flannery’s friends in the Ancient Order of Hibernians had secured his appointment as Marshal.
Senator Edward Kennedy’s condemnation of the appointment of an IRA Grand Marshal mattered little to the organisations infiltrated by IRA members who were openly colluding with the IRA.
The controversy and publicity arising from the row over Flannery’s appointment resulted in one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day Parades seen in many years – a far off encouragement to the IRA Army Council whose long-term infiltration strategy had paid off handsomely and financially in the United States of America.
We are now encroaching upon the GAA Provisional IRA Love Affair from the early 1970s which will be covered in Part II.