Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Jimmy Gralton

Posted in Jimmy Gralton, only Irishman deported from Ireland, Uncategorized by sheelanagigcomedienne on May 30, 2016
                                                                          jimmy-gralton

James Gralton, 1886-1945  known as Jimmy , was an inspiring Irishman who was deported from Ireland in 1933. he was the one an only Irish person to be deported and he was deported for political reasons as ‘an undesirable alien’. This could be done on the grounds that he had become a naturalised American citizen when he had lived and and worked in New York. It is ironic that it was De Valera’s government who deported him without trial.  DeValera, was Taoseach then, was not shot by the British along with his fellow comrades in 1916 because he HAD American citizenship. He betrayed the ideals of the proclamation. In 1931 the Cumann na nGaedheal government had sought to enlist the support of the Catholic Church in promoting a red scare throughout the country.  The 1932 election campaign saw the government attempt to portray Fianna Fáil as a Trojan horse for communism and  De Valera as an Irish Kerensky who would be swept aside by more radical elements within the republican movement who sought to create an Irish soviet government .

Thanks to the wonderful Ken Loach there is a film about this great socialist Jimmy’s Hall who should be remembered alongside Larkin and Connolly when it comes to the struggle between nationalism, the Catholic church and socialism in Ireland. The film is about his life and the hall that he built for the people for dances, educational classes and political meetings and the agrarian actions against landlords and evictions.

James Gralton was born in 1886 in Effernagh in Co.Leitrim and grew up on a poor farm of just 25 acres. His parents were Micheal Gralton and Alice Campbell. There were four girls and three boys in the family: Winnie, Mary Ann, Alice and Maggie Kate were the girls, and the boys were Jimmy, Charles and a little boy who died young. He was encouraged to read by his mother, who operated a mobile library, but left school at 14. He found local conditions of employment too poor and intolerable to him so he went to Dublin and joined the British army. There he refused to shine the leggings and buttons of officers and received 84 days bread and water. He then refused to serve in India in protest of British polices in Ireland and for this was imprisoned for a year and then deserted. He next experienced the hard life on the Liverpool docks and Welsh coalfields but in 1909 moved to New York where he settled. He had by now seen and been affected by the modern world and had become a socialist. In New York he established the James Connolly Club and became active in the trade union movement there.                                                          James Gralton when younger

In 1922 he made his first visit home and built the Pearse-Connolly Hall in his native Effernagh to replace the previous parish hall which had been burnt down by the British army in reprisal for a shooting of an officer. The hall quickly became an integral part of the community and was used for classes including Irish, English, music, civics and agricultural science. It was also used as a venue to settle land disputes and teach tenants rights. Dances were also held there. He was seen as a major threat to the status quo of the region and the Free State army made a failed attempt to arrest him there in August 1922. Knowing he was ahead of his time and experiencing such opposition he left again for New York.

Please sign petition to have his deportation order rescinded and an apology from the government               https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rescind-the-deportation-order-on-jimmy-gralton-and

He returned in 1932 to look after his parents after his brother Charlie had died and hoped that the time might at last be ripe for some progressive politics. He founded and led the Revolutionary Workers Party and reopened the hall and began again holding meetings and dances there. He also spoke at many evictions of tenants and joined the local IRA. The establishment of the time felt very threatened by his ideas and ways and the local parish priest called the hall a “den of iniquity” from the pulpit and said that it should be closed. This all resulted in a shot being fired into the hall and an attempt being made to blow it up. It was eventually burnt to the ground on Christmas Eve 1932. Gralton had been home less than a year.

James-Gralton. being deported

Under mounting pressure from the Catholic Church the De Valera led Fianna Fail government ordered Gralton to be deported as an “undesireable alien”. He went on the run for six months and found many willing to protect him but was ultimately found and deported in August 1933, making him the only Irish person to have ever been deported from their own country and the source of a deep national shame.

Back in New York he became a trade union organiser and member of the Irish Workers’ Club. He reprinted James Connolly’s pamphlets, raised funds for the International Brigades in Spain, and for the remainder of his life was an active member of the Communist Party of the USA. He died there in 1945 aged 56.

Shortly before his death from stomach cancer, in New York on 29 December 1945, he married Bessie Cronogue (d. 1975), a woman from Drumsna,  County Leitrim, only a few miles from where he had been brought up.

Jimmy gralton plaque sign

A plaque to him has also been erected in Carrick-on-Shannon in more recent years. The site of the hall, opposite the Swan Lake bar in Effernagh, which is marked by a plaque, has become something of a point of pilgrimage for many in the socialist movement and otherwise who would today share his progressive ideas.

 

 

 

Filmed in the village of Drumsna which is only a few kilometers from Gralton’s birthplace in Effrinagh.                                           Jimmys hall

 

Here is a link to a blog by Donal O Drisceoil who was historical advisor on “Jimmy’s Hall.” http://thewildgeese.irish/profiles/blog/list?q=jimmy+gralton

Dr. Donal Ó Drisceoil   He is a Senior Lecturer in History at University College Cork and has published widely on Irish political, labour and radical history. This article is reproduced with permission of Sixteen Films, where is was first published in the production notes for “Jimmy’s Hall,” the studio’s latest film.

Jimmy Gralton returned to Leitrim from New York in June 1921, just as the Anglo-Irish war was coming to a close. That conflict between the Irish independence movement and the British state had largely sidelined unresolved issues of land ownership, workers’ rights and class power in general within Irish society. These now briefly emerged more clearly. Gralton’s radical class politics, particularly the challenge to local landowners posed by the land courts based in his Pearse-Connolly Hall, made him powerful enemies. As civil war loomed over the terms of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in the early summer of 1922, he was driven out by the pro-Treaty Free Staters, who would soon take power in a partitioned Ireland.

While Gralton enjoyed the relative political freedom and socio-cultural vibrancy of New York in the ‘roaring twenties’, the Free State government of Cumann na Gaedheal, in alliance with the Catholic Church, ruled over an economically stagnant Irish Free State that was socially restrictive and culturally repressive. Inequality worsened, policies favoured bankers, business owners and cattle-exporting big farmers, and the urban working class and rural poor fared badly. The Labour Party was a weak and ineffectual opposition. In 1926 anti-Treaty republican leader Eamon de Valera and his followers split from Sinn Féin, who refused to sit in the Free State parliament, and formed the Fianna Fáil party, which entered parliament in 1927. It took advantage of the weakness of the Labour Party and the left to win the support of workers and small farmers in the depression after 1929. At the same time, it reassured elites, including the bishops, of its adherence to Catholic and capitalist principles. Fianna Fáil’s promise to release political prisoners, undo the Treaty and actively seek an end to partition ensured the initial support of the IRA and, despite red-scare mongering, it won power in 1932.

 

The victory of Fianna Fáil coincided with Gralton’s return to Ireland to help his elderly parents run the farm following the death of his brother. This was a honeymoon period for progressives in Ireland following a decade of repression and conservatism. The socialist republican and novelist Peadar O’Donnell summarised it thus: ‘the bright world of 1932, when Cosgrave’s Government was smashed, and bitter years of defeat and defamation were avenged… “executions” and “excommunications” denounced and disowned.’ These were ‘days of brave music’, wrote O’Donnell, when Fianna Fáil’s victory promised ‘Land, Work, Wages, the Republic.’ Gralton threw himself back into agitation – aimed mainly at maintaining pressure on Fianna Fáil to deliver on its progressive promises, such as land for the landless. He rebuilt the hall, bringing music and dance to the youth and hope to the struggling poor.

JimmyGraltonpainting

But dark clouds hovered above this new political landscape. The Catholicisation of the state was crowned in June 1932 when over a million Catholics attended the Eucharistic Congress. Censorship and ecclesiastical condemnation of ‘evils’ such as dancing, jazz and ‘immodest fashions in female dress’ intensified, and new laws would soon restrict social freedom even further, especially for women. The tariff war with Britain initiated by de Valera hit the pockets of large farmers hardest, which helped to radicalise the prosperous pro-Treaty constituency in a fascist direction, symbolised by the adoption of the ‘blue shirt’ uniform by the Army Comrades Association (ACA) in 1933. Anti-communism became violent, with attacks on socialist meetings and buildings and the silencing of the left within the IRA. Gralton’s socialism, combined with the challenge his hall presented to Church control, made him a prime target for a coalition of enemies: the Church, local big farmers and businessmen (organised in Catholic societies such as the Knights of St Columbanus, as well as in the fascistic ACA), the police Special Branch and conservative elements of the local IRA.

In December 1932 the rebuilt Pearse-Connolly Hall was burnt to the ground by rightwing IRA men and in February 1933 (following the example set by the Northern Irish government in deporting British communist Thomas Mann in October 1932) Gralton was served with a deportation order, based on his naturalised US citizenship. It was signed by de Valera’s first minister for justice, James Geoghegan, a right-wing Catholic with strong connections to the reactionary power nexus in Gralton’s area. Jimmy went on the run but, despite local support and a national ‘Gralton Defence’ campaign, he was eventually tracked down and deported to the USA in August 1933, never to return. The national Committee which formed had such notables as Barney Casey of the Workers Union of Ireland, Seamus McGowan of the Transport Union, Patrick Flanagan of the National Union of Railwaymen, Donal O’Reilly of the plasters Union, Peader O’Donnell, Sean Murray, George Gilmore, Mrs Despard, Frank O’Connor and others.  Despite the campaign of the Defence Committee the De Valera government refused to rescind the deportation order. The ‘brave music’ faded, along with the glowing embers in the ashes of Jimmy Gralton’s hall.

Here is a link to clip of Jimmy’s Hall    https://www.theguardian.com/film/video/2014/apr/02/jimmys-hall-trailer-ken-loach-film-video

Jimmys hall photo

Jimmys hall priest

There is a really good documentary on him.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy5XeFpBQOA

 

 

Such severe punishment for his ‘crimes’ seems improbable 81 years on. A dissident voice, Gralton was victimised by the political and religious establishment after daring to establish a dance hall in rural Ireland. A self-educated, community-serving man, Gralton’s hall was built to serve as a venue for the local people of Leitrim.

Community dances, singing lessons, poetry appreciation sessions, boxing classes, and debates about workers’ rights were held there. It sounds innocuous. But for the Catholic Church and the Irish ruling class, the hall and the man who built it represented something dangerous and subversive — the fact that the people were beginning to think and act for themselves.

There is a booklet about Jimmy with a preface by Declan Bree Your Socialist representative in Sligo. In 1996, Bree, then a Labour TD for Sligo/Leitrim, requested to see the Irish government files relating to Gralton, but after an ‘extensive’ search he was told by then justice minister Nora Owen that they were missing. It all adds to the feeling that the State would rather forget the whole affair.
They hunted you Jim Gralton from your fathers ancient home.
And shipped you like their cattle across the ocean foam
Those rich men are so holy they decreed that you must fly.
So in their Christian charity you are left alone to die.
The Connolly Association Australia website

 

Jimmy Gralton memorial

Jim set up the Irish Worker’s Group in New York. He became a trade union organiser, encouraging the involvement of women within the unions, and set about promoting, republishing and distributing the works of James Connolly. During the Spanish Civil War, he raised funds for the International Brigades who were going to Spain to fight against fascism and in defence of the Republic.

A committed and unrepentant communist up to his last breath, Jim Gralton died in exile in New York on December 29 1945 and is buried in Woodlawn cemetery in the Bronx area of the City.

Byrne, speaking at Gralton’s graveside in the Bronx in 2005 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his death, Charlie said:“Let all of us who believe in the principles for which Gralton stood, pledge ourselves anew to the continuation of the fight for the complete political, cultural and economic rights of the working classes in all lands, no crying, no weeping over his grave at Woodlawn. There is work to be done, so let us carry on; Gralton would have it that way.’

This is one Irishman who deserves to be remembered, commemorated and his deportation to be rescinded. He was the only one who was shamefully deported by the powers of the Catholic church and the gombeen Irish state set up by De Valera. ( His daughter Maureen was my botany lecturer at University College Galway and was a somewhat dour woman!) But many, many more were forced into exile and had to emigrate because of those same conditions that pertained in Ireland after partial independence.

So, please sign the petition and remind people of the Jimmy Gralton story whenever you can.    https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rescind-the-deportation-order-on-jimmy-gralton-and

He deserves to be remembered as do all those who were forced to emigrate from Ireland because of those awful, repressive and conservative elements in Irish society after partial independence of Catholic Church, corrupt politicians and the greed of the wealthy elite.

 

Jimmy Gralton memorial and flags

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: