Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Irish Fascists - Architects of the Resurrection

It’s often maintained that Ireland never had a significant fascist or extreme right movement during the 20th century, and by implication the same absence will prevail into the future.

Those who follow such a line explain away the inconvenient appearance of the Blueshirts by stating them a bi-product of Civil War politics and agrarian unrest among Cumann na nGaedheal’s supporters, rather than a genuine fascist grouping - though there is a wealth of evidence to refute such a claim, including support for Franco and openly fascist pronouncements by its leaders.

However, any fascist movement worth its salt always has some element of "folk", monocultural, linquistic, or race-based idea of nationality. Indeed, Umberto Eco defined the characteristics of proto-fascism as the "cult of tradition, a rejection of modernism, the cult of action for action's sake, life lived for struggle, and a fear of difference”. I'd say there was a fair bit of that in the GPO, Eastertime, 1916.

It might be assumed that when a truly fascist grouping arises in Ireland it will, of course, be deeply nationalist and jingoistic and will be based on an exclusive, Gaelic interpretation of Irishness. I'll wager it will also have a Gaelic name. But hang on - we've been there already.

I’m currently reading a book called Architects of the Resurrection by R.M. Douglas, about such a grouping which won 12 seats in the June 1945 local elections in Ireland. It was called Ailtiri na hAsieirghe and was led by a crackpot gaelgoeir, cultural nationalist, civil servant by the name of Gearóid Ó’Cuinneagáin.

Ailtiri were unashamedly pro-Nazi – even after footage of death camp victims had appeared on newsreels – and proposed setting up internment camps for those who spoke English as opposed to the tongue of the noble, mythical, Gael.

Ailtiri also wanted to change Ireland’s capital to the Hill of Tara, impose State control of all industries, and proposed a programme of public works on the same model as Hitler’s. At its peak, the fascist group had 2,000 members - not surprising considering the author's assertion that a majority of Irish people wanted the Nazis to win the war - even according to De Valera in 1940.

O’Cuinnegain died in 1990, with the motto “Our day is coming” not long departed from his lips. "Our day is coming", "Tomorrow belongs to me", or "Tiocfaidh ár lá", call it what you will.

Thank goodness it didn't - and let's hope it stays that way.

Read the book.

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Anonymous said...

Prof. Douglas may have a point but paradoxically the promotion of European minority languages today plays an important part in helping fend off fascism by promoting and supporting a diverse Europe.

Remember that fascist love homogeneity (ein reich ein volk ein fuhrer and all that) and any future pan-European fascist super state would have us all speaking English, of French or German and would have no time for the poor Gaelgoir.

So don’t knock the Gaelgoir. He reminds us we are all different

The Gombeen Man said...

Interesting point, Anon.

For me, however, I think fascism was always more likely to spring from a homonenous, exclusive definition of nationality based on "race" or "culture". In Ailtiri's case, you can throw in a large dash of Catholic conservatism.

Douglas makes an interesting observation in his introduction to the book - in the context of local interpretations of fascism - pointing out that in the Irish context, Ailtiri rose from the "milieu of of which an authentically Irish fascism was always most likey to arise".

Bernd said...

It might be worth remembering (if one ever knew) that long before Raidió na Gaeltachta came into existence, there was an Irish-language radio station on air. Transmitting from ... er ... Berlin (and other places) between December 1939 and May 1945. The programme was a heady mix of little ditties, explorations of Irish antiquities and pro-IRA propaganda.

Unfortunately Adolf Mahr and his cronies were only equipped with enough wattage to reach Dublin (barely) ... not really the heart of the Gaeltacht.

Anonymous said...


I agree with your point that fascism was always more likely to spring from a homogenous, exclusive definition of nationality based on "race" or "culture". What I think we need to be especially wary of though is when we see this in ‘big’ races and ‘big’ cultures. Gaelgoir fascists are repulsive but WASP fascist are scary.

I think most people (myself included) don’t fear the rise of a powerful fascist state any time soon, but if I went for a trip in my time machine and found myself in the middle of one 100 years from now my guess would be that it would be a WASP facist state with its origins in the US biblebelt, not a Gaelgoir one based at Tara.

What can be done to counter the treat of ‘big’ culture fascism. Lots of things, including (I think) embracing diversity, and that means supporting both gays and Gaelgoirs.

Anonymous said...


It is also probably worth remembering that while Adolf Mahr was Austrian, William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) was one of our own, US born but raised in Galway as an Irish Catholic by his Irish daddy.

He was also a staunchly pro-British Unionist, who helped the Black and Tans and was targeted for assassination by the IRA in 1921.

He was so pro-British and anti-Irish that he preferred to die rather than claim Irish nationality, which might have got him off the charge of treason.

If only everything was as simple as Irish Politics.

Bernd said...

If I remember correctly. William Joyce tried to cheat the hangman by reverting to his (correct) US citizenship and revealing that he only obtained a British passport by falsifying documents.

Unfortunately the Brits took the view that if you go to such lengths to get a British passport, you might as well live up to it. Or, in his case, be hung for it.

That he was, in retrospect, treated about as fair as a fox in "country sports" is another matter. Worse people than him have been let off with a slap on the wrist.

The Gombeen Man said...

Hiya Anon.

When you say embracing diversity I immediately think of supporting people who get a raw deal in this country - which I do, certainly.

People born into economic disadvantage (in a country with deeply entrenched social divisions); gay people who face discrimination and harassment; foreign and Irish workers (from above section of Irish society) who get ripped off by greedy gombeen employers; disabled and sick people who get little State backup in the first instance, and must be near death before they get a hospital bed in the last.

I think of people of a different skin colour - or maybe a non-Irish surname who find it difficult to get work, or face racial or other forms of harassment. I don't think of Gaelgoirs, who are well-represented in the other end of the social spectrum in the Republic, and who enjoy advantage in both education and employment and are no way a put-upon minority. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Anyway, my reference to the "crackpot gaelgoir" in this instance was in relation to Gearóid Ó’Cuinneagáin, leading light of Ailtiri na hAsieirghe.

What worries me, is that this party had significant support until its implosion (due to "autocratic tendencies" in its leader - something I thought obligatory in fascist parties?) and had more members than today's Green Party. Now THAT is scary.

Hi Bernd.

What can I say? Once again I bow before your considerable store of knowledge. I hadn't even heard of Mahr.

Are you sure it wasn't "Meagher"? ;-)

Bernd said...

GM, thanks for the bowing!

There is actually a book on Mahr, titled "Dublin Nazi No. 1" - has some flaws (actually, a lot of them) but is a good primer on the man. As to the German radio station, have a peek at David O'Donoghue's "Hitler's Irish Voices". Makes weird reading.

The Gombeen Man said...

Great, Bernd - I will be scanning the bookshelves accordingly.

And I stongly recommend Douglas' book to you (assuming you haven't read it already, of course) which contains nuggets like the following quote from Cearbhall O'Dalaigh,Irish president from 1974 to 1976 in praise of the Nazis determination "to smash forever the power of the Jews and [to make Germany] a stronghold and a beacon of knowledge between America and Asia".

Heady stuff, eh?

Viking said...

Anon - leave us WASPS alone! When the world descended into fascism of all kinds in the 1930s and 40s it was the UK and the USA that stood apart.

GM, this is another great post. You really should read, if you haven't already, Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. It'll be a bit American for many tastes, but he correctly points out that fascism sneaks up on us from directions we don't expect.
It's not the same as nationalism - in fact nationalists may provide an excellent defence against fascism in Europe.

A trip to the Irish Jewish museum will also show how in the 1920s particularly, Jewish community, often at the behest of the majority Church, was forced out of many parts of Ireland. When you read some of the stories, it shows that fascism may have been closer to home than we'd all like to think.

The Gombeen Man said...

Cheers for recommendation re Jewish Museum Viking (and your kind words re blog)... might well have a look see.

Anonymous said...


If people are "...are well-represented in the other [well off] end of the social spectrum" and "...enjoy advantage in both education and employment" does that make them fair game?

Many German Jews in the 1930s could have been described in similar terms. We're they fair game also?

Anonymous said...


On reading your first two posts, you appear riled by Adolf Mahr's Irish-language content but sympathetic to William Joyce "...worse people than him have been let off with a slap"

Is it fair to say you not bothered by the facist content, just the Irish-language content?

The Gombeen Man said...

Oh come on, Anon. Comparing Irish language enthusiasts with the persecuted Jews in Nazi (and before) Germany... If you seriously believe that, that's your prerogative - but it's some leap of the imagination for me.

In the context of Ailtire and their time, I'd say the whole thing was closer to a "southern" version of Orangeism. And that's something I've little time for either.

I'd point out that this fascist group of "cultural nationalists" (and remember this is what the post is about!!) was started off as a branch of Condradh na Gaelige and a "high proportion, like O'Cunneahain himself, were or had been employed in the public sector - as civil servants, teachers, librarans, lecturers or serviemen - and their advancment in their professions derived in part from their mastery of Irish" (the vast majority were not "native" speakers, but learned it as revivalists).

I'd point out too, that they were virulently anti-semitic... mind you, they considered anything that was not "authentically Gaelic" as alien.

Funny, just now somewhere else on this blog I've been told that I'm not "really Irish" as I'm "against the Irish language".

But that's a regular thing here...

Anonymous said...

My point is not so much that Gaelgoirs are just like 1930's German Jews. What I think we need to guard against though are the ideas and thinking processes that helped contribute to their plight. 1930's German Jews didn't garner much sympathy from the general public because too many believed they were rich and well connected. We find it easy to be inclusive and tolerant of those who are less fortunate than ourselves, but often stop short with those who either don't need our sympathy (Gaelgoirs/Orangemen) or don't want it (e.g., those you would call Scangers). In a genuinely inclusive society we accept all as they are, be they Gaelgoirs, Orangemen or Scangers.

The Gombeen Man said...

Ah sure, if I was as tolerant and forebearing as you the blogosphere would be a much poorer place. ;-)

Anonymous said...

In Hugo Hamilton's memoir - The Speckled People - he speaks of his father's rampant Irish nationalism. The family, and their friends, were only allowed speak German or Irish in the home. He also mentions his father was part of an Irish language movement that had facist undertones, I wonder if it was Ailtiri na hAsieirghe?


The Gombeen Man said...

Dunno Sean... it's possible, but no specific mention in the book. There were two thousand punters in the group, though.

I know there were a few high-profile characters in it though, including a supreme court judge, and Brian Lenihan's great grandfather was associated with Ó’Cuinneagáin - he it was who advised the prospective Irish fuhrer to use the gaelic version of his name.

The upper echelons of the Civil Service were well-represented, from what I can gather. Plus a certain Oliver J Flanagan was a fan.

Anonymous said...


It's got to be the same man. According to the Douglas book, Aiseirghe's treasurer was named Sean O hUrmoltaigh. O hUrmoltaigh is the Irish version of Hamilton, and the book says that his papers are "in the possession of Hugo Hamilton."

Bernd said...

@ Anon

"Is it fair to say you not bothered by the facist content, just the Irish-language content?"

Utter rubbish - my point in the case of William Joyce is that he was clearly made a scapegoat in a similar fashion to Roger Casement. Despite both men's ludicrous attempts to raise a German-run Anti-British armed unit amongst PoW, their treason would not necessarily have warranted the death penalty. People who actually fired guns in anger were let off with a prison sentence while they were hung as high-profile examples, to discourage others.

On a similar aside regarding Adolf Mahr - his treatment by the Irish state was definitely shabby ...

To me it is just fascinating how nationalism, fascism and language politics seem to have been entwined for ages. Not only in Ireland.

Kieran said...

Just a quick comment on The Speckled People - Gearóid Ó’Cuinneagáin appears as a character throughout the book, dropping off an Irish language newspaper to Hugo's father, reminding the father of the great speeches he used to make on O'Connell St, asking him to help him get something similar going again and finally SPOILER ALERT being shunned by Hugo's mother at the father's funeral.

The main conflict in the book is between resistance to fascism (the anti-Nazi pacifist German mother) and fascist tendencies (the Irish-speaking sometimes-violent former-member of Ailtiri na hAsieirghe father).

Coincidentally I recently found out a close relative campaigned for Ailtiri na hAsieirghe, but he talks about it as if it was a bit of a lark he got involved in as a student.

The Gombeen Man said...

Have to read that one, Kieran. Cheers.