“I am not now,and never have been, a member of …….” (Part 1) by Donal Kennedy

Once upon a time, in “The Home of The Brave and the Land of The Free” its citizens might be hauled before a Senate Committee and required (in contravention of that Republic’s Bill of Rights) to divulge their current anf former political beliefs and affiliations and those of their friends and associates.

Prominent amongst the questions put them was – “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”
Though interested in history, politics and current affairs since childhood  I must confess that I’ve never been a member of a political party.

Shortly before departing Ireland in 1964 for what I expected to be a couple of years I voted for the Labour candidate in a Dail by-election. My preferred candidate, Denis, was the son of the great Big Jim Larkin, hero of honourable struggles in Britain, Ireland and the United States. His leadership during the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913 made Big Jim a world figure, and he was later elected, in his absence, a member of the Moscow Soviet.  Larkin visited Moscow where Grigori Zinoviev tried to convert him to atheism, but Big Jim’s Catholicism, imbibed with his mother’s milk in Liverpool’s Toxteth, was too strong for Dialectical Materialism. John Charles McQuaid, the very conservative Archbishop of Dublin  reviled by “liberal” commentators’ was an admirer of Big Jim, who died in 1947 having spent his life in the service of others, leaving an estate of fourteen  pounds Sterling.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Anyhow, I voted for Denis Larkin, head of the Workers’ Union of Ireland, my own Union, in 1964, but he was not elected to  the Dail on that occasion. I attended a meeting of the Howth Branch of the Labour Party soon afterwards, addressed by  Denis Larkin and the then Vice-President of the Party, the journalist Proinsias MacAonghusa. During a question and answer session someone asked “What’s the point of learning Irish?”  Denis Larkin revealed that he had attended St Enda’s, Rathfarnham,( whose founder, Patrick Pearse, would have won world fame as an Educationist, had he not followed the logic of Irish and world events  to  lead the 1916 Rising). Pearse was no economist and Big Jim Larkin could not afford to pay school fees, so Denis was not long at St Enda’s, He didn’t tell us that but passed the question on to MacAonghusa.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
 Proinsias MacAonghusa was a native Irish-speaker from Connemara, had been an Abbey actor, and was a print-journalist, radio broadcaster and television programme maker in Irish and English, whose work appeared in newspapers and journals and   heard on radio and seen on TV in both Ireland and Britain at the time. His output extended further afield and he later worked for the United Nations. In 1993, the Centenary of the Founding of the Gaelic League, he was its President. Anyhow, he defended  the continued teaching of Irish. A collection of his writings, even if confined to his weekly “GULLIVER” column in the Sunday Press would rout most of today’s Irish media.

Anyhow, I betook myself for an exploratory trip to London in September 1964 and discovered that while warm sweaters were the thing  in Dublin, London was sweltering, in the mid-eighties Fahrenheit, was buzzing with young energies and the generation of girls blessed with the boon of the  Welfare State seemed to have  longer legs than their Irish contemporaries. This impression was accentuated soon afterwards with their adoption of mini skirts and was not lessened by flights of escalators on the Underground. But for me the discovery that one could take one’s pick of well-paying jobs in a country which had never before had it so good. outweighed even flights of fancy on the Underground escalators.

Back in Dublin I waited a few weeks before giving my notice, The Irish newspapers advertised all sorts of jobs in London and held interviews in Dublin. I answered one for a Booking Clerk with London Transport, who offered me the job, with free passage to London, arranged my “digs” so that I was earning money from my first day there, I got initial training in White City, immediately opposite the BBC Television Centre and started work at Hangar Lane, (‘Angar Line”) mentored by an ex-corporal of the British Army, a Union  man and Labour supporter, who used insult the many Indians  who bought tickets there, and opined that all they could do was”f**k. ” He had served his King-Emperor in India and I dread to think how he treated the  natives there when he had a rifle in his hands. Anyhow November fog and cold and working shifts in the wee small hours soon palled, so within a couple of months I got a job in the City of London as a shipping clerk working more convenient hours, and getting paid nearly twice what I had got for similar work in Dublin.

. I might say,with Charles Lamb – “A Clerk I was, in London Gay.”  But I won’t, as I’d risk being misunderstood.


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