Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 1

Trotskyism in Ireland

Dear Comrades

An Irish-language book, An tÉireannach 1934–37, by Éamonn Ó Ciosáin (An Clóchomhar, Dublin 1993), is probably not accessible to readers of Revolutionary History. It recounts the history of a left wing Irish language newspaper in the 1930s, and it contains information which readers may find interesting. Thomas O’Flaherty (1889–1936), brother of the short story writer and novelist Liam O’Flaherty, was a member of the Central Executive Committee of the American Communist Party in its early years. In 1928 he was expelled, and he joined the Left Opposition.

O’Flaherty was a native of the Irish-speaking Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. Life on these islands had provided much of the inspiration for the Irish dramatist J.M. Synge, whose writings deeply influenced world theatre. In 1934 O’Flaherty, suffering from tuberculosis, returned to Ireland, and became the first Trotskyist to live here. He was the first editor of An tÉireannach. He was not explicit about his politics in his writing for it; the team which ran it were politically a mixed bunch. His health, rather than his politics, was apparently the reason for his short tenure as editor.

As editor of Communist papers in America, he had tried to develop ‘worker correspondents’. Back in Ireland, he attempted the same. In the Irish-speaking districts of the west there was virtually no industry, so this meant peasant correspondents. He did have limited success in getting peasant farmers and fishermen to write in their own language about their conditions, aspirations and occasional struggles. This was restricted by most Irish speakers being unable to read or write their own language.

The paper ceased publication the year after his death. Objective conditions were the main cause. The 1930s were years of rampant reaction in Ireland, after the defeat of the revolutionary struggles of the post-First World War years. But An t-Éireannach had also made the mistake, after his withdrawal as editor, of trying to get governmental support — which meant moderating its political stance.

An tÉireannach played an important part in keeping alive the progressive side of Irish culture in a philistine period. It covered world as well as national events. The rôle of the Trotskyist O’Flaherty was far from minor.


Anton McCabe

Updated by ETOL: 28.9.2011