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Anarchism in Ireland

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Anarchism in Ireland

Leaving aside the related tradition of Workers Solidarity Movement has had a continuous existence since 1984. Anarchists have been active in Ireland as far back as 1886, but these were short-lived groups or isolated individuals with large gaps between activity.


The first mention of an Irish connection to Charlotte Wilson for issue no. 1 of The Anarchist in 1885. Shaw had been taught French by the Communard Richard Deck, who introduced him to Proudhon. Later he was embarrassed by unauthorised reprints, as he was a Fabian socialist, not an anarchist. Irish writer Oscar Wilde notably expressed anarchist sympathies, especially in his essay The Soul of Man under Socialism[2]

Around 1890 Irish Republican Brotherhood prisoners.[3] In 1894 at Trinity College Dublin's Fabian Society "over 200 students listened sympathetically" to a lecture on "Anarchism and Darwinism"[4]

In the 20th century Captain Jack White was active as an anarchist in the 1930s after returning from the Spanish Revolution.[5][6]

Modern development

In the late 1960s, as the civil rights campaign took off, People's Democracy, before it became a small Trotskyist group, included some self-described anarchists such as John McGuffin and Jackie Crawford. The latter was one of the group who sold Freedom in Belfast's Castle Street in the late 1960s. There was an anarchist banner on the Belfast-Derry civil rights march. PD members, including John Grey, contributed to a special issue of the British Anarchy Magazine about Northern Ireland in 1971.

In the early 1970s some ex-members of the Official IRA became interested in anarchism and developed contact with Black Flag magazine in London. Among names used were Dublin Anarchist Group and New Earth. Their existence was brief and not widely known.[7] A number of jailings for "armed actions" saw the group disappear. Two members, Noel and Marie Murray, were later sentenced to death for the killing of an off-duty Garda during a bank raid as part of a group called the Anarchist Black Cross (with no relation to the much older prisoner support group). Their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on appeal. In 1970 there existed a hippy commune in a squatted house on Dublin's exclusive Merrion Road known as the Island Commune, which ended when one mentally disturbed participant tried to poison others. Some inhabitants, including Ubi Dwyer of Windsor Free Festival fame, sold Freedom outside the GPO on Saturdays.

Origins of the movement

The first steps towards building a movement came in the late 1970s when a number of young Irish people who had been living and working in Britain returned home, bringing their new-found anarchist politics with them. Local groups were set up in Belfast, Dublin, Limerick Dundalk and Drogheda. Over the next decade anarchist papers appeared, some for just one or two editions, others with a much longer life. Titles included Outta Control (Belfast), Anarchist Worker (Dublin), Antrim Alternative (Ballymena), Black Star (Ballymena), Resistance (Dublin) and Organise! (Ballymena). Bookshops were opened in Belfast (Just Books in Winetavern Street) and Dublin (ABC in Marlborough Street). All of these groups attracted people who identified themselves as anarchists but had little in the way of agreed politics or activities, and no organised discussions or education about anarchism. This imposed limits to what they could achieve and even to their continued existence – all groups were short-lived, had little impact and left no lasting legacy.

In 1978, ex-members of the Belfast Anarchist Collective and the Dublin Anarchist Group decided that a more politically united, class-based, and public organisation was necessary. Their discussions led to the Anarchist Workers Alliance, which existed from 1978–81, although only to any substantial extent in Dublin.[7] It produced Anarchist Worker nos. 1–7; documents on the national question, women's liberation, trade unions, and a constitution.

Some anarchist-inspired material can also be seen on

Active organisations

There are several anarchist organisations operating in Ireland:

  • Organise!, a small class struggle anarchist organisation based in Northern Ireland was formed in 2003 from a merger of the Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation, Anarchist Federation, Anarchist Prisoner Support and a number of individuals.
  • The Dublin-based Revolutionary Anarcha-Feminist Group (RAG), a group for female anarchists was formed in 2005 and has published six issues of a magazine, The Rag.
  • There are also a number of organisations which, while not explicitly anarchist, share much in common with the anarchist movement. These include the Grassroots Gatherings (2001–present), the Dublin Grassroots Network (2003–2004), Grassroots Dissent (2004–), Galway Social Space (2008–2010), Rossport Solidarity Camp (2005–present), and Seomra Spraoi (2004–present), Squat city (2013-present.


  1. ^ The Raven no.6
  2. ^ Goodway, David. Anarchist Seeds Beneath the Snow. Liverpool University Press, 2006, pp. 62–92
  3. ^ Owen McGee in The IRB, p. 216; based on Dublin Metropolitan Police report
  4. ^ Owen McGee in The IRB, p. 218; based on Dublin police report
  5. ^ Jack White: Irish Anarchist who organised Irish Citizens Army
  6. ^ White, Captain Jack. Misfit : An Autobiography. Dublin: Livewire publications, 2005 (2nd ed.)
  7. ^ a b Glossary of the Left in Ireland 1960–83 Gralton Magazine, Aug/Sept. 1983

Further reading

  • Fintan Lane, The Emergence Of Modern Irish Socialism 1885–87
  • Fintan Lane, "Practical anarchists, we": social revolutionaries in Dublin, 1885–87, History Ireland, March/April 2008.
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