[This was my contribution to a thread on Truth Commission.]
[Sigh...] Since I lived in Ireland for five years, I suppose I'd better weigh in on this. Please bear in mind that all of the following is grossly oversimplied, so please hold off on the picking me to pieces on little details, okay, guys?
Are the IRA Communists? Well, the answer is that some are, and some aren't. It is true that many of them have a habit of hanging up pictures of the Pope and John F. Kennedy on their walls in the summer when their rich Irish-American relatives come over from the States, and then in the fall when the relatives go home they hang their pictures of Mao and Che Guevara back up. But there are actually a number of IRAs and Sinn Feins within the IRA and Sinn Fein, so to speak, not to mention many little splinter groups and various permutations on the theme.
There has always been a strong Marxist thread in what is known as the Irish Republican movement. (Not our kind of Republicans.) This goes back to the days of James Connolly's Irish Citizen's Army, a much smaller militia than the traditional Catholic and nationalist Irish Volunteers, who participated with the Volunteers in the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin. It is also said that on the first morning of the rebellion, Connolly told his men to conserve their ammunition, as they would need it after the British were driven out, in order to turn on the Volunteers and fight against them to establish a "dictatorship of the proletariat."
Connolly was wounded and then executed by a British firing squad while strapped into his chair, thus becoming an official Martyr for Old Erin and getting the obligatory Rebel Song written for him, not a bad one, actually. The Wolfe Tones sing an especially fine version of "James Connolly" and I've seen it reduce a whole pub full of Guinness-sodden drunks to tears. Magnificent musical epitaphs for rebels killed in some hopelessly bungled attempt at rebellion are an Irish specialty. My favorite is "Roddy McCorley."
In a certain very generalized way, the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923 was a Red versus White affair. Most of De Valera's Irregulars were more socialistically inclined, and most of Collins' Free Staters were more traditional types, although I say again that is very generalized, and there were notable exceptions on both sides.
I might also add that after he became Taioseach (Irish Prime Minister) in 1932, De Valera wouldn't give anything or anyone Red the time of day. He kept Ireland out of the Second World War, turning down Churchill's offer to hand the Six Counties of the North over to him after the war (he later said that he refused because he knew that Churchill's word was worthless, something I wish other statesmen of the time could have learned earlier.) Dev also caused a furor by signing the official book of condolence at the German embassy in Dublin on the death of Adolf Hitler.
Okay, come Northern Ireland and 1969 and Burntollet. The Protestant loons went mad attacking Catholic neighborhoods in Belfast, Derry, and Strabane, and since the cops and B-Specials were all Prods and looked the other way or else assisted in the rioting, the only protection that the Fish on Friday folks could get was from the Catholic loons of the IRA, who at that time were still pretty much just Catholic loons commanded by men like Ruari O'Bradaigh and Joe Cahill.
The Marxist crap came in later on, from people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness and Danny Morrison, the younger Belfast crowd who ended up in prison in the H-Blocks and the Maze and had nothing to do but sit around reading Mao's Little Red book and babbling about Marxist dialectic in their jail cell study groups.
It needs to be born in mind that Ireland is always about ten years behind the U.S. on all the trendy shit, so that in the 1970s they were just going through their 1960s-style trendy-left phase we had over here with Berkeley and the SDS and Black Panthers and so on.
However, whereas in this country it was mostly a bunch of Afro-haired, pseudo-intellectual Jewish nerds in thick glasses and jive-ass nigger criminals looking for way to nail bubble-headed white college girls going through their obligatory radical phase, in Ireland this turned into a genuine revolutionary movement complete with guns and bombs. I will say this: the Marxist wing of Irish Republicanism is the only Communist movement I am familiar with that actually consists of genuine white working class men.
This is already running way long, so I'll try to stick to the point. What eventually transpired was that there were more or less two factions in the IRA--the Southern Provos, a bunch of middle-aged drunks wearing turtle-necked sweaters and muttering darkly into their Guinness, and the Northern (Belfast) Provos, a bunch of half insane younger sociopaths wearing denim and beards and Pancho Villa moustaches who swaggered around like John Gotti and took all the heat. Then of course, you had the Stickies in their cardigans. The Stickies were basically Stalinists, mostly older men but still with a few guns. They have since mutated into the harmless, mildly left Workers' Party.
Finally you had the INLA and IRSP, Maoists if memory serves, who seem to have been completely insane as opposed to the Provos' only partial derangement. They had wonderful psychos like Dominic McGlinchey who "liked to get in close and see their brains," and Dessie O'Hare, who liked to kidnap dentists for ransom and cut off their ears. Most of this crew eventually came to a gratifyingly sticky (if not Sticky) end.
All of these various factions shifted and changed shape like a lava lamp, and periodically, they would fall out and start gunning each other down in Mafia-like hits. (McGlinchey got his in a phone booth in Dundalk, in a manner reminiscent of another famed Irishman of the New York variety, Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll. The Provos whacked McGlinchey's wife Mary while she was bathing her two young children. Ah, yes, lift yer glasses to the bould lads of mountain and glen...)
Okay, moving on to Good Friday. Basically, what finally happened was that after about twenty years of shooting down soldiers and policemen and Protestant farmers in Armagh and using ridiculous amounts of explosives to blow up public houses, the Provos and neo-Provos of all stripes finally twigged to the fact that no one in the British government gave a rat's ass how many Protestant farmers and cops and soldiers they murdered, or how many of their own pubs they blew up. All such were considered expendable, especially by the ghastly Margaret Thatcher. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Provos wised up and started hitting the British economically, through the simple expedient of shutting down London once or twice a week through bomb threats and minor bombings on the transportation system and hitting economic targets such as the Baltic Exchange.
I was living in London and working in corporate security at the time, and I can tell you, it was a damned nuisance never knowing whether the Tube would be running. I also got to help in the rescue and clean-up after the Baltic Exhange went up. Lucky me. (Some years earlier I was also on a bus going through Monaghan town that left the central square about ten minutes before a Protestant bomb blew.)
The Brits basically bought off the IRA. I consider it a draw. Little David went fifteen rounds with Goliath, and he was still standing at the end and forced them to give him a share of the purse. Neither side can claim a clear-cut victory. The IRA certainly didn't drive the British out of Ulster, and the province is still essentially run from London by the bureaucrats from the Northern Ireland Office. But neither did the British crush the IRA; in the end, they had to let Gerry Adams and his GUBU crew plunk their butts down in assorted governmental chairs and cut them hefty salary checks. And what with the EU, Ireland is in many respects united in spite of it all, just not the way the IRA wanted.
For those who wonder why the Protestants never staged a Rhodesia-style UDI, it's simple: the Orange leadership was co-opted long ago, and they were (and still are) all drawing government checks. The "Reverend" Ian Paisley, a ridge-running bush ape with nothing but pork fat between his ears, was at one stage when I was there pulling down five, count 'em, FIVE salaries! (Westminster MP, Stormont MP, Antrim County Council, Democratic Unionist Party chairman, and "moderator" of his own church, the Presbyterian Free Assembly I think it's called.)
Genuine mavericks like George Seawright and Gregory Campbell, who bucked the Unionist establishment, mysteriously had their legal handgun permits revoked and their guns confiscated by the authorities, and a few weeks later were conveniently shot by funny little men who appeared out of a crowd and then vanished. IRA, no doubt. I mean, who else could it be?
To sum up: the situation in Ireland reflects no particular credit on anyone involved.
Anyway, for those of you who are absolutely fascinated by all of this stuff, I recommend The Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney.