Green politics, philosophy, history, paganism and a lot of self righteous grandstanding.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

My Guide to the Top Five Irish Rebellion Sites

Michael Collins (1996) Can you see me?
Easter 1916 marks one hundred years since the uprising in Ireland that led, via a very torturous route, to the creation of an independent Irish state. It also marked the start of the disintegration of the British Empire. Nationalism and modern weapons would make the great European empires untenable, although it would be a while before most people realised this.

My own connection to these events is to have been an uncredited (and unpaid) extra in Neil Jordan's 1996 film Michael Collins. Twenty years ago I stood with four thousand other people to cheer Liam Neeson as Michael Collins, the late Alan Rickman as Eamon De Valera and Julia Roberts as Kitty Kiernan as they arrived at a replica of Dublin Castle and gave a victory speech in front of the ruins of a fake GPO. It was almost like being there.

Michael Collins is a film that managed to annoy just about everyone, crediting British forces with atrocities they didn't commit and omitting ones they really did, whilst sanitising the very messy business of the Civil War that followed semi-independence. Still, if it had been a Mel Gibson movie it would have been a lot worse. 

During my time living in the Emerald Isle I also got to march behind The Plough and the Stars, which was the flag that James Connolly's Citizen's Militia flew over the GPO in 1916, and which the Irish TUC brings out every year for its May Day march. I also lived in the former house of Joe Murphy, the Republican Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike, which must look good on my police file.

I also got a chance to visit some of the other places around and about associated with the bloody struggle for Irish freedom.

Here are my top five.

1. The General Post Office, O'Connell Street, Dublin


It all started at Easter 1916. Or was that when it all ended?

W.B. Yeats wrote that "a terrible beauty is born", but a few years earlier though he'd written "Romantic Ireland's dead and gone. It's with O'Leary in the grave". Yeats jumped the gun by three years, but in essence he was right. The last stand at the GPO, in it's magnificent futility, represented the old tradition of previous failed uprisings. It was the moonlight charge of half-pike's that was a traditional subject of republican myth and song recreated with modern weaponry.

The real Michael Collins was there. But as he was led away into captivity he was not thinking about romantic poetry but of the futility of defending a vulnerable fixed position. On the prison ship that took him away he was already making plans for a very different kind of war next time.

There was fighting elsewhere in the city in 1916 including trench warfare in St Stephens Green, a spot well worth a vist, where the park warden still fed the ducks during lulls in the fighting.

The GPO building has been rebuilt and is still a post office. The only hint of its role in the fighting
one hundred years ago is the magnificent statue of the dying mythological hero Cuchulainn in the window, a wonderful symbol of courage and sacrifice.

O'Connell Street itself has changed in the last century. In 1916 it would have been dominated by a pillar with a statue of Nelson on top, the twin of the one in Trafalgar Square. That was removed in 1966, as IRA's contribution to the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, with a rather nifty bit of dynamiting that left the rest of the street untouched. Just to prove who the real professionals were in this regard, when the Irish Army came to blow up the remaining stump they took out every window on the street in the process.

The pillar was replaced first with a piece of modern art known to the Irish as "the floozy in the jacuzzi" and then by the Spire of Dublin, which was considered to be rather more in line with the new look of the street.

2. Kilmainham Gaol, Dublin


The battle at the GPO ended with the Republican prisoners being led from the building through jeering crowds. That was not the start of the uprising, but what happened next was. They were taken across the city to Kilmainham Gaol, and for fifteen of them it would be a one way trip.

The gaol was closed in the 1920s and is now a museum. It doesn't appear in many tourist guides to Dublin, but it's worth a visit. As well as being able to see where the Easters rebels were imprisoned, and where those fifteen were shot. You can also see the Asgard, the yacht that Eskine Childers used to bring the guns over for the uprising. Childers had made himself a British hero by writing a story about a different boat, the Dulcibella, which his square jawed hero uses to thwart a German invasion in his 1903 novel The Riddle of the Sands. Eleven years later it was from Germany that the Asgard brought the weapons.

Another former British hero who died in 1916, and who is often forgotten, is Roger Casement. He was hung for treason at the Pentonville Prison, three months after the executions in Dublin, for his part in trying to secure more German rifles. Casement had been instrumental in exposing the abuses in the Belgian Congo, and was the inspiration for the hero of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Lord Roxton in Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.

Another gaol associated with the War of Independence is Cork. Here Countess Markievicz, the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons, and others were interred. However the museum there focuses on the less famous inmates who passed through, but on the ordinary prisoners there. It is worth seeing if only to remind us that for ever person locked up for being Irish and a rebel, a hundred were imprisoned for being Irish and poor.

3. Kilmichael Ambush site, County Cork


The events of 1916 were the spark that lit the fires of which broke out in rebellion in 1919. The war started with attacks on isolated Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Once these had been abandoned the authorities were blind as to what was happening in most of the country.

The film has Michael Collins leading these attacks. In reality he certainly helped organise them, but volunteers in County Tipperary carried out the first attack on their own initiative. Soon though roving guerrilla bands controlled most of the Irish countryside.

The most effective leader of these units was Tom Barry from County Kerry. An unlikely rebel he was the son of an RIC constable and Easter 1916 saw him fighting the Turks with the British Army in Iraq. When he did eventually join the IRA he ended up in command of the West Cork Brigade and on 28 November 1920 they fought one of the most significant, and controversial, battles of the war.

The British authorities had tried to regain control of the countryside using units of Auxiliaries made up of veterans of the Great War. These 'Black and Tans' ended up being responsible for most of the war crimes committed by British troops.

Barry decided to do something about this. His unit of 36 men ambushed a Black and Tan patrol of 18 men near their base in Macroom. The IRA lost three dead whilst all but one of the Auxiliaries died, several after trying to surrender, or pretending to surrender, and others allegedly being dispatched after being wounded. Whatever the exact circumstances most Irish thought they deserved what they got. The loss of a decent sized force of veteran soldiers was deeply shocking to the authorities and Cork and the surrouonding areas were placed under martial law and a fair part of the City burnt in retaliation.

The Irish being the Irish there is a song about the battle. A (very) slightly fictionalised version also appears in Ken Loach's film The Wind That Shakes The Barley. There is a memorial by the side of the road at the scene of the ambush, whilst Cork Museum has a detailed map and plan of the battle, as well as some memorabilia. 

The spot itself is pleasant enough, but more the sort of place you pass through after fishing in Macroom or on the way to Gougane Barra. West Cork though is wonderful, and as well as the Irish it is now home to a population of formerly English Travellers, who relocated to Ireland after their own ambush at the Battle of the Beanfield.

4. Michael Collin's Cork, County Cork


Meanwhile in Dublin and other cities a different kind of war was being fought, one were the victims were usually killed in their beds. As director of Intelligence for the IRA Collins was responsible for the creation of a special execution squad that killed British spies and informers, shooting no less than twenty MI5 officers in one night exactly a week before the Kilmichael Ambush.

Despite Neil Jordan's film Michael Collins' legacy in Ireland is still mixed. On the one hand is the revolutionary urban guerrilla leader who won the War of Independence, and on the other he's the man who signed the Treaty and settled for a divided Free State rather than a whole independent one. He's the founder of the unarmed police force that replaced the hated Royal Irish Constabulary, but a person who, unlike the heroes of 1916, killed his enemies in their beds rather than in pitched battle.

Michae Collins armoured car, Curragh
The controversy stems from one simple fact, unlike almost every other Irish revolutionary, he was successful.

A Michael Collins tour of Ireland would start in Dublin. It would include the Stag's Head pub in Dublin where he used to drink, which was round the corner from his intelligence office at no. 3 Crow Street. It would take in the Imperial Hotel in Cork where he spent his last night, but it would end at the obscure village of  Béal na Bláth in his native County Cork.

Here he died after a confused ambush by anti-Treaty forces. His convoy included an armoured car, but its machine gun had jammed. Collins was the only fatality in the battle. The film plays fast and lose with the facts of this, but you can't get over the poynancy of the version of She Moved Through The Fair by Sinead O'Connor and The Chieftains that Jordan commissioned for the movie.

Béal na Bláth is not the sort of place that usually gets mentioned in tourist guides. There is a small monument there to the Big Fella, but little else.

In his home town of Clonakilty though there is now the Michael Collins Centre, where you can learn some more about his life.There is also more about Collins in the barracks that bears his name in the City of Cork, whilst the armoured car that failed to save him is at the main Irish Army Museum at Curragh.

Collins himself lies in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, where there is a visitors centre and memorial to other Republicans. The cemetery is also home to another legacy of Ireland's past, one that isn't remembered as well as Easter 1916, but which has at least had its own film made about it. This is the site of the mass grave of the 'fallen women' of the Magdalene laundries.

5. The Falls and Shankill Roads, Belfast


So when did Ireland's struggle for independence finally end? That is a difficult question.

One answer is 1921, when the British Empire threw in the towel and the Free State was formed. Another answer is 1923 when the Free Staters won the civil war or 1932 when the bulk of the anti-Treaty people gave up the gun and adopted democratic politics.

Another answer is that it never did.

Twenty years ago a walk down the two main streets of West Belfast would have endorsed that view. Soldiers in armoured Land Rovers, helicopters, fortified pubs, paramilitary murals and the occasional gun or bomb attack or bus being petrol bombed were the sights in offer to the rare tourist. It was like walking round a slow motion civil war.

You can still experience some of that side of Belfast, especially if you can find a black taxi driver
Women for Peace, Belfast 1976 victorpatterson.photoshelter.com
prepared to give you an unofficial tour. Brits are certainly tolerated, unless (like me) they ask to view the Official IRA graveyard. However for the most part that Ireland has gone thanks to events of another Easter weekend, but this one only eighteen years ago.

The Good Friday Agreement is a good place to end the chain of events that started at Easter 1916. Tony Blair, David Trimble and Gerry Adams certainly deserve the praise they received for the agreement, but this was a peace created from the bottom as much as one imposed from the top. Countless community groups and peace campaigners of both communities had worked for twenty years to end the fighting. 

Unlike the rebels of Easter 1916, the heroes of the War of Independence and the fighters of The Troubles, these people have no memorials to their name, no museums about them and are not remembered in film or song or mural. But that Ireland today, north and south of the border, is at peace with both itself and it's former imperial master across the Irish Sea is thanks more to them than to the people with guns.

Lets remember that this weekend.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

An Activists Guide to Using Local Media

I am a media tart. I've been a media tart for nearly twenty years. It's nothing to be proud of. 

However I do try to use my egotism for good rather than evil, and so that we can share the guilt and you can be a media tart too I have written this guide.

It doesn't matter if your campaign is local, national or international in its scope, this is how you use the press. Mainly I'm thinking about local print media, but the same rules apply to local radio and online news.

Local papers have absolutely no interest in press releases sent to them by big, national campaigning groups. If it looks like it was written in London it will go straight in the bin. 

If you want to use local media properly you have to actually write the release yourself. This shouldn't be a problem, unless you've spent so long actually working for a big, London based NGO you've forgotten how to actually be you.

Why use local media?

To get your message across and help your campaign, obviously. But also because 97% of our national print media is owned by six billionaires who control the news agenda.

Another very practical because people need to see a story several times before they take notice. If people read about your campaign in the national media and then see you out and about on the streets, reading the local rag could be the magical third time that actually makes them take notice.

The Press Release

Okay, so here we go. What do you actually write.

Usually you will send the Press Release out as an email. Don't put it in an attachment, put the title in your subject line and the press release in the main text.

Aim something like this;

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Monday 1st January 2016


CONTACT Joe Bloggs 12345 67891011

ENVIRONMENTAL CAMPAIGNERS TO HAVE STREET STALL IN TOWN THIS SATURDAY

Your headline should simply be factual, identifying you group, the issue and/or type of event and clearly stating that it is a local event. If you are part of a well known national organisation then make sure you give them a name check, but also state you are the local branch, not a bunch of visiting chuggers. 

It's not your job here to make it into a witty headline, so you're best just sticking to the facts. 

Your press release itself should be in three parts.

Start with a one or two sentence paragraph in which you describe your event in a bit more detail, stating clearly where and when it will be and what it look like. Make sure anything that will make the event visually interesting is mentioned; will there be costumes, activities, the local MP attending etc? This is what the press want to know and if this paragraph doesn't catch their attention the odds are they won't even read the rest of the press release.

The next paragraph, or at most two paragraphs, describes why you are doing this. Keep this brief, very brief. What is the issue and what is the target. Give just enough information to link the target with the campaign but no more. The papers will generally speaking have almost no interest in the ins and outs of the issue. However if your local action links to a broader national campaign that has been in the news make sure you point this out if it is not immediately apparent.

Finally you come to the last bit: the quote by a local campaigner. This is the most important part of the press release as it is most likely the bit that will actually get printed. Forget the dry, legalistic language of a typical big NGOs press office, this is you speaking and you need to make it interesting.

Here's how you do that: 

The Golden Rules 



Outrage is in 

What's the first thing you need to do when campaiging? Create a scandal. 

What you are campaiging against is probably is awful, but lots of things are awful. What we need to do is create a scandal. A scandal is something awful that could and should have been prevented.

Don't just say fracking is bad, for example, say:

 "It is disappointing, but not surprising, to find that in the same week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for a low carbon future, the government acts as a cheer leader for the fossil fuel dinosaurs of the oil and gas industry"

Punchy, poynant and personal

The three Ps of doing press.

Make your point as simply as you can but don't pull your punches and make it personal if possible. Something like:

"When the Arctic Sunrise set sail the campaign was about saving the Arctic, but very quickly it became about freeing our friends...(It is) now more vital than ever to save the Arctic from oil exploration and the earth from Climate Change.”

Only better, hopefully.

The fourth P is positive. 

Don't present a problem unless you can not only propose a solution, but a solution that is also something worth doing in itself. By demonstrating the gap between the world we have and the world we could have, you create more outrage.

How about Instead of a few hundred jobs in fracking, the north-west could have 100,000 in wind and solar power, in making our houses warmer and getting our public transport working.”

The Golden Rules of Local Media 

All the above apply to local media too, but there are three more rules you also need to remember.

This is a local story for local people

Your local paper will only print local stories, so your event absolutely must happen in the local area.

Also, you must also be a local person. If you're 'not from round here' find someone who is and name them in the quote instead.

If possible you also need to talk about issues that local people care about. That, unfortunately, doesn't usually include the end the Arctic ice cap or even the world. Instead they want to know about jobs, house prices and the safety of their children. Try to mention one of these in passing.

Finally you really need to try to make some connection between the big issue you're campaigning on and wherever it is you live. This could be tricky, but try. How will the problem affect your town? How will the solution benefit your town? Has anything like this ever happened there? It may end up sounding really corny, but do at least try. Terrible lines I've used in the past include:

"Whether it's floods in Woolley Bridge or famine in Afghanistan, you can't ignore the effects of a changing climate".

"Glossop was at the forefront of the first Industrial Revolution and we can be at the heart of the Green Industrial Revolution".  

It's all about you


Hopefully after reading about you people will take an interest in your campaign, but that is not where they are starting from. However they will be interested in why you are interested in the issue.

Remind them that you are an ordinary person just like them. You can mention where you live, where you work, whether you have children, what you like about the local area and so on, and then tell them why this issue important for you and how you found out about it. 

By doing it this way you are indirectly showing them why it is also important for them.

Get the Picture


A picture tells a thousand words, and more importantly it makes people read the article.

If you are publicising an event that has already happened then make sure you include a picture that will point well, preferably one with your happy, smiling faces front and centre and everyone posed in an aesthetically pleasing manner; handing out leaflets, waving placards or whatever.

If your event hasn't happened yet then try to describe it in a way that will make the local paper want to send someone out to photograph it. Tell them about your costumes, props etc. And if no snapper shows up don't worry, take your own picture and email it to the paper. 

That's a lot of things to remember, and to be honest you'll be hard pressed to do more than two of them in one press release, but if you manage it you'll have a great quote the press will want to use. 

Here's some of mine that worked.

Barton Moss is the latest skirmish in a global insurgency against what is the last stand of the fossil fuel dinosaurs. France and Bulgaria have already said no. Fracking is unnecessary, unwanted and unsafe and we call on the people of Britain to come to Manchester to say that we don’t want it here.”

The campaign at Barton Moss last winter appears to have driven the frackers out of Greater Manchester and there is no sign of them coming back soon. Now is the time to start looking for alternative ways of keeping the lights whilst getting the first city of the industrial revolution back to work."

Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors.Like so much of what is best about Glossop, these tunnels are the legacy of the forward thinking and sound engineering of our Victorian ancestors." 

After football, it is music that puts Manchester on the world map, and after the fantastic turnout for our march of Sunday, Manchester is also on the map for being at the heart of the global resistance against fracking."

Setting the Tone

You probably care a lot about the issue your campaigning on, but for the person writing the article about you it's just another day at the office. Don't take it personally if they don't run the story, or butcher your realease when they write it up. Try to find out what it is they really wanted and to help them out next time.
  
A bit of humour can also make the life of a jobbing hack a bit more tolerable, so don't be afraid of a little joke. We never got the press to print the line "The camp Cliff Richard has been penetrated by the Sheriff's men" but it gave the journalists a laugh reading it. They are people too. Try to make their jobs interesting for them.

Danger Areas

Athough not as in hoc to corporate interests as the big players, your local newspaper still needs advertisers to make it pay and contacts to give it good stories. As a result they will generally not want to publish stoires critical of local businesses, local government or the police.

You can get partly round this by following the advice about staying positive, but otherwise you'll just have to work around the problem and not tackle some issues head on

Journalists also don't like having to do extra work. Putting in facts they have to check or criticising people who they have to give a right of reply to makes it more likely they'll just take the easy way out and bin your story. 



Deadlines

Aim to get your Press Release to the paper at least a week before the deadline. If you don't know when this is ask, but usually papers go to the printers at least 36 hours before they appear on the shelves. 

If you miss the deadline you could try a phone call to get someone to turn up, but that's a long shot. Best not to miss it in the first place.

The Follow Up
 
Take a good photo at the event and send a follow up press release afterwards. This can be quite brief, but try to include some anecdotes about the people who attended and what they said to you.

If you don't get published don't worry. At least by contacting the press you told them that you exist and that you do stuff. Maybe next time the issue will have risen a bit more in the public consciousness and they'll take an interests. Maybe next time it will be a slow news day and you'll get covered. Don't give up.

If you are printed great. It's worth thanking the journalist concerned and asking what sort of story they'd like next. It can't do any harm. You also need to share the story on your own social media, linking to the report. It's your story, share it.

Another thing you can do though is get someone to write a letter to the paper about the story. With luck this will get printed next week and you'll have a second bite of the cherry so to speak. 

If you are really lucky some Outraged of Tunbridge Wells type will write in complainign about you, which means you can write back the week after complaining about them. Letters editors have one of the most thankless jobs in the press, usually dealing with people droning on about potholes and wheelie bins, so a decent spat over an interesting issue is what they pray for. Keep it polite, but in a letter you can let your true feelings show in the way you can't in a press release. 


And here's one I prepared earlier:

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Saturday 24th October 2015 13:30

CONTACT Martin Porter xxxxx xxxxxx

GREENPEACE CAMPAIGNERS CALL ON LOCAL MP TO SAVE NATIONAL PARK FROM FRACKING
 

Campaigners from Glossop called on their local MP to save the Peak District National Park from fracking. Fifteen campaigners gathered for a photograph this morning, in very wet weather, on the edge of the National Park in Glossop (picture).

Controversial plans which could allow fracking for shale gas under National Parks and Sights of Special Scientific Interest are to be discussed by a parliamentary committee on Tuesday 27th October. If enough MPs object there could be a vote in the House of Commons a few days later.

Greenpeace campaigners in Glossop, Derbyshire, are calling on their local MP Andrew Bingham to vote against the plans. Campaigners oppose fracking because of fears of water and air pollution, the dangers of increased lorry traffic on narrow country roads, the noise and visual impact and because shale gas is a fossil fuel which will contribute to Climate Change.

Spokesperson Martin Porter, who was part of the campaign against drilling at Barton Moss in Salford two years ago as well as this year’s successful campaign to get Lancashire County Council to oppose fracking, said:

It is unbelievable that less than six weeks before the most important conference on Climate Change ever, not only is the government pressing ahead with plans for a new fossil fuel, but they want to allow drilling under our most beautiful countryside.

“Fracking under the National Park would mean rigs in Glossop and Chapel-en-le-Frith to get at the shale gas. 83 years ago my grandfather, Claude Porter, took part in the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass which led to the creation of the National Park. If anyone tried to frack under the Peak District there could be a second mass trespass to save it.”


ENDS

Photograph by Daniel Porter. Free to use.