Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking Over the Asylum

Following on from an earlier post, if the people of Monaghan need proof of their great town's ability to provide new and innovative political solutions to grave injustices, they need only look back to 1919, when Monaghan Lunatic Asylum established the first Soviet in Ireland.

Admittedly, Soviets would not be my chosen challenge to a stagnant and ineffective establishment, and the fact that this radical venture was launched in the local lunatic asylum does sound like the beginning of a bad joke. But the incident does, if nothing else, highlight how Irish people were once unafraid to challenge the political orthodoxy, and truly ask whether those in power deserved to be there. The Daily Mail, from April 2010, has more details

"THE first soviet in Ireland was indeed set up at Monaghan Lunatic Asylum in February 1919 by staff protesting against their long hours - an incredible 93 hours per week - and a wage rise that had been promised by management but hadn't materialised.

Staff in the asylum were organised by Peadar O'Donnell, who was a leading organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

O'Donnell, who came from Dungloe, Co. Donegal, had a varied and colourful career - a trade union activist who later became sympathetic to the IRA, and ultimately became renowned writer.

The workers organised their soviet on the Russian model and ran up the red flag over the hospital. The workers, incidentally, were enthusiastically supported by the inmates of the asylum. Despite the hospital being surrounded by policemen and soldiers, the strikers refused to give in. After some days, management caved in to their demands, but they refused to give the same pay rise to women workers, so the soviet continued until the women won the same improvements in their wages and conditions.

Although the Monaghan soviet closed down, it was only the first such protest across the country. During 1918 and 1919, a wave of strikes hit the country. Some of these strikes turned into soviets, where workers attempted to emulate the style and organisation of the Russian revolution."
Along with the more famous Limerick Soviet, and the fervent developments occuring across the Irish political spectrum at the time, from militant Republicanism, through cultural Nationalism to armed Unionism, the second decade of the 20th century clearly witnessed vast tracks of the population thinking about the issues of the day, and becoming involved in activism to bring about the Ireland that they envisioned. The question is, what happened?

I have blogged before on the numerous attempts to launch a new force in Irish politics, and how these efforts meet with little encouragement from the general populace. Indeed, even mainstream Irish politics is something of a minority sport. The sad, simple truth is that the Irish have stopped caring about politics - they complain, they give out, but they do nothing to effect change. You get the impression that if our struggle for independence was happening today, the Empire wouldn't need to rely on the Black and Tans - so long as the Premiership and Big Brother were on 24/7, the Irish would stay good and compliant.

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