I remember the murder of Peter Graham by Bob Purdie.

 Bob Purdie (1940-2014) wrote this extremely good article about the death of Peter Graham on his Facebook page.

I remember the murder of Peter Graham by Bob Purdie.

Tariq’s phone call, telling me that Peter Graham had been killed, was a stunning blow. Peter was a Dublin working class Trotskyist who had come over to London and joined the Irish Solidarity Campaign. After a couple of months he also joined the IMG and then got a job in the print shop in Pentonville Road. He was capable, cheerful and intelligent. I liked him very much.

Peter Graham.

Peter Graham .

I knew that he had been involved in a left wing republican group Saor Éire (Free Ireland), and that he was still in contact with them, because he arranged for a Ceylonese comrade to get arms training in Ireland and he also got a false passport for a South African. He gave The Red Mole a “Saor Éire Manifesto”, which we published, then he told me that members of SE, who were in London, were willing to give an interview.


Our initial meeting was to take place at Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery. I arrived slightly early and two very Irish looking guys were sitting on nearby gravestones. I was about to talk to them, but they turned away with studied indifference. I pretended to examine the prophet’s grave for a few minutes until Peter came panting down the path, late. We were introduced and arranged a venue for the interview.

Before it the agreed date a London Anarchist called Pete, whom I knew from the Vietnam movement, came to see me in Pentonville Road. He told me he had a message from SE and we agreed to go round the corner to a pub. I was a bit suspicious and I asked a comrade who was on the premises to follow us, but to leave if I unbuttoned the collar of my shirt. Just outside the door Pete thrust a tobacco tin into my hand and told me it contained detonators, to be handed over at the interview. We went into the pub, the comrade came in, I unbuttoned my shirt and he left. I realise now that this was a test, to make sure that I was a secure contact. In any case bank robberies, not bombings. were SE’s speciality.

Saor Eire Manifesto

The interview was in the home of an IMG comrade in Highgate. They arrived with a English girl friend who came in first and, with a pleasant smile, checked every room of the house. It all went well and they were very friendly, I was surprised when they went out of their way to praise the Fourth International and to support it against the claims of rival Trotskyist factions. I surmised later that Peter must have primed them to say this, it was his point of view and that of his faction within SE, of which he was still a member. He might as well have given me the interview himself, without all the intrigue. It was published, with a false cover story that it took place in Dublin, and we earned a bit by selling it to the Irish Times.

What I didn’t know was that Peter had moved to London because he was under threat from another faction of SE. And my naivety meant that I readily agreed, as London Organiser of the IMG, when he requested permission to return to Dublin to help build the small Revolutionary Marxist Group. If I had got any inkling of the truth, that I was sending him back to mortal danger, I would never have agreed.

Peter was sharing the Dublin flat of the chief intellectual of the RMG, Rayner Lysaght and it was there that he was interrogated, tortured and killed. We had no information about who was responsible and we quickly adopted the line that it was by “reactionary elements”. I flew out from Glasgow to Dublin (my first time on a plane) and made my way to the home of Mairín and Áine Keegan at Harold’s Cross. The sisters were shaken by Peter’s death and a number of us huddled together in their kitchen trying to make sense of what had happened.

Tariq flew in for the funeral, which processed through the Coombe, the historic working class district in which Peter had grown up. It was a Catholic funeral, arranged by his family, and both Tariq and I attended the Requiem Mass, for which we were pilloried later in The Workers Press. There was a big turnout from the Irish left, including Bernadette Devlin and Michael Farrell. Tariq made a graveside oration and we stood around with clenched fists. In the theatrical style he used on Vietnam demos in London, Tariq vowed that we would find the killers and avenge our comrade. I doubt if he realised how ill advised that speech was. In Ireland such statements were liable to be taken at face value.

A couple of months later, in the Red Mole office, Tariq told me that Mairín Keegan was close to death from a brain tumour, it was a terrible blow and he had to hold me up as a staggered. Soon I had to walk on another Dublin funeral, in drizzling winter rain, following her hearse. Her coffin was draped in a Tricolour and Starry Plough, with a black beret and gloves resting on the top, wailing Irish pipes at the head. At one point the cortege halted, while masked men fired shots over it.

mairin keegan

Mairin Keegan funeral

On our way to the cemetery a comrade took me aside and told me that they now knew the truth, Peter Graham had been murdered by his rivals in Saor Eire. He had been falsely suspected of diverting money from a bank robbery and they had tortured him in an attempt to make him confess. Some time later imprisoned members of SE, including the two I had met in London, issued a statement which confirmed this version.

The death of Peter Graham was the worst experience of my life. I was forced to stare into a nightmare world of violence and duplicity. I learned that “armed struggle” was not the simple heroic stand against oppression of my imagination. It had its own rules and logic, and these were cold, and hard, and relentlessly cruel. I was still a few years away from fully unravelling my mistaken ideas, but the memory of Peter’s death convinces me now that only democratic and peaceful politics are progressive. And I still mourn for my friend.

There is a postscript. One of the comrades photographed with raised fist at Peter’s grave was Charlie Bird, a member of the Young Socialists, he was in the orbit of the Trotskyist movement but never became a member. He is now an immensely respected investigative journalist. Just over five years ago I got a phone call from a woman on the Irish Mail on Sunday , she tried to manipulate me into agreeing that Charlie had been a member of Saor Éire. I discovered afterwards that they were in a dispute with him and they were trying to use that photograph to smear him.

funeral Peter Graham 1971

Funeral of Peter Graham 1971

She tried several times to get me to say something that could be twisted the way she wanted but I refused to be trapped and I didn’t hang up because I wanted to block every move she tried to make. Eventually I said “I only ever knew three people who, for certain, were members of Saor Éire, Charlie Bird was not one of them”. With a very bad grace, she ended the call. The hard ruthlessness is not all on one side.

One response to “I remember the murder of Peter Graham by Bob Purdie.

  1. Pingback: Historical talk on Peter Graham (1946-71) | Come Here To Me!·

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