I remember visits to Dublin by Bob Purdie former member of the International Marxist Group IMG.
(Bob Purdie (1940-2014) wrote several autobiographical essays on his Facebook page. In his last few months he also started publishing his lectures and essays. In addition there are numerous essays on Irish politics.)
In the early ‘70s I made regular trips to Ireland – at least two or three a year. The journeys were arduous, I usually travelled overnight by train and ferry and the IMG wouldn’t pay for a berth or a sleeper. The best boats were on the Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire route. There was a big cabin on a lower deck in which, for 50p., you got a bunk, a pillow and a rough blanket. I would be lulled to a sound sleep by the rhythm of the engines and the rocking of the waves.
In Dublin I usually stayed in the big Georgian house of Máirin and Áine Keegan, beside the canal at Harold’s Cross. There was a barge permanently moored directly opposite. Áine was shy and much less politically committed than her sister, the hospitality I enjoyed in their house was organised by her. She married my friend Rayner Lysaght and I visited them when I was in Dublin last year, she was still shy and still hospitable.
Máirin was a leading member of the Revolutionary Marxist Group, the Irish section of the Fourth International. She was also involved with the left wing Republican organisation, Saor Éire, about which I will write later. She was a lively and very likeable person, with an engaging personality, so I was puzzled one day, on my way back to the house, when I saw her from the bus. She was walking listlessly past some shops, looking in the windows with a strange, engrossed, expression. Not long afterwards she died of a brain tumour. I still remember her and I still grieve.
If that barge was an observation post, there would have been rich pickings. The house was a way station for all sorts of radicals revolutionaries and eccentrics. I once shared a room with a woman who, it was explained to me, “was a bit stray in the head.” The room was in complete turmoil and, with difficulty, I created a coherent patch to sleep in. I was told she had been at a party which had also been attended by a Fianna Fáil TD. When he got up to leave, he didn’t notice that a pistol had slipped out of his pocket and was lying on the low sofa. “Yer woman” brought it back and waved it around. Máirin confiscated it when she was asleep and, no doubt, found a destination for it. Another regular guest was a veteran IRA man, one night when the house was filled with revolutionaries he got confused and suspicious of all these strange people. He roused the entire house, claiming that this was raid by the Official IRA. He was gently reassured by Máirin and Áine and went back to bed.
I soon got used to the idea that the place to meet people in Dublin was outside the GPO. In fact once, when I had missed my contact, I simply wandered up and down until I was asked if I was Bob Purdie. It was a young member of the RMG, who was still aggrieved by his expulsion from the rival Trotskyist group, the League for a Workers Republic. He had voted against the line that had been decided by a caucus meeting held in a Chinese restaurant. His plea that he couldn’t attend the meeting because he couldn’t afford a Chinese meal, was not accepted as mitigation.
Another time was approached outside the GPO by a young man with long hair and a beard, wearing an army surplus anorak. I was puzzled when he asked me if I was in a state of grace. It turned out he was from the Legion of Mary and had been sent out to quiz people about whether or not they had attended confession and Mass. When we had established that I was an ex-Presbyterian Atheist, and therefore a hopeless case, we parted on cordial terms. There was also an old IRA man who had fought in the War of Independence. He would stand outside the GPO and hand out duplicated sheets of episodes from his life story. I thought he was eccentric, but I suppose he was, really, a pioneer blogger.
The RMG was a tiny group, only a couple of dozen members spread between Dublin and Belfast, but it adopted all the paraphernalia of a Leninist party. One of the members was a Breton who had gone to Dublin to dodge being called up by the French army. He had breached discipline on an issue they took seriously and he was expelled. I met him in Connolly station one night, when I was waiting for the late train to Belfast. As we were chatting two student members, an otherwise nice young couple, arrived and read out a pompous statement to me about his expulsion. By this time I was getting fed up with much of the nonsense that went on in the Trotskyist movement so I said nothing, but offered him a Rollo. The girl asked if she could have one, so I handed round the packet and we were all friends again.