Monday, October 12, 2009

Irish Freedom Marchers - Liverpool to London 1962

Irish Freedom Marchers
Liverpool to London 1962

Members of the Irish Freedom Marchers paraded through Uxbridge High Street on the Morning of Saturday 14th April 1968, to protest about the division of their country.

The Irish Freedom Marchers later held a rally in Hyde Park to demand "human rights for the people who live in Ireland's six northern counties".

Source: Uxbridge Gazette 19 April 1962

The fact that the Irish Freedom Marchers came through Uxbridge, Hayes was probably no accident given the large Irish population in West London.

The first waves of Irish migrant workers into "industrial" West London are recorded in the thirties, but undoubtedly increased during the War and throughout the fifties and sixties, including many young Irish women employed as nurses in the newly established NHS.

John Ryan MP for Uxbridge (1966-1970) was very active in the Civil Rights Movement,

The very popular leader of the Labour Group in the 1980's and Hayes Parliamentary Labour Candidate was Peter Fagan, born in Dublin

In the mid 1980's a delegation of Sinn Fein Councillors . including Barbara de Brun (then Barbara Brown). were invited to various meetings in Hayes and to meet the Labour group Councillors. In fact Councillor de Brun was meet at the Airport by a well known Barnhill Labour Councillor and the NUPE Branch Secretary who had served in Northern Ireland.

John McDonnell MP for Hayes has used his position on the GLC and in the House of Commons to continue this tradition, including the GLC funding of the Hillingdon Irish Centre.


At this time in Britain, marches were a popular form of political activity, such as the Aldermaston marches, and the march to Holy Loch, the site of the polaris missile. In 1961.

The Irish Freedom Marchers were organised by the Connolly Association, The Connolly Club later Association had been established on 4th September 1938 at a meeting in the AEU Hall, Doughty Street, Manchester to support the Irish in England, promote the goal of a united Ireland and socialism )

Connolly Association in Manchester 1938-1962

Manchester Radical History

By Michael Herbert

The Connolly Associationhad organised two marches, the first from London to Birmingham, and later from Manchester to Huddersfield. The four reporters, on their return from the north of Ireland, were met at Liverpool by other members of the Association, and thus began the two week long Irish Freedom March, from Liverpool to London.

The information obtained had been quickly printed in the Irish Democrat, and it was distributed on the march. Meetings were held in every town the march passed through, especially with trade unions and Labour Party branches. Overnight accommodation was provided, by the Irish community and the local Labour movement. Although the 'wall of silence' was still largely maintained by national newspapers, local newspapers reported extensively on the march and its purpose.

These marches also reinforced the position of the Connolly Association, as the leading Irish political organisation in Britain.

In the summer of 1961 the Connolly Association organised a national march from London to Birmingham as a way of bringing to public attention their campaign on the Six Counties. They called for the repeal of the Special Powers Act, an enquiry into the Government of Ireland Act, an amnesty for Republican prisoners and recognition by the Stormont government of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

There were fourteen marchers (including a number from Manchester) who set off from London on 25th June carrying a banner which read “Ireland One Country”. They included Tom Redmond, Aine Redmond, Sean Redmond, Desmond Greaves and Chris Sullivan. Walking in temperatures in the mid 80s they spoke at meetings along the way and arrived in Birmingham on 2nd July when, to their great relief, it finally rained.

Planning for a second march began immediately, this time organised by the Manchester branch of the Association, which departed from Liverpool on 25th August after an address by Eric Heffer, vice-president of the Trades Council. The marchers this time were Joe Deighan, Desmond Greaves, Danny Kilcommins, Sean and Aine Redmond.

On the way into Manchester the marchers were given a police motor-cycle escort until they reached Platt Fields. After an outdoor meeting in Hulme the marchers headed north to Oldham, making a slight diversion to Moston cemetery where they intended to place a wreath on the grave of Seamus Barrett.

On arrival at the gates of the cemetery they found them guarded by a large posse of police who directed them to the far side of the road. A cemetery official informed them that the grave was the property of the Gaelic League, who had not given permission for a wreath to be placed. The marchers made it clear that they would not leave without laying the wreath. The stand-off was resolved when a Brother John was summoned who said that it had already been agreed that they could lay the wreath. And so they did and departed on their way, arriving at their final destination of Nottingham on 3rd September.

The third and most ambitious of the Connolly Association marches took place in the spring of 1962. This time the route was Liverpool to London, a distance of some 250 miles. The march left Liverpool on 30th March arriving in Manchester the following day where there was a public meeting at Chorlton Town Hall at which Tony Coughlan, Desmond Greaves, Sean Redmond and Joe Deighan spoke. Attempts to hold a factory-gate meeting the next day were defeated by the weather so two marchers went the offices of the Guardian on Cross Street to hand in some information about Northern Ireland, none of which was published. When they arrived in Macclesfield they found the town in uproar over rents and the town hall being barricaded for the second night running. The march arrived in London in mid April.

Looking back nearly 30 years later Tony Coughlan reflected that the marches

“were modest enough affairs, a couple of dozen Irish men and women giving up part of their annual holidays to try to show what the British government were permitting Brookeborough and co to get up to in the Six Counties. Even though they were met with indifference and ridicule rather than brickbats, these can truthfully be said to have been the first Irish civil rights marches.”