Ciaron O’Reilly — the Irish essays

Correspondence from Ciaron

Ciaron and Dan at grave of James Joyce
Ciaron and Dan at grave of James Joyce

N16 08 – Approx 50 folks gathered at Dublin’s Teachers Club for a Sunday evening of reflection on the Catholic Worker movement. The audience was primarily made up of folks who had accompanied the Pitstop Ploughshares through their actions and three trials, as well as some folks with experience of the movement in the U.S. CA contribution from peace studies academic Ian Atack reflected on the Catholic Workers ploughshares action at Shannon Airport in 03 and its contribution and relation to the broader anti-war movement in Ireland.

Ciaron O’Reilly shared reflections on the Catholic Worker movement in England and Ireland over the past decade. The Liverpool Catholic Worker that sprung up in the wake of organising work around the 1996 Seeds of Hope Ploughsares (£2.5 million damage to a British Aerospace Hawk fighter bound for Indonesia’s war on East Timor) trial and had a focus on long term hospitality to East Timorese refugees, a short term hospitality to families of Irish prisoners incarcerated in HMP Walton Liverpool and surrounding jails. The Liverpool CW community kept a steady rhythm of resistance to British Aerospace and its arms exports to Indonesia and solidarity with the occupied people of East Timor. BAe hit back with high court injunctions and the community was infiltrated by BAe agents. The Liverpool CW concluded around the time the Indonesian military left East Timor.

The Oxford Catholic Worker initially came out of Clive’s experience volunteering with the CW in New York City and shifted its outreach from street homeless to facilitating asylum seekers release form nearby Camsfield Detention Centre by providing a bail address. Sr. Susan Clarkson is now based at the Oxford house after living and working for several years with CW communities in the U.S.

A Catholic Worker support/reflection/action group that formed around the Jubilee Ploughshares 2000 action gave rise to CW communities in Oxford, Hackney and a Catholic Worker farm north of Watford. Maria from the CW farm community was at Sunday’s meeting in Dublin. Like other Catholic Worker communities in Europe (Amsterdam, Hamburg, Gents) the hospitality is focused primarily refugees with a strong anti-war resistance focus. The Hackney community also runs a cheap cafe three days a week for marginalised folks and a free soup kitchen

The Catholic Worker in Dublin is not robust. It came together in 02 in response to Irish involvement in the war and closed its house following the acquittal and dispersal of the Pitstop Ploughshares Catholic Workers maintain a weekly anti-war vigil at the GPO and the past year has been mostly focused around events archiving the ploughshares action. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to get a rhythm of liturgy and reflection going, but activity remains sporadic. Participants are involved in homeless shelter, child rearin’, teaching, peace and justice work etc

The Catholic Worker is a radical tradition that may be unearthed and explored by anybody at anytime.
The Catholic Worker is a movement of radcial discipleship open to all regardless of faith or non faith backgrounds attempting to practice the acts of mercy, nonviolent resistance & solidarity and realise/build community. One can undertake these activities wherever one finds oneself located (suburbia, prison, campus, etc.)
The Catholic Worker is also specific projects often quite tentative experiments in truth…hospitality houses, soup runs, resistance communities etc. Check the community directory section of

Martha spoke movingly about her grandmother Dorothy Day, her mother Tamar who passed away this year and the legacy of the Catholic Worker these women left. Here is some film footage of Martha opening the 75th. Anniversary of the Catholic Worker Conference in Worcester, USA this year…..

Ciaron O’Reilly on Dan O’Neill, Radical Brisbane and James Joyce — Print friendly PDF

Well Dan O’Neill’s visit began with a hurry up & wait dash to Dublin airport, with “Hammered

Civil Liberties Rally 1967 in King George Square
Civil Liberties Rally 1967 in King George Square

by the Irish ” author Harry Browne, Dan being stalled at passport control for over an hour after a delayed departure from Glasgow. The five day visit concluded with Dan and I traversing some pretty rough areas of Dublin on Sunday night trying to locate the knocked down unmarked house of James Joyce in Eccles St.

Dan and Ciaron at James Joyce Grave
Dan And Ciaron at James Joyce's plaque in Dublin

At one point, when local yoof’s were threatening me in a darkened sidestreet and a rapid deployment of fit looking Garda screamed by, I thought it’s one thing having my epitaph “killed while breaking into a military base” but quite another “taken from us on a badly timed Joyce/Ullyses treasure hunt through the former brothel area of Dublin”.  The “Legion of Mary” did a thorough job there, little sign left of the Monto brothel area of Bloom’s day that serviced the British legions (little sign of them too, thanx be to God!)

On Sunday night Dan was oblivious to cops and yoof, he was on a lifetime’s quest to retrace the steps of Joyce’s Bloom. Time was short, Dan was departing the next day.

I first got to spend quality time with Dan O’Neill starting on a Saturday afternoon in March ’78. I was 17, and in my fist week of university. It was to be a day when I was, like many Brisbane students of the ’60’s/’70’s/’80’s, incited by a great Dan speech to break the draconian anti-civil liberties laws that denied basic democratic rights of free expression in Queensland.

I linked arms with Jim Dowling (who I didn’t know and was to spend much of the rest of my life linked to in Catholic worker and resistance) and John Roberts (who I had met in the police cells the previous October) and on Dan’s impassioned advice strode out into the streets surrounding King George Square. I was promptly bashed by Detective John Frederich Johnstone of the consorting squad after I had screamed objections to him felling John Roberts. Johnstone was later to break my brother Sean’s nose in an unfortunate (for Sean, not for me) case of mistaken identitiy at a similar march in the August of that year.  Johnstone was later charged and convicted, along with another corrupt copper, of extortion and sentenced to 3 years.  Norm “the Doorman” one of the central witnesses in that case went missing (and forgotten), the body has never been found!

After realising he was being well filmed by a TV crew Johnstone added the charge of “assaulting a police officer” (sound familiar) by the time I reached the city watchhouse. The watchouse cops slapped a huge prohibitive bail on me and wouldn’t let me out – so Dan O’Neill and 8 others volunteered to stay in the watchhouse all weekend to accompany me and extend their noncooperation with the denial of civil liberties in Queensland, Australia.

I had my first university assignment to do on the Jesuit anarchist Ivan Illich and was conveniently locked down opposite Dan’s cell, so spent the weekend firing questions across the corridor and scrawling away his reponses on toilet paper for future reference. Dan had fortunately studied at Illich’s Institute in Mexico and I got good marks for my first uni assignment.  Hey! Wherever you go, there you are! There’s always a silver lining even the fluorescent sky of Brisbane watchhouse under Joh. If life serves you lemons, make lemonade etc. etc.
Dan O’Neill is a radical intellectual, who combined courage and capacity for reflection for many of us in Brisbane who went up against the state in the ’60’s, ’70’ and ’80’s. Coming initially from a Catholic background Dan embraced, and was a key figure, in the New Left of the ’60’s in  Australia.  After postgrad studies at Oxford, he taught literature at the University of Queensland (the most activist Australian campus of the ’60’s) for over 3 decades.  He was key mentor for myself and others experimenting with the Catholic Worker and nonviolent direct action for civil liberties, against the racist Springbok Tour of ’71

( a State if Emergency was declared in Queensland by Premier Joh so this racist game of Rugger could take place in Brisbane) and against the wars that have come and gone and never really go.  Dan met Dorothy Day in New York, he taught Joyce’s Ulysses for many years.


Dan O’Neill Addressing Anti-War Crowds in Brisbane during visit of South Vietnamese Vice President Ky

”]Rad politics at U of Q – Dan O’Neill Talking – a free form of democracy

Forum at Queensland University Relax block

Dan O’Neill Launches “Radical Brisbane” – A History (text of his book launch speech)
Dan O’Neill at Joyce’s Ulysses
So we packed a lot into Dan’s 5 day stay in Dublin.  He was on a Joyce/Ulysses quest and I wanted more mentoring in relation to what I should be doing 12,000 miles away from home in the middle of an escalating and expanding war that few in the West seem to care about?  The last time I had asked Dan directly what I should do with my life he had quipped – get a job in the bank! That had sounded a little like Dylan’s “I don’t want the gig” response after they had tried to make him a figurehead of the Civil Rights movement wehne he played that rally in D.C  So I was hoping to get a few more insights this time around.

On Thursday evening we organised a Catholic Worker “Clarification of Thought”.  The event was to strengthen our small CW network in Dublin – and was a good mix of Colombians who had experienced a society of state sponsored terror, northeners who had experienced the troubles, punks and the anti-war activist remnant of Dublin town.  We looked at the costs of resistance, how does one respond to third world suffering from a first world comfort zone, spirituality and deconstructing a Catholic upbringing!

Dan is a libertarian Marxist impressed by Gramsci.

and attracted to mass movement politics.  He is not personally attracted to the Berrigan/plowshares approach and wondered where we get the nourishment to keep on keeping on.  I guess the focus on community building (faith based or affinity) has nourished me more over the last 30 years much more than being lost and lonely in many of the temporary mass manifestations in which I have participated!  We begged to differ but it was an interesting night, alrighty!

On Friday morning finding the Joyce House on north Georges St. closed for renovations, we dashed around to the Sinn Fein office for the daily 11.30am 1916 Walking Tour but found that abandoned due to sickness of the tour guide.  We did meet a couple of from Brisbane there.  Small world or small movement?  The jury is still out on that one!

We had a refuel stop at the Hare Khrishna’s Govinda Restaruant on Abbey St. where we shared a table with a young woman from Ananda Marga (a group that had very rough ride at the hands of the NSW cops in the ’70’s….take a bow former Det Sgt. Roger Rogerson

who upon release from his own incarceration got a gig doing private security in the Kings Cross red light district! Go figure?

We made it on time to the Irish Film Institute for a wonderful screening of “Route Irish”.  It was a good crowd for a 1pm screening. I scored free tickets for our GPO anti-war vigil crew and sold 10 copies of “Hammered by the Irish”. So that lightened my bag and heavied my wallet.  We then took a table with filmmaker Eamonn Crudden, actor/playwrite Donal O’Kelly, Pitstop Damien Moran and a lot of other good people for the next few hours.  Dan’s brother Errol O’Neill based in Brisbane does similar work to Donal as an actor and playwirte, so that was a good connect.

We adjourned for dinner at a Chinese restaurant with an environmental activist/film maker who had an interesting theory on how the advent of the teabag, the consequent abandonment of the shared pot, had undermined the rituals of community building in Ireland! Well he convinced me and we ordered a pot of Green Tea.

Saturday we got out to Sandymount and the Joyce museum near the 40 foot swimming hole (which I guess is really the Irish Sea). Dan was lucky with the weather the whole time he was here – I sat outside reading The Guardian as he worked his way through the museum.

Sunday was the last day, so armed with the Joyce/Ulysses walking map we set off from The Spire. Different folks alerted by texts joined in and dropped off as we progressed and tried to pinpoint various Bloom spots from the map.  Lunch at the Chester Beattie library was disturbed by an evacuation order.  Cops on bikes screamed in as we dawdled out.

Once we hit Christchurch Cathedral I was able to text Elaine, a tour guide on a day off,  for historic info. on the site.  As dark fell we then had a pitstop at the Palace Pub where we were joined by Labour historian Fintan, Pitstop getaway driver Dave, recently arrived Farah who had been nonviolently deployed to Iraq and Lebanon – passport stamps along with her Iranian surname that had not impressed the security folks at the airport and also a young Irish guy born in Paraguay.  This guy new about the New Australia movement, a group of 230 anarchists along with William Lane who had departed Brisbane in the 1890’s to build the utopia in the jungles of Paraguay!  What is it with Paraguay and western Utopians?

So with the minutes ticking down on Monday morning, I took Dan’s bag while he dashed around to the Yeat’s exhibit near the Dail. I did some photocopying at Reeds for the Thursday October 9th. “Hammered by the Irish” gig at the Lower Deck (where you can dance away the night with many of the folks mentioned in this article)!

Other references

PHOTOS – Martha Hennessy speaks in Dublin N16 08

11 thoughts on “Ciaron O’Reilly — the Irish essays

  1. Ted Riethmuller says:

    The photo showing Dan addressing the crowd of unionists outside City Hall was taken by Grahame Garner.

    His photography from this period is a valuable record of those times and is a wonderful contribution to labour history. His work should be acknowledged.

    The copyright is held by the Fryer Library

  2. Those were the days, Ciaron. I remember both Dan and yourself well. The early and mid eighties round U of Q. SEQEB demonstrations. And you are still fighting the good fight. I shall subscribe to your bloggedy blog here and follow along. Rage on, I say,

  3. Definition of Watchhouse says:


    n. 1. A house in which a watch or guard is placed.

    2. A place where persons under temporary arrest by the police of a city are kept; a police station; a lockup. from Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, published 1913 by C. & G. Merriam Co.

    The most famous watchhouse in Queensland was the South Brisbane Watchouse where many thousands of people were held after the street marches in Brisbane in 1977 — 1979. Over 3,000 people were held there during that time for marching in the street in opposition to the Joh Bjelke Petersen government. The largest number held after arrest on one day was 418. However not all the prisoners could be held there so some were sent to Holland Park and other police lock-ups around Brisbane.

    Click here to see a picture of people crammed inside after one of the street marches [See picture of Lindy Morrison on the ground outside the South Brisbane watchouse on 3 Dec 1977].

    The South Brisbane watchouse was demolished to make way for Expo in 1988.

    For many years the park beside the ‘old’ watchhouse was a meeting place of special significance for aboriginal people in Brisbane. This area was the traditional land of the Toorbul and Jagera peoples.

  4. AUDIO & PHOTO LINKS – Storm on Irish Radio as Pitstop Ploughshares Hammers Exhibited at Dublin Gallery

    In Feb. 03 the Pitstop Ploughshares disabled a U.S. Navy war plane en route to the war on Iraq. They sent it back to Texas. They were charged with $U.S.2.5million criminal damage. In August 06 they were acquitted unanimously by a Dublin jury . The Ploughshares hammers were retrieved from Irish Gardai this past August. A Dublin artist Seamus Nolan is presently exhibiting them at a downtown gallery. This past week, an uproar occured on one of the most popular Irish radio shows Liveline (300,00 listeners)….

    Photo of Hammers at Project Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin, Ireland (on display until Dec 10th. 08)

    Irish Radio Liveline Discussion on Pitstop Ploughshares Hammers being Exhibited in Project Gallery, Temple Bar, Dublin. This seems to have broken through the heavy censorship surrounding all things Shannon Airport and ongoing Irish complicity in the U.S. wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Here is the link to the Liveline piece 25/11/08…e.mp3

  5. “Ali” Paul O’Toole Anti- War Music Video (4 mins)
    Video by Pitstop Ploughshares Getaway Driver Dave Donnellan

    “Ali” – In honour of Iraqi war victim who lost his arms and his parents

    Irish anti-war singer Paul O’Toole has has recently launched a new music video called “Ali”
    You can view it here

    *Make a comment here

  6. Barry Krosch says:

    That’s not bad Ciaron………………

    I note you commenced at UQ in 1978. Same year as I did. I don’t recall you there, but then the only notes I were taking were during lectures. I did a double major in Government, Ken Wiltshire, Paul Reynolds etc etc.

    Did a Masters after that and have been playing with a thesis ever since..

    Hope you have a great 2009.

    I have been campaigning (Goodness gracious me) against a proposal to build a $20M Sir Joh Memorial Cultural Centre in Kingaroy. That proposal has been knocked on the head but now the High School Principal wants to do something similar at the school.

    All I will say is that idea pees me off even more. I don’t think a state school is a place for a memorial cultural centre to honour any politician. It’s my view this is nothing but a party political plan to enhance the state election prospects of John (Son of Joh) Bjelke-Petersen .

    Talk about duelling banjos……..

    Stay tuned……………………..

    2009 will be an interesting year. State elections in Queensland of course. Several commemorative events : 20 years since Fitzgerald handed down his report, etc etc.

    The first police watchhouse I recall was in George Street. Then over to South Brisbane. Then to Herschell and North Quay. Currently in Roma Street as you know. The South Brisbane one stood where there were originally a few shops – the one I recall was owned by Billy Phillips – a tattoo “artist” who was later the subject of a bombing attack. I think his wife lost an arm…..something like that. The arcade was called Manhattan Walk.

    Did you read Prof Mark Finnane’s article in Griffith Review re the Springbok Tour? Ties in nicely with your comments. I have all the SB files (Springbok Tour) if you ever want to have a look at them – over coffee…………………………… All very legal, I paid for them at State Archives, where they had been accidentally stored. All other files were shredded……trust me…..

    I am aiming for a two part feature article on Queensland Special Branch in the Police Union Journal – May/June.

    A few other articles in July – 20 Years since Fitzgerald Report was handed down. I was seconded from Special Branch to Fitzgerald when the Inquiry started. I headed up the Fitzgerald Inquiry Surveillance Team (FIST) on 1 January 1988. I actually collected the Fitzgerald Reports from the Government Printer in South Brisbane in July 1989 and escorted them to the assembled media at the Exhibition Grounds. I note in my diary I was armed with a Smith and Wesson .38 and a pump action shotgun.

    I just ask myself these days. What the hell were “they” expecting to happen between South Brisbane and the Exhibition Grounds? Why Krosch? Was he the best available…………………. or was he expendable?

    I noted somewhere on Ian’s site that questions were being asked about female members in Special Branch. I recall working with two or three. I have a very public Queensland Police Service record of every member who ever served in Special Branch if you ever want to see it. However, I think if you walked into the Museum at Police HQ and asked for it – they would give you a copy.

    Be good………………..

  7. Hobsbawm on Special Branch files says:

    The Guardian Weekly 06.03.09 page 14 about MI5 and Eric Hobsbawm…

    “Eric Hobsbawm is one of Britain’s most eminent historians…. he is also a lifelong Marxist.

    And that could explain why the security service MI5 has pointblank refused to let him see its file on him, which he had requested under legislation covering data protection…

    “I think the only reason can be that the security people don’t want to give away who snitched on me to the authorities,”

    says Hobsbawm….

    Professor Hobsbawm, who has lately expressed wry satisfaction with the difficulties being experienced by capitalism, says he wants to see his file because it
    “might help me to correct any errors in my autobiography.”

  8. Ciaron O'Reilly says:

    Hi Folks,

    I’m back in beautiful Budapest for 10 daze with JD and Vera. Doing some anti-war speaking and hanging out. Last night we had a good crew at the Central European University – pretty impressive place, set up by George Soros near the Cathedral. Went to a wine bar to hear Hungarian punk rock from the ’80’s legend Agi Bardos Deak. Have a few more speaking gigs at schools and anarchist infoshop.

    From here, I’ll head to the London Catholic Worker for a month which is rolling along offering hospitality to 8 refugees, running a coffee shop and a Sunday soup kitchen for the homeless while continuing along with sustained anti-war resistance.

    I’ll be back in Dublin for last drinx in the last week of April before heading to Australia to hook up with a faithbased crew resisting Operation Talisman Sabre in July which involves 20,000 U.S. troops and Australian troops doing combat exercises in central Queensland. Both militaries are presently deployed in southern Afghanistan. The U.S. commanders are now refering to the war zone as AfPak seeing Afghanistan and Pakistan as one piece. A U.S. drone attack killed 24 people in northern Pakistan this morning.

    I have been reading “Descent into Chaos” by Ahmed Rashid and encourage others to read this as a way of understanding this war that looks like escalating as this year unfolds or unravels. The author, and his proposals, are not radical but the research is excellent. This article from counterpunch is a brief intro to the mess we confront….

    Meanwhile in Dublin, good friend and activist Maura Harrington from the Rossport campaign has been imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail for 28 days so if you can drop her a solidarity postcard asap that would be great!

    Maura Harrington Jailed

    Maura Harrington
    Dochas Centre
    Mountjoy Prison
    North Circular Road
    Dublin 7

    Meanwhile back home an ecological disaster has struck the local beaches I holidayed as a kid

  9. Ciaron's anti-war homily says:

    Last weekend I spent with Fightin’ Fr. Dave Smith in Sydney.

    The boxing pastor mentors young marginalised men in the gym and ring in the inner city.

    On Saturday night, I ended up in a Leagues Club near Newcastle, with bucket and sponge doing the acts of mercy between rounds as the “cornerman”.

    Yup it was a new, weird and challenging experience for moi.

    Below you can find a youtube (4 minute) interview and the anti-war homily (20 minute) I gave at Dave’s Sunday service

    One of the congregation happened to be a member of military intellignce and bought two copies of Harry Browne’s fine book “Hammered by the Irish” about the Pitstop Ploughshares in Ireland. (get one quick while limited stocks last!)

    Yutube and anti-war homily…..

  10. YOUTUBE -“Giuseppe Conlon” performed by Joe Black at Giuseppe Conlon House, London

    -Joe Black is a musician based in his native Dublin.
    Joe wrote “Giuseppe Conlon” after playing at the opening of the house in Nov 2010.
    Joe perfoms it her on a visit to Giuseppe Conlon House in Feb. 2012

    – Giuseppe Conlon was one of the “Maguire 7” arrested, tortured and framed when he came to London from Belfast to find a lawyer for his son Gerry who had been arrested, tortured and framed as part of the “Guilford 4”. The Maguire family (from 14 year old Patrick to his 42 year old father Patrick) offered Giuseppe a bed for the night were raided, arrested, torured and framed. Giuseppe died in jail, his son Gerry served 16 years in prison on trumped up charges.

    “Giuseppe Conlon House is a London Catholic Worker project offering hospitality to destitute refugees and acts as a hub for nonviolent anti-war resistance.
    We are inspired by the simple “acts of mercy” – “visiting the imprisoned”, “offering a bed for the night” – of Giuseppe and the Maguire family that cost them so many years in prison.

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