From Church & State: Spring 2006

"I Slept With James Connolly"

A contribution to the Patrick Pearse discussion

I found Pearse: A Comment (Church & State, Winter 2006) to be very well researched, written, and informed with political integrity

But if Patrick Pearse did turn out to be homosexual, how would it damage his status as one of the courageous leaders of the 1916 Uprising that caused the first crack in the British Empire? His enemy, the British armed forces, was and is a well known refuge for homosexuals and that army is still rampaging throughout the Third World.

But of course I am not convinced that Patrick Pearse was homosexual, unconsciously or otherwise. In the modern world Ruth Dudley Edwards' comment smacks of homophobia. Why bother to mention his sexuality if she's not intent on discrediting him? But this doesn't seem to be enough for her, she has to cast the second stone by hinting at him being a pederast. So you might be able to convince today's Ireland that Patrick Pearse was a homosexual but the most likely reaction of people could be a disinterested shrug of the shoulders. But the second charge of paedophilia might do damage in what has become the ultimate sin in the present day climate of paranoia reigning in Ireland and England. For example, there are fathers today who have stopped bathing their young children in case they are accused of this sexual crime.

Patrick Pearse's era of Irish society was very different one from what exists today. I am old enough to have lived through the tail-end of the old era. As a child in the 1930s I remember my father being sent by the Labour Exchange in Corporation Street, Belfast to work in the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in England. He had no choice. His meagre benefit would cease if he didn't go there and do his six months. When he came home in 1937 he complained about having to share a bed with a workmate in a cheap boarding house. His complaint wasn't about the other occupant of the bed being a man but that he snored and ranted in his sleep. This wasn't because my father was living in an age of innocence but because there were less inhibitions then concerning same-sex necessities. This attitude survived right into the 1950s. I myself shared a bed with a fellow Belfastman, a pal of mine, on a couple of occasions when we couldn't get separate beds in early 1950s London. Years later he brought the subject up in a joking manner. I asked him if he would do the same again and his answer was: "I wouldn't think so." Well, neither would I.

Laurel and Hardy, the much-loved comedians who made most of their screen comedies in the 1930s shared a bed in many of their films without suspicion. Could that happen today? The last comedians to do so without homophobic reaction were the English comedians, Morecambe and Wise.

In early 1950s Belfast there was an elderly Northern survivor of the 1916 Uprising. He had been in the Citizen Army. Sometimes at left-wing socials he took a drink too many and used to boast that he slept with James Connolly. It could have been a boast to heighten his importance, but it is possible he did share a bed when he accompanied James Connolly on his speaking tours while acting as his bodyguard. People during that social evening didn't automatically think of homosexuality. They felt this man was bringing them closer to James Connolly. What will Ruth Dudley Edwards make of that?

The British Wolfenden Report on Homosexuality came out in September 1957. After much discussion in the British media and the British Parliament, it led to the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. That radicalised same-sex relationships. Various militant gay movements then made their appearance. Some of whom began re-writing the sexual history of past leaders, and adopted figures like Alexander the Great who, being a product of the sexually free and easy Ancient Greek Civilisation, became a 1960s British gay icon . The human personal history of Alexander the Great is emotionally untranslatable as are the emotions in Ancient Greek drama. Robert Graves understood this when writing his two volumes on the Greek myths and fictionalised most of them up to the modern standards of his day.

Maybe it is understandable to some degree that the British homosexuals, having suffered persecution from the police and blackmailers, had somehow to build up their confidence by telling the world that homosexuality was no bar in achieving success in all fields. Ruth Dudley Edwards on the other hand seems to be trying to reverse this new found confidence in gay people.

Other militant gay movements went overboard in deciding that we were all potentially homosexual. This caused a lot of damage to the heterosexual psyche of the more vulnerable.

Donall MacAmhlaigh, writer of the memoir An Irish Navvy, subtitled The Diary of an Exile, translated from the Irish and published in 1964, said a few years later, during an interview with an Irish paper, that going through Camden Town in London one day, he spied a piece of graffiti stating that "Paddy Moran is a queer". After that he decided it was the end of something and that something was for the worst.

In re-reading his memoir some forty years later I can now better understand what he meant. Whereas the Irish males in Britain had had a trust of one another, the Wolfenden Report on Homosexuality and the subsequent parliamentary Act was changing attitudes. The rise of militant gay groups was now affecting the Irish in Britain. The uninhibited friendliness of the exile, especially those from the rural areas, was now being read the wrong way in the atmosphere of big-city-Britain.

Personally I used to think the English were a bit paranoid in their efforts to read your sexuality but I began to notice that many of the Irish around me were now doing the same thing but less subtly.

Belfast must have had at one time this Irish lack of inhibition about same-sex necessities. I remember the communal lavatory incorporated into the covered-in-small-village-like Smithfield Market in Central Belfast during the late 1940s and early 1950s. This was only a few minutes from the main drag of Royal Avenue with its Grand Central Hotel. There men sat side by side on the WCs with many of them chatting to one another. This communal lavatory had probably been there since Smithfield had been built a century previously. Though I didn't take part in this camaraderie I did notice at a glance that the occupants were mostly elderly men from the rural areas in town for the day. A few months later the lavatory was boarded up.

Of course everyone was aware that homosexuality existed. In the macho atmosphere of the Belfast shipyard homosexuals existed openly without being persecuted. People generally were aware of what sex they were and didn't need psychiatrists putting doubts into the heads of the industrial working-class, whom they didn't understand anyway. People having nervous break-downs through overwork and stress were mostly questioned on their sexual preferences, as if they had inner conflicts about the matter, instead of trying to find out about their work practices, their housing, family and financial situation.

Yes, youthful beauty was acknowledged then and was admired at the tail-end of this non-inhibited period. I remember time clerks remarking on a 14 year old boy who had just started work in the shipyard. They admired his rosy cheeks and beautiful curly hair and his fine leanness. The boy didn't run out of the office in fear. He felt proud and thanked the men who were more probably remembering the wonders of their own early youth with a little sadness.

I remember a number of asexual men in my time. Our local road sweeper in Carryduff, County Down was such a man. He never got married but lived alone in his labourer's cottage with his books. No one ever thought to ask him why he didn't get married. Ireland of that period accepted that some men and women chose to live alone without sexual relationships. These people lived just as happy a life as anyone else. A few elderly bachelor farmers also lived in our area without suspicious asides.

Sean O'Callaghan, published a book in 2000 called The Informer.

In it he claims to have saved the lives of Prince Charles and Princess Diana by not placing a bomb in a London theatre they were to visit. A very dubious claim. It is doubtful if the Provos were ever interested in either of them. Then again, as an agent provocateur, he could have planted a bomb to kill them and thus up the ante for a gross British reaction. So it was good thing that he came in from the cold when he did. His book, though it made interesting reading, didn't reverse the gains made by the Catholic population in the Six Counties nor did it stop the political development of Sinn Fein or see the defeat of the Provos.

He is a spent force now and having spilled his guts to British military intelligence has nothing more to give. But in the meantime he is helping Ruth Dudley Edwards to place a bomb under the revolutionaries who made the history of Ireland. It is nothing but a damp squib. But he can still make a living lecturing on security matters—mere fantasies that can reach no further than frightening the English about supposed Irish revolutionary plans. Ruth Dudley Edwards also has her fantasies and makes a living by promising the English peace when she persuades Ireland back to the fold. It's a sort of good cop/bad cop act for English ears. This must be self-humiliation at it worst and it cannot draw respect from the English Establishment.

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