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Nov 1

John Maclean and Ireland


When I was ill this summer I read many books.

One of the best I read was Gerry Cairns's biography of John Maclean, "the Red and the Green."

In the book Gerry argues that Maclean was a Green Clydesider -a man with a particular affinity for the Irish people and their struggles.

If so, when did this relationship start?

Well Maclean went to Belfast in 1907, the guest of the city's Socialist Society. He stayed with Jim Larkin. It was a time of industrial unrest and Maclean noted that, much to the consternation of the state and employers, Larkin was uniting Protestant and Catholic workers.

Later Maclean witnessed the Gordon Highlanders fire on crowds on the Falls Road. It caused Maclean to describe the British, not for the last time, as murderers in Ireland.

What else did he do?

Well Nan Milton, Maclean's daughter, wrote that Maclean sent co-operative food parcels to Dublin during the Lock Out.

He supported the Easter Rising -unlike many on the British left.

And in 1918, whilst campaigning in the Gorbals, he raised the issue of 2 Sinn Fein prisoners Barney Frieland and Joe Robinson, who he'd met whilst incarcerated in Peterhead. Robinson in particular was a Commandant of "A" Company -the IRA in Scotland.

What else did he do?

Well in May 1919 he shared a platform with Constance Markievicz at a May Day event on Glasgow Green.

In June 1919 he was invited to a Connolly Commemorative event in Dublin. There Maclean argued for a Connolly Memorial Workers College.

And in 1920 Maclean continued to do what Gerry calls "sterling solidarity work" calling "Hands Off Ireland" meetings and distributing a pamphlet "The Irish Tragedy: Scotland's Disgrace."

The Disgrace was of course that Scottish troops were being sent to Ireland by the British Government to suppress fellow Celts -the Irish people.

Finally in 1920-21 Maclean was teaching at the Scottish Labour College. One of his students was Andrew Fagan, the IRA's quartermaster in Scotland.

Fagan learnt about Marxist economics. Maclean learnt even more about the revolution in Ireland.

So Gerry is right. Maclean was indeed a Green as well as a Red Clydesider. The two should go together.

And I will finish with the line Maclean used to finish many of his letters and articles with.

"Up Ireland! Up Scotland! Up the social revolution!"

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