Rising leader James Connolly was hate preacher: ex-IRA man

Former IRA agent Sean OCallaghan reexamines the idol of his youth - and enduring icon of dissident republicanism - in his new book.
Former IRA agent Sean OCallaghan reexamines the idol of his youth - and enduring icon of dissident republicanism - in his new book.

The Darkley massacre was far from an aberration of Irish republicanism but the natural outworking of teachings from Easter Rising leader James Connolly, a former senior IRA man has claimed.

Sean O’Callaghan, who was understood to be the most senior Irish state agent within the Provisional IRA during the Troubles, draws the conclusion in his latest book.

Connolly was a revolutionary socialist and writer who was executed for his central role in the 1916 Easter Rising. He served in the British army as a teen, and later displayed a “near pathological hatred” of the force, O’Callaghan says.

The INLA came closest to realising Connolly’s potent mix of nationalism and Marxism, he now concludes. In 1983 it opened fire on Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church near Darkley in south Armagh, killing three and injuring many more.

In his new book he writes: “Nothing better illustrates what became of the INLA, the organisation supposedly founded to pursue the ideals of James Connolly, than events at the Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in Darkley... there is no doubt in my mind that Connolly preached hate, suffering, sacrifice and short cuts to the promised land.”

Connolly was a shining star who guided O’Callaghan into the arms of the Provisional IRA as a young man.

“He was one of the 1916 leaders but also he was a nationalist and a socialist – that was what interested me,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

He added: “He was violent in the fight for Irish independence – he was the bridge for people like me between 1916 and the present – Connolly made it relevant.”

His biggest surprise, he now finds, is that Connolly was “an absolute classic zealot – an absolute malcontent”.

There are modern parallels with Islamist terrorists, he finds, the fanatics’ belief in achieving a global utopia through blood and violence.

“You could overcome the human condition and achieve this perfection, but just like Hitler – it ends up with the final solution – anything which interferes with your perception of purity is eliminated.”

Connolly’s uncompromising fanaticism was well illustrated, O’Callaghan found, by one confrontation with his wife.

“When she hears their son is going to the [Easter] Rising she says to him: ‘Anything but that James – anything but that’. He went anyway but survived.”

O’Callaghan notes that his musings are not academic; the writings of Connolly still dominate the websites and thinking of all dissident republicans today, he notes.

• ‘James Connolly: My search for the man, the myth and his legacy’ is out now in paperback from Arrow books at £8.99