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A Little Known Republican Military Group: Saor Eire


Liam O Ruairc • 13 January 2005

If one looks at the list of proscribed Republican organizations North and South of the border, all of them (IRA, INLA, IPLO, Fianna Eireann) are well known with the exception of one: Saor Eire. Little is known by the general public about that organization, not to be confused with either the Saor Eire political party of the early 1930s or the Saor Uladh group of the 1950s.

Saor Eire was formed around 1967 by members of the IRA, such as Frank Keane (the former head of the Dublin Brigade of the IRA) who resigned because of the organisation's lack of military activity; in conjunction with people associated with the Irish Workers Group (a small Trotskyist organization which published a paper called The Irish Militant) like Gerry Lawless. Saor Eire had between forty and sixty members, the majority based in Dublin and Cork, as well as a couple round Derry. What distinguished this group from other Republican paramilitary organisations was that its politics were explicitly orientated towards the international Trotskyist movement. One of its leaders, Peter Graham, was a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. Saor Eire had privileged relations with the British-based International Marxist Group and its journal The Red Mole. Its sole political statement was the Saor Eire Manifesto published in May 1971(printed by the Red Mole, which at the time was also printing the London Provo journal edited by Brendan Magill). For a short time, Saor Eire generated some enthusiasm amongst some sections of the international left, like Tariq Ali or Bob Purdie for example, who believed the organisation could create the fusion between Republicanism and Marxism. In 1972, Ernest Mandel, the leader of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International met leading members of Saor Eire during a visit to Dublin. In an interview with the Red Mole journal in 1971, a spokesperson of Saor Eire explained that the organisation drew its inspiration from both the Republican tradition and international revolutionary movements (like the Tupamaros urban guerilla group in Uruguay). Saor Eire styled itself as an urban guerilla group, as it believed that the decisive struggle was taking place in cities amongst the working class.

The group's military activities were supposed to act as a political catalyst, however they were limited almost exclusively to bank robberies. (However, when the situation erupted in the North in 1969, before the IRA split, Saor Eire supplied some weapons to the Nationalists in the North, gave military training to a number of them, and provided funds expropriated in bank raids.) During one such bank 'expropriation' in June 1970, a Garda was killed by the group. Saor Eire's concentration on bank robberies meant that gangsters on the fringes of the Republican movement were soon playing a leading role in the organization at the expense of the more politically orientated members. This had lethal consequences. On 25 October 1971, the head of the Dublin Brigade of Saor Eire, Peter Graham (also a member of the Fourth International with contacts in the London criminal underworld) was assassinated in Dublin in mysterious circumstances. At the time, Republicans and the United Secretariat of the Fourth International blamed the Garda Special Branch or British intelligence for his assassination. The truth was that Graham had been assassinated by two of his own comrades from Cork (including Larry White, himself later killed by the Official IRA in Cork in 1975) in a dispute over money. At his funeral, prominent leftists of the time such as Tariq Ali, Bob Purdie and Gerry Lawless were present as well as four representatives of the Provisional IRA. One of them praised Graham's role in supplying weapons to the defenceless nationalists in the North, even if the organization had no input in the armed struggle there. Peter Graham's name was added to the Fourth International's 'Role of Honor' and his comrades in Ireland even set up a 'Peter Graham Memorial Library'.

The death of Peter Graham was a fatal blow to Saor Eire. The organization never recovered from it as soon after, a lot of members died in tragic circumstances. Liam Dalton commited suicide by jumping of a train. Liam Walsh, the former commanding officer of the south Dublin unit of the IRA during the 1950s, was killed in a premature explosion, while trying to plant a bomb. Mairin Keegan died from cancer in January 1972. She was one of the organisation's leading members, and had participated in the May 1968 events in Paris. At her funeral, despite the presence of over 200 police officers, Saor Eire activists fired three volleys of shots over her coffin draped with the flag of the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International; and the Irish Trotskyist DR O Connor Lysaght read the oration. This accelerated the decline and degeneration of the organization. On 18 May 1973, the majority of its prisoners issued a statement from Portlaoise saying they were resigning from the organisation because it had ceased to play a progressive role. While Saor Eire had been formed to struggle against imperialism, they noted that

"during the last two years, owing to political weaknesses ...undesirable elements have been able to operate around its fringes and carry out actions ... which had nothing in common with the stated objectives of that organisation."

They also denounced the fact that some members had been used to carry out bully-boys tactics and intimidation of other Republicans. The statement was signed by eight prisoners. (one of them was Joe Dillon, who was later to play a leading role in the 32 County Sovereignty Movement). Trotskyists agreed with their assessment:

"Saor Eire was not a homogenous organisation. It had no centralised military command, let alone a common political leadership. It was a loose alliance of diverse groups which on occasion co-operated together in joint actions and used the umbrella name Saor Eire. Needless to say, the criminal element used the name as a cover for their own exploits." ('Militants Leave Saor Eire', The Plough, June 1973, Volume 2 Number 2)

The remnants of the organization officially disbanded Saor Eire in 1975.


Saor Eire is not be confused with two similar armed left wing groups once active in Ireland. The first is the 'Irish Anarchist Black Cross', a group influenced by the Angry Brigade, which carried out a series of armed raids and attacks against the US and Spanish Embassy in Dublin in the mid-1970s. In September 1975, during a robbery of a Bank of Ireland in Killester, a Garda was killed. (a raid reminiscent of Saor Eire actions). In June 1976, Noel and Marie Murray were convicted of the capital murder of Garda Michael Reynolds, and sentenced to be hanged. Following world wide protests, the capital conviction was, however, overturned by the Supreme Court and the sentence commuted to life imprisonment. They had to wait 1992 to be granted parole after spending seventeen years in prison. While imprisoned, they failed in an appeal to the Supreme Court to be allowed to start a family while in prison. The other group is Revolutionary Struggle. This small group, led by a mysterious man called 'Nick The Greek', was heavily influenced by Italian armed groups like Prima Linea or the Red Brigades (see for example the special issue of their journal The Ripening of Time). To emulate their Italian comrades, in 1981 they shot a business lecturer in the leg during a class a Trinity College Dublin. This was not aimed to be a traditional Irish 'kneecapping', but rather a local version of the Italian 'gambizatzione' ('legisation'), a common practice of Italian groups… The group was later associated with Jimmy Brown, after he had left the IRSP. Nothing has been heard of it since the late 1980s.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
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Index: Current Articles

14 January 2005

Other Articles From This Issue:

Criminalising Republicanism
Anthony McIntyre

Brian Mór

Leading Human Rights Solicitor "Shut Down" by Law Society
Sean Mc Aughey

A Little Known Republican Military Group: Saor Eire
Liam O Ruairc

Too Bad The North's Future Depends On Tony Blair's Bravery
Paul A. Fitzsimmons

Free Tali Fahima - an anti occupation activist in the Israeli prisons
Iris Bar

Marie Wright
Anthony McIntyre

10 January 2005

SF - Securocrat Fantasists
Anthony McIntyre

Mick Hall

Merge Ahead?
Dr John Coulter

DPP Cover-up RUC/PSNI Malpractice Yet Again
32 CSM Press Release

RSF Are The Sole Inheritors of the Sinn Fein Mantle
Des Dalton, RSF

Óglaigh na hÉireann New Year Statement 2005

The Caged Men
Ruairi O'Driscoll

Changing Fortunes
Anthony McIntyre



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