Reclaiming the streets – Understanding the historical basis of Irish community street presence in Liverpool.


The above headline is from the Daily Post newspaper of the 18th march 1996. It describes the previous days attempts by the Far Right and members of the local Liverpool Orange/Loyalist community to prevent the liverpool Irish community from staging its first St Patrick’s Day parade in the city for nearly 30 years. The parade assembled at the Old Irish Centre on Mount Pleasant but never made its original route through the city due to the ‘protests’ and violence of Liverpool’s local bigots and racists. It was re-routed by Merseyside Police instead.

Needless to say, anger within the Irish community was immense. However, one of the positive reactions to that days events was the formation of an Irish flute band (James Larkin Republican Flute Band – disbanded 2008). Ironically, the protests by racists and bigots that day emboldened  the Irish community so that Irish community parades have been a regular occurrence every year in Liverpool since 1996.

Here’s an article that I’ve found that was published in the Celtic FC Fanzine Tiocfaidh Ar La from the year 2000 that perfectly sums up how fascists/loyalists aggression leads to a positive Irish community response, and of course, this has lessons for those of us today who face a renewed attempt by the combined effort of Fascists/Racists/Loyalists/Orange Order to drive the Irish community back off the streets……

Interview with the famous ‘Tiocfaidh Ar La’ – Celtic/Ireland Fanzine

Issue 27 Autumn 2000

 

It’s often said that the cities of Glasgow and Liverpool have much in common, for example both cities history of working class militancy and politics, and of course both cities links to Ireland due to massive immigration during the past two centuries. In particular, both cities experienced near identical histories when it came to the Irish. The Irish communities in both cities faced hostility and racism stemming mainly from Loyalist/Orange organisations and the wider public as a whole. However, when one looks at the state of play today one sees that the development of the Irish in Glasgow compared to Liverpool has significantly altered since the middle of this century and that the mirror image often highlighted no longer exists today.

Given this recent history it is all the more remarkable that in June 1996 a republican flute band was formed in the city of Liverpool for the first time. Liverpool has no real history of Irish fife & drum marching bands, instead pipe and brass bands associated with the Irish Forrester’s and catholic based organisations being the order of the day over the years. The following is an interview with Niall, a member of the James Larkin Republican Flute Band.

Q. How & why was the band formed?

In 1996, The Liverpool Irish Centre organised a St Patrick’s Day Parade. The first to be held in the city since the late 1960’s. The parade was subsequently confronted by up to 100 combined members of the Liverpool Orange Order/Loyalists/fascists on Hope Street, who’s intent was to attack the parade and prevent the parade from following its city centre route. The fascists did in fact succeed in halting the parade. The police on the day decided to re-route the parade over a much shorter distance around the outskirts of the city and failed to properly confront the fascists to ensure the parade followed its intended route. This success by Loyalist/fascists had a profound effect upon our community, and lead to a debate as to how best to respond to this threat. We were certainly determined that this would never happen again and that Loyalist/fascists would never be able to prevent the Irish community from using the streets again.

The formation of a flute band in Liverpool had long been an ambition of many with the community, and as a result of this debate a few individuals decided to form a band who’s primary aim at that time was to challenge the apparent loyalist/fascist supremacy of the streets of Liverpool. The question we would ask ourselves always was, why only march on St Patrick’s Day, why not other days? The band became a vehicle for many who shared these same sentiments and we had our first meeting in the Irish Centre in June 1996.

Q. What were the particular difficulties in starting a republican flute band in Liverpool, or in England for that matter?

The problems all those years ago still remain with us, in that while there is a very strong history of radical Irish republicanism/nationalism in Liverpool, for instance the Scotland Road area of the city constantly elected TP O’Connor, Irish Nationalist MP from the late 1800’s to the 1920’s and there was very strong support for the IRA during the Tan War with an active brigade in Liverpool openly parading, organising and carrying out operations against British forces in Liverpool until the end of the war; that level of activity waned over the years for a wide variety of reasons such as the destruction of wide areas of social housing in the city centre, causing Irish communities to be disbursed outside of the city, hence the band has no true republican base from which to organise from and this leads to difficulties in raising funds etc. If only we had a Celtic FC of our own down here! Ironically, the band has had little contact with Loyalist/fascists interfering with the band’s activities, which is something we always thought would be a problem, especially given that we openly parade around the city promoting Irish republicanism and socialism. Since, the band’s formation we have seen increasing radicalism within the Irish community in Liverpool and support for the band and republicanism in general has grown.

Q. What are the band’s political leanings?

The band quite openly supports the republican movement and has over the last 4 years travelled extensively throughout England, Scotland and Ireland supporting republican events/parades. We are also very much aware of the need to support other struggles and show solidarity. For instance, the band lead the last big Dockers Strikers March in Liverpool in 1997 were nearly 10,000 people marched through Liverpool. The band received a great reception from the organisers and also from trade unionists around the world who obviously made the connection between the struggle in Ireland for national self determination and the rights of workers every were to have a job and earn a decent wage. The band has continued to support such events and this year lead the Liverpool May Day Rally on the 1st May.

Q. Finally, how does the future look for the James Larkin RFB?

The band has continued to grow despite the odds against us. Our main parade for the year is the James Larkin Commemoration March & Rally which we started in 1998 and has grown in size ever since. This year’s parade will be held on Saturday 30th September and as always we welcome bands from Ireland, the Bands Alliance in Scotland and supporters from across England, Scotland and Wales to Liverpool in making it the largest republican rally to be held in England.

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One Response to Reclaiming the streets – Understanding the historical basis of Irish community street presence in Liverpool.

  1. colin melia says:

    16 years on and the headlines from the papers haven’t changed . But what has changed is us . As Republicans we will not allow our march to deviate from its route despite the loyalist numbers hell bent on trying to . We will have our voice heard in the community . We as Liverpool Irish have the right to parade through our city without fear and prejudice .

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