An Appreciation of Seamus Costello
by Fionnbarra O'Dochartaigh

(originally published in Republican News 12 November 1977)

"Our foes are strong and wise and wary: but, strong and wise and wary as they are, they cannot undo the miracles of God who ripens in the hearts of young men the seeds sown by the young men of former generation. And the seeds sown by the young men of '65 and '67 are coming to their miraculous ripening to-day. Rulers and defenders of Realms had need to be wary if they would guard against such processes. Life springs from death; and from the graves of patriot men and women spring living nations. The defenders of this Realm have worked well in secret and in the open. They think that they have pacified Ireland.

They think that they have purchased half of us and intimidated the other half. They think that they have foreseen everything, think that they have provided against everything: but the fools, the fools, the fools! - they have left us with our Fenian dead, and while Ireland holds these graves, Ireland unfree shall never be at peace"

-- P.H. Pearse at the grave of O'Donovan Rossa, August 1915

On October 8th, 1977 another Fenian was laid to rest, his tricolour and Starry Plough draped coffin being carried by comrades and friends to St. Peter's Cemetery, Little Bray, County Wicklow, where full military honours were observed in the age-old republican tradition. Like that of O'Donovan Rossa he was cut down in the prime of his life and had many more years of service to offer, before an imperialist agent gunned him down on a Dublin street shortly before noon some three days earlier.

When one reads through history and comes across the names of former revolutionaries, the distance of time makes it easy to speak or write about their times or contribution. However, when the person of whom you speak is not only a contemporary but a revolutionary comrade and friend of some sixteen years standing, the task of writing or speaking about their contribution, is an emotionally daunting experience. For this reason, it is now only after seven weeks since the assassination of Seamus Costello, and after days of thought and research, this article by way of a personal farewell may find itself in print, as it is the end product of several attempts to pen a worthy tribute.

October 5th 1968 witnessed the first ever civil rights march in Derry, and the brutal batoning of peaceful demonstrators at Duke Street. It was an event often referred to by Seamus Costello, both on the platform and in his writings. The last time he spoke publicly in Derry was on February 6th following a demonstration from the Creggan shops to the Bloody Sunday Monument in Rossville Street which was organised by the Irish Front to highlight the plight of political prisoners at home and in British jails. Sharing the platform with Anthony O'Malley Daly, Sinn Fein, Frank McManus, former Westminster MP and other prominent anti-imperialists, Seamus again referred to the events of Duke Street; "This is one of the most historic and important gatherings because for the first time many groups have got together since 1969."

He went on to call for the withdrawal of British troops and the British presence. He said that the Irish revolutionary groups must unite so that they could decide what establishment could replace the British. The meeting that day he described thusŠ.."Today is as historic as October 5th 1968 or Bloody Sunday. For the first time in a number of years people are coming together. The Irish Front is being watched as an example of what can be done, because it has got over many difficulties that have divided people for so long and it has showed a large degree of political maturity on behalf of those it represents." Costello was to end his life at the hands of an imperialist agent, at the age of thirty-eight.

His close connections with Derry City and County Derry date back to the 1956-62 Resistance Campaign when at the age of 17 he commanded an active service unit in South Derry, joining Sinn Fein two years earlier and the republican army shortly afterwards. His ASU's most publicised actions were the destruction of bridges and the successful burning of Magherafelt Courthouse. It was during the campaign that I first met him, and although only five years older, he was already a veteran of armed struggle. Members of the ASU found him to be strict, radiating with confidence and his mild manner and sense of humour were positive aids in providing leadership. During a period of lying low in safe billets, a grenade exploded and set of the full magazine of a Thompson sub-machine gun, luckily killing no one, but knocking Seamus unconscious, and left him with back injuries. He also lost half a finger, and as a result left the action to return to a hospital in Dublin for treatment. On his release he was immediately arrested and lodged in Mountjoy as a guest of the state for six months. Once again on his release he was re-arrested and interned in the Curragh Concentration Camp where he joined the escape committee which sprang Ruairi O'Bradaigh and Daithi O'Connaill among others. In later years he was to refer to his Curragh experience as "my university days".

Following the end of the resistance campaign in February 1962, he was involved in the critical analysis of the previous six years, and believed, like many others, that the reason for failure was the lack of deep involvement with the ordinary people of Ireland in their day to day struggles. In the same year he took up employment with Walden Motors in Dublin as a car salesmen, and remained there for some years before he became totally committed to political life. He was a member of Wicklow County Council, Bray Urban District Council, County Wicklow Committee of Agriculture and a transport union official, and an office bearer in Bray Trades Council, which Gave some idea of his involvement to class politics following the mid 1960s. On these bodies he was to remain active up until the time of his death, holding office for as long as three and four terms which when we consider his national involvement in addition to this high degree of local involvement, gives us some idea of the energy and degree of commitment possessed by the man.

Within the republican movement he held many important positions, as Vice President of Sinn Fein, as well as holding top ranks within the Army Council of Oglaigh na h-Eireann. At the Ard Fheis of 1970 Seamus remained with the Officials but the four years following were to be stormy ones for himself and others who supported his stand on the national question. These struggles were to result in the formation of the Irish Republican Socialist Party in 1974 and a bitter feud. In 1972 many of Costello's closest comrades broke from the Officials following their 'truce' with the forces of occupation, and believed that there was no chance of changing the leadership of the Officials. Some time before his death he was to agree with them, saying that he too should have broke with them at that time, instead of remaining to fight a rearguard action.

Seamus often quoted Connolly, but more importantly followed the policies of Ireland's greatest republican socialist. On more than one occasion he remarked, "Connolly told us partition would be a hey-day of reaction", and went on further to quote, "I can not envisage a subject nation with a free working class, nor, can I envisage a subject working class in a free nation." He argued repeatedly that the national and social questions were not two separate issues, but that both were inter-related, and that what must be aimed for was a republic in which the means of production, distribution and exchange were in the control of the working class people of Ireland. To these ideals he was to work with terrific energy until that fateful day, October 5th 1977, when the Irish revolutionary forces were to loose one of its greatest sons. My last meeting with Seamus was on St. Patrick's Day this year in the Bogside which had been marked as prisoners day and after a very successful demonstration we gathered, not to discuss political theory, but to enjoy the company of other comrades and sing revolutionary songs. On that occasion he gave the assembled company a rendering of Charlie Kerins, who was hanged by the Free State during the 1940s which was his favourite ballad. Little did we know then that soon his own name would join that of Kerins on the Republican Roll of Honour. Farewell Comrade, Farewell.

"My father told his court martial that the British had no right to be in Ireland. Seamus Costello felt the same way. He was the greatest follower of my father's teachings in this generation and I hope that his example shall be followed and that his vision for Ireland will be realised in this generation."

-- Nora Connolly O'Brien, at the graveside of Seamus Costello, October 8th 1977