I have taken part in many May Day celebrations large and small, but the biggest was certainly in Dublin in 1994. The occasion was a huge parade to mark the centenary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, I believe it was actually held on Monday 2nd May 1994, notable as the first May Day bank holiday in Ireland.
It was more a celebratory affair than a demonstration with a spectacular street theatre pageant. It looked great, and in the evening there was a fantastic open air gig with a rare (for then) appearance of Moving Hearts, some songs from Christy Moore, and 1990s favourites The Saw Doctors. I ended up with friends and a guitar singing rebel songs in a pub.
There's some RTE footage of the event online; here's a few photos I took on the day:
Still it was also a dangerous and tragic time in the North, with the Irish Peace Process inching forward towards an IRA ceasefire later that year while loyalist killers seemed to be stepping up sectarian attacks. The following month saw the UVF kill six people watching a World Cup match at a bar in Loughinisland.
In Dublin we stayed for the weekend with some Irish friends we know from their time in London and who had moved back home. They had been involved with the Troops Out Movement in London, which I was a member of. I was also active in Justice for the Casement Park Accused which campaigned around an infamous miscarriage of justice in Belfast.
That weekend in Dublin we went to an an event in a hotel where long time Troops Out Movement member Nina Hutchinson was being honoured for her support for Irish prisoners in English jails (I will write more about Nina another time). The 'Gathering of the Clans' brought together families of prisoners.
After it finished some of us went on to an after party in the far-famed Ballymun Flats, late night drinking with ex-prisoners amongst others. The next day we went to the Widow Scallans pub in Pearse Street for a drink, followed by the May Day parade on the Monday.
Later that month, on the 21st May, the band The Irish Brigade were playing a benefit gig at Widow Scallans for prisoners in an event organised by Sinn Fein's Prisoner of War department. There were hundreds of people inside. Two UVF members approached the bar with a bomb, intending to place it inside but were blocked by one of the stewards, Martin Doherty. Doherty was shot dead but he managed to prevent them getting in and they abandoned the bomb and fled. Had the bomb exploded inside the pub, there would have been a massacre and no doubt many of the people we had met on that May Day weekend would have been killed or injured (I later heard that Doherty, who was from Ballymun, had been at that party).
|Martin 'Doco' Doherty memorial fund appeal, An Phoblact, 23 June 1994|
[I recently donated some photos and papers to the MayDay Rooms in London for their archive of Troops Out Movement and related materials. If you have anything you can share with them get in touch with them. This post is one in a series where I contextualise this material with my recollections]