Harrison was perhaps the most unrepentant Fenian
of them all. He was, as they say, baptized in the
Fenian faith at a very early age in his native Shammer,
Co. Mayo. He held to that faith unflinchingly until
he died sitting in his apartment in Brooklyn, New
York on Thursday. October 7th.
course the Fenian faith has as many variations as
any other. George Harrisons was the fenianism
of Liam Ryan and James Connolly, two of his heroes.
It was also the fenianism of Republican Sinn Fein,
whose Patron he was proud to be.
vision was of a 32-county socialist Ireland. He
believed firmly that nothing but physical force
would ever get the Brits out. And George judged
every new development in Ireland by that very basic
criterion would it help get the Brits out?
his internationalism was integral to his republicanism.
He held that if you wanted to free Ireland, you
had to support the struggles of oppressed people
everywhere in the world. George was fond of saying
that the US had no more right in Puerto Rico than
the Brits did in Ireland
is best known for providing the IRA with arms and
equipment for over 25 years. George purchased the
weapons, the most vital and dangerous part of the
job. Others raised the money, stored the arms and
ammunition and arranged to ship them to Ireland.
Owen MacNamee, who George referred to as the Emissary,
was their link with the IRA.
Jack Holland, in his book The American Connection,
says that there were never more than a dozen people
involved with the network. George estimated very
conservatively that they supplied the IRA with 2,000-2,500
weapons and more than a million rounds of ammunition.
trial of the IRA 5 - George, Tom Falvey,
Michael Flannery, Paddy Mullens and Tommy Gormley
has become legend. The prosecutor opened
the case by charging that George had been running
guns to the IRA for the last six months. It is reported
that at the defense table George was heard to mutter
It was 25 years if it was a day.
Durkan, his attorney, opened the case for the defense,
saying My client is charged with conspiring
to ship arms to Ireland over a short period of months
December of 80 to June of 81.
Mr. Harrison feels somewhat insulted, because, as
the government well knows, he has aided, abetted,
and shipped arms to the rebels in Northern Ireland
for a quarter of a century. And makes no bones about
of the political differences between George and
Michael Flannery, who he admired greatly, were revealed
in their choice of character witnesses. Flannery,
who was a daily communicant, chose a bishop. George
brought Bernadette McAliskey and David Ndaba, secretary
to the ANC Mission to the UN.
prosecutor cross-examined the bishop. He couldnt
get Bernadette off the stand fast enough.
defendants were all acquitted. But Georges
gun running career was over. In later years he would
say repeatedly that he only regretted that he hadnt
send enough to get the Brits our of Ireland. For
that, he said, he would apologize to the young people
After the trial George, who was probably the most
thoroughgoing anti-imperialist I ever met, had the
time to actively support the national liberation
movements he had believed in for years. Bernadette
McAliskey describes spending a Saturday afternoon
with George visiting every picket line in New York.
They went from the Long Green Line picket
at the British consulate to demonstrations against
apartheid and to support the Sandinistas in Nicaragua
and political prisoners in Puerto Rico, Argentina
every stop George was known and greeted as a respected
comrade and friend. At each demonstration he picked
up leaflets announcing future protests and handed
them out on the next. George had become the link
between very national liberation movement in New
cant appreciate George Harrison without his
passionate hatred of racism. He worked day in and
day out to elect David Dinkins as the first African-American
Mayor of New York City. Even after Dinkins lost
his race for a second term, George called him the
peoples Mayor. George would no more
recognize Rudy Giuliani as the Mayor of his city
that he would recognize British rule in Ireland.
remember how thrilled George was when we organized
an Irish event that raised $10,000 to rebuild the
burned Black churches in the South. He called me
the next morning to say We gave racism and
imperialism a good kick in the ass.
his long life, George never budged an inch off his
core principals. That didnt mean he couldnt
learn and progress.
met George in 1980 at a weekly picket line at British
Airways on Fifth Avenue, supporting the first hunger
strike. Every week he would show up with the tricolor
and the American flag. Although no one said anything
about it, George somehow realized that many of us
who had been through the anti-Vietnam war movement
saw the American flag as the banner of US imperialism.
It never appeared again.
later, when George was in his 70s, someone
from the Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization (ILGO)
told me that he was flabbergasted to meet him working
for an openly Gay candidate for Congress. George
felt he was just supporting a very progressive candidate
and didnt particularly care about his sexual
into his eighties, George asked a friend what transgendered
people were. She explained, and he said it sounded
like they had a hard time of it.
side of George was his amazing generosity. Even
when he was retired and living on a pension and
Social Security, no one could stop George from giving
his money away.
remember him saying, when the New York H-Block/Armagh
Committee was considering supporting INLA prisoners,
that he had been sending money to families of republican
prisoners for years. I suspect that there are many
families throughout Ireland who remember getting
a totally unexpected check in the mail one day from
George Harrison of Brooklyn, New York.
even after the contributions for prisoners, and
for Republican Sinn Fein, there were the innumerable
good causes that George felt bound to support. I
wasnt surprised when Priscilla McLean, the
nurse who cared for cared for him throughout his
last years, told me that he was living from check
am very conscious of everything I have left out.
Things like his passionate devotion to the republican
veterans of the Spanish Civil War, his attachment
to New York City, his occasional stubbornness and
obstinacy and his great affection for his family
and many friends. Other people who knew George would
no doubt include much more.
at the end, we can say with Shakespeare that Take
him all and all, we shall not look upon his like
course George might disagree. He would probably
have said that he did he did the best he could,
and now it is up to us to do the rest.