GEORGE HARRISON 1915 – 2004
George Harrison was born May 2, 1915, in Shammer, Kilkelly, County Mayo, in an Ireland oppressed and impoverished by British occupation. A year after his birth the Easter Rising, which was crushed by British troops, took place. Its executed leaders James Connolly and Padraic Pearse would become Harrison’s heroes.
As a young man Harrison worked as a wheelwright and a stonecutter. At age 15, he enlisted in the East Mayo Battalion of the Irish Republican Army.
The Depression forced Harrison to leave Ireland. He first went to England, where, like many Irish emigrants, he picked crops and labored on building sites. In 1938 he came to New York, working first as a bartender and then on the docks. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II and later became a security guard for Brinks Armor. Working at Brinks for 30 years, he fought for justice as a shop steward and union organizer.
Over the years, George developed a relationship with the legendary transport workers’ leader Michael Quill who would on occasion pass money to George to assist in George’s life long commitment to supply the resistance in Ireland with the means to resist. Quill knew how the money might be spent and gladly gave it anyway.
George supported freedom movements worldwide. Of George it was said, “Never met a revolution he didn’t like.” and to paraphrase the old ballad, “God grant you glory, old George, and open heavens to all your men, the cause that called you may call tomorrow in another cause for the Green again.”
To George the fight for Irish freedom was one with the world struggle against imperialism and racism. He stood vigil every week outside the British Consulate in New York to support the Irish people. And he was at every march against war and racism or in solidarity with the people of South Africa, Palestine and Latin America.
In 1981 the Reagan regime prosecuted George, Tom Falvey, Michael Flannery, Paddy Mullens and Tommy Gormley for arming Irish freedom fighters. The “IRA Five” refused to deny the charges but waged a political defense. Witnesses on George’s behalf included Irish leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Sam Gulabe, United Nations representative of the African National Congress. (Dr. Gulabe, then known as David Ndaba, is today a colonel in the South African army and physician to Nelson Mandela.) The five were acquitted.
George remained an Irish republican because he was an anti-imperialist and a socialist. Consequently he was the Patron of Republican Sinn Féin and an implacable foe of the Good Friday Agreement.
Unfortunately, the fruits of George’s and his friends’ labor is now being bartered as the price of admission for revisionist former Republicans to participate in British direct rule of the six occupied counties in the north of Ireland. Adams and his purloined posse are swapping semtex for summer homes, guns for governmental positions, and they are cementing over arms dumps to secure their status as second class citizens in their Loyalist controlled state – not what George and his compatriots had in mind when they set about their clandestine weapons quest.
But he never stopped thinking of the struggle. On the day he died, Harrison penned a verse for the newspaper Saiorse: “May the spirit of those who suffered in the torture chambers of the Empire of Hell animate us with enough strength to free the land of our heart’s desire. In dedication to all my comrades–the living and the dead.”
George was in his ninetieth year and his passing leaves a huge gap in the ranks of Irish American supporters of the Republican Movement in Ireland.