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Seamus Costello: The Lost Leader

The author is a QUB Pol Sci Honours graduate and has written extensively on imperialism, national liberation struggles and class issues.


Each October, Republican Socialists, Trades Unionists, relatives and friends remember the late Seamus Costello in Bray, County Wicklow. Many of Seamus Costello's old comrades, co-founders and younger members of the Irish Republican Socialist Movement, gather in Bray annually to remember with pride their slain comrade.

Seamus Costello was the co-founder of the Irish Republican Socialist Party and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). He was the INLA's first Chief of Staff. Tragically, he was murdered in the prime of his political life by an Official IRA gunman on the 5th of October 1977, in the North Strand, Dublin. Seamus Costello left behind a grieving wife, Maeliosa and his four children, Caoilfionn, Fionan, Aoibhin, and Ronan were traumatically deprived of a loving father. The Irish Republican Socialist Movement was devastatingly robbed of its first leader and co-founder.

Much has been written about Seamus Costello, his political dynamism, and personal charisma. As a guerrilla fighter during the IRA's 'Border Campaign' of the 1950's known officially as Operation Harvest, Seamus Costello earned the nickname 'The Boy General'. He operated in the South Derry area, was wounded, and subsequently interned. His highly-respected antecedents, were partly responsible for South Derry eventually becoming a strong IRSP area, over a decade later, when the Official IRA's most revolutionary activists rejected Goulding's reformist politics to join the Republican Socialist Movement.

Seamus Costello 'Guerrilla Tactics In Parliament

Irish Republican Socialist Party

Seamus Costello was first and foremost a Republican Socialist, a revolutionary who broke with and rejected the reformist political ideology of the Official Republican Movement. Born into an agricultural family, he was well placed to advocate on behalf of small farmers and he was as well versed on issues affecting the rural working-class, as he was on urban proletarian issues. Prior to Seamus Costello's murder in 1977, he was appointed, or elected to:

  • Wicklow County Council
  • County Wicklow Committee of Agriculture
  • General Council of Committees of Agriculture
  • Eastern Regional Development Organisation
  • National Museum Development Committee
  • Bray Urban District Council
  • Bray Branch of the ITGWU
  • President Bray and District Trade Unions Council
  • Cualann Historical Society
  • Chairperson of the IRSP
  • Chief of Staff of the INLA

The list of positions is a testimony to Seamus Costello's tireless activism and his personal popularity with Irish working-class people. It has been said that an indefatigable Seamus Costello would have traversed the length of Ireland on a regular basis, on IRSP party work and on issues concerning the Irish working-class.

Seamus Costello Interview 1975

Seamus Costello in His Own Words

On a socialist Ireland:

"We need to create a society wherever our kids will have peace and prosperity, a society wherever they'll management the wealth of this country." (Crossbarry, Cork, in March 1976)

On Capitalism:

"Against robber-rights, I will fight to their destruction or my very own." (Seamus Costello)

On Imperialism and Partition:

"Our perspective, on the opposite hand, is that British presence is that the basic reason behind the divisions between the Protestant and Catholic social class within the North." (Seamus Costello)

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On the Official Republican Movement's Reformist Direction:

"They unheeded the presence of fifteen,000 troops on the streets. They unheeded the torture and terror perpetrated by the British Army on the Nationalist population and that they acted as if there was no amendment within the state of affairs since 1969." (Seamus Costello)

On the Provisionals:

"The principal distinction we'd have with them as I see it, is that the Provisionals aren't an organization dedicated to the institution of a Socialist Republic....We aren't in business to criticize the Provisionals. we've our own policy to pursue and that we have our own objectives. To the extent that their probationary policy runs parallel to ours, we have a tendency to, and are ready to co-operate with them." (Seamus Costello)

On Loyalists and problems affecting Northern working-class Protestants:

"We ought to actually co-operate with anybody on any facet of our policy. however we predict that any approach to the Protestant social class within the North, should air the idea of a scrupulous political approach....We feel that the approach to the Loyalists should be an honest one. We should confirm to them what all aspects of our policy are." (Seamus Costello)

On the IRSP and also the role of the INLA:

"Any revolutionary movement that can't defend its own membership, and can't demonstrate its capability of defense of its own membership, goes out of business anyway. We aren't about to be placed out of business by anybody. The IRSP is organized and it's here to remain." (Seamus Costello, March 1975.)

On Revolutionary politics, elections and parliaments:

"I favour guerrilla ways in parliament an equivalent as I do in other respectsrespects. I favour them in native elections and native government bodies,they've proven to thrive there, and that i see no reason, why, with a couple of TDs or MPs, of the correct calibre, following the correct policies, why they can't destroy the arrogance of these establishments and send them tumbling down in ruins" (Seamus Costello)

Irish National Liberation Army—Then and Now

Inla in the 1990's

Inla in the 1990's

INLA at final salute for a dear comrade

INLA at final salute for a dear comrade

How Others Viewed Seamus

Doctor Noel Browne, on hearing Seamus Costello speak at a conference in Beantown, USA, said:

"Seamus Costello spoke for the IRSP and gave a scintillating show of fine humour, history, politics and facts.... I've ne'er detected his complete of ideology before... Is it not a triumph for our radio, TV and newspapers and of the venomous capital of Ireland political denigration machine that few people have ever seen this man's exceptional dialectical talent and political ability."

Doctor Browne finished prophetically by stating:

"They can shoot him, or to jail him, or get out of his manner, however, they definitely will not stop him. Costello the revolutionary Marxist Socialist whose ambition is a lay, pluralist united Socialist Republic, will not go away till he gets it!"

Nora Connolly-O'Brien, beloved daughter of Irish Marxist thinker and Easter Rising leader, James Connolly, spoke of Seamus Costello:

"Of all the politicians and political folks with whom I even have had conversations, and WHO referred to as themselves followers of James Connolly, he was the sole one WHO really understood what James Connolly meant once he spoke of his vision of the liberty of the people} people."

Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, an early member of the IRSP and long time Republican Socialist, said of Seamus Costello:

"My personal acquaintance and friendly relationship with Seamus Costello began in
1973. Before then I knew him solely, as most of the people in Ireland, by
reputation. On hearing of his death, I may realize no words of my very own captured
the deep sense of loss I felt, each in person and as a revolutionary
socialist committed to the struggle for Irish freedom. I took
therefore the words of a fellow revolutionary on the death of Malcolm
X, the black revolutionary champion of black liberation and socialism
in the U.S.A.: 'Without him, we have a tendency to feel suddenly vulnerable, small and
weak, somewhat frightened, not by the prospect of death, however of life
and struggle while not his contribution, his strength, and inspiration'."

Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, finished off her appreciation of Seamus Costello, by saying:

"His single greatest attribute was, however, his ability to relate to the mass of the people His potential as a pacesetter of mass struggle is not simply replaced. He may inspire not solely the dream, however, the confidence of its action, and also the commitment to figure towards that end.....From the ranks of mass struggle, others can return. From the experience of struggle, the political program, organization, and method of struggle can return. however another Seamus Costello might ne'er come again. once our freedom has been won, allow us to guard it well, remembering it had been bought within the blood and also the lives of these currently dead, however, whose memory lives forever within the hearts people."

Thomas 'Ta' Power, Guerrilla and Revolutionary theorist, said of Seamus:

"the sheer stature of the revolutionary Seamus Costello is simply too much for what are often expressed in feeble words, however words ar the sole (way) to precise and convey this stature albeit in an exceedingly feeble way."

Seamus Costello—Never Forgotten

Seamus Costello—Never Forgotten

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Liam A Ryan

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