The following is excerpted from Albert Meltzer's autobiography, "I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels", published by AK Press in 1995. He gives a lot of background information on the Murrays. However, all he said about their current situation is
"I wish them luck and a family now they are out."
>From Chapter 17 The Murrays
This epitomised the hypocrisy of the Irish Republic. Its unfairness and the subsequent relentless perversion of justice and absence of any mercy whatsoever, shown in the case of the Irish anarchists and the Murrays, makes mincemeat of the rightful claim echoed by many subsequent Irish politician that "no Irish person can obtain justice in the United Kingdom" with the false corollary that they could obtain it in the Republic, or at least could get it there if only it had six more counties.
It revived in the Seventies with the activism of a few men and women in the South. They felt Ireland's social problem were ignored. The parties were still polarised as to which side they had been on in the Civil War. Every question was answered by an appeal to nationalism and past oppression. Every political assessment was countered by demands as to what one (or, as time went by, one's father, grandfather, or great-grandfather) had done in 1916. Every solution for social ills was solved by religious diktat or by buying a boat train ticket. When the campaign in the North began again and Catholics and nationalists wanted a degree of freedom, this was something that did not exist in the South with which they wanted union.
There had not before been an active Irish anarchist movement. Though the syndicalist movement had at one time made inroads, and there were many Irish anarchists throughout the English-speaking world, and even beyond, these got introduced to anarchist thought through socialism and therefore after leaving Ireland. A few of an earlier generation, like Louisa Conroy and Mat Kavanagh, or many of mine, returned to Ireland, but soon left for a freer atmosphere in which they could at least express their thoughts and where one could fight for liberation from rather than of the State.
In Northern Ireland the nationalist and religious tensions dominated and though there are a few anarchists there, they have got caught up in them. But in the late Sixties a group within Dublin moved from the nationalist and socialist attitudes of left wing republicanism to anarchism. It came as a surprise to Irish politics where the bogey of "anarchist violence" was even more virulent than in countries either where an anarchist movement had existed or where political questions were not habitually argued with dynamite.
One of the results of the press caricature of bomb-throwing anarchism, whether deliberately intended or not I do not know, is that it has always made it difficult to reject the image without appearing to fall into the opposite trap of pacifism or parliamentarism. It is obviously sometimes necessary to use violence, since laying down a code that says one may not use it in any circumstances leaves one helpless against attack. Everyone except an extreme pacifist would admit this, yet a different standard is laid down up for anarchists. It seems the official line, certainly the judicidal view, is they must either be believers in "mindless violence" or woolly-minded idealists, so-called "non-violent anarchists" or "violent" ones, as if 99.9 per cent recurring of the population were neither ultra-pacifists nor mad axe-wielders.
The Irish anarchist resistance group conformed in most respects to the resistance tactics followed by the Angry Brigade, the Spanish Resistance, the First of May Group. Like them it never took life intentionally and directed its activism against property. It was thus quite out of step with the tradition of Irish patriotic politics which set out to kill as a means of persuasion and until lately in the North respected property rights. It may seem cynical to say that this is why it raised more horror and alarm in the Republic than the entire IRA bombing campaign throughout its history to that date, but such was to prove the case.
I myself was always sceptical about the idea of bank robberies to raise "funds" on purely pragmatic grounds. In most cases it seems to me that all they do at best is to raise money, which is a different matter. Crime is a business like any other, sometimes it is anti-social, sometimes it is merely illegal. Any gainful occupation, legitimate by State standards or not, brings in money. One needs it to live without dependence. I earned my living in a lie factory and couldn't feel squeamish about any other way. Had I the nerve I might have earned my living in hold ups. Either way I would have given a large part of my income to what I believed in, like a great many others. People in the Spanish Resistance came in both categories, as did those within the International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement. Those into almost full-time active resistance sometimes financed themselves by bank robbery, usually they were in orthodox working practices. I am sceptical as to whether crime pays much, but what I do know is that when the average honest working person goes into crime it does not pay, because they have not the ruthlessness which professional crime and professional business both need.
When the Irish resistance group had carried out a number of spectacular attacks such as those on the American and Spanish embassies, they turned to raising money by armed bank robbery, influenced by the whole record of diehard anti-State resistance which the Irish establishment enshrined as part of the national myth. They were heroic but unlucky and by the chance that inevitably accompanies such circumstances were arrested and jailed. How the Irish press howled for vengeance as a few young people were taken into custody and given savage sentences for a few illegal acts that did not entail killing. Never mind the IRA, these were self-confessed Anarchists! In Dublin! How terrible!
The group who were arrested were charged with bank robberies, but nonetheless tried by a juryless court and confined in a military barracks reserved for political prisoners, though denied political status. Noel Murray jumped bail and he and his wife carried on the struggle.
Noel and Marie Murray had collected money for the Black Cross (quite legally -- some of it was stolen by the Government when they were arrested) and so I knew them. I could have found them asylum if they had chosen to escape, as was easy at first provided they could get through the "Berlin Wall" of English Customs. I arranged a place for them to stay and work in Paris. It would have been hard for the Irish authorities to ask for extradition since they themselves ostensibly opposed it in far less overtly political cases than this.
The plan was crushed by Noel and Marie themselves. Noel wrote that he did not think revolutionaries should leave their own country in this fashion, having regard to the consequent ineffectiveness to that country by thousands who had done so. In the course of another bank raid, a plain clothes policeman intervened. Marie, blind as a bat without her recognisable thick glasses, and having dropped her unaccustomed lenses, fired and accidentally killed him.
Taken to a station, Noel and Ronan Stenson, arrested with them, were beaten and tortured so badly that Ronan was not in a fit state to be charged next day. It was a stroke of luck for him, as he was freed. Marie, in the next cell, confessed to the killing to get the police to stop beating Noel, pointing out the two had not been concerned in her careless act.
Noel and Marie were charged with capital murder (murder of a policeman, as distinct from that of anyone rated much lower in the free and equal republic). Both were sentenced to be hanged (June 1976), but Noel's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Worldwide protests were caused by the death sentence on Marie, who had accidentally shot a policeman in plain clothes. Even Jean-Paul Sartre came to Dublin to protest at the sentence. The hypocritical Conor Cruise O'Brien, the English establishment's greatest living Irishman, stammered apologies for his government to hostile audiences in France. Finally the sentence on Marie was also changed to life imprisonment.
Conor Brady, writing in the Irish Times (10 December, 1976), not only named the "Anarchist connection" but the Black Cross specifically, finishing his peroration with the statement that "undoubtedly Noel Murray started out as an idealistic young man. The question is at what stage did he trade in his principles of peaceful protest and take up guns? And perhaps more important, who gave him the guns and taught him how to use them?"
So blinded with State humbug was Mr Brady that he never realised you could be idealistic without being nationalistic, and that Government and Opposition politicians were still trading on reputations built on taking up guns, robberies and violence. Long before they were released they saw men convicted of deliberate multiple murders, having served a portion of their sentences, go free with enhanced glamour and become distinguished politicians. Some of them renounced membership of the IRA and got remission that way, but those who had not belonged to it could not do so.
For eighteen years, neither Noel, who had not shot anyone, nor Marie, the longest serving woman prisoner in the Republic, and a person of considerable talent, had a day's concession or the slightest consideration, despite the fact that even the warders spoke highly of them both. For all that time they were not allowed a day out even for medical reasons. Ludicrously, Marie's letters to a relative in her native Irish were disallowed as in a country which had adopted it as the official language there were no warders who could read it for censorship purposes.
In one thing Conor Brady was right. It was part of a general anarchist struggle which included the International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement, First of May Group and the Angry Brigade and had waves everywhere. Actions in favour of their release included occupation of the Aer Lingus offices in London, demonstrations in Australia and all over Europe, and to no avail.
The Irish Republic was deaf to pleas for justice or even mercy. Yet it granted remission of sentence regularly to those who, for nationalist reasons, took life deliberately, even on a multiple scale. It has wept crocodile tears over the English Establishment having kept people guilty of mass murders five, ten or fifteen years in jail. It has wrung its hands in indignation when miscarriages of justice have occurred in English courts, swayed by confessions obtained by torture and juries stirred by press incitement in the mainland, or by juryless courts in the North. But juryless courts, swayed by political motivation, corruption and hostile press propaganda, continue in both North and South Ireland.
There can hardly have been a single leading member of the Irish Establishment to whom I did not write over eighteen years pleading the case of the Murrays, and though in the last two years of their private hell they asked for demonstrations to desist in view of the light at the end of the tunnel, I had just posted off my latest and last petition when I heard they were released quietly one Saturday.
I have never had any pride in dealing with people in authority whom I despised. If I thought it would help those condemned to the prison cell and the new inquisitors had asked me to walk round in my shirt, with ashes on my head and holding a candle in vicarious penitence I would have done so, but those days were over, if not the intolerance which demanded it. I felt as if I had bathed in muck and needed to shower after writing this type of letter especially after addressing the scum of the earth as "the Honourable so-and-so", but I made it a weekly penance for years.
When I worked on the night shift, usually quiet after one in the morning, and others dozed off peaceably, I would be writing slavishly until four. Perhaps they didn't all land in the trash. Maybe even today somewhere in some country some ex-Minister or retired civil servant gets a kick out of reading my fawning requests for clemency for someone or other. At least they weren't for myself. Now and again they actually worked, even with military dictatorships. But never in Eire.
On the Murrays, sometimes I wrote in my name, sometimes in that of another. I got one reply from the Roman Catholic Primate of Ireland, Cardinal O Fiaich, who had intervened in the case of Republican prisoners in the North, and been denounced (always in the anglicised version of his name, Cardinal Fee) in the English press for doing so. The spelling varied to the Irish O Fiaich when his statements pleased them. The reverend cynic informed me that he did not seem to have any luck dealing with prisoners of the English government and did not expect he would have, or would try for, any better luck in dealing with those of the Irish government. He suggested I use my "influence" with "my" government, as his efforts had failed! His influence with the Irish government was supreme, his influence with the British Government at least not to be overlooked. My influence with any government was about equal to his with any God.
I am notorious in my small circle for writing amusing letters to friends and acquaintances, and hope I kept some spirits up in prison, but even if the authorities had not refused to let my letters get through to the Murrays I could never be amusing in a correspondence with them. Time and again we thought we had seen light at the end of the tunnel but to no avail. I do not think the Republic broke their spirit but it broke my heart. Every one who came in contact with them, whether class enemies or not, even the very warders, even the woman lawyer who represented them and subsequently became President of Ireland, said what fine people they were. Yet while the Government that imprisoned them insisted on a higher standard of justice and clemency from its neighbour, it resolutely set its mind against either fairness or mercy in this case. I wish them luck and a family now they are out.