An anti-imperialist personal account chosen by Chris Bambery
Ernie O’Malley’s On Another Man’s Wound is his story of how the impact of the 1916 Easter Rising led him to break from his middle class, unionist background – he was considering joining his brother in the British Army – to become one of the most daring IRA commanders in the guerrilla war of 1919-1921 which broke the back of British colonial rule of Ireland.
He tells of how he met Michael Collins for the first time in an office in Bachelor’s Walk. After that meeting he was appointed an organiser for the IRA with orders to go into areas to get the military campaign underway (later he would oppose Collins over the Treaty signed with the British in 1922 and fought against him in the subsequent Irish Civil War).
His account of leading attacks on Royal Irish Constabulary barracks are vivid. At one stage he writes of sitting on the burning roof of one, pouring petrol onto the flames, and compares it to a painting by Italian artist Caravaggio.
It also includes the story of how he was captured and tortured by the British army in Dublin Castle. Luckily, they did not establish his true identity otherwise he would have been shot. Put in Dublin’s Kilmainham Jail he and two other republicans escaped with the aid of an Irish soldier in the British Army, resuming his war on the British.
O’Malley wasn’t a socialist – though he was on the left and later was clearly anti-fascist – so why did this book make me one? When I read it at the start of the 1970’s it was against the background of the Civil Rights marches, internment and Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland which left me with a hatred of British imperialism and the sectarianism which scarred Scotland. The book led me understand you had to side with the oppressed, while maintaining a critical stance.
That led me to my first political action, joining a rally against internment at The Mound in central Edinburgh which was under attack from Loyalists. That’s where I met the revolutionary left. I still have O’Malley’s book and have re-read it many times, always to my enjoyment.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.