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Readings in Nonviolence

Readings in Nonviolence' features extracts from our favourite books, pamphlets, articles or other material on nonviolence and related areas, or reviews of important works in the field (suggestions and contributions welcome)

The Irish Pacifist Movement (IPM)

and notes on it by Betty Taylor (1978)

See and five other entries beside that.

Introduction by Rob Fairmichael

“If we see further it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants” is a quotation which has been much used over the last couple of decades, and who first used this imagery is uncertain - it wasn’t Isaac Newton who it is mainly attributed to though he could have reinvented it without having heard it before. However I prefer something less gradiose in this area which I would express as “If we are not totally lost and have some idea of direction it is because we are following, or attempting to follow, the footsteps of prophets”.

Now it should be explained that by ‘prophets’ I don’t mean those with a capital ‘P’, nor people who predict exactly what is going to happen. To me prophets are those who speak out for truth and justice, warn of what will happen if people follow other ways, and point in possible directions to go. Such prophecy is not an exact science, and prophets are usually not heeded though they can act as a rallying point for progressive forces. Prophets are those we trust to speak the truth, even if it challenges us. They can be ‘ordinary’ people. And we ourselves can be prophetic, as the peace movement and rallies were before the 2003 Iraq war.

Personally I get more inspiration from a myriad of people who will never be famous or well known – and not just ‘peace’ activists - than from the ‘big’ figures of nonviolence and social change. Certainly I will quote from Gandhi or Martin Luther King and try to learn from them. But I am very aware that undue emphasis on nonviolent ‘saints’ such as Gandhi and King can make us feel like ‘sinners’ who cannot attain such lofty heights of nonviolence. Thus while we might be inspired by them there is also a danger of disempowerment.

It is fifty years since the Irish Pacifist Movement bit the dust - and indeed twenty-one years since the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Northern Ireland hung up its boots. It is 41 years (1978) since Dawn produced its ‘Nonviolence in Irish History’ pamphlet which included an article that I wrote (I then had the surname Mitchell) on “Peace groups since the ‘thirties”. It is a sobering thought regarding my aging that if I was to produce a similar piece today looking back over a similar time frame, forty years, it would be entitled “Peace groups since the ‘seventies”, which is the time that the pamphlet referred to was produced.

For that piece I conducted numerous interviews and had considerable correspondence. One written piece which I received (February 1978) which was used, but not in its entirety because of pressure of space in the article, was reflections from Betty Taylor about the Irish Pacifist Movement. While this was in the form of written notes to pass on information rather than a polished article it is still a valuable account of the work of the IPM. We have decided to make it available ‘as is’ on the INNATE Flickr site and it can be found at and the following five frames.
It would be pointless to repeat here what appears in general in the “Peace groups since the ‘thirties” article which is available in the “Nonviolence in Irish History” pamphlet at page 32.

However I will make a few comments on, or conclusions about, Betty Taylor’s notes which appear on our Flickr site, as above.
The first thing is that the IPM was well linked, North-South (in Ireland) and East-West (internationally, including to the War Resisters’ International). Having cross-border conferences in the 1950s, and especially so on contentious issues, was remarkable. See here and accompanying entries. They were indeed being prophetic.
The second is the extent to which Catholic-Protestant relations were a factor south of the border (in the Free State/Republic) in participation. Thankfully that era has passed. However it remains the case that a group like the Quakers might still be expected to throw up more peace activists because of their strong peace witness.

The third is that the way forward on issues of concern is always problematic. Splits and ongoing disagreements are a possibility in any contentious issue and finding a constructive way to work through these issues is crucial, and indeed in finding new ways to engage with people. And even where a group is essentially political, practical work like that undertaken for German refugee children after the Second World War, as recounted by Betty Taylor, can be very important.

Finally, while we “follow in people’s footsteps” it does not mean that we should not set new directions. We may follow others’ footsteps but we hope in turn others may follow some of ours – a point with which Betty Taylor ends her notes.

Copyright INNATE 2019