25 November 2021

Sharing experiences of
Irish CND activism at
a peace history seminar

Sharing experiences of CND activism at this week’s webinar organised by the Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, I took part in the latest INNATE peace history seminars, organised by Rob Fairmichael, editor of Nonviolent News and Coordinator, INNATE, an Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education.

The INNATE seminar on international peace work in Ireland involved Joe Murray of AfrI, John Lannon of Shannonwatch, Peter Emerson, who was involved in Northern Ireland CND, Sylvia Thompson, who has been involved with Pax Christi, the Diocese of Kerry Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation Committee, and other groups working in the areas of spirituality, biodiversity and inclusion, and myself.

The ‘Zoom’ webinar invited each of us to speak for about 10 minutes about our work in international peace work in the past. As President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, I spoke about my time as chair and also secretary of Irish CND between 1979 and 1984.

CND was active in Ireland from 1959, but went into abeyance in the mid-1960s. I was involved in relaunching Irish CND in 1979 and it remains active today. Northern Ireland CND was re-formed in 1981, but went into abeyance in the 1990s, although there are still CND members in Northern Ireland.

In my short contribution, I recalled Irish CND’s origins and inspiration in the late 1970s from the Carnsore Point sit-ins, the failed actions in organising protests on behalf of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), lobbying around the second special session on disarmament of the UN General Assembly, my student days in Japan, including a visit to Hiroshima, and the support of a half-dozen remaining CND members in Ireland.

Irish CND organised at the time Cruise, Pershing and SS-20 missiles were being deployed on Continental Europe and at the time of the Reagan and Bush visits to Ireland. The movement grew spontaneously, with branches in every city and major town throughout Ireland, on every university campus, and saw the formation of Trade Union CND, Women’s CND, Student CND and Christian CND.

I shared stories about the packed-out theatre in Liberty Hall for a showing of Peter Watkins’s move The War Game and of the CND visitors turning up unexpectedly at the Ronald Reagan pub in Ballyporeen, Co Tipperary.

Perhaps the major success of the time was the story of the women’s peace camp at Greenham Common. The camp was not created by CND, and the Irish women in CND who became involved were criticised even within Irish CND. But they were successful, and nonviolent direct action can work: there are no Cruise missiles there today, and Greenham Common is open, public space once again.

Even before my involvement in CND, Rob and I were involved in the Dawn group, producing Dawn magazine, an Irish journal of nonviolent activism. Following the demise of the Dawn group, INNATE – an Irish Network for Nonviolent Action Training and Education – was set up in 1987 and has produced Nonviolent News newssheet since 1990.

Nonviolent News has been monthly since 1994, and is a source of information on different groups and events; all issues are online https://innatenonviolence.org/.

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