By Jason Michael

Why would the new president of Sinn Féin use the battle cry of the past to appeal for a better future for Ireland? Mary Lou McDonald has done just this and now she is feeling the heat from a Dublin establishment ashamed of the past.

Mary Lou McDonald has never impressed me much. Only the other day a friend and I were discussing her recent ascent to the leadership of Sinn Féin and how I would have preferred the new Uachtarán to have been Pearse Doherty. “You just don’t like her,” I was told. That’s right. I have never taken to her. It has nothing to do with her being a woman, as some might insist. I’m delighted with Nicola Sturgeon, and Leanne Wood, well… Leanne Wood [blush]!  McDonald has, for me at any rate, always been one of those over-oranged, enamel jewellery wearing, south Dublin, UCD, yer wans. She’s actually from Cabra and studied at Trinity – but these are my prejudices.

All of this aside, Mary Lou is an Uachtarán Sinn Féin nua – the new president of Sinn Féin, and less than a week into her new job she has found herself in hot water for daring to use the Irish slogan Tiocfaidh ár lá – “our day will come” – at the end of her inaugural address. It’s not a neutral term, and by that I mean it has history. Tiocfaidh ár lá was first used by the Irish republican movement in a pamphlet written by Gerry Adams recounting his experiences in the Maze. Not long afterwards it frequently featured in the letters of Volunteer Bobby Sands from his cell. It was the last sentence written in his diary before he died in the 1981 hunger strike.

So when Mary Lou McDonald ended her first address as president of Sinn Féin by raising her fist and saying: “Up the rebels, and it’s Tiocfaidh ár lá,” she was reminding her listeners of the days of the Provisional IRA’s armed struggle against Britain. There’s no doubt about it, and that is why she was taken to task on RTÉ’s The Late Late Show. How dare the leader of Sinn Féin, Ryan Tubridy implied in his embarrassingly long and repetitive interrogation, use the language of physical force republicanism to signal what is touted to be a new start for her party?

The answers – for there are a few – are obvious. McDonald is taking over from Gerry Adams, a man who has led Sinn Féin for three and a half decades. Adams has been at the helm of the republican movement from the height of the Troubles to the present, and he was instrumental in bringing about the peace of the Good Friday Agreement. He, like his now deceased former deputy Martin McGuinness, proved himself to be a man of peace, but not before becoming indelibly marked with the stain of war. Mary Lou only joined the party after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. She is a new face for a Sinn Féin that is now looking to the future and to its historical dream of a united Ireland. This is the day she says is coming. That much has never changed.

Tiocfaidh ár lá may well have been the “battle cry of the blanketmen,” but it is also a proclamation of continuity. McDonald’s Sinn Féin is not a new Sinn Féin. It is the same party with the same vision and, while it continues to attract new members, it is largely supported by the same people who supported the party right through the Troubles to the present day. If Mary Lou McDonald wants to be accepted as the new face of Sinn Féin then she has to carry this old guard along with her, and that means reminding them too of the fights of the past.

That fight is still on. It’s no longer a violent armed struggle – thank God, but the objective of Irish republicanism has not changed. The struggle for a united Ireland has not changed since the island of Ireland was partitioned by the British in 1921. In fact the desire for a united Ireland is every bit as strong within the republican movement as it ever was during the dark days of the Troubles.

The British government is currently working hard to pull the people of the occupied six counties out of the European Union against their will; threatening a hard border between the them and the rest of Ireland, and threatening them with alienation from the human rights membership of the EU guarantees. Through long and bitter experience the people of Ireland – north and south of the border – know what it is like to be under British rule with their civil and human rights left to the whims of Westminster. Telling the people of Ireland that their day will come is the promise of a party that has proven its commitment to safeguarding Irish people and their rights with Irish sovereignty and with Irish sovereignty alone.

Back in 2011 I chose not to use my vote in the Irish presidential election. As far as I saw it there was only one candidate who deserved the role, and I could not bring myself to vote for him because of my perception of the part he played in the violence as a commander of an Óglaigh na hÉireann – in both the Official and the Provisional IRA. That man was of course Martin McGuinness, and as I saw it at the time he had blood on his hands.

Mary Lou McDonald completes Sinn Féin’s transition from violence to forward thinking progressive politics and democracy. While I would have preferred someone else, she is the one now tasked with taking the republican movement forward – closer to that day proclaimed by Padraig Pearse in Dublin in 1916. That day is still coming, and the need for it has become more urgent. Few in Ireland would now disagree that without it the ball is again left in Britain’s court to return this island to violence. No one wants this, and so with a Gàidhlig twist I am happy to echo her call and say: Thig ar latha!


Mary Lou McDonald on her first speech | The Late Late Show

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5 thoughts on “Bad Language: Mary Lou’s “Tiocfaidh Ár Lá”

  1. Thig ar latha agus tiocfaidh ar la!

    Good luck to her, sincerely meant.

    But have to differ with you regarding Martin McGuinness – I always was and remain a fan of his.

    That said, our day – in both Ireland and Scotland – is indeed coming. Not only that, but it is imminent.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh, I am not saying that I think differently about McGuinness. Not at all. As I said, I was of the opinion that he was the right choice for Irish president. My take on the violence and Sinn Fein’s move to peace has been and still is in development.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well there was no official-provo split in Sinn Fein as the official and the provisional wings were of the IRA. Sinn Fein and the IRA are two different institutions – but with a fair bit of dual membership over the years. The Official IRA became the “stickies” – of the Workers’ Party in the Republic, while the Provos went on to conduct an armed campaign against the British.


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