The case of Jimmy Gralton from County Leitrim, the only Irish citizen ever to be deported from his own country, has been revisited by a local campaign group who are seeking to have the injustice recognized officially and the deportation order symbolically lifted 83 years after its enforcement.
Jimmy Gralton was a colorful, intelligent and well-traveled man, born in 1886 in south Leitrim. Like most of his peers he emigrated to America but later returned home to take care of his elderly mother. Ireland was a bleak country both economically and socially in the 1930s and Jimmy, a charismatic individual, was instrumental in the formation of cultural, literary and social groups in the poor, rural townlands of south Leitrim.
Local people congregated in a community hall which Jimmy built but soon fell foul of church and state authorities for participating in unheard of socially dangerous activities such as dancing to jazz and reading banned books. Incredibly on Christmas Eve 1932 the hall was soaked in petrol and burned to the ground. Even more incredibly Jimmy was forced into hiding for 6 months in defiance of a deportation order signed by the Minister for Justice. Jimmy had gained American citizenship and this was used as an excuse to deport him as an illegal alien from his own country.
Last year an acclaimed film, shot by award winning director Ken Loach, concerning Jimmy Gralton, was filmed locally. A number of locals were hired and played minor parts in the well-received film Jimmy’s Hall.
Inspired by the story, three of those locals are now spearheading a campaign to have the deportation order lifted in a symbolic gesture to the Gralton family.
“We have written to the Minister for Justice”, said Councillor Thomas Healy, “we have had motions in support of the campaign passed by Leitrim and Sligo County Councils and are now extending the campaign nationwide. This year is the centenary of the Easter rising which guaranteed religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens. Jimmy Gralton was denied these rights and we want to see justice done. I really enjoyed playing a part in the film Jimmy’s Hall, and now I want to play my part in the real world to officially rescind this cruel deportation order. As part of the campaign we have launched an online petition and I hope to present the petition to the Minister this year. What happened in 1933 was an historic disgrace and is a blemish on Ireland, I hope to see it belatedly recognized as such and an apology issued to the Gralton family.