President Michael D Higgins has apologized on behalf of the people of Ireland for the 1933 deportation of Irishman Jimmy Gralton, calling his treatment “wrong and indefensible.”
Gralton, who was suspected of being a Communist and was denounced by the Catholic Church, was deported by the first Fianna Fail government in August 1933 without any charge being made against him. President Higgins said the deportation of Gralton, a labor campaigner from County Leitrim, to the US was illegal and morally wrong, and added that he would seek to remove “any lingering stain on his fine character.”
The President made his statements at the dedication of a memorial to Gralton at Effernagh outside Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday. Around 30 members of the Gralton family attended the unveiling.
The stone edifice, which was partially funded by the trade union movement, stands at the spot where Gralton erected the Pearse-Connolly Hall in 1921. It was burned down in in December 1932, allegedly by local IRA.
Gralton was born to a small farmer in Effernagh, outside Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, in 1886.
He left school at 14 and eventually joined the Royal Navy. He became radicalized in union politics after traveling to the United States.
Gralton returned to Ireland in 1921, just before the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed, and built the Pearse-Connolly Hall, which was used for dances and education, on land his father owned.
In 1923, he traveled back to America. He returned to Ireland in 1932 when de Valera took office. Gralton joined Fianna Fáil, but soon resigned.
Religious fervor and anti-communism began to spread from church and state, and in February 1933, the de Valera government ordered Gralton to be deported as an “undesirable alien.”
Gralton was on the run for six months before he was captured by Irish police, taken to Cobh and put on a steamer to the US without even a chance to tell his mother goodbye.
In 2014 Gralton's sad and amazing tale was made the subject of a feature movie by Ken Loach. Here's the trailer for "Jimmy's Hall,", starring Barry Ward, Francis Magee, and Aileen Henry:
President Higgins said that Jimmy Gralton’s treatment was “emblematic of a wider suppression of radical and emancipatory politics in the Ireland of the 1930s, a time when a moral panic was created, a whipped up fear of communism, coupled with clerical dominance sourced in authoritarianism rather than any spirituality, created an atmosphere of intolerance, and oppression of the labor movement.”
Gralton, who died in New York City in 1945, was the only Irishman ever deported from Ireland.
Here's a documentary about Jimmy Gralton, made 20 years ago: