Wednesday, December 28, 2016

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Frank Gallagher

Anthony McIntyre shares memories of his late editorial colleague, Frank Gallagher who died in March.

Frank was a working class intellectual in a society where such figures are not accorded the recognition that is their due. He combined a clear and concise writing style, easy on the reader, with a deep knowledge of the local history of Drogheda, and a profound appreciation of the importance of the trade union and socialist movement in Irish history and society - Ciaran McKenna, Journal Of The Old Drogheda Society, 2016.

Frank Gallagher

I came to know him in the twilight of his life. He was a frequent caller at Drogheda's Millmount Museum where the Old Drogheda Society (ODS) - of which he was made President in the final year of his life - was based. I worked with him on the publications committee of the ODS where he made a significant input to Reflections On The 1916 Rising but unfortunately died prior to its publication.

Frank Gallagher was a committed socialist, having served for a time as a Socialist Party councillor in Drogheda. When we first met we would talk politics and the strategic obstacles the Left faced. Somewhat surprising to me he regarded Sinn Fein as a party of the Left despite the clear careerist trajectory of some of its permanent leaders, its abysmal capitulation to Tory austerity policy and royalty-revering to boot. He had a strong admiration for the then Drogheda Sinn Fein councillor, now TD, Imelda Munster, feeling she stood head and shoulders above the rest of the councillors in the town. Alongside her, he was central to the Sinn Fein organised protests against the Israeli war on Gaza in 2014, which the other political parties ignored.

Elected to Drogheda council in 2009 for the Old Drogheda North ward, he succeeded in making up the ground he needed to cover after a narrow defeat in 2004. Regrettably, he stepped down in 2013 due to the property tax on his home having been paid without his knowledge and against his wishes. Frank not wanting detractors of his party to make hay while the sun was shining denied them the opportunity, prompting Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins to say:

Frank has been an excellent fighter for the people of Drogheda and is showing tremendous character in dealing with this situation in such a straightforward and principled manner. I have no doubt that Frank’s standing in the community will even increase because he has shown that genuine socialists can be trusted to act in a principled and open fashion.

During his time on the council Frank fought austerity tooth and nail, carrying on much as he had while he was an independent socialist activist with no party affiliation. His life long trade unionism had forged his socialist outlook. His range of activities covered resisting every attack launched by the political establishment on the disadvantaged in Drogheda including bin charges. In November 2014, in a rain swept Drogheda, Frank could be found marching under a Drogheda Trades Council banner.
Like others of a radical trade union bent he was not enamoured to the social partnership model, feeling that it merely sucked in and blew out the trade union leadership. 

Frank's radicalism extended to his intellectual life. A keen historian and avid writer, he was a printer by trade, working in that capacity for the Drogheda Independent from 1977. His daily 12:50 utterance, as reported by colleague Martin Garry, "Time for the Spuds", became a catchphrase in the company. It was in his writerly life that I came to know him. His work featured in the Journal of the Old Drogheda Society. His advice to me in the embryonic days of my editorship of the journal proved invaluable.

His replacement on the council, party colleague Ciaran McKenna said:

His politics were motivated largely by a deep humanity coupled with a fierce determination that ordinary people should never have to pay any price for the economic mistakes of the government and economic elites. It was very often an unpopular stance to take, but Frank always stuck to his guns in political debate.

They were guns he refused to allow the fate of decommissioning to befall: in spite of a cancer diagnosis he rearmed and returned to the fray. Often I would bump into him as he walked the town, brushing aside queries about his health, preferring instead an exchange of political ideas.  

It came as no surprise that his funeral would draw a major turnout, his Socialist Party colleagues to the fore. I felt privileged to be part of The Old Drogheda Society guard of honour that accompanied his remains as they left the Church. 

Frank Gallagher put up with a fair amount of criticism as a result of his political activism. In dealing with smears he would have found solace in the words of Helder Camara: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  

Frank would Rest in Peace knowing some called a communist.