Remembering our comrade Gerry Dawe

Poet Gerry (Gerald) Dawe who died at the end of May was an early member of the Militant Tendency, our forerunner. He played a small but important part in our growth.

Gerry joined the Labour Club at the New University of Ulster (now Ulster University) in Coleraine in the autumn of 1971. Our comrades had established the Club. His political instincts soon brought Gerry to our ranks.

He was quickly caught up in the upheavals of the time. The week before Bloody Sunday in January 1971, he was on the anti-internment march on Magilligan Strand in Co Derry. Army units which would carry out the Bloody Sunday Massacre beat marchers. Gerry was at the funderals of the Bloody Sunday victimes. Then he attended the huge march in Newry in early February 1972 protesting at Bloody Sunday.

Gerry knew the ideas of socialism and working-class unity were hard to argue in those times. Civil war was a real possibility. However, Gerry understood socialism and working-class unity as the only alternative.

From Coleraine Gerry moved to University Colleged Galway (now the University of Galway). There he taught and studied for a doctorate. Importantly, he put us in contact with a group of students in that university’s branch of the Labour Party. (At that time, our comrades worked in the Irish Labour Party. It was different to today’s shell, as it had a link with the working class). In Galway, also, he met his wife, Dorothea.

That was Militant’s first base in the South outside of Dublin. For many years that base in Galway was important.

In Galway, also, he met Dorothea, who became his wife. They campaigne for a woman’s right to choose. Nearly half a century ago that was a hard position to argue. Particularly as Galway was then much smaller than now.

Gerry fell away from activity many years ago. That was understandable, given the pressure of the times. However, he never fell away from his political beliefs.

His background shaped his beliefs. Gerry came from a single-parent Protestant working-class family off the Shore Road in North Belfast. That family was vehemently anti-sectarian.

That Gerry finshed his career as Professor of English at Trinity College, Dublin, proves the idiocy of the North’s selective secondary education system system. Gerry failed the infamous ’11 Plus’. (The exam at 11 which decided that a majority of children were ‘failures’). His second-level education was at Orangefield Boys’ Secondary School in East Belfast in the 1960s. Round those years that school produced a whole talented group who were invididual thinkers.

He was a gifted poet. Importantly, he was a political poet. That does not mean witing poems that were political propaganda. Rather, his politics shaped his poems. They have a humanity, and show an understanding of the world round him. Thus, they deserve to be read.

Our sympathies go to Dorothea, Iarla, Olwen, and the wider family circle.