Leitrim celebrates Jimmy Gralton, deported in 1933 over ‘den of iniquity’

Gralton was banished for building dance hall despite being convicted of no crime

Actor Donal O’Kelly and dancer Edwina Guckian, two of the organisers of the Jimmy Gralton commemoration in Effrinagh, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Actor Donal O’Kelly and dancer Edwina Guckian, two of the organisers of the Jimmy Gralton commemoration in Effrinagh, Co Leitrim. Photograph: Brian Farrell

 

A “homecoming” celebration of the life of Jimmy Gralton, deported in 1933 after incurring the wrath of church and State, and made famous by Ken Loach’s 2014 film Jimmy’s Hall, was held in Effrinagh, Co Leitrim, on Sunday evening.

The dance hall built by Gralton was denounced from the pulpit as a “den of iniquity” and he became the only Irish person ever deported from the State.

There was music and dancing at the crossroads and a bonfire was lit in Effrinagh on Sunday night. Many people were dressed in 1920s clothing as they recreated the scene when Gralton returned on bonfire night 1921, after his first stint working in the United States.

Senator Frances Black, who travelled to Effrinagh for the event, said she was intrigued and inspired after hearing his story.

“He defended the rights of working people and he supported the anti-eviction movement of the time, and I think he would be so disappointed to know that there are still evictions today and so many children being made homeless,” she said. “We need a Jimmy Gralton today.”

Actor Donal O’Kelly, who featured in the Abbey Theatre’s adaption of Jimmy’s Hall, travelled in a horse and cart as he recreated the last leg of Gralton’s journey home. He too said there were parallels between the suffering Gralton had raged against in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Ireland of today.

“I think it is still important to stand up to normalised cruelty,” said the actor, who explained that this had been brought home to him after meeting three people living in direct provision for asylum seekers in Leitrim. They had been moved from Dublin with no notice last week. Two of them lost their recently acquired jobs as a result.

“They were moved at a few hours’ notice, without warning, 100km away as if their lives are just a matter of sleeping, eating, thinking, nothing more,” he said. “And it is important to remember that the threat of deportation is still hanging over people in Ireland today.”

Namesake cousin

While the mood was festive in Effrinagh, Jim Gralton (83) was sad as he remembered his cousin who was deported having been convicted of no crime.

“I still feel awful hurt,” said Mr Gralton, who was born in the same cottage as his famous namesake and whose parents, Packie and Maggie Gralton, were key figures in keeping the story alive.

He said the priest ordered locals to boycott his grandfather Hugh’s shop after Jimmy was deported.

“My grandfather said, ‘Jimmy nearly ruined us’. That’s how he looked at it.”

The 83 year old also remembers his father crying when he had to sell Jimmy’s horse, Paddy, “when times were tough”.

Dance teacher Edwina Guckian, who was choreographer for the Ken Loach film, revived the dancing at the crossroads tradition in Effrinagh in 2013. She said this year’s was special because they were remembering Gralton’s arrival home on Bonfire Night in June 1921. Her ancestors were Jimmy Gralton’s neighbours.

“My great-grandfather Patrick Guckian was walking home when he saw the flames from the top of Sheemore when they set the hall on fire in 1932,” she said.