The sudden rise and rapid fall of Saor Eire


Deaglán de Bréadún recalls the violent life of a left-wing republican splinter group that achieved none of its aims but scattered death in its wake

Saor Eire, Irish for Free Ireland, was a small, turbulent offshoot of the republican movement which appeared on the scene in the late 1960s and faded away in the mid-1970s.

Its members were left-wing militants who found the approach of the mainstream IRA too gradualist and low-key. Looking to the example of Che Guevara in Latin America and left-wing republican dissidents from the 1930s such as Michael Price, they embarked on a noisy, ruthless campaign of violence which quickly brought them into confrontation with the authorities.

The group, which was named after a left-wing republican political organisation from the early 1930s, probably never numbered more than a few dozen activists. It was believed to be involved in gun-running to Northern Ireland in 1969.

It reportedly carried out bank robberies in Dublin and Kells in late 1969 and achieved added notoriety in February 1970 when members took over the village of Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, cutting telephone wires and holding up traffic while raiding the local Hibernian Bank.

In an armed robbery on April 3rd, 1970, at a bank on Dublin's Arran Quay, Saor Eire members shot and killed Garda Richard Fallon (43). Garda Fallon became the first member of the force to be posthumously awarded the Scott Medal for bravery.

A flavour of the time can be had from a statement issued by Saor Eire which said that Garda Fallon died "protecting the property of the ruling class, who are too cowardly and clever to do their own dirty work".

The Lynch government made preparations to introduce internment in December 1970, in response to reports that Saor Eire was planning to kidnap top politicians and foreign diplomats. Saor Eire welcomed the threatened crackdown as a "golden opportunity" to fight for a "32-county Irish socialist republic".

The organisation last featured in the headlines when Larry White (25), said to be a former Saor Eire activist who had joined a further offshoot called Saoirse Eire, was shot dead by the Official IRA in Cork on June 10th, 1975.