The Tale of 'Whacker' Reid

25/04/2016 10:56

The Easter Rising that took place in Dublin in 1916 was organised by a small group of conspirators in the Irish Republican Brotherhood; a secret revolutionary movement which was founded in Ireland and America in the mid-nineteenth century. The actual Rising was carried out by a group of the Irish Volunteers, without the knowledge of most of its leaders or members, in alliance with the small citizen army led by the revolutionary socialist James Connolly. Close to 500 people died in the Rising, mostly Irish civilians - fifteen of the leaders were executed in Dublin.

Following the failure of the Easter Rising a group of Irish Volunteers prepared to hand over their arms and surrender unconditionally to the British forces. Just before they formally surrendered a voice from the back announced, 'I'm away lads.' It was the voice of Peter 'Whacker' Reid, a Dublin docker and foot soldier in the insurgency. Not for ' Whacker' the rather gentlemanly approach of the others as they filed out in rank to lay down their arms and march off under armed escort, many of them to be imprisoned in Frongoch internment camp in Wales. 'Whacker' made his way to the Dublin docks and from there to Liverpool where, no doubt, he found refuge among the large Irish catholic community.

At some stage 'Whacker' married and settled down in Liverpool. One of his sons, also called Peter, joined the Labour Party in Liverpool where he went on to serve in a number of senior positions in the Huyton constituency. The MP for the constituency from 1950 to 1983 was none other than Harold Wilson, who was Prime Minister twice in that period. 'Whackers' son and Wilson enjoyed a close relationship, with Peter acting as his close confidant and often driver.

One of Peter's sons and 'Whackers' grandson, a third Peter, is better known for his exploits on the football field as former captain of Everton football club, English international, manager of several football clubs, and of course as a TV pundit. Peter Reid owes much to the quick thinking of his grandfather and most importantly to the rich and often wonderfully tolerant relationship between the peoples of these islands.

As we approach the centenary of the Easter Rising there is naturally much talk about the violent events of that week and their implications for the future of Anglo-Irish relations. Much of that comment misses the real point. Nearly one million Irish born people live in the UK today. From Mayfair hedge funds to the traditional building site, from the music stars to the newly arrived immigrant, the Irish have always - in spite of the fringe malcontents - found opportunity in what is for me and many other Irish people simply the most tolerant country in the world.

Irish people have long played a positive role in political life in this country. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the recent Labour party leadership election. One of the largest hustings took place in Dublin where members of British affiliated unions were canvassed for their votes by the four candidates. Surely that says more about the reality than all the loud whining of the pub patriots who wouldn't cut the mustard anywhere.

The naff nationalist narrative of 800 years of British oppression has been packaged and sold around the world but in the stillness of quiet conversation with real people a different picture emerges. I could not count the number of Irish people who give thanks every day for their lives in Britain. From the hundreds of thousands who 'escaped' the grinding poverty and claustrophobia of a priest-ridden autocracy in the 1930's and 1950's to those who fought fascism in British army uniforms in the Second World War, the interlocking patterns of language, work, marriage and kinship have always outlasted, and overcome those who would replace it with bitterness and conflict.

There are more Irish born people to be found every Saturday at Anfield, the Emirates and Old Trafford than took part in the Rising in 1916. Think Jackie Charlton, Terry Wogan, Bob Geldof, the writers, the playwrights, the musicians, the sportsmen, the huge amount of business links and relationships, the marriages, and the children. Go to any small village in the west of Ireland and you won't find it too difficult to have a conversation about Coronation Street, Manchester United or the son or daughter studying or working in Britain.

In 2002 when Peter Reid told the BBC that he was interested in the Ireland football manager's job, he said 'Ireland is a country which is close to my heart'. In truth, no matter how some would seek to deny the reality of history and culture, both countries are close to many of our hearts.

That relationship will continue to strengthen, and deepen in the real world of daily life, the world of small and meaningful compromise where thankfully most of us actually exist.

Sean O'Callaghan is the author of James Connolly: My Search for the Man, the Myth, the Legend which will be published by Arrow, 30/06/16, paperback ,£8.99