The Irish revolution was a national revolution. It was directed
by a small people isolated by geographical position, against
what was then the most powerful Empire in the world. Its
objects were to secure for the Irish people control of their own
destinies so that they could solve their social and economic
problems themselves. Its basis was the firm ground. But its
story is shot through with heroism and romance.
No one man so perfectly combines in his character the real-
ism and the romance of the Irish struggle as Liam Mellows. He
began his political life at the beginning of the revolutionary
period and perished in the flames of counter-revolution at the
end of 1922. A revolution cannot be understood without the
examination of its base. But neither can it be understood with-
out sharing the hopes, disappointments, fears and aspirations of
its participants. This book tells the story of the revolution
through the life of the man who should be its symbol. It is
therefore called ‘Liam Mellows and the Irish Revolution’.
With these words Desmond Greaves introduces this book. He rightly regarded it as his most mature and significant work. It was first published in 1971. Greaves had originally set out as a young man to write a history of the modern Irish working-class movement up to the 1920s. When this became too long and unwieldy, he decided that the main elements of the story could be told in the form of life histories of James Connolly and Liam Mellows. Hence the two biographies judged by many to be the definitive works on their respective subjects.
Desmond Greaves (1913–1988), although he was born and lived all his life in Britain, was one of Ireland’s leading Labour historians. As well as the two biographies mentioned, he wrote Sean O ‘Casey: Politics and Art; Wolfe Tone and the Irish Nation; The Irish Transport and General Workers Union: The Formative Years, 1909–23 (which that trade union officially commissioned); The Irish Crisis, a study of the 1960s Civil Rights movement; and many other works,