George Harrison (`1915-2004)

George Harrison was born May 2, 1915, in Shammer, Kilkelly, County Mayo, in an Ireland oppressed and impoverished by British occupation. A year after his birth the Easter Rising took place. Its executed leaders James Connolly and Padraic Pearse would become Harrison's heroes.

As a young man Harrison worked as a wheelwright and a stonecutter. At age 15, he enlisted in the East Mayo Battalion of the Irish Republican Army.

The Depression forced Harrison to leave Ireland. He first went to England, where, like many Irish emigrants, he picked crops and labored on building sites. In 1938 he came to New York, working first as a bartender and then on the docks. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in the Pacific Theater and later became a security guard for Brinks Armor. Working at Brinks for 30 years, he also fought for labor justice as a shop steward and union organizer.

Over the years, George developed a relationship with the legendary transport workers' leader Michael Quill who would on occasion pass money to George to assist in George's life long commitment to supply the resistance in Ireland with the means to resist. Quill knew how the money might be spent and gladly gave it anyway -- with no strings attached.  

George supported freedom movements worldwide. Of George it was said, "He never met a revolution he didn't like." and to paraphrase the old ballad, "God grant you glory, old George, and open heavens to all your men, the cause that called you may call tomorrow in another cause for the Green again."

To George the fight for Irish freedom was one with the world struggle against imperialism and racism. He stood vigil every week outside the British Consulate in New York to support the Irish people. And he was at every march against war and racism or in solidarity with the people of South Africa, Palestine and Latin America.

George began supplying arms to the IRA in the early 1950’s. When the latest phase of the freedom struggle started in the late 1960’s, he became the main arms supplier in the US.  He admitted to sending over 3,000 weapons during his gun-running career and it is believed that over one million rounds of ammunition also came to Ireland via the ‘Harrison network’.

In 1981 the Reagan regime prosecuted George, Tom Falvey, Michael Flannery, Paddy Mullens and Tommy Gormley for arming Irish freedom fighters. The "IRA Five" refused to deny the charges but waged a political defense. Witnesses on George's behalf included Irish leader Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and Sam Gulabe, United Nations representative of the African National Congress. (Dr. Gulabe, then known as David Ndaba, was a colonel in the South African army and physician to Nelson Mandela). The five were acquitted.

George remained an unrepentant Irish republican who never stopped thinking of the struggle. On the day he died, he penned a verse for the newspaper Saiorse:

"May the spirit of those who suffered in the torture chambers of the Empire of Hell animate us with enough strength to free the land of our heart's desire. In dedication to all my comrades--the living and the dead."

George Harrison died in New York on October 6th 2004 at the age of 89, having never returned to Ireland.  He made a promise to himself not to return until a united Ireland had been carved out. His passing leaves a huge gap in the ranks of Irish American supporters of the Republican Movement in Ireland. 

In accordance with his final wishes his body was cremated.


Back to Biographies                                                                                                                                                                      Posted 12/05/07