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The Story That Has Never Been Told Before

Saint Laurent

A Sony Pictures Classics Release

Rousing, quietly angry and slyly romantic - The sense of history is vivid. An unusual story intelligently told, and one that leaves you with a rousing sense of joy, injustice and hope.

Cannes Film Festival | Los Angeles Film Festival | Tribeca Film Festival


In 1921 Jimmy Gralton’s sin was to build a dance hall on a rural crossroads in an Ireland on the brink of Civil War. The Pearse-Connolly Hall was a place where young people could come to learn, to argue, to dream... but above all to dance and have fun. As the hall grew in popularity its socialist and free-spirited reputation brought it to the attention of the church and politicians who forced Jimmy to flee and the hall to close.

A decade later, at the height of the Depression, Jimmy returns to Co. Leitrim from the US to look after his mother and vows to live the quiet life. The hall stands abandoned and empty, and despite the pleas of the local youngsters, remains shut. However as Jimmy reintegrates into the community and sees the poverty, and growing cultural oppression, the leader and activist within him is stirred. He makes the decision to reopen the hall in the face of what they may bring...


Barry Ward

Barry Ward

Barry Ward is an Irish Actor who has worked extensively in Theatre, Film and Television. He began his career at 14 years old in Roddy Doyle's highly acclaimed BBC drama, Family directed by Michael Winterbottom. He then went on to play a leading role in Paul Mercier's play Buddleia which enjoyed a successful run at the Dublin Theatre Festival before transferring to Donmar Warehouse, London. By the age of 16 he had completed a BBC six-part series Plotlands, directed by John Strickland and following this, he teamed up again with Mercier and actor Sean McGinley (Family) for award winning Irish language short Lipservice, soon after came his first feature Sunburn, shot in the U.S. featuring Cillian Murphy.

Barry has gone on to play a wide variety of roles across Theatre, Film and Television. He played the young lead opposite Peter Mullan in The Claim an international film featuring Milla Jovovic, Nastasia Kinski, and Sarah Polley. Barry starred in the Turner Classic Movie Short Film Award nominee Watchmen, alongside Cillian Murphy. He played Patrick Jones in the highly acclaimed Ch4 series City of Vice, and then opposite James McEvoy in the much feted BBC Film, MacBeth, as part of the Shakespeare re-told series. His most recent TV appearances include 4 episodes of Psych Ward for RTE's Storyland series. Other recent film credits include Shooting for Socrates and Blood Cells Bypass. His theatre credits include highly acclaimed productions of The Lieutenant of Inishmore at The RSC, Translations, The Plough and the Stars, Lay Me Down Softly, Whistle In The Dark, and Down The Line, at The Abbey Theatre.

This year Barry can be seen playing the lead role of Jimmy in the new and hotly anticipated Ken Loach film Jimmy's Hall.

Simone Kirby

Simone Kirby

Simone Kirby has recently finished filming on The Truth Commissioner, a feature film for BBC NI based on the novel by David Park, and Clean Break, a new 4 park drama for RTE playing Annette Rane. Both are due for release later this year.

She plays Tyva Hightopp, the Mad Hatters mother, in Disney's 'Alice Through the Looking Glass', due for release in May 2016. Simone plays Oonagh in Ken Loach's 'Jimmy's Hall', for which she was nominated as Lead Actress in Film at this year's IFTAs. Other credits in Film/TV are Irene in Peaky Blinders (BBC), Meet Your Neighbours (RTE), Love/Hate (RTE), Season Of The Witch (Lionsgate), X-Moor (Fyzz Facility), Single-Handed (RTE/UTV) and Geraldine in Pure Mule (RTE).

Simone has also worked extensively in Theatre; at The Abbey, The Old Vic, Shakespeare's Globe, The Gate Theatre, The Irish Rep (New York), and with Druid, Rough Magic, and many others. She was nominated for Best Actress at The Irish Theatre Awards for her performance as Mae, in Mud, with Corn Exchange.

Jim Norton

Jim Norton

Jim Norton won a 2007 Olivier Award and a 2008 Tony Award for The Seafarer. His most recent appearance on Broadway has been as Candy in Of Mice and Men. Also on Broadway The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Finian's Rainbow and The Weir (Olivier Nomination). Other New York credits include Juno and the Paycock, Dublin Carol (Obie Award), Port Authority and Donmar production of The Night Alive, all at the Atlantic Theatre. National Theatre credits include The Veil, The Pillowman, Hamlet, Bedroom Farce, Comedians, St. Joan, Way Upstream, Tamburlaine The Great, Playboy of the Western World and Chorus of Disapproval. At the Royal Court he appeared in The Contractor and The Changing Room.

Film credits include: Boy, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Water For Elephants, Straw Dogs, Hidden Agenda, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Driving Lessons, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Oyster Farmer, The Eclipse, and most recently Father Sheridan in Jimmy's Hall for Ken Loach. TV includes Elementary, Frasier, Poirot, Star Trek: the Next Generation, Stan, and BBC's River.

Aisling Franciosi

Aisling Franciosi

Aisling Franciosi is currently shooting season 2 of the TNT series Legends. She also stars opposite Jamie Dornan in the Netflix thriller series The Fall, for which she won the 2015 Irish Film & Television Award for Best Supporting Actress Drama. Previously, she received accolades for her performance opposite Gabriel Byrne in the BBC mini-series Quirke. Screen International selected her as one of their Stars of Tomorrow.

Brian F. O' Byrne

Brian F. O’Byrne

Brian F. O'Byrne was last seen on Broadway starring in John Patrick Shanley's OUTSIDE MULLINGAR at Manhattan Theater Club. His other theater credits include If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet, The Coast of Utopia, Doubt, Shining City, Frozen, Lonesome West, Beauty Queen of Leenane, Bedbound and his work with the inspiring Theater of War. He has been awarded the Tony (five nominations), Drama Desk (five nominations), Obie, Lucille Lortel, and Outer Critics Circle awards, among others. Television includes his Emmy-nominated role in "Mildred Pierce," "Prime Suspect," "FlashForward," "Brotherhood" and the acclaimed Irish series "Love/Hate."

Movies include the upcoming Jimmy's Hall directed by Ken Loach and Queen and Country directed by John Boorman (both of which premiered at 2014 Cannes Film Festival), as well as Medeas, Million Dollar Baby, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, Brooklyn's Finest and The International. He will next be seen starring with David Duchovny in the NBC series "Aquarius" which will air this summer. Mr. O'Byrne was trained at the Samuel Beckett Centre at Trinity College Dublin and raised in Mullagh, County Cavan.

Francis Magee

Francis Magee

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott


Ken Loach


Why did you want to tell Jimmy Gralton’s story?

It is a story that brings so many things together: it challenges the idea that the left is dour and dispiriting and against fun and enjoyment and celebration. It also shows how organised religion will make common cause with economic power. They did it in the case of Jimmy Gralton and continue to do so. Church and state become agents of oppression. In this case – though it’s barely mentioned in the film because of time – those who would appear to be progressive regressed, like de Valera, whom people thought would encourage open minds and tolerance. In fact, the first thing he did was to seek the approval of the church and get them on his side. Principles were expendable in the interest of realpolitik.

Is it intended to be a companion piece to The Wind that Shakes the Barley and if so, how?

Well it’s set just ten years later and there’s a line in The Wind that Shakes the Barley where the Anglo-Irish landowner says, “This country will become a priest infested backwater,” and lo and behold, it came to pass. It’s been a struggle ever since. The church has now lost a lot of credibility because of the scandals. But when we were making the film people absolutely understood the power of the Church and the power of the priest to determine who would be successful or not in the community.

To what extent is this film history and to what extent fiction?

The film is ‘inspired' by the life and times of Jimmy Gralton. There isn't a huge amount known about the details of his life and personality. That's sad in some ways because clearly he was a brilliant man, but it gave us the freedom to imagine a private life and explore those choices he had to make. We wanted to give the audience a character that has richness and is a rounded person, not just a two-dimensional activist. That balance is very difficult and it always comes down to the details – can he have a relationship with someone? And then what might that relationship be?

We can share and imagine the secrets. We did not want the priests to appear as caricatures, which would have been a danger if we had just dramatised the historical record. It was more interesting to imagine a priest who while he was ferocious in his hostility, nevertheless had another dimension to him – he respected his enemy's integrity. Jimmy had real qualities that the priest couldn't ignore. What we tried to do was round the characters whilst being true to the historical facts.

What is the significance of the hall?

I think it’s an embodiment of a free spirit, a place where ideas can be tested and expressed, where poetry, music, sport can all be celebrated, where people can express their talents and, of course, dance.

So what is the role of dance and music in the story?

It is an expression of freedom. Always dangerous to those who seek to exercise control.

How did you go about capturing dance and music on film?

You can do it in various ways. You can choreograph the camera and the dancers and make it very stylised, but that was the antithesis of what we wanted. People learned the dances to a point where they could enjoy them and express themselves. Then we had to find camera positions and images that would capture that. I think it’s to do with the angle you shoot at and it’s to do with the lens you use: it comes down to technical issues. The images that I always have in my head are the Degas images of dance where you feel you’re sitting in a box, alongside. It’s not right in the middle of the stalls, where everything is straight on to you, he’s at an angle, and he’s slightly above the dancers, and you see not only the dancers but you see what’s in the wings. You observe the dancers rather than being in the middle of them and you observe the joy and the comedy and the communication between them.

Rather than using a taped track you filmed your musicians live. Why?

Well because you’ve got to see the effort of playing. We’ve done that in our films for half a century – it’s quite amusing that one or two people have started doing it now and it’s presented as a breakthrough! It’s the only way you can see people really playing, and the interaction between the musicians and the dancers, otherwise there’s just something slightly wrong, slightly missing. It just needs to be live. It does mean that the editor has got to be good at cutting music and maybe joining two or three bits of music together. But Jonathan [Morris] is very good at that.

Why did you build the hall in situ, as opposed to using a studio?

Building a real hall was much easier. The landscape is very important – the landscape of that part of Ireland, the lives people lead because of that landscape and the bogs and the mist and the rest. The temptation in the studio is that you don’t make it the actual size, yet the actual size imposes a discipline that I think you can sense as an audience. In a studio, walls can be moved and you get a shot you could never get in real life. In addition, the natural light in the hall is beautiful. Sometimes, Robbie [Ryan, DOP] had to supplement it, but the reality was always there in the room.

And why did you choose to film it in Leitrim, where the original hall was situated?

We looked all over the west of Ireland but in fact Leitrim was the best, not only because it was the truest to where the story actually happened but because it’s quite an empty county so the impact of modern technical things isn’t so great. It’s also quite deserted. A lot of people have left because of the lack of jobs, so it’s quite easy to film in. In the end there seemed no reason to go anywhere else.

How did the locals respond to you telling a local story?

They couldn’t have been more welcoming. We had a lot of young people in the film and their commitment was very strong. What’s great is that they weren’t cynical, they were very open-hearted and generous and absolutely committed. They worked their socks off and their enjoyment was infectious.

What was the casting process?

We tried to keep a strong connection to the area, but there wasn’t quite the range of people in terms of professional actors. So we had to spread the net a bit wider. It’s just a long process – we see as many people as possible, anybody who shows interest.

Kahleen [Crawford, Casting Director] is very good at drawing them in. We tried to cast as many parts as locally as possible because the sense of community is very important in this film – it isn’t just one or two characters and a bunch of extras. Everyone who is in it became part of the process – and, I hope, felt embedded in the project. I think you can always tell when there are big scenes in films and people have been hired from a casting agency. They just turn up and they’re placed by the assistant directors and the director directs from a monitor. You can’t do that. Well you can but it shows in the fabric of the film.

Why did you choose Barry Ward to play Jimmy?

Jimmy, as written, is politically very committed, he’s got a genial spirit, he’s got empathy with people, he’s got a history of working class struggle, of working in different manual jobs, of travelling around the world. There’s a warmth and a generosity to him as well as a shrewdness. Finding all those elements was quite tricky. We didn’t want him too young and we didn’t want him too old – in real life I think he was about 40 when this happened. So we saw lots and lots of people but Barry was the one who seemed to bring all those qualities altogether.

Who was Jimmy Gralton?

In real life he was a dedicated activist. I’ve met many over the years, dedicated trade unionists and organisers, people drawn to politics – once it gets its claws into you, it doesn’t let go. When Jimmy came back to Ireland, having been kicked out ten years earlier, reopening the hall was a big decision. Once the hall is re-opened they’re going to be after him again. And once they’re after him, he’s either got to abandon the politics in order to stay or face the same huge battle as before. There was a feeling that the change of government would open possibilities but somebody with Jimmy’s politics would know that a politician like de Valera would betray the interests of the working class. Jimmy understood class struggle, and that conflict is inevitable. So it’s a very difficult question for him to dive back into politics when he’s returned to be with his mother, to help look after the farm. He’s exhausted after twenty years of travel and yet in the end what else can he do? If you’re political you have no choice.

What parallels are there between Jimmy’s Ireland and Ireland today?

Well I guess it’s the same struggle. There was a financial crash in ’29 followed by a decade of depression and mass unemployment. That seems to be the case now: it’s a huge struggle for the left to get any purchase in the political argument; it barely does. Politics is presented as a narrow discussion between different right-wing parties, and yet there is great hardship with the poorest taking the hardest cuts, lots of young people with no future, and in Ireland mass emigration to look for any kind of job security. So it’s very similar in that respect: financial crash followed by economic depression.

Can film-making make a difference or affect the debate?

No I’m not sure it can really, not much. By-and-large films reinforce the status quo because those are the big films that get made and get the big budgets and get the most advertising. They either reinforce the status quo or they’re just an escape valve. But I think that’s pretty well always been the case. The medium is capable of much more but commercial cinema and the people who run it are not concerned with that. On the other hand, films can make connections, ask questions, challenge received opinions. At the very least, films can give value to the experience of ordinary people. It is through the drama of everyday life, its conflicts, struggles and joys, that we may glimpse the possibilities for the future.

Rebecca O'Brien



At first I thought that Jimmy’s Hall would be a nice, easy film to make. We had no idea that it would expand into the biggest film we’ve done. That’s in terms of budget, production values, as well as cast and crew. We had a dance team, two different bands that we concocted ourselves, and of course we built a bloody hall in the middle of nowhere. I remember doing the budget and then thinking, ‘Oh gosh, this is quite a big film.’

Fortunately our wonderful French supporters, Why Not and Wild Bunch said, ‘Let’s do it again in the same way as we did Looking for Eric, The Angel’s Share, Route Irish...’ So, they came on board very happily in the same arrangement that we had before, whereby they cashflowed the production up front, trusting us to get on with the work while the legal process was still in train.

Because it was a bigger budget this time we thought we would probably need more money from other funders. So we approached the BFI, Film 4 and the Irish Film Board (because obviously it is a very Irish film, and needed Irish support) and all of them said yes. As usual, it was more complex wrangling three public funders – you’ve got three more sets of lawyers and financiers, and what one does the others want to do as well, so you end up with a lot of paperwork, but there was never a conflict. The financing was pretty straightforward because of the French funding.

We could not have made this film without their support from the very beginning because we had a huge prep period. We needed to be able to be in Leitrim, we needed to have location managers working early on to find the right sites, and we started casting in January and location recce-ing in the winter. We also had to train our actors in dancing and we were teaching people in Leitrim and Sligo dancing for at least a couple of months before the shoot began. So, we had to think ahead of the game and that’s obviously a bigger production number.

Our partners always leave us to make the film we want to make. I think it’s partly to do with the fact that we are experienced. They know what they’re getting; they have seen us deliver films within the budget and on time before. They feel safe enough that we don’t have a completion bond for instance and they know how fiercely independent we are. Ken likes to work in the way that he does, without interference, and they’ve understood that over the years that actually it is best to leave him to it – they get a better film that way. Of course, it’s generous of them to let us get on with it and it’s quite brave of them too. That culture has got a lot worse in recent years. There is a lot of executive involvement in projects but with us they know that we don’t appreciate it very much. We would much rather show them what we can do later.

‘For peace comes dropping slow...’ Filming in Leitrim.

We chose in this case to film in quite an inaccessible place, yet it was always a real bonus that we were able to make it in Leitrim. The real Jimmy Gralton grew up in South Leitrim and though we filmed in North Leitrim it was still amazing to be able to do it in the right county. It was purely the coincidence of the locations being right – we would have filmed in Mayo if the locations were better there. But we needed places with as few modern bungalows as possible and we needed a town big enough to support us nearby, which was Sligo.

Sligo isn't the most accessible place but once we were there we were extraordinarily lucky – it rains for 50% of the time in this area yet we didn't lose anything because of the weather, not one day. To choose a place which is so wet, because it's so close to the Atlantic, is almost completely bonkers but the weather smiled on us. When you're building a hall on a bog it helps if it's not raining.

A lot of the cast were local as well, so it’s actually been more of a community film than I ever imagined we could make. That has meant that the local people have been able to own the film in the way that you always want a film to belong to the area. That in turn makes it all the better because it’s their film as well as our film. And I’d like to think it practises what it preaches, because everybody had a great time making it.

A companion piece, not a sequel.

This film is a depiction of life ten years down the line from The Wind that Shakes the Barley and I think it’s a bit more optimistic in a way. Historically it’s a companion piece: it takes the same arguments and looks at how they evolved – the Irish Free State had been around for 10 years by this time, and it’s interesting to see where the power lines now lie. We consistently fail to learn from history – it’s really important to re-visit, see where we went right and where we went wrong. Making a film like this gives you that opportunity to see what lessons we need to learn.

So Long, Farewell?

This is Ken’s last big film, I think we can safely say that. There were a few teary people around on the shoot but I feel quite positive. For a start I don’t believe it’s Ken’s last work because I’m sure he’ll pop up with a documentary or something small. And I like the idea of having gone full circle with him. I started working with him on Hidden Agenda and the team that we’ve managed to put together can’t last forever so it’s nice to end it on a high. Or not even end it but to feel, ‘Okay, here’s a body of work.’ One of my next jobs will be to sew all that together and find a way of using modern techniques to present that body of work and put the films in historical context. If you look at Ken’s films they form a social history of the last 50 years. That should be preserved as well as it can and be made accessible.


Jimmy Gralton


James (Jimmy) Gralton is born in Effernagh, County Leitrim. His father Michael and mother Alice work a small farm of 25 acres of poor land. He has four sisters and two brothers, one who dies young. Two sisters emigrate to the US, two marry locally. His brother Charles stays at home on the farm. Emigration is a central fact of life in Leitrim in this era. The population more than halves through emigration in the second half of the 19th century. ‘Remittances’, the money sent back by emigrants, help to alleviate the widespread poverty in the area.


Aged 14, Jimmy leaves school and becomes a shop boy. He moves to Dublin and works as a barman before joining the British Army. Based in Scotland and later Cork. Refuses to go to India to defend ‘British imperialist interests’ and serves a year in prison. Deserts following his release and goes to England. Works as a docker in Liverpool and a miner in Wales. Then travels the world as a stoker on a steamer. Returns briefly to Ireland in 1907, before emigrating to New York, aged 21. Having worked at various jobs, Jimmy briefly joins the US Navy.


Gralton becomes politically active in New York. He is a member of Clan na Gael, the Irish-American support organisation for republicans in Ireland. He is influenced by the writings of James Connolly, the Irish socialist and republican who is executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. Becomes active in the James Connolly Club in New York, established by Jim Larkin, a trade union leader and comrade of Connolly’s who moved to the US in 1914. Campaigns against the First World War and in support of an Irish Republic. He is an active trade unionist. In 1915 he applies for, and gets, US citizenship.

Following the 1916 Rising there is rapid political change in Ireland as radical nationalism and trade unionism grow. Sinn Féin and the Irish Volunteers are organised countrywide, including Leitrim. The attempted extension of conscription into the British Army to Ireland in 1918 is successfully resisted, in a campaign led by Sinn Féin and the labour movement. Sinn Féin sweeps the boards in most of Ireland in the 1918 general election following the end of the First World War. The labour movement is stronger than ever at the war’s end, but the Labour Party stands aside in the election to allow Sinn Féin a clear run. Meanwhile, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 offers hope to revolutionaries world-wide, and leads Gralton toward communism.


Sinn Fsil Eireann, an independent Irish parliament, and declares an Irish Republic. The British refuse to recognise it and the War of Independence commences. The Volunteers become the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Jimmy is involved in support work for the republican cause in New York. Meets President of the Irish Republic, Eamon de Valera, who travels to the US on a fundraising and propaganda mission. Joins the newly formed Communist Party in New York.


Black and Tans burn the Gowel Parochial Hall, the local, church-run ‘community centre’, to the ground.

The Black and Tans and Auxiliaries are sent by the British to take the war to the IRA and terrorise the communities that are seen to be supporting them. They attack civilians, trade unions, burn creameries and halls, towns and villages, and close down fairs and markets. The guerilla war of the IRA intensifies, mainly involving ambushes by ‘flying columns’. Meanwhile, a counterstate structure is created by the Dáil, including a court system. There is significant class conflict in town and country, and the republican leadership attempts to minimise it in pursuit of the single aim of driving out the British. Many court decisions favour the status quo.


Gralton returns to Leitrim in late June 1921 and joins the local IRA. He brings money for the cause and trains volunteers. A truce is declared weeks later on 11 July. Taking advantage of the temporary peace, Jimmy offers to establish a new community hall on his father’s land. It is built by voluntary local labour. The Pearse-Connolly Hall, named after two of the prominent executed leaders of the 1916 Rising, is opened on New Year’s Eve 1921. It is run by an elected committee, including Gralton, who is one of three trustees.

In 1920 the British government pass the Government of Ireland Act, which divides the island into Northern Ireland (the six north-eastern counties) and a twenty-six county Home Rule state called Southern Ireland. The independence movement rejects the act and fights on for a united independent republic, but the state of Northern Ireland is established in the summer of 1921. On 6 December representatives of the Dáil sign the Anglo- Irish Treaty with the British. This creates an Irish Free State as a British dominion. It consolidates partition and maintains an overseeing British presence in the southern state. This divides the independence movement and lead to civil war seven months later.

In May-June 1921 the miners at Arigna just over the border in Roscommon take over and work the mines for two months – the so-called ‘Arigna Soviet’. There are hundreds of ‘soviets’ in Ireland in these years, in creameries, factories, etc, but the conservative Labour leadership refuses to co-ordinate and lead workers’ rank-and-file militancy. In the countryside, the conservative republican leadership tries to minimise class conflict, as small farmers and rural labourers engage in land agitation.


Jimmy throws himself into land agitation. Courts are held in the Pearse- Connolly Hall to settle land disputes. A Direct Action Committee gives effect to court decisions and organises land seizures from landlords on behalf of tenants. Their actions lead to the area being dubbed the ‘Gowel Soviet’. The hall is also used for dances. Because it is outside the control of the church, it meets with extreme hostility from that powerful quarter. Gralton is condemned from the pulpit and rumours that the hall is frequented by prostitutes are circulated. Music and education classes are also held at the hall, which further infuriates the local Catholic Church, which seeks to monopolise schooling. The hall is a direct challenge to its power. Gralton describes it as ‘a sort of revolutionary community centre.’

In May 1922 Jimmy and the Direct Action Committee are confronted by Free State soldiers, supported by conservative anti-Treatyites and the local priest, as they reinstate an evicted tenant. They draw guns and the Free Staters back down. Church and state are united in their determination to drive out this ‘troublemaker’. Both the pro-Treaty Free Staters and conservative local anti-Treaty IRA leaders oppose the actions of Gralton and his committee. For landlords, large farmers and business people he represents a serious threat to their position. He is condemned from the altar and is arrested by Free State troops. Protests lead to his release. Troops come to arrest him again at the hall on 24 May 1922. Gralton escapes, is later caught and briefly jailed, but escapes and flees back to New York weeks before the outbreak of civil war.

Between January and June 1922 the independence movement is split in two on the issue of the Treaty. The Catholic Church, business leaders and the mainstream press all support the Treaty. The labour movement takes a neutral position, weakening the position of socialists like Gralton within the anti-Treaty movement. The IRA splits irrevocably in March 1922. There is jostling for position across the country as the British leave. In South Leitrim, the pro-Treaty (Free State) faction prevails, but there is little conflict. On 28 June the anti-Treaty IRA HQ in Dublin is shelled with British-supplied artillery by the newly formed National Army and the civil war begins. Though initially numerically stronger, the anti-Treaty IRA lacks strategy and a clear programme to rally support. It holds out in Munster until August 1922, but is eventually defeated by the National Army’s superior firepower and effectively surrenders in May 1923.


Jimmy spends the next decade back in New York, working at various jobs in an era of high employment. He is active again in Irish socialist-republican solidarity work, supporting campaigns in Ireland such as that by small farmers against the payment of land annuities to Britain. He remains active in the American labour and communist movements, though they are in decline as American capitalism goes through a boom period.

While church and state in an economically stagnant Ireland are creating a closed, repressive and exclusivist culture that frowns on and censors modern dancing, jazz music, Hollywood films and popular culture in general, Jimmy is living in the economically buoyant and culturally vibrant New York of the ‘roaring twenties’. New skyscrapers reach to the stars, African-Americans become prominent in the arts and music, especially jazz, which is popularised through the new mass medium of radio and the burgeoning record industry. Dance clubs proliferate and new dances like the Charleston and the Shim Sham are born. In New York and other big cities there is an unprecedented mixing of different ethnic groups, and a loosening of the moral strictures that are being copper-fastened in Ireland.

The roaring twenties come to an abrupt end with the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Mass unemployment and poverty hit the US from 1930. Jimmy and his communist comrades are temporarily energised, believing this to be the beginning of the end of capitalism. They are involved in organising the unemployed, fighting evictions and championing African-American rights. He stays in touch with events in Ireland, and sends regular subscriptions to support the new communist newspaper, the Irish Workers’ Voice, and various workers’ struggles.

In Ireland the pro-Treaty wing of Sinn Féin, now called Cumann na nGaedheal, is in government from 1922 to 1932. Anti-treaty Sinn Féin and the IRA maintain their organisations and refuse to accept the legitimacy of either the Irish Free State or Northern Ireland. In alliance with the Catholic Church, the right-wing Free State government creates a very conservative society, characterised by censorship and repression. Economic structures remain untouched, policies favour big farmers who export cattle, and the urban working class and rural poor fare badly. The Labour Party is a weak and ineffectual opposition. In 1926 Eamon de Valera and his followers split from Sinn Féin, which refuses to take its seats in parliament, and forms Fianna Fáil, which takes the oath of fidelity to the British crown that had been a major plank of republican opposition to the Treaty and enters the Dáil in 1927. They take advantage of the weakness of the Labour Party and the left and attract the support of workers and small farmers.

The IRA begins to shift to the left, but still has a significant conservative, Catholic tendency. Republicans join with the new Irish communist movement in a range of campaigns and groups sponsored by the Comintern (the Soviet-Union backed international communist movement), including a radical campaign against the payment of land annuities to Britain.

In the depression following the 1929 Wall Street Crash of 1929, these radical campaigns gather momentum. In 1931 the IRA adopts a socialist platform called ‘Saor Éire’. This sparks a massive red scare and church/ state backlash. The IRA and a range of communist and radical groups are banned, the Catholic Church warns people about joining such ‘sinful’ organisations, and thousands are jailed. Fianna Fáil, promising to stop paying land annuities to Britain and to release the prisoners, among a range of other policies that appeal to the working class and rural poor, wins power in the February 1932 general election. Cumann na nGaedheal has tried to tar them with the red scare brush, but the party makes clear its Catholic credentials and reassures Irish capitalists about its intentions. Its economic protectionist policies are a major boon to Irish business interests. Fianna Fáil remains in government uninterrupted until 1948.


Jimmy’s brother Charles, who has been running the farm, dies. In March 1932 Gralton takes advantage of the new era in Ireland, with its short-lived atmosphere of hope, progress and political freedom, including a new communist party in the offing, to return home and help his aged parents. He immediately sets about establishing a Revolutionary Workers’ Group in his area, as part of the network of such groups that would form the basis of a new communist party. He briefly joins Fianna Fáil in an apparent effort to force some investment into the area, but is soon expelled. His group attends demonstrations, local and national, and sells copies of the Workers’ Voice. Meanwhile, he works the farm.

A number of local youngsters approach him to re-open the hall. Despite his reluctance to stir up his old enemies –the Church, local big farmers and businessmen and antisocialist, conservative elements in the IRA, as well as the Special Branch (political police) – he eventually agrees, and forms a committee to run it. Classes and meetings and dances resume. His old enemies revive their demonization campaign. Youngsters are warned to stay away from Jimmy’s Hall by the local clergy, who denounce him as a dangerous communist and agent of Satan. Names are taken of those who attend dances. The leader of the local IRA unit is hostile; stones are thrown at Gralton’s house, hay is burnt and Jimmy is physically threatened. The formation of the fascistic Army Comrades Association adds to the menace. The local parish priest demands that the hall be handed over to the Church. The hall committee invite him to join the board of trustees, but he refuses.

In August, at the request of progressive IRA men from nearby Roscommon who have taken up the case, Jimmy makes a radical speech at the reinstatement of evicted tenants at the Earl of Kingston’s estate.

In October, the British communist Thomas Mann, who has come to support the agitation against unemployment, is deported from Northern Ireland. The local parish priest in Gowel says in a sermon that all communists should be deported.

On 27 November 1932 shots are fired into the hall during a dance. Band and dancers hit the floor and no-one is injured. The band play on and the people dance defiantly into the early hours. A landmine explodes near the hall in early December, and on Christmas Eve 1932 it is burnt to the ground.

Fianna Fáil witholds the payment of land annuities to Britain in June 1932 and sparks off a tariff war that impacts most heavily on cattle-exporting big farmers. IRA support for Fianna Fáil in the election has led to the formation of the Army Comrades Association (ACA), former Free State Army veterans under the leadership of the deposed head of the Garda Siochána, the fascist Eoin O’Duffy. The ACA grows in strength with the support of the disaffected ranchers, and becomes increasingly fascistic, adopting the blue-shirt uniform by which they will be known in early 1933. Strict censorship of films (1923-) is followed by a draconian Censorship of Publications Act in 1929. Bishops and clergy condemn modern dancing, ‘jazz’, motor cars and ‘immodest fashions’. In 1935 the Dancehalls Act brings dancehalls under strict, usually Catholic Church, supervision and control. The Catholicisation of the new state is crowned in June 1932 when Ireland hosts the Eucharistic Congress, a huge international event that firmly establishes Fianna Fáil’s Catholic credentials. Jimmy’s sister Mary Ann, a nun in New York, travels to Ireland with thousands of others for the occasion. The IRA, in the meantime, is in the process of distancing itself from communism and left-wing politics generally, which leads to a split in 1934 with the formation of the left-wing Irish Republican Congress.


On 1 February 1933 Jimmy’s father Michael dies. Two days later the police call to Gralton’s farm to serve Jimmy with a deportation order; he is given one month to leave the country (he is described as ‘an undesirable person’ – his US citizenship provides the basis for the order.) Jimmy escapes and goes on the run. A local and national campaign against the deportation – co-ordinated by the Gralton Defence Committee – is launched. It is supported by communists, socialists, republicans, trade unionists and writers. On 5 March a local church-gate meeting in support of Gralton is attacked by a priest-led mob, and the speakers, including prominent novelist and socialist republican Peadar O’Donnell, are driven out of the area. At a meeting of Leitrim County Council in July 1933 Jimmy’s mother Alice addresses the councillors, condemning the deportation order and appealing for their support, to no avail. On 10 August 1933, after six months on the run, Jimmy is finally arrested at the house of a poteen-maker near Mohill, County Leitrim. He is taken to Ballinamore barracks and the following day to Cork Jail. The next day he is put on board the Britannic at Cobh and sent to New York, with only the clothes he is wearing. His ticket is bought with money that was found on him when arrested. He is greeted by comrades as he disembarks in New York.

He will never return to Ireland.

Fianna Fáil was initially dependant on the support of the Labour Party to govern, and in late January 1933 called a snap general election and succeeded in gaining an overall majority. The final act of the party’s first Minister for Justice James Geoghegan was to sign the deportation order against Gralton. Geoghegan was a barrister and long-time Catholic activist. It is probable that he was a member of the Knights of Columbanus, a network of lay Catholic professionals and businessmen who were vehemently anti-socialist, and that it was through this channel that the plan for Jimmy’s deportation was hatched and executed, the idea having been formed following the deportation of Thomas Mann from Northern Ireland in October 1932.


Jimmy Gralton immediately throws himself back into political activism in New York. He becomes the main driving force of the Communist Party- backed Irish Workers’ Clubs (IWC) and of the Communist Party’s (CP) Irish-related activities. The IWC supports left-wing struggles in Ireland and also organises Irish immigrants into unions and around various social and political issues in the US. In October 1933 Gralton stands unsuccessfully as a CP candidate in the New York Borough elections. He works at various jobs, and for a time runs a small food business. His last job is with a local radio station in New York. Jimmy marries Bessie Cronogue, from Drumsna, County Leitrim, shortly before his death on 29 December 1945. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.


  • Dave Calhoun TIME OUT

    "Rousing, quietly angry and slyly romantic - the sense of history is vivid. An unusual story intelligently told, and one that leaves you with a rousing sense of joy, injustice, and hope."