Eddi Reader reveals great uncle’s life as IRA chief

FOLK singer Eddi Reader has discovered a treasure trove of family papers that outline the extraordinary life led by a revolutionary relative who was involved with the burgeoning Scottish nationalist movement and the early IRA.
Eddi Reader. Picture: Donald MacLeodEddi Reader. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Eddi Reader. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Reader has become fascinated by her great uncle Seamus (or James) Reader after unearthing his manuscripts, a Saltire flag and two moth-eaten­ sets of bagpipes when she went to clear the Dublin home of his only son.

The former Fairground Attraction singer is working on a book about her relative, who spent his youth ferrying munitions from Scotland to Ireland for the Irish Republican cause during the First World War.

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Seamus Reader became head of the Scottish Brigade of the old IRA when the Irish War of Independence broke out in 1919 and there are claims that he later became a founder of the abortive Scottish Republican Army, which attempted to replicate the Irish struggle in Scotland between the wars.

Although reluctant to talk about her great uncle before her book is published in 2016, the singer has posted details of her finds on Facebook and Twitter.

As a prominent Yes campaigner, she took the St Andrew’s flag found amongst his belongings to last week’s march for independence on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. She told the crowd that it had been flown for Scottish nationalism in the 1930s before she sang Hamish Henderson’s song Freedom Come-All-Ye.

More details of his life were mentioned in a foreword the singer wrote for a book about piping by the financial journalist Fergus Muirhead.

In his recently published A Piper’s Tale, Reader’s foreword describes the papers found under the boiler in the shed of the Dublin house. The manuscripts reveal that Seamus Reader was a keen piper who played for the Irish Republican leaders James Connolly and Countess Markievicz.

“He died in 1969,” she wrote. “I only met him once, but now I feel that I have a closer relationship with him than with other family members who are still alive, and the reason for that is the musical connection and the pipes.”

In a Facebook posting, she gave more information about his adventurous political life, saying that he “was in command of 4,000 Scots involved in the Irish Rising build-up and the Irish war against England. I am feeling like a baton has been passed on to me.”

She also revealed that he had used Glasgow University’s chemistry department at night to “invent incendiary devices to send to Michael Collins [the Irish patriot] after 1916”.

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There are also contemporary accounts from Scottish nationalists of the 1930s, which describe Seamus Reader playing the pipes when a long-forgotten paramilitary organisation, the Scottish Defence Force, went on exercise in the Campsie Hills.

The newly discovered papers are bound to shed more light on a violent period of Anglo-Irish history and on a life which has already been tentatively explored by academics.

Seamus Reader is mentioned in a book by Daniel Leach titled The Unwelcome Brothers about Scottish nationalists in exile in Ireland during the first half of the last century.

Leach’s book says that Seamus Reader was also known as Jim Reeder or Seamus MacRidire. Born in Glasgow, in 1914 he joined Fianna Éireann, an organisation known as the Sinn Fein Boy Scouts.

In 1915 he made several trips taking munitions to the Irish Volunteers in Belfast and Dublin, but was unable to take part in the Easter Rising of the following year because he had been arrested in Glasgow while on a smuggling mission.

According to The Unwelcome Brothers, there were sightings of Seamus Reader attending early meetings of the Cumann Náisiúnta, an organisation known as the Irish Friends of Germany and described in the book as “a tiny, Nazi-leaning group”.

In the end, however, the intelligence agencies concluded that Reader was unlikely to have risked associating with the Nazis.

A report said: “It seems on the face of it that he has so much to lose that he would be unlikely to indulge in any subversive activity, but the information available regarding him is hardly reassuring and seems to establish him as a worthy subject of future attention.”