Seamus Costello

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Seamus Costello
Wicklow County Councillor
In office
March 1967 – October 1977
Constituency Bray
Personal details
Born 1939
Old Connaught Avenue, Bray, County Wicklow
Died 1977
Nationality Irish
Political party Irish Republican Socialist Party
Other political
Sinn Féin (1955–1970)
Official Sinn Féin (1970–1974)
Spouse(s) Maeliosa Costello

Seamus Costello (Irish Wp→: Séamus Mac Coisdealbha, 1939–1977) was a leader of Official Sinn Féin and the Official Irish Republican Army and latterly of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP) and the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA).

He argued for a combination of socialist politics on economic issues and traditional "physical force" Irish republicanism. He is best remembered for the founding of the IRSP and the INLA. He was a victim of the feud with his former comrades in the Official IRA.

Early life: IRA Border Campaign

Born into a middle class family in Bray, County Wicklow, he was educated at Christian Brothers College, Monkstown. He left school at 15 and became a mechanic and later car salesman in Dublin.

At the age of 16 he joined Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Army. Within a year, he was commanding an active service unit of the IRA in south County Londonderry during the Border Campaign, where his leadership skills and his burning down of the courthouse in Magherafelt earned him the nickname of "the Boy General".[1] The most publicised actions of his unit included the destruction of bridges and the burning of Magherafelt courthouse.[2] He was arrested in Glencree, County Wicklow, in 1957 and sentenced to six months in Mountjoy Prison. On his release, he was immediately interned in the Curragh prison camp for two years.[3]

He spent his time in prison studying. He was particularly inspired by his studies of the Vietnamese struggle.[4] He became a member of the escape committee which engineered the successful escapes of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Dáithí Ó Conaill, among others. Costello would later refer to this time as his "university days".

Political activism

After his release, Costello worked to rebuild the republican movement, beginning by building a local base of support in County Wicklow as Sinn Féin's local organiser. Costello strongly supported the movement's left-wing orientation of these years - especially its emphasis on grassroots political activism. He helped found a strong tenants' association in Bray, and also became involved with the credit union movement and various farmers' organisations. During this period, he found time to marry a Tipperary woman, Maeliosa, who also became active in the republican movement. Costello stood for election to the Bray Urban District Council and the Wicklow county council in 1966 and was successful.

After the Troubles broke out in Northern Ireland in 1969, the IRA and Sinn Féin both split over abstentionism and the "left-wing" faction's "extreme socialism" politics. During the split of the Republican Movement into Official and Provisional movements in 1969, Costello remained with the Officials, due to their greater commitment to left wing politics. He served as Vice-President of Official Sinn Féin and as a staff officer in the Official IRA.

Costello was opposed to the 1972 ceasefire and he began to clash openly with the leadership and with Eoin O'Murchu. Costello was subjected to a court martial in 1974. Brigid Makowski, who was called to testify at his court martial in Mornington in County Louth, remarked that "Jesus could have testified on Costello's behalf and it wouldn't have changed the verdict." [5] He was dismissed from OSF in 1974 after the OSF leadership blocked his supporters from attending the party convention.

He enjoyed considerable political support, being elected as chairman of Bray town council and topping the poll in his Bray county council constituency.

Founds INLA and IRSP

At a meeting in the Lucan Spa Hotel near Dublin, on 10 December 1974, the Irish Republican Socialist Party was formed by republicans, socialists, and trade unionists with Costello as the Chairperson.

At a private meeting later the same day, the Irish National Liberation Army was formed with Costello as the Chief of Staff, although its existence was to be kept secret for a time. The new grouping intended to combine left politics with the "armed struggle" against British security forces in Northern Ireland.

Within days of its founding, the fledgling Irish Republican Socialist Movement was embroiled in a bitter feud with the Official IRA. The feud resulted in the attempted assassination of Official IRA leader Sean Garland who was wounded in an IRSP attack near his home in the Ballymun area of Dublin (Garland was wounded six times but survived the attack). Before a truce was reached, three members of the IRSP were dead. Later that same year, Bernadette McAliskey resigned from the IRSP over the failure of a motion that would have brought the INLA under IRSP control, taking over half of the Árd Chomhairle members with her.

In July 1976 Costello was replaced as INLA chief-of-staff by South Derry man Eddy McNicholl, although he still wielded considerable influence within the movement, retaining his position as chairman of the IRSP.


Despite the truce, Costello was shot dead as he sat in his car on the North Strand Road in Dublin on 5 October 1977 by a member of the Official IRA, Jim Flynn who happened to be in the area at the time.[6] The Official and Provisional IRAs both denied responsibility and Sinn Féin/The Workers' Party issued a statement condemning the killing. Members of an opposing INLA faction in Belfast also denied the killing. However, the INLA eventually deemed Flynn the person responsible, and he was shot dead in June 1982 in the North Strand, Dublin, very close to the spot where Costello died.[7]

Costello is the only leader of an Irish political party murdered to date.

At the time of his death, he was a member of the following bodies:

  • Wicklow County Council
  • County Wicklow Committee of Agriculture
  • General Council of Committees of Agriculture
  • Eastern Regional Development Organisation
  • National Museum Development Committee
  • Bray Urban District Council
  • Bray Branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union
  • Bray and District Trade Unions Council (of which he was president 1976-77)
  • Cualann Historical Society

as well as still holding the positions of

  • Chairperson of the IRSP and
  • Chief of Staff of the INLA.

His funeral was attended by Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, the then president of Sinn Féin, Michael O'Riordan of the Communist Party of Ireland, Bernadette McAliskey and local Wicklow TDs Liam Kavanagh (Labour), Ciarán Murphy (Fianna Fáil) and Godfrey Timmins (Fine Gael). At his funeral, Senator Nora Connolly O'Brien, daughter of the Easter Rising leader James Connolly, gave the oration.[8]

Of all the politicians and political people with whom I have had conversations, and whom I have had conversations, and who called themselves followers of Connolly, he was the only one who truly understood what James Connolly meant when he spoke of his vision of the freedom of the Irish people

Nora Connolly O'Brien


  1. Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 25.
  2. Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 14.
  3. Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 17.
  4. Biography retrieved 6 January 2010
  5. The Lost Revolution : The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers' Party by Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 272
  6. Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 402
  7. Jack Holland and Frank McDonald, p. 118
  8. Brian Hanley and Scott Millar, p. 403


  • Holland, Jack; McDonald, Henry (1994). INLA: Deadly Divisions. Dublin: Torc. . 
  • Hanley, Brian; Millar, Scott (2009). The Lost Revolution: The Story of the Official IRA and the Workers Party. Dublin: Penguin Ireland. . 
  • "Irish Republican Socialist Party" [1] Seamus Costello Tribute Page October 6, 2003, retrieved 5 January 2010.
  • Political Biography and Tributes [2] August 13, 2003, retrieved 5 January 2010.
  • Profile at [3]

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