Little Known Anarchists, Number 3 - John McAra

Wee” McAra stands out in the history of the movement in this country as one of its quaintest and pluckiest members. To have known him and heard him speaking on his “native heath” The Meadows, at Edinburgh - where he was always at his best - was a memory which would last a lifetime.

Mc would never use a platform, preferring to deliver his addresses from the ground, and would gather big audiences around him who would stay until he had finished his speeches. As a literature-seller he stood in the front rank, always disposing of large quantities to his hearers.

Unfortunately McAra would never form a group, or belong to one, resembling, in this respect, many other individual propagandists. The consequence was that, when he died, the movement in Edinburgh faded away, and a very large part of his influence was lost- as a permanent effect.

Unlike other Comrades referred to in these sketches, Mc has not found a place in the lighter side of literature. He did, however, win a permanent place in Scottish law-books. When the local authorities tried to regulate and restrict the open-air meetings on the Meadows, Mc resolved to fight boldly for the preservation of the customary rights. A Joint Committee was formed by the I.L.P., B.S.P., and the S.L.P., to fight the question. They refused to invite McAra to join them, the “Socialist” referring to him as “that slum-dweller.” When this Committee suspended its meetings, while awaiting the decision of the Court, Mc stuck to his guns and went on with his meetings. McAra was summoned, and contested the case from Court to Court without legal aid. Finally he won, and established the Right of Free Speech on The Meadows. The case, Rex V. McAra, has since frequently been quoted in Court cases.

Mc had a further adventure in a Court at Belfast, where he was sentenced to three months imprisonment for a speech to a meeting at the Custom House steps.

His success led to persecution. He was the first to preach Anarchism in Ireland, where the people heard him gladly, as they did the rebel of old. The imprisonment was the consequence of a trap laid for him. A “nark” was employed to ask a question which would compromise him, and McAra “fell for it”. There is little doubt that this sentence of imprisonment shortened his life.

He was ageing in years, and his life had been one of continuous poverty, which meant much privation, and his physical powers were no longer equal to the strain.

When he died the cause of Anarchism lost a witty, and fearless speaker and debater. He was a thorn in the sides of socialistic careerists; a bug-bear to the religionists, and was a brilliant example of what one man may do, single-handed, to proclaim the truth to the people.

While not finding a place in fiction, only in law-books, McAra very often drew attention from the newspapers of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Scotland has produced some “bonnie fighters” for Liberty, but none have surpassed in sterling quality, the “Wee McAra”.

From: Freedom, May 1934.