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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of James Plunkett, Novelist & Playwright

james-plunkettJames Plunkett Kelly, known by the pen name James Plunkett, Irish novelist, playwright, and short-story writer, dies in Dublin on May 28, 2003. His works, which deal with Ireland’s political and labour problems, contain vivid portraits of working-class and middle-class Dubliners.

Plunkett is born in Sandymount, Dublin on May 21, 1920 and grows up among the Dublin working class and they, along with the petite bourgeoisie and lower intelligentsia, make up the bulk of the dramatis personæ of his oeuvre. He is educated at Synge Street CBS, a Christian Brothers school located on Synge Street in Dublin. He leaves school at the age of seventeen. He later studies violin and viola at the Dublin College of Music and plays professionally in Dublin. He serves for a time as an official in the Workers’ Union of Ireland.

Plunkett’s best-known works are the novel Strumpet City, set in Dublin in the years leading up to the Dublin lock-out of 1913 and during the course of the strike, and the short stories in the collection The Trusting and the Maimed. His other works include a radio play on James Larkin, who figures prominently in his work.

During the 1960s, Plunkett works as a producer at Telefís Éireann. He wins two Jacob’s Awards, in 1965 and 1969, for his TV productions. In 1971 he writes and presents “Inis Fail – Isle of Destiny,” his very personal appreciation of Ireland. It is the final episode of the BBC series Bird’s Eye View, shot entirely from a helicopter, and the first co-production between the BBC and RTÉ. Plunkett is a member of Aosdána.

James Plunkett dies in a Dublin nursing home on May 28, 2003, just a week after his 83rd birthday. He is cremated at Mount Jerome Cemetery and Crematorium in Dublin.

A second year class, “2 Plunkett” at Synge Street CBS, is named in honour of James Plunkett.

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Birth of William Martin Murphy

william-martin-murphyWilliam Martin Murphy, Irish businessman, journalist and politician, is born on January 6, 1845 in Castletownbere, County Cork. A member of parliament (MP) representing Dublin from 1885 to 1892, he is dubbed “William Murder Murphy” among Dublin workers and the press due to the Dublin Lockout of 1913. He is arguably both Ireland’s first “press baron” and the leading promoter of tram development.

Murphy is educated at Belvedere College. When his father, the building contractor Denis William Murphy dies in 1863, he takes over the family business. His enterprise and business acumen expand the business, and he builds churches, schools and bridges throughout Ireland, as well as railways and tramways in Britain, West Africa and South America.

Murphy is elected as Irish Parliamentary Party MP for Dublin St. Patrick’s at the 1885 general election, taking his seat in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He is a member of the informal grouping, the “Bantry Band,” a group of politicians who hail from the Bantry Bay area.

When the Irish Parliamentary Party splits in 1890 over Charles Stewart Parnell‘s leadership, Murphy sides with the majority Anti-Parnellites. However, Dublin emerges as a Parnellite stronghold and in the bitter general election of 1892, Murphy loses his seat by over three to one to a Parnellite newcomer, William Field.

Murphy is the principal financial backer of the “Healyite” newspapers the National Press and the Daily Nation. His support for Tim Healy attracts the hostility of the majority anti-Parnellite faction led by John Dillon. He makes two attempts to return to Parliament, at South Kerry in 1895 and North Mayo in 1900, but both are unsuccessful because of Dillonite opposition.

In 1900, Murphy purchases the insolvent Irish Daily Independent from the Parnellites, merging it with the Daily Nation. He re-launches this as a cheap mass-circulation newspaper, which rapidly displaces the Freeman’s Journal as Ireland’s most popular nationalist paper. In 1906, he founds the Sunday Independent newspaper.

Murphy is highly critical of the Irish Parliamentary Party. From 1914 he uses the Irish Independent to oppose the partition of Ireland and advocate Dominion Home Rule involving full fiscal autonomy.

Worried that the trade unions would destroy his Dublin tram system, Murphy leads Dublin employers against the trade unions led by James Larkin, an opposition that culminates in the Dublin Lockout of 1913. This makes him extremely unpopular with many, being depicted as a vulture or a vampire in the workers’ press.

After the 1916 Easter Rising he purchases ruined buildings in Abbey Street as sites for his newspaper offices, however it is his viewpoints that make him even more unpopular, by calling for the executions of Seán MacDiarmada and James Connolly at a point when the Irish public is beginning to feel sympathy for their cause. He privately disavows the editorial, claiming it had been written and published without his knowledge.

In 1917 Murphy is invited to take part in talks during the Irish Convention which is called to agree terms for the implementation of the suspended 1914 Home Rule Act. However he discovers that John Redmond is negotiating agreeable terms with Unionists under the Midleton Plan to avoid the partition of Ireland but at the partial loss of full Irish fiscal autonomy. This infuriates Murphy who criticises the intention in his newspaper, which severely damages the Irish Parliamentary Party. However, the Convention remains inconclusive, and the ensuing demise of the Irish party results in the rise of Sinn Féin, whose separatist policies Murphy also does not agree with.

William Martin Murphy dies in Dublin on June 26, 1919. His family controls Independent Newspapers until the early 1970s, when the group is sold to Tony O’Reilly.


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Formation of the Irish Citizen Army

The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) is formed on November 23, 1913, at the height of the Dublin Lockout. Its purpose is to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the Dublin Metropolitan Police and to counteract the demoralizing effects of unemployment by providing discipline, cohesion and purpose. The idea of forming a force apparently is first formally proposed in 1913 by Captain James Robert “Jack” White, an ex-army officer from County Antrim, who had been educated at Winchester College and Royal Military College, Sandhurst. During a speech in August, James Larkin had already suggested that the workers form a force. He publicly repeats this instruction on November 13. James Connolly likewise urges the men to train “as they are doing in Ulster.” Two weeks later drilling begins. According to the ICA constitution, its members are to “work for an Irish republic and for the emancipation of labour.” Larkin is anxious that those who enlist should not only espouse these principles but also be members of unions recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

Despite competition from the Irish Volunteers, which launches on November 25, 1913, ICA membership quickly surpasses 1,000. However, after the dispute is over in January 1914 and the men return to work, the “army” all but disappears. But it is Connolly above all who, after his appointment as its commandant and as leader of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, rescues it from terminal decline and welds it into a potent force and potential weapon for his own use. He determines its structure, vets its officers and imposes a rigid discipline. He also demands an ideological commitment to revolution and the goal of an independent Irish socialist republic. The force’s guiding principle is that “the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested by right in the people of Ireland.” Its membership remains small but it is otherwise superior to the much larger Irish Volunteers in its unity of purpose, lack of factional and ideological division and in the quality of its training.

After the outbreak of World War I, Connolly has become increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection in Ireland. This is reflected in his military preparations with the ICA. He uses its headquarters, Liberty Hall, as his base. Fearing he might act on his own, and recognising the merits of collaboration, the Irish Republican Brotherhood Military Council informs him of their own clandestine plans for a rising and an agreement is reached.

During Easter week of 1916, 219 ICA men fight alongside over 1,300 from the Irish Volunteers. As the appointed leader of both forces in Dublin, Connolly skillfully ensures that the ideological and social divisions and personality clashes, which have hitherto blighted their relationship, are largely overcome. ICA forces are mainly concentrated at the General Post Office (GPO), the College of Surgeons and Dublin’s City Hall. They win volunteer admiration for their professionalism, dedication, and ruthlessness. Two of their leaders are subsequently executed – Connolly and Michael Mallin, the ICA Chief of Staff. Constance Markievicz, Mallin`s second-in command, is reprieved. Others are imprisoned or interned. The ICA is not revived after the insurrection. The new leadership of the ITGWU focuses instead on building up the union, safeguarding members’ wages and improving working conditions.


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Birth of James Connolly, Republican & Socialist Leader

James Connolly, Irish republican and socialist leader, is born to Irish-born parents in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, on June 5, 1868. He spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life.

Connolly has an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then leaves and works in labouring jobs. Due to economic difficulties, he joins the British Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid. He serves in Ireland with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiment for nearly seven years, during a turbulent period in rural areas known as the Land War.

Connolly develops a deep hatred for the British Army that lasts his entire life. Upon hearing that his regiment is being transferred to India, he deserts. He meets a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds and they marry in April 1890, settling in Edinburgh. There, Connolly begins to get involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, but with a young family to support, he needs a way to provide for them. He briefly establishes a cobbler‘s shop in 1895, but this fails after a few months.

By 1892 Connolly is involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. During this time, he becomes involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardie had formed in 1893.

Connolly and his family move to Dublin, where he takes up the position of full-time secretary for the Dublin Socialist Club. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism.

While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly is the founding editor of The Socialist newspaper and is among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which splits from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903.

A combination of frustration with the progress of the ISRP and economic necessity causes Connolly to emigrate to the United States in September 1903. While in America he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909) and the Industrial Workers of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907.

On his return to Ireland in 1910 he is right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Great Dublin Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, found the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim is to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. He also founds the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and is a member of its National Executive.

When the Easter Rising begins on April 24, 1916, Connolly is Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As the Dublin Brigade has the most substantial role in the rising, he is de facto commander-in-chief. His leadership in the Easter Rising is considered formidable. Michael Collins says of Connolly that he “would have followed him through hell.”

Connolly is sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On May 12, 1916 he is taken by military ambulance to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from Kilmainham Gaol, and from there taken to the gaol, where he is to be executed.

Connolly has been so badly injured from the fighting that he is unable to stand before the firing squad. He is carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher. Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he is tied to a chair and then shot.

His body, along with those of the other leaders, is put in a mass grave without a coffin. The executions of the rebel leaders deeply angers the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It is Connolly’s execution that causes the most controversy. The executions are not well received, even throughout Britain, and draw unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government is seeking to bring into the war in Europe. Prime Minister H. H. Asquith orders that no more executions are to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement as he has not yet been tried.


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First Edition of the “Irish Independent” Printed

irish-independent-first-issueThe first edition of the Irish Independent, flagship publication of Independent News & Media (INM) and Ireland’s largest-selling daily newspaper, is printed on January 2, 1905.

The Irish Independent is formed in 1905 as the direct successor to the Daily Irish Independent, an 1890s pro-Parnellite newspaper, and is launched by William Martin Murphy, a controversial Irish nationalist businessman, staunch anti-Parnellite and fellow townsman of Charles Stewart Parnell‘s most venomous opponent, Bantry’s Timothy Michael Healy.

During the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913, in which Murphy is the leading figure among the employers, the Irish Independent vigorously sides with its owner’s interests, publishing news reports and opinion pieces hostile to the strikers, expressing confidence in the unions’ defeat and launching personal attacks on the leader of the strikers, James Larkin. The Irish Independent describes the 1916 Easter Rising as “insane and criminal” and famously calls for the shooting of its leaders. In December 1919, during the Irish War of Independence, a group of twenty Irish Republican Army (IRA) men destroy the printing works of the paper, angered at its criticism of the IRA’s attacks on members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and British government officials. In 1924, the traditional nationalist newspaper, the Freeman’s Journal, merges with the Irish Independent. Until October 1986 the paper’s masthead over the editorial contains the words “incorporating the Freeman’s Journal.”

For most of its history, the Irish Independent is seen as a nationalist, Catholic, anti-Communist, newspaper which gives its political allegiance to the Pro-Treaty party Cumann na nGaedheal and later its successor party, Fine Gael. During the Spanish Civil War, the Irish Independent‘s coverage is strongly pro-Franco and the paper criticizes the De Valera government for not intervening on behalf of the Spanish Nationalists.

In the 1970s, the Irish Independent is taken over by former Heinz chairman Tony O’Reilly. Under his leadership, it becomes a more populist, market liberal newspaper — populist on social issues but economically right-wing. By the mid-nineties its allegiance to Fine Gael has ended. In the 1997 general election, it endorses Fianna Fáil under a front page editorial entitled “It’s Payback Time.” While it suggests its headline refers to the fact that the election offers a chance to “pay back” politicians for their failings, its opponents suggest that the “payback” actually refers to its chance to get revenge for the refusal of the Rainbow Coalition to award the company a mobile phone licence.

In late 2004, Independent Newspapers moves from their traditional home in Middle Abbey Street to a new office, “Independent House” in Talbot Street, with the printing facilities already relocated to the Citywest business park near Tallaght.

On September 27, 2005, a fortnight after the paper publishes its centenary edition, it is announced that editor Vinnie Doyle will step down after 24 years in the position. He is replaced by Gerry O’Regan, who has until then been editor of the Irish Independent‘s sister paper, the Evening Herald. The newspaper’s previous editor Stephen Rae is also formerly editor of the Evening Herald and is appointed editor in September 2012. Fionnan Sheahan is appointed editor in January 2015.

In January 2008, at the same time as completing the purchase of Today FM, Ireland’s last national radio station independent of Denis O’Brien and state broadcaster RTÉ, O’Brien increases his INM shareholding to become the company’s second-largest shareholder behind Tony O’Reilly. In May 2008, O’Brien ousts O’Reilly and acquires a majority shareholding. Traditionally a broadsheet newspaper, it introduces an additional compact size in 2004 and in December 2012, following O’Brien’s takeover, it is announced that the newspaper will become compact only.

(Pictured: the first edition of the Irish Independent)


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The Great Dublin Lockout

great-dublin-lockoutThe Great Dublin Lockout, a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers, begins in Dublin on August 26, 1913 and lasts until January 18, 1914. It is often viewed as the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history.

Irish workers live in terrible conditions in tenements. The infant mortality rate among the poor is 142 per 1,000 births, extraordinarily high for a European city. Poverty is perpetuated in Dublin by the lack of work for unskilled workers, who lack any form of representation before trade unions are founded.

James Larkin, the main protagonist on the side of the workers in the dispute, is a docker in Liverpool and a union organiser. In 1907 he is sent to Belfast as local organiser of the British-based National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL). His tactic of the sympathetic strike are deemed highly controversial and as a result Larkin is transferred to Dublin.

Larkin sets about organising the unskilled workers of Dublin which is a cause of concern for the NUDL, who are reluctant to engage in a full-scale industrial dispute with the powerful Dublin employers. They suspended Larkin from the NUDL in 1908. Larkin then leaves the NUDL and sets up the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU), the first Irish trade union to cater for both skilled and unskilled workers.

Another important figure in the rise of an organised workers’ movement in Ireland at this time is James Connolly, an Edinburgh-born Marxist of Irish parentage. In 1911, Connolly is appointed the ITGWU’s Belfast organiser. In 1912, Connolly and Larkin form the Irish Labour Party to represent workers in the imminent Home Rule Bill debate in Parliament.

Foremost among employers opposed to trade unionism in Ireland is William Martin Murphy, Ireland’s most prominent capitalist, born in Castletownbere, County Cork. In 1913, Murphy is chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company and owns Clery’s department store. Murphy is vehemently opposed to trade unions, which he sees as an attempt to interfere with his business. In particular, he is opposed to Larkin, whom he sees as a dangerous revolutionary.

The resulting industrial dispute is the most severe in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin lock out their workers and employ blackleg labour from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin’s workers apply for help and are sent £150,000 by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC) and other sources in Ireland, doled out dutifully by the ITGWU.

The “Kiddies’ Scheme,” allowing for the starving children of Irish strikers to be temporarily looked after by British trade unionists, is blocked by the Roman Catholic Church and especially the Ancient Order of Hibernians, who claim that Catholic children will be subject to Protestant or atheist influences when in Britain. The Church supports the employers during the dispute, condemning Larkin as a socialist revolutionary.

Guinness, the largest employer and biggest exporter in Dublin, refuses to lock out its workforce. It has a policy against sympathetic strikes and expects its workers, whose conditions are far better than the norm in Ireland, not to strike in sympathy. Six who do strike are dismissed.

Strikers use mass pickets and intimidation against strike breakers, who are also violent towards strikers. The Dublin Metropolitan Police baton charge worker’s rallies, including a rally on Sackville Street which results in two deaths and over 300 injuries. James Connolly, Larkin, and ex-British Army Captain Jack White form a worker’s militia, the Irish Citizen Army, to protect workers’ demonstrations.

For seven months, the lockout affects tens of thousands of Dublin families. The lock-out eventually concludes in January 1914, when the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Britain rejects Larkin and Connolly’s request for a sympathetic strike. Most workers, many of whom are on the brink of starvation, go back to work and sign pledges not to join a union. The ITGWU is badly damaged by its defeat in the Lockout, and is further hit by the departure of Larkin to the United States in 1914 and the execution of Connolly, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916.

Although the actions of the ITGWU are unsuccessful in achieving substantially better pay and conditions for workers, they mark a watershed in Irish labour history. The principle of union action and workers’ solidarity has been firmly established. No future employer would ever try to “break” a union in the way that Murphy attempted with the ITGWU.