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


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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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Birth of Union Leader Jim Larkin

james-larkinJames (Jim) Larkin, Irish trade union leader and socialist activist, is born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England, on January 21, 1876. He and his family later move to a small cottage in Burren, County Down. Growing up in poverty, he receives little formal education and begins working in a variety of jobs while still a child.

In 1905, Larkin is one of the few foremen to take part in a strike on the Liverpool docks. He is elected to the strike committee, and although he loses his foreman’s job as a result, his performance so impresses the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) that he is appointed a temporary organiser.

Larkin moves to Belfast in 1907 to organise the city’s dock workers for the NUDL. He succeeds in unionising the workforce, and as employers refuse to meet the wage demands, he calls the dockers out on strike in June. Carters and coal men soon join in, the latter settling their dispute after a month.

In 1908, Larkin moves south and organises workers in Dublin, Cork, and Waterford, with considerable success. His involvement, against union instructions, in a dispute in Dublin results in his expulsion from the NUDL. The union later prosecutes him for diverting union funds to give strike pay to Cork workers engaged in an unofficial dispute. After trial and conviction for embezzlement in 1910, he is sentenced to prison for a year. This is widely regarded as unjust, and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Aberdeen, pardons him after he has served three months in prison.

After his expulsion from the NUDL, Larkin founds the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) at the end of December 1908. The organisation exists today as the Services Industrial Professional & Technical Union (SIPTU). In early 1909, Larkin moves to Dublin, which becomes the main base of the ITGWU and the focus of all his future union activity in Ireland.

In June 1911, Larkin establishes a newspaper, The Irish Worker and People’s Advocate, as a pro-labour alternative to the capitalist-owned press. In 1912, in partnership with James Connolly, Larkin helps form the Irish Labour Party.

In early 1913, Larkin achieves some successes in industrial disputes in Dublin. Two major employers, Guinness and the Dublin United Tramway Company, are the main targets of Larkin’s organising ambitions. The chairman of the Dublin United Tramway Company, industrialist and newspaper proprietor William Martin Murphy, is determined not to allow the ITGWU to unionise his workforce. On August 15, he dismisses 40 workers he suspects of ITGWU membership, followed by another 300 over the next week. On August 26, 1913 the tramway workers officially go on strike.

The resulting industrial dispute is the most severe in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin engage in a sympathetic lockout of their workers when the latter refuses to sign the pledge, employing blackleg labour from Britain and from elsewhere in Ireland. Guinness, the largest employer in Dublin, refuses the employers’ call to lock out its workers but it sacks 15 workers who struck in sympathy.

For seven months the lockout affects tens of thousands of Dublin workers and employers, with Larkin portrayed as the villain by Murphy’s three main newspapers, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, and the Evening Herald, and by other bourgeois publications in Ireland. The lock-out eventually concludes in early 1914 when calls by James Connolly and Larkin for a sympathetic strike in Britain are rejected by the British Trades Union Congress (TUC). Larkin’s attacks on the TUC leadership for this stance also lead to the cessation of financial aid to the ITGWU.

Some months after the lockout ends, Larkin leaves for the United States. He intends to recuperate from the strain of the lockout and raise funds for the union. Once there he becomes a member of the Socialist Party of America, and is involved in the Industrial Workers of the World union (the Wobblies). He becomes an enthusiastic supporter of the Soviet Union and is expelled from the Socialist Party of America in 1919 along with numerous other sympathisers of the Bolsheviks during the Red Scare of that year.

Upon his return to Ireland in April 1923, Larkin receives a hero’s welcome, and immediately sets about touring the country meeting trade union members and appealing for an end to the Irish Civil War. In September 1923, Larkin forms the Irish Worker League (IWL), which is soon afterwards recognised by the Communist International as the Irish section of the world communist movement.

James Larkin dies in his sleep on January 30, 1947 in the Meath Hospital. Fr. Aloysius Travers, OFM, who had administered last rites to James Connolly in 1916, also administers extreme unction to Larkin. His funeral mass is celebrated by the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who had visited him in hospital before he died, and thousands line the streets of the city as the hearse passes through on the way to Glasnevin Cemetery.