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


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Founding of the Irish Socialist Republican Party

james-connollyThe Irish Socialist Republican Party, a small, but pivotal Irish political party, is founded on May 29, 1896 by James Connolly. Its aim is to establish an Irish workers’ republic. The party splits in 1904 following months of internal political rows.

The party is small throughout its existence. According to the ISRP historian David Lynch, the party never has more than 80 members. Upon its founding one journalist comments that the party has more syllables than members. Nevertheless, the ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of seminal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. It is often described as the first socialist and republican party in Ireland, and the first organisation to espouse the ideology of socialist republicanism on the island. During its lifespan it only has one really active branch, the Dublin branch. There are several attempts to create branches in Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Naas, and even in northern England but they never come to much. The party establishes links with feminist and revolutionary Maud Gonne who approves of the party.

The party produces the first regular socialist paper in Ireland, the Workers’ Republic, runs candidates in local elections, represents Ireland at the Second International, and agitates over issues such as the Boer War and the commemorations of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Politically the ISRP is before its time, putting the call for an independent “Republic” at the centre of its propaganda before Sinn Féin or other political organizations.

A public meeting held by the party is described in Irish socialist playwright Sean O’Casey‘s autobiography Drums under the Window.

Connolly, who is the full-time paid organiser for the party, subsequently leaves Ireland for the United States in 1903 following internal conflict. In fact, it seems that a combination of the petty infighting and his own poverty that causes Connolly to abandon Ireland (he returns in 1910). Connolly clashes with the party’s other leading light, E. W. Stewart, over trade union and electoral strategy. A small number of members around Stewart establish an anti-Connolly micro organisation called the Irish Socialist Labour Party. In 1904, this merges with the remains of the ISRP to form the Socialist Party of Ireland.

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Birth of William X. O’Brien, Politician & Trade Unionist

william-x-obrienWilliam X. O’Brien, politician and trade unionist, is born on January 23, 1881 in Clonakilty, County Cork. He is christened “John William.”

O’Brien moves with his family to Dublin in 1897, and quickly becomes involved in the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). He is described as “a very significant figure in the ISRP” by ISRP historian David Lynch. He is a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, serving on its executive.

A close friend and associate of James Connolly, O’Brien helps establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) in 1909, and is instrumental in the Dublin lock-out strike in 1913.

A member of the Irish Neutrality League and Anti-Conscription Committee during World War I, O’Brien is interned on several occasions by the Dublin Castle government. During one of these instances, he stands in the 1920 Stockport by-election, but is refused a release to campaign in it.

With the formation of the Irish Free State, O’Brien is elected as Teachta Dála (TD) for Dublin South at the 1922 general election, and again for Tipperary in June 1927 and again in 1937.

An important figure in the Labour Party in Ireland in its formative days, O’Brien resists James Larkin‘s attempt to gain control of the Party on release from prison. Taking Larkin to court over his occupation of ITGWU headquarters, the Larkin-O’Brien feud results in a split within the labour and trade union movements, and the formation of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

In 1930, O’Brien seeks to have Leon Trotsky granted asylum in Ireland, but the head of the Free State government, W. T. Cosgrave, refuses to allow it.

Active in politics and the trade union movement into his 60s, O’Brien retires in 1946 and dies on October 31, 1968.