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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 Novelist Liam O’Flaherty

liam-oflahertyLiam O’Flaherty, novelist, short story writer, and a major figure in the Irish literary renaissance, is born on August 28, 1896, in the remote village of Gort na gCapall on Inis Mór, one of the Aran Islands of County Galway. He is involved for a time in left-wing politics, as is his brother Tom Maidhc O’Flaherty (also a writer), and their father, Maidhc Ó Flaithearta, before them.

At the age of twelve, O’Flaherty goes to Rockwell College and later University College Dublin and the Dublin Diocesan teacher training college Holy Cross College. It is intended he enter the priesthood, but he joins the Irish Guards in 1917 under the name Bill Ganly. Serving on the Western Front, he finds trench life devastatingly monotonous and is badly injured in September 1917 during the Battle of Langemarck. It is speculated that shell shock is responsible for the mental illness which becomes apparent in 1933.

He returns from the front a socialist. Having become interested in Marxism as a schoolboy, atheistic and communistic beliefs evolve in his 20s and he is a founding member of the Communist Party of Ireland. Two days after the establishment of the Irish Free State, O’Flaherty and other unemployed Dublin workers seize the Rotunda Concert Hall in Dublin and hold it for four days in protest at “the apathy of the authorities.” Free State troops force their surrender.

O’Flaherty then leaves Ireland and moves first to England where, destitute and jobless, he takes to writing. In 1925 he scores immediate success with his best-selling novel The Informer about a rebel with confused ideals in the Irish War of Independence, which wins him the 1925 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Four years later his next short novel Return of the Brute, set in the World War I trenches, proves another success. He then travels to the United States, where he lives in Hollywood for a short time. The well-known director John Ford, a cousin, later makes a film of O’Flaherty’ first novel. The novel is also the source of a 1929 film of the same name directed by Arthur Robison.

Many of his works have the common theme of nature and Ireland. He is a distinguished short story writer, and some of his best work in that genre is in Irish. The collection Dúil, published towards the end of his life, contains Irish language versions of a number of stories published elsewhere in English. This collection, now widely admired, has a poor reception at the time, and this seems to discourage him from proceeding with an Irish language novel he has in hand.

In a letter written to The Sunday Times in later years he confesses to a certain ambivalence regarding his work in Irish, and speaks of other Irish writers who receive little praise for their work in the language. This gives rise to some controversy. His First Flight, a short story which symbolizes the nervousness one experiences before doing something new, is regarded as one of his most famous works. In 1923, O’Flaherty publishes his first novel, Thy Neighbour’s Wife, thought to be one of his best. Over the next couple of years he publishes other novels and short stories. In 1933 he suffers the first of two mental breakdowns.

He travels in the United States and Europe, and the letters he writes while travelling have now been published. He has a love of French and Russian culture. Before his death he leaves the Communist Party and returns to the Roman Catholic faith. O’Flaherty dies in Dublin on September 7, 1984, and many of his works are subsequently republished. He is remembered today as a powerful writer and a strong voice in Irish culture.