Tag Archives: James Connolly

Tone, McManus, O’Donovan Rossa, and the Memory of the Dead

Today, August 1st 2015, is the centenary of the interment of the body of Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in Glasnevin Cemetery, an event which was designed to act as the inciting incident that fueled the Irish revolution and the Proclamation of the Irish Republic less than a year later. Patrick Pearse’s graveside oration simultaneously invoked the memory of the dead and issued a call to arms in the fight for Irish freedom.

This was not a one-off, but simply the continuation of the use of funerals, memorials and commemorations to raise awareness of previous patriotic endeavour in order to fuel the drive to break the link with the coloniser and to establish an independent Irish state along republican lines.

The two extracts I use are from a thesis I wrote in 1996:

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(Extract 1)

‘The funeral of Terence Bellew McManus was one of the more momentous occasions in 19th-century Irish nationalist affairs. Patriotic memorialists have deemed it the effective starting point for the organization of the politics of separatism: the catalyst in the formation and expansion of Fenianism in Ireland and America’ (Bisceglia 1979: 45)

McManus had been exiled to Tasmania in 1849 for his part in the Rising, from where he escaped and made his way to San Francisco in 1851. Given a grand welcome by the local Irish community, McManus seems to have settled into a relatively quiet life until his death ten years later. He had refused, during the mid-to-late 1850s, to allow a petition for his inclusion in a general amnesty, stating –

“If the land that gave me birth – if the land sanctified to me by the graves of my forefathers – if the land of my love and affection, and for whose liberty I would cheerfully shed the last drop of my heart’s blood, cannot welcome me back without the consent of a foreign ruler, then my foot shall never press her soil”

On his death in January 1861, McManus was immediately buried in San Francisco. Within the year his remains had been disinterred by the local branch of the Fenians and placed in an ornate casket, and was the centrepiece of three major funeral processions, in San Francisco, New York, and Dublin. The final one, in Dublin, took an entire Sunday to wend its way through the streets to Glasnevin cemetery, making stops at points of nationalist interest, and accompanied or watched by many thousands of people. It was the largest event of its type since O’Connell’s funeral, and its like would not be seen again for thirty years, and Parnell’s funeral. In San Francisco and New York McManus’s body had been received into the respective cathedrals for full religious rites, but in Dublin –

‘Dr. Paul Cullen, the archbishop of Dublin, refused to bestow the clergy’s blessings upon the proceedings and closed the churches to the McManus funeral. The archbishop had been in Rome when the “Carbonari” under Mazzini had stormed the Vatican and ousted Pius IX during the revolution of 1848-9. He had spent much of his time since then in Ireland trying to swing the populace behind peaceful constitutional reform.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 59)

The McManus funeral demonstrated a number of things: the importance to nationalism of the memory of the dead; the popular support that the Fenians had both in Ireland and America; their organisational and fund-raising ability; and crucially, the degree of implacable opposition there was to physical force republicanism from the institutional Catholic Church.

‘Obviously there were at least two constituencies in Ireland: one embodied in the constitutional attachments to the crown and given expression by Archbishop Cullen; the other dedicated to a violent solution and given encouragement by the McManus funeral. It was to this latter group, this bedrock of anti-British feeling, to which the Fenians happened to appeal…Thus, with an eye on the future, they made a claim on the past.’ (Bisceglia 1979: 63)

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Thirty-seven years later on the occasion of the centenary of the 1798 Rising – the first manifestation of armed Irish republican resistance to British rule in Ireland – the use of memorials and commemorations were centre-stage. Worth noting was the presence among the organising centennial committee of socialist republican James Connolly whose uncles were Fenians and who would himself jointly-sign the Proclamation of the Irish Republic 18 years later and command the Dublin forces in the revolution, and pay for that with his life.

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(Extract 2)

The great mass of ordinary people played their part in the commemorations, with bonfires lit on important anniversaries, performances of centennial dramas in villages and towns, pageants, collections for the erection of permanent memorials, and so on. ‘A healthy rivalry developed between communities, each trying to outdo its neighbours in patriotic display.’ (O’Keefe 1992: 69) It was, however, their participation in the dedication ceremonies of memorials that was particularly impressive.

‘Only the monster meetings of Daniel O’Connell’s repeal campaign and the public gatherings connected with the Land League had brought so many people together for a single purpose over such a long period.’
(Owens 1994: 106)

As I have already pointed out, the raising of monuments in 1898 was both an act of defiance for the present and a symbolic connection between the past and the future. Coming just a year after large demonstrations held to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee year, the `98 commemorations were important reminders that, as Owens says, ‘the heart of the country remained nationalist.’ (O’Keefe: 107) There was also an educative function attached to the monuments, and the process surrounding them.

‘Nationalists also believed that memorials to dead heroes could teach the country’s youth priceless lessons in history. As one monument promoter contended: “in [the] absence of the systematic teaching of our country’s history in the schools, these monuments will be to the child the illustrations of a portion of our national story”.’ (O’Keefe: 108)

This emphasis on the need to teach the coming generation the story of the nation is echoed by Brown some seventeen years later, just before the Rising in 1916.

‘…why not see to it that among the works of fiction put into the hands of Irish boys and girls there shall be found some that will imprint in their imaginations what of Irish history is best worth remembering, and that will help to fix their affections upon the country whose children they are.’ (Brown 1916: 95)

As Owens says, it is impossible to know what the young people themselves thought of the monuments, or if they took from them what the adults hoped they would. But in the main it would be the children of 1898 who would, eighteen years later, be members of the generation who were ‘out’ in 1916 and thereafter.

The sites where these monuments would be had relevance too. They needed to be highly visible, so were placed in a busy area. They might be positioned at one of the ‘stations’ on the ‘via Dolorosa’ I mentioned earlier, or even create a new one. They would also serve as a rallying point for meetings and demonstrations. The choice of site could also be used provocatively, as in the siting of the foundation stone for the Wolfe Tone statue right in the heart of unionist Dublin at the top of Grafton Street.

Where it was not possible to site the monument on what Owens describes as the ‘sacred spot’, then a piece of the spot might be brought to the monument site, for instance the use of stone from a battlefield to make the monument or foundation. (Owens 1994: 110) This emphasis on relics is tied into the way in which monuments were treated almost as sacred objects, and in the use of religious discourse about the monument in terms such as ‘shrine’, martyr’, etc. (Ibid: 111)

The Wolfe Tone monument provides a good example of these points. The foundation stone was quarried from Cave Hill near Belfast, where Tone and the Belfast United Irishmen had sworn to their course of action. Its choice of source also allowed the Belfast republicans to have an input into the commemoration. It would not have been possible for them to have their own commemoration in the sectarian Belfast of the late nineteenth century.

When the stone arrived in Dublin by train it was treated much as the body of a hero might have been, with a lying-in-state for two days on the site of the old Newgate prison, prior to its carriage through the ‘via Dolorosa’ – the route which took it past the places associated with Tone, Emmet and so on. The city had shut down for the day, and the huge procession took three hours to cover the three mile route. It was the largest public gathering since the unveiling of the O’Connell monument, with the crowd estimated to number one hundred thousand. (Owens: 111-3)

When the veteran Fenian John O’Leary had finished the ceremonial laying of the stone, he tapped the trowel, which had been donated for the occasion by one of Tone’s grand-daughters, six times on the stone, one for each of the four provinces, and once each for the United States and France.

‘Then, at a signal from the platform, a band struck up the theme song of the centenary, ‘The Memory of the Dead’. As they began to play, members of the crowd removed their hats and stood silently or sang the well-known lyrics that began, ‘Who fears to speak of `98?’ (Owens: 114)

This then was the centrepiece of the `98 commemorations. When a monument to Tone was finally unveiled, the independent state would have already celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising of 1916.

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The ‘independent state’? The Irish state doesn’t qualify as such since independence has been surrendered to the European Union and to the Eurozone. The nominal independence we ‘enjoyed’ prior to that was used for the benefit of an ‘elite’ class – the wealthy, professionals, the Catholic Church, and their political fixers and assorted useful facilitators including media owners.

The current Fine Gael-Labour government, driven by a hatred and fear of 1916 which challenges the corporatist nature of this state with an alternative set of higher ideals and promises, struggled to overwhelm the upcoming centenary of the 1916 revolution with a spate of other centennials until forced to change course through the weight of public opinion.

Today’s state commemoration of the O’Donovan Rossa centenary is a deeply cynical enterprise. The political class has been forced to swallow hard, to grin and bear it, conscious of the threat to its existence should the despised ‘non-elite’ mass element of citizens engage in a re-examination of the promise of the Proclamation and of the Republic so deliberately extinguished by the first Free State government and all subsequent governments

If the O’Donovan Rossa funeral was the inciting incident for the 1916 revolution, could it be that the centenary of that funeral, the first in a series of commemorations which will culminate in the Republic Day 1916 commemorations on April 24th 2016, will be an inciting incident leading to the preparation for a democratic revolution by the Demos?

If so, we might imagine a ghostly smile from Wolfe Tone, Terence Bellew McManus, Jermiah O’Donovan Rossa and James Connolly.

And their nods of approval.

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Whatever you say, say nothing – Lockout 2013

There are dates in every nation’s calendar that demand remembrance. When those dates fall on the centenary of a significant event then that demand for remembrance is greatly magnified. A remembrance ceremony marking the centenary of a significant event then becomes an event in itself and enters the collective memory. There is one opportunity on the centenary of a significant event to get it right, or to get it wrong, to honour the participants in that original event, or to dishonour their deeds and by implication the participants themselves, either by distorting the narrative, the manner of its representation, or by grievous omission.

It is the last of these, omission, that was particularly startling in what was billed as the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout on the 31st of August 2013, the centenary of Bloody Sunday on which date the Dublin Metropolitan Police attacked and battered protesting strikers in the main street of Dublin, injuring between 400 and 600 and killing two men, James Nolan and John Byrne.

The National Commemoration was attended by the President, Michael D. Higgins. The President arrived, listened to and watched various performances, laid a wreath at the Larkin statue, led a minute’s silence in memory of those who died and those who suffered during the Lockout, took refreshments in the GPO with other dignitaries, returned to his seat to enjoy other performances, and then departed. Nothing strange about what the President did, but it is what he didn’t do that is strange. The President didn’t speak to the people on the subject of the Lockout during the course of the National Commemoration.

President Higgins has not shown himself in the past to be afraid to address issues that may be contentious. He is a skilled and adept public speaker, well aware of the limitations that his office places on him in terms of straying into the party political arena or on matters of government policy. He has spoken on the Lockout previously. There is no doubt that he has a deep interest in the historical event itself and its use in evaluating the present and projecting into the future. Sharing his analysis and his ideas with the public is, perhaps, what he does best. He is not known to be reticent about using the public platform to stimulate discussion – the opposite is, thankfully, the case, and the public seem to approve of that aspect of his presidency.

And so, the question is why? Why did the President, whose words are listened to and valued by and who enjoys the trust and respect of a significant majority of the people, do the unexpected and remain silent on the subject of the 1913 Lockout on such an auspicious occasion as the National Commemoration of the centenary of that event when the reasonable expectation was, as usual, that he would speak to those present and, via the media, to the nation?

Perhaps there is a simple answer. The President may have been unable to deliver a speech through being indisposed in some relevant way. He may, as one observer suggested, have not wished to take from the community element of performances, but that seems unlikely since there were also professional actors and musical performers taking part at other times in the programme. Perhaps there are other simple answers to the question, but they don’t come to mind easily.

Also present at the commemorations were Fine Gael Minister Jimmy Deenihan, Labour Party leader and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and his party colleagues Pat Rabbitte and Ruairi Quinn, the latter under increasing fire for his extraordinary and arbitrary decision to remove history as a compulsory subject in secondary schools, without any public discussion. Could a less simple answer be related to their presence? Could it be that their involvement in the neo-liberal austerity agenda which must have formed part of any serious speech on the subject of the 1913 Lockout and the conditions today of workers, the unemployed, the emigrated, the sick, the homeless and the dispossessed, the under-educated and under-resourced children, and the poor in general, might have consequently led to public embarrassment, and perhaps spontaneous protest against their unrelenting support for failed, deeply damaging government policies?

It is unusual to find four government ministers at an event such as this and to note the absence of even one attempt to take the microphone and to speak on the historical event and the main personalities involved, even if that, as sometimes happens, is no more than empty rhetoric and oily words. Extraordinary, really.

There too were the principal organisers of the event, leading members of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and affiliated trade unions. A proper analysis of the Lockout and its relevance to today’s issues, the importance and role of trade unions, and their performance over the intervening century particularly since the inception of Social Partnership in 1987 – the sort of issues that the President could normally be expected to touch on – might have proven uncomfortable too.

Any honest critique of the effects of the social partnership model could hardly avoid addressing in some way issues such as the fall-off in density of union membership in the workforce from 54% in 1987 – the start of social partnership – to 20% in 2007 – the end of the ‘boom’, and the fall-off in membership among young workers, part-timers and the lower skills with a higher concentration today of members in the professional and technical grades – mirroring the change in demographics among Labour Party voters. Trade unions, like the Labour Party, have lost much of their traditional base, to the detriment of vulnerable workers in the case of the unions, and the disenfranchisement of the working class in the case of Labour.

There are those who would also criticise the social partnership model for the political dangers that it can impose. One notorious and similar previous model is that contrived by Benito Mussolini around 1930, which brought trade unions and corporate interests together to work with government – as one of the pillars of Italian Fascism.

It may seem extreme to mention fascism in the context of the Irish trade unions, and that linkage is not the intention, rather the dangers of social partnership in which the driving force may be a government of questionable ethics. While Bertie Ahern enjoyed much popularity particularly during the property bubble, the spectacle of him being applauded to the stage at the ICTU Biennial Conference in Bundoran in 2007 (when there were many indicators that the economy was tanking), where he delivered his infamous remark that he did not know how people who moaned about the economy did not ‘commit suicide’. He was then applauded back down from the stage and out of the conference centre. Some could think that that was a ‘Berlusconi moment’. It was certainly unfortunate.

James Connolly would have ‘got’ that moment, just as he would have ‘got’ social partnership. What did he write in the Irish Worker, two months into the Lockout? “It is war, war to the end, against all the unholy crew who, with the cant of democracy on their lying lips, are forever crucifying the Christ of labour between the two thieves of Land and Capital”.

It is no longer ‘war, war’ between the two rightfully antagonistic forces of labour and capital, but ‘jaw,jaw’, or at least since the disintegration of social partnership, no sign of a return to ‘war, war’ – the strategy that many living in straitened conditions might prefer the trade unions to opt for, and who have often vocally expressed their wish for that change. Where, for instance, is the ‘war, war’ on Zero Hours Contracts, criticised by Minister of State Alex White of the Labour Party thus – “We have a new “precariat” in some sectors of the labour force, with people working on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or for free on unpaid internships. These trends can undermine rights earned by past workers, and the relevant statutory protections may require strengthening, or at least review. Zero-hours contracts shape a life of uncertainty for people where their ability to budget for the future or manage a stable family life is particularly difficult.”?

Again, we might have expected that a dynamic trade union leadership might have nominated their best and most inspiring speaker to seize on the opportunities that the centenary of the Lockout offered to advance the cause of labour. But no, an opportunity rejected, it seems. Why?

‘Tis passing strange’ too, as the man himself might put it, how James Connolly got ne’er a proper mention at the National Commemoration other than in the rendition of the Ballad of James Larkin sung by Jimmy Kelly. Hardly likely that the President would have made that omission, had he spoken, which omission is of itself an insult to Connolly whose role in the Lockout was immense. It is, of course, correct to highlight James Larkin’s enormous role in the Lockout, but extremely churlish to downplay Connolly’s powers and sacrifices in that endeavour. It was not a one-man show. That churlishness brings to mind the Irish Labour Party’s inability or unwillingness to properly celebrate the role that Connolly played in founding that party on its centenary in 2012, or to champion his eloquent and visionary social philosophy which is the envy of others around the world other than in brief references that had a distinctly weasely feel to them.

Like that other National Commemoration forced on a recalcitrant State, the annual 1916 commemoration, this one too seemed smothered by the dead hand of State, or of other agencies or a combination of both, and  starved of the oxygen of honest appraisal and discussion. Perhaps that was the plan, perhaps not.

One lesson learned by those who understand the importance of these centenaries to the nation and to the future is that the state has shown itself to be unable or unwilling to trust the public to own its own great history. By its inept and insulting control of the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout, including the barricading of the citizens, the employment of a private security company of bad repute – G4S – to interfere with public access at the event, the searching even of women’s handbags and men’s eye-glass cases, the state has shown itself to be unfit for the job of commemorating the 1916 revolution. In 1966, a far larger event than this one was, not a barricade was to be seen, the police presence was discreet, citizens were free to approach the President of Ireland, Eamon de Valera, if they wished, or any other attendee among the ‘elite’. What has changed, other than obsessive control-freakery?

And so the Fine Gael minister and three Labour ministers remained stoically silent on the day. The trade union leadership offered a bland statement via Sallyann Kinihan. So be it. Perhaps it was the safer option.

But can we have an answer, simple or complex, to this question? Why did the President not speak at the National Commemoration of the 1913 Lockout?


A Most Seditious Lot: The Feminist Press 1896-1916

The concluding article in this three-part series looks at the feminist movement and the feminist press and their role in the lead-up to the 1916 revolution.

The Irish Feminist Movement 1896-1916

It is easy to imagine that the subordinate status of women in post-independence Ireland was just an extension of the past, the result of a slower development of feminist thought and activism in Ireland than in, for example, Europe or the USA, but nothing could be further from the truth. That mistaken belief arises from a defective and twisted official historical narrative influenced in no small part by the ‘special position’ accorded to the ultra-conservative Catholic Church, post-independence. In fact, the feminist movement in Ireland between the late 19th century and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921 was among the most advanced in the world at that time. While some Irish feminists were simply looking for the extension to women of the franchise – the right to vote, many feminists were looking for more profound change than that, including the right to equal status with men, better access to education, better health provision for women and children, an end to discriminatory laws and practices as they affected women, alleviation of poverty and disease, etc.

During that period, many women sought out causes and campaigns to become active in. Right from the start, women had become involved in organisations that were open to them, for example in the Gaelic League and the Literary Societies, and many engaged in writing for, and producing too, a wide range of newspapers and other publications. Often it was women who provided the energy to put ideas into action and put organisations into place, organisations which would later be of pivotal importance for the separatist and labour causes. They campaigned against recruitment during the Boer War and the First World War, and against visits by members of the British royal family.

It was arising out of just such a visit that a number of women gathered on Easter Sunday 1900 in the rooms of the Celtic Literary Society, and formed an ad hoc committee, later to be known as the ‘Patriotic Children’s Treat Committee, with Maud Gonne as the unanimous choice for president. The committee was formed to provide a treat for children who had stayed away from an official function during the visit of Queen Victoria some weeks earlier. By the 30th of June, 25,000 children had registered for inclusion, and the event was held in Clonturk Park on the Sunday following the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown. In The Workers’ Republic, James Connolly had this to say – “Last week we witnessed in Dublin the first political parade of the coming generation. Between twenty-five and thirty thousand children turned out and walked in processional order through the streets of the city, to show the world that British Imperialism had cast no glamour over their young minds. And that in the person of Her Britannic Majesty they recognised only a woman – no better than the mothers who bore them, if as good. It was a great sight to see the little rebels taking possession of the city – a sight more promising for the future of the country than any we can remember”.

When the committee had completed this work, they realised that they had skills and talents which should be further utilised. A National Women’s Committee was formed which led, at the beginning of October, to the inaugural meeting of Inghinidhe na hEireann (Daughters of Ireland). The Inghinidhe had as their aims: to re-establish the independence of Ireland; to actively promote the study of Irish language, literature, music, history and art; to discourage interest in English popular culture; to support Irish industry. Besides pursuing their aims, and in the process influencing the way Irish people thought of themselves, the Inghinidhe also gave many women the opportunity to find and use their talents in public speaking, and as organisers, leaders, teachers and journalists. They provided free classes in Irish, history and music to children over the age of nine. Historian Margaret Ward quotes a friend of Maud Gonne’s, who taught history in such a class, describing a typical scene – “In a room perched at the head of a rickety staircase and overlooking a narrow street, I have about eighty denizens of untamed Dublin: newsboys, children who have played in street alleys all their lives, young patriot girls and boys who can scarcely write their own names. Outside there is a continuous din of street cries and rumbling carts. It is almost impossible to shout against it if the windows are open, and more impossible to speak in the smother of dust if the windows are shut. Everyone is standing, closely packed – no room for chairs!”.

In 1902, the Inghinidhe voted to join Cumann na nGhaedheal. In 1907 the Dungannon Clubs unified with Cumann na nGhaedheal as the Sinn Fein League; a year later, after merging with the National Council, the group became Sinn Fein. From its beginning, women were voted onto the executive of Sinn Féin and although Sinn Féin was promoting a conservative social policy, members of the Inghinidhe pursued their own. Helena Molony, for instance, adopted an increasingly socialist stance, and as time passed she moved over into the Connolly camp and later into the Irish Citizen Army. She devoted much of her energy to the women’s labour movement and to the Irish Women Worker’s Union (IWWU), which was affiliated to the ITGWU having been started by Jim Larkin’s sister, Delia. Helena Molony took over as leader of the IWWU in 1915.

Cat and Mouse Act poster IWFLThere was also in Ireland a strong women’s franchise movement, with the Irish Women’s Franchise League (IWFL) the most militant of a large number of groups throughout the country. It was founded by Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins in 1908 and was pledged to: non-party independent action; vigorous agitation; organisation of women; education of public opinion. Although most of the members were nationalists, women of all political persuasions were welcomed. Within a short time 800 members were on the register. The League organised militant action on a regular basis, both in Ireland and in England, and members of the League were regularly imprisoned. They adopted the tactic of the hunger strike, which the authorities countered first through forcible feeding, and also through early release and re-arrest, or the ‘cat and mouse’ tactic.

The other main women’s organisation which requires mention is Cumann na mBan, formed in April 1914, and affiliated to the Irish Volunteers. Each branch of the Cumann was under the military orders of a corresponding Volunteer branch, and this led to acrimony between the IWFL and the Cumann. The IWFL maintained that the women’s franchise issue should not be subjugated to the separatist cause, whereas the Cumann believed that the franchise would be won through independence which must be the priority.  Unlike the Irish Citizen Army, the members of Cumann na mBan were not trained as soldiers, but were there to support the men of the Irish Volunteer army. The members, many of whom were or had been members of the IWFL accepted that, but the split must have damaged both organisations. It was a pity that in the last years before the revolution of Easter 1916, women, who had done so much to bring together various strands within the separatist and labour movements should have found themselves in conflict with one another. But in its own way, it illustrates other difficulties which would lie ahead.

Stephen Browne SJ, who provided an index of Irish print media in 1937 wrote – ‘It is interesting and may be profitable to trace through the course of Irish history those various currents of tradition and thought whose confluence (without commingling) makes the Ireland of to-day. One can distinguish many such currents – religious, political, social, cultural. Some of them may, at certain periods of our history, be hard to trace: they seem to lose themselves in the sands, yet may still be flowing beneath the surface, to well up at future time. Sometimes two or more currents seem to merge and blend, but again it is only in appearance. Sooner or later they reappear as separate streams…Some have their sources far back in Irish history; others take their rise from some movement, some upheaval, perhaps, at some definite and not far distant period of the past. Some again have their perennial well-springs in human nature itself.’

The Feminist Press

Shan Van Vocht 1897The Shan Van Vocht

The Shan Van Vocht was founded in Belfast in January 1896 by two poets, Alice Milligan, who also wrote under the name Iris Olkyrn, and Anna Johnson  who wrote using the pen name Ethna Carberry. Alice Milligan was the daughter of a Protestant clergyman, while Anna Johnson was a Catholic. The paper pulled together in its articles many aspects of life in Ireland – cultural, social, political and historical – and its approach was from within the cultural/nationalist/separatist camp, drawing inspiration from the same political well that James Connolly drew on, including Wolfe Tone, James Fintan Lalor and John Mitchel. It provided a platform for writers such as Connolly, although in his case the editors disassociated themselves from his socialism, and for Douglas Hyde and Arthur Griffith. It also provided a valuable outlet for women writers, and it publicised women’s groups and their campaigns and views.

It championed the work of the literary societies, the Gaelic League, and the Amnesty Association for prisoners in British jails. One of its primary functions was to re-awaken interest in Irish patriots – especially, in readiness for the centenary, the patriots of 1798. It promoted the tending of the graves of patriots, regularly publishing articles such as, in its first issue on page 14,  ‘The Neglected Shrines and Sepulchres of Ireland’s Illustrious Dead’.

The Shan Van Vocht was a good read at 20 pages per issue, containing plenty of well-written material, and costing two pence. A typical issue contained the following: ‘The Captain’s Daughter’ (serial); ‘The Lonely One’ (poem); ‘The Rise and Fall of the Fenian Movement of ‘67’ part iv’; ‘Manus O’Mallaghan and the Fairies‘; ‘On Inisheer’ (poem); ‘Willie Kane of the “Northern Star”: How He Escaped the Scaffold’; ‘Irishmen in the Transvaal’; ‘The Burial-Place of the Sheares’; ‘Our National Language’; ‘James Clarence Mangan’; ‘Reviews – The life of Owen Roe O’Neill, The Life and Writings of Fintan Lalor’; ‘Our Notebook’ (Diary and Announcements); ‘The Moonlighters Hound’ (poem); ‘For the Old Land’ (review of the work being done to advance the nationalist cause).

In an editorial ‘Why Must We Strive For Freedom’ on the 7th August 1896, the paper set out what was required of the Irish – ‘…the freedom of Ireland can never be granted as a boon; it must be worked for, prayed for, longed for, night and day unceasingly, and in the end be nobly won by the courage and self reliance and strong arms of her sons from north and south, and east and west, aye, and from the far world’s end, banded together to achieve that aim in steadfast trust and brotherly unity’.

And in February 1897, we get a preview of the policy of Sinn Fein – ‘If we do not set and keep the ball of patriotism rolling ourselves, it is impossible for our nearest and dearest exiles to achieve anything for us. The work is ours and ours alone. To ourselves belong the initiation, control, and direction of whatever movement we consider best adopted to attain our ends’.

While the paper was successful, the editor, in a number of articles, complained of the lack of support that it was getting from the nationalist papers in Dublin. Dr. Mark Ryan of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in London convinced Alice Milligan and Anna Johnson that it was an opportune time to hand on the project to others. He arranged for Arthur Griffith to return from South Africa to take over as editor. From then on the paper was known as the United Irishman.

The Shan Van Vocht had helped to foster interest again in the separatist cause. It had provided Connolly with one of his first opportunities, since coming to Ireland, to present his case to other than a labour audience. It had also linked up with Maud Gonne in Paris and her paper L’Irlande Libre and exchanged material for publication. It had helped to establish an understanding of the work of various cultural and political groups and to encourage participation in them. The two women had done their work well, in the process inspiring other women who would take the work forward.

Bean na hEireann frontpage

Bean na hEireann (The Woman of Ireland)

The idea of producing a monthly journal as the organ of Inghinidhe na hEireann came from Helena Molony, the organisation’s secretary. At a meeting attended by Constance Markievicz and Sydney Gifford, the decision was taken to produce what they advertised as the first Irish women’s paper. Published between 1908 and 1911, Bean na hEireann (The Woman of Ireland) stood for the ‘freedom for Our Nation and the complete removal of all disabilities to our sex’.  It would describe itself in a later issue as ‘the first and only Nationalist Woman’s paper’. Maud Gonne was the publisher, and Helena Molony was editor. She, having drawn closer to the labour position, had difficulties with Cumann na nGhaedheal with which the Inghinidhe was linked, and this had given her the impetus to propose the launching of Bean na hEireann. She is quoted by historian Margaret Ward on this issue – ‘The United Irishman, starting as a physical force, separatist journal, had gradually changed its policy to one of reactionary social and dual-kingdom ideas…We wanted a paper to counter-act this. We wanted it to be a women’s paper, advocating militancy, separatism and feminism‘.

The Bean included short stories and poems, usually with a nationalist flavour, articles on aspects of patriotism or history, a cookery column, a children’s page, fashion notes, Irish language features, and a gardening feature ‘Woman with a Garden’ by Constance Markievicz (writing as ‘Maca’) which included tips on the extermination of slugs, but with a comparison drawn to British soldiers. The paper also carried ‘Labour Notes’ by ‘A Worker’ (Helena Molony) and increasingly carried contributions on women, their working conditions and their need to be equally organised and represented by the Labour movement. Some members of the Inghinidhe, including Helena Molony and Constance Markievicz, drew ever closer to involvement with James Connolly and the Labour movement and ultimately with active service in the 1916 revolution with the Irish Citizen Army.

There was no doubting the militant tone of the Bean. In response to an article on ‘The Police and the Nation’, a correspondent replied – ‘The article on street-fighting in Bean na hEireann a couple of months ago struck the right note…I would go further and say that in every town and parish in Ireland in which there is some national spirit left, the art of fighting the police should be assiduously cultivated and perfected’.

The Bean took the line that women’s emancipation would come with national independence, a nationalist-feminist line very similar to what that of Cumann na mBan members would be. This led to difficulties with suffragettes such as Mary McSwiney and Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, difficulties which got an airing in a lively debate over a period of time in the pages of the Bean. The paper was able to sustain its own argument, but its life was drawing to a close in any event. Maud Gonne’s prolonged absence in France threw too much onto Helena Molony’s shoulders and she had other work to do elsewhere, particularly in the women’s labour movement. The paper issued its last edition in February 1911. By then, the I.R.B. had launched their new militant separatist paper Irish Freedom thus ensuring that their message would continue to counter the moderate line taken by Arthur Griffith’s publications.

The Irish Citizen mastheadThe Irish Citizen

Following the demise of Bean na hEireann in 1911, leaving a gap in the market for a feminist newspaper, Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington and Margaret Cousins launched the feminist newspaper The Irish Citizen which carried the motto – ‘For Men and Women Equally The Rights of Citizenship; For Men and Women Equally The Duties of Citizenship’.

Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington was among the first Irish female university graduates, achieving a BA in Languages in 1899 and later an MA in Modern Languages in 1902. A year earlier she had founded the Women Graduates’ Association, and in 1903 married Frances Skeffington, a university registrar and a journalist with socialist and pacifist views. They each adopted the other’s surname as a mark of equality. She was a contributor of articles on education and feminism to both Bean na hEireann and The Nation, and was also a founding member of the Irish Women Workers’ Union and a close associate of James Connolly. During the 1913 Lockout she worked in the soup-kitchens in Liberty Hall.

The labour movement provided a meeting place for radical women before, during and after the Lockout in which Hanna, Constance Markevicz, Helena Molony, Madeleine ffrench-Mullen and Dr Kathleen Lynn played prominent roles and all became close to Connolly who was himself a committed feminist. The Irish Citizen described him as “the soundest and most thoroughgoing feminist among all the Irish labour men”, a comment that is hardly surprising given his work for women workers and his writings on the subject of women’s rights, for instance; “None so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off.” The close relationship between the Irish Women’s Franchise League which Hanna co-founded, and the labour movement, is summed up in the League’s Annual Report for 1913 in which is said ‘The working classes particularly have shown themselves friendly, and have rallied to our support whenever called upon’. It was mainly the labour movement that provided protection for the feminists at public meetings when they came under attack from mobs.

The Irish Citizen promoted more than the vote for women in campaigning for equal citizenship – a concept that was later firmly embedded in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Hanna, and the Irish Women’s Franchise League that she co-founded, supported militant feminist activity, although she was opposed to militarism. An advocate of window smashing as a form of protest, she pointed out that men who disapproved of this tactic “only applaud the stone-thrower as long as the missile is flung for them and not at them”. Hanna was herself imprisoned for five days in 1912 for breaking windows at the War Office after women were excluded from the franchise in the Home Rule Bill. She was later jailed  after attempting to push a leaflet on the British conservative leader Bonar Law but was released after five days, having gone on hunger strike.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What is clear from an examination of the feminist movement and the various publications associated with it is that Irish women were from the late 19th century increasingly involved in the move towards revolution as authors, publishers, educators, activists, agitators, thinkers, prisoners, hunger-strikers, allies and, ultimately, as revolutionary soldiers.  What is also clear from this series of articles is that the three strands that came together in that revolution – advanced-nationalist, advanced-feminist and organised labour – had one prominent common denominator, James Connolly. It is difficult to imagine the revolution taking place without his capacity to straddle those three movements and draw them to a common cause, the creation of an independent republic of equal citizens with guarantees of religious and civil liberties, equal opportunities, and sovereign ownership by the citizens of the national territory and its resources.

Connolly had laid out that project of drawing the various radical strands together in 1897; “we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent”. The evidence of history is that the support of radical feminist women was absolutely crucial to the success of his project, and he certainly repaid their trust by making explicit the feminist content of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The feminist women, in turn, repaid the trust he displayed in them in being the most ardent defenders of that Irish Republic long after many of the men had fallen away and joined the brutal counter-revolution which began with the signing of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty. It was, of course, the triumph of that counter-revolution over progressive forces that determined the fate of Irish women, that effectively silenced or exiled them, and that cast them into the role of second-class citizens in what purported to be a republic, for most of the 90 years since independence. But they rose again, and the work continues! It is worth re-reading that quote from Stephen Browne SJ again –

‘It is interesting and may be profitable to trace through the course of Irish history those various currents of tradition and thought whose confluence (without commingling) makes the Ireland of to-day. One can distinguish many such currents – religious, political, social, cultural. Some of them may, at certain periods of our history, be hard to trace: they seem to lose themselves in the sands, yet may still be flowing beneath the surface, to well up at future time. Sometimes two or more currents seem to merge and blend, but again it is only in appearance. Sooner or later they reappear as separate streams…Some have their sources far back in Irish history; others take their rise from some movement, some upheaval, perhaps, at some definite and not far distant period of the past. Some again have their perennial well-springs in human nature itself.’


A Most Seditious Lot: The Labour Press 1898-1916

Living today in an Ireland in which we do not have any significant alternative to a hegemonic right-wing press and broadcast media, it is difficult to imagine a time when there was a vibrant antidote to counteract the conservative propaganda of the national newspapers. But over a period from 1898 to 1916 and spanning a range of movements including advanced-nationalist, feminist, cooperative and socialist, their newspapers, journals, pamphlets and newsletters planted progressive ideas in the minds of their readers and often explicitly primed and prepared them for revolutionary action. It is worth understanding how this was achieved by looking at the content of these publications. In this article the Labour press will be examined, with the other movements to be examined in later articles.

Writing in 1937, Stephen Browne SJ said ‘…the history of the Irish Labour Press may be said to begin with the first appearance in 1898 of Connolly’s Workers Republic. Indeed, though the workers’ cause had been advocated in the past by such leaders as Fintan Lalor and Michael Davitt, the labour movement proper begins with James Connolly, who may fairly be described as the first Irish labour leader pure and simple.’ Browne was correct in that final point, but also in linking Connolly back through Michael Davitt to James Fintan Lalor, as Connolly himself frequently acknowledged. Browne might have completed the list of influences – from Lalor and his contemporaries, Thomas Davis and the Young Irelanders, back again to the anti-sectarian United Irishmen of the 1790s. That list of influences explains the three main strands to Connolly’s ideology – nationalism, republicanism and socialism, to which he consciously added advanced-feminism. And it was his core socialist republicanism that defined his nationalist outlook, lifting it away from the inward-looking Catholic nationalism of many of his contemporaries and allowing him to develop and express his progressive internationalism. All of this he brought to the pages of his newspapers, his pamphlets and his public speaking, in the process educating and informing his audience.

But throughout his career it was always primarily the interests of his class – the working-class – that occupied his thoughts. Those who criticised his move (as they mistakenly saw it) towards militant separatism and the company of nationalists between 1914 and 1916 as a profound and regrettable change ignore his long-standing linkage of the unhappy plight of the working class in Ireland with British colonialism, and of workers internationally with the rapacious greed of capitalist imperialism. His appreciation of James Fintan Lalor’s position on the subject – that social questions and the national issue should be regarded as complimentary – is revealed in his writings from 1896 on, and shows that his later actions in forming a revolutionary coalition were inevitable. Prior to establishing his newspaper The Workers Republic in 1898, Connolly’s political stance was published in the pages of advanced-nationalist papers. From the earliest days he had established contact with militant nationalists, especially through his work on the preparations for the centenary of the United Irishmen’s 1798 revolution.

The first issue of The Workers Republic appeared on the 13th of August 1898, just two days before the massive gathering for the dedication of the foundation stone of the proposed Wolfe Tone monument. On page two, writing under one of his pen-names, Spailpín, Connolly tells his readers – ‘We are Republican because we are Socialists, and therefore enemies to all privileges; and because we would have the Irish people complete masters of their own destinies, nationally and internationally, fully competent to work out their own salvation.’

Page one included a trenchant criticism of Irishmen for fighting in the four corners of the world ‘under any flag, in anybody’s quarrel, in any cause except their own’. Page three carried an article on the long hours and low pay of the men who worked for the Dublin Tram Company – it would be 18 years before the owner of that company, William Martin Murphy, would get in his final retaliation in by leading the charge for Connolly’s execution. On page five, there is an attack on ‘Home Rule Journalists and Patriots’. In an article on page 6, signed Saoirse, Connolly advises Dublin Castle of the socialists’ intention to get rid of the capitalist system. There are several articles and references to Wolfe Tone throughout the paper, including on landlordism and revolution. The last of the eight pages is made up of a statement of the objects and aims of the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP), and a series of advertisements for the party’s open air meetings ‘Every Sunday Evening, 7.30. Foster Place.’, for an appeal for funds for the ISRP, for Connolly’s seminal pamphlet ‘Erin’s Hope: the End and the Means’, and only one commercial advertisement – for ‘A Good Reliable Bicycle for the Cheapest Possible Price’ at M. J. Lord.

On page one of the following week’s issue, Connolly reports on a speech made by Lord Mayor Tallon at the ‘98 Commemoration banquet – ‘Poor Wolfe Tone. Lived, fought, and suffered for Ireland in order that a purse-proud, inflated wind-bag should exploit your memory to his own aggrandisement’. The story continues on page six – ‘I am told it passed over as well as such things usually do. A number of speeches were delivered by gentlemen who did not mean what they said. As far as I can learn they all got safely home. There is nothing more to relate concerning the dinner unless to remark that there were no working men there. It was a middle-class dinner, in a middle-class restaurant, for middle-class people’. Connolly was not inclined to take prisoners when reporting on the words or actions of the rich and powerful, and it is not hard to imagine the delight with which reports like this must have been received among the working-class readers. This was part of the style of the newspaper, the mixing of serious content with caustic and highly humorous and very subversive comment.

On September 3rd the paper carried a translated reprint from L’Irlande Libre titled Socialism and Irish Nationalism which ends with a clear enunciation of Connolly’s position on both the failings of the concept of bourgeois revolution, and the necessity of forging alliances with willing partners to create a sustainable revolution. The ending is also prophetic. “Having learned from history that all bourgeois movements end in compromise, that the bourgeois revolutionists of today become the conservatives of tomorrow, the Irish Socialists refuse to deny or to lose their identity with those who only half understand the problem of liberty. They seek only the alliance and the friendship of those hearts who, loving liberty for its own sake, are not afraid to follow its banner when it is uplifted by the hands of the working class who have most need of it. Their friends are those who would not hesitate to follow that standard of liberty, to consecrate their lives in its service even should it lead to the terrible arbitration of the sword.”

Two weeks later The Workers Republic carried the first installment of Labour in Irish History under another Connolly pen-name ‘Setanta’. The finished book would eventually to be published 12 years later, in 1910, on Connolly’s return from the USA. The paper was starting to receive more advertising now. On page eight a firm called Daly & Co. of Blackburn advertised two products, Daly’s Chimney Cleaner, and Daly’s Pile Salve – hopefully not with interchangeable lids! The following issue carried the first article in the paper by Maud Gonne which was on ‘Irishmen and the British Army’.

In October, the paper ceased production until its reappearance the following May. Finance was always a problem, and the paper several times went into hibernation if there was an election to be fought. In August 1899, the paper issued a four page ‘Wolfe Tone Supplement: the Social-Revolutionary’, which included ‘Industrial Progress and Revolution’ by Arthur O’Connor, ‘The Self-Catechism of a Rebel’ by John Mitchel and an article on ‘Fenianism and Continental Revolution’. In September, the paper announced a move to new larger premises at 138 Upper Abbey Street, ‘To include a shop, a clubroom, a large lecture hall, and two separate rooms for the printing outfit which now includes two printing presses’. Two weeks later the paper advertised the fact that lectures were now being held in the Workers Hall every Sunday, admission free.

From January 1901 the style of the paper changed. It was now more dense and carried reprints of previously published articles, as well as current reports. It was not as easy or as enjoyable a read. It reverted back to the original size and form in July 1902. A month later it carried the announcement of ‘Our American Mission’, that being Connolly’s planned trip to America to raise funds by way of a lecture tour. The funds he raised and sent back were dissipated by the time of his return. Connolly, with a family to feed, and no funds to keep the party or the presses going, went back to America where he remained until 1910.

When he eventually returned it was to more fertile territory than he had left due to James Larkin’s efforts over the preceding four years to organise workers into a trade union. With the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) in place, there was now a relatively solid base from which to work. In June 1911 The Irish Worker newspaper appeared, edited by Larkin with Connolly’s active participation, and it enjoyed very substantial sales from the start. In June 1911 its circulation was 26,000. By September it had reached a staggering 95,000 copies. Its circulation fluctuated but remained healthy. It was an important weapon in the hands of the labour movement before and during the lock-out of 1913, and crucial in the formation and instruction of the Irish Citizen Army. When Larkin left Ireland to raise funds in the USA in 1914 he left Connolly effectively in control of the ITGWU, and commanding the Irish Citizen Army

In 1915, the Irish Worker was suppressed by the government, and to fill the vacuum, Connolly re-launched The Workers Republic. His newspaper would play an important role in providing coverage of the Army’s activities, training articles etc., and also as a link with the activities of the Irish Volunteers. The first issue, on the 29 May 1915, carries the message, ‘The Army and Reserves will parade on Sunday at Liberty Hall to take part in the May Day procession to the Park. All ranks are called out for the muster. By Order.’. On page 8 the paper carried accounts of military happenings so as ‘to enlighten and instruct our members in the work they are banded together to perform’. In ‘Notes on the Front’, page one, July 3rd 1915, there is a review of “From a Hermitage”, a pamphlet by P. H. Pearse, including this comment ‘We find ourselves in agreement with most of the things he says…and are surprised to find him so wisely sympathetic on the struggles of the workers with which we are most closely identified.’

A week later, under the heading ‘Ourselves and Our “Allies”’, the paper offered ‘heartiest congratulations to the Larkfield Team of the Irish Volunteers who won the tournament at St. Enda’s Fete last Sunday’. The paper was by now providing extensive coverage of the Citizen Army, with training notes on a wide variety of military topics from issue to issue. A series of articles during 1915 drew on revolutionary tactics used in, for instance; Revolution in Belgium (12th June), Revolution in Paris 1830 (July 3rd), while an article on June 19th dealt with the story of the Alamo, which the revolutionary HQ – the GPO and surrounding streets – would emulate less than a year later.

The issue of 15 April 1916, nine days before the revolution would start, carried a poem by C. de. Markievicz :

‘The Call’
‘Do you hear the call in the whispering wind?
The call to our race today,
The call for self-sacrifice, courage and faith
The call that brooks no delay.’

On the same page is an announcement of  a ‘Solemn Hoisting of the Irish Flag at Liberty Hall on Sunday April 16′.

The last issue of the Workers Republic of the 22 April, two days before the Revolution, carried an image of a harp above and below the poem “Eire” by Maeve Cavanagh. The authorities in Dublin Castle would have been reassured, however, by the first lines of the cover article ‘Notes on the Front’‘As this is our Easter edition, and we do not feel like disturbing the harmony of this season of festivity…’. But this last issue of The Workers Republic also carried an editorial titled ‘Labour and Ireland’ in which Connolly described the hoisting of the new flag of the republic over Liberty Hall – “So closely had the crowds been packed that many thousands had been unable to see the ceremony on the square, but the eyes of all were now riveted upon the flag pole awaiting the re-appearance of the Colour Bearer. All Beresford Square was packed, Butt Bridge and Tara Street were as a sea of upturned faces. All the North Side of the Quays up to O’Connell Street was thronged, and O’Connell Bridge itself was impassable owing to the vast multitude of eager, sympathetic onlookers… At last the young Colour Bearer, radiant with excitement and glowing with colour in face and form, mounted beside the parapet of the roof, and with a quick graceful movement of her hand unloosed the lanyard, and

THE FLAG OF IRELAND

fluttered out upon the breeze.

Those who witnessed that scene will never forget it. Over the Square, across Butt Bridge, in all the adjoining streets, along the quays, amid the dense mass upon O’Connell Bridge, Westmoreland Street and D’Olier Street corners, everywhere the people burst out in one joyous delirious shout of welcome and triumph, hats and handkerchiefs fiercely waved, tears of emotion coursed freely down the cheeks of strong rough men, and women became hysterical with excitement… As the first burst of cheering subsided Commandant Connolly gave the command, “Battalion, Present Arms”, the bugles sounded the General Salute, and the concourse was caught up in a delirium of joy and passion.

In a few short words at the close Commandant Connolly pledged his hearers to give their lives if necessary to keep the Irish Flag Flying, and the ever memorable scene was ended.”

Two days later, Connolly would oversee the unfurling of that flag of the Irish Republic over the GPO as the revolution began.  Nineteen days later he was dead, a battle-wounded prisoner, already dying from gangrene, murdered by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol, and with his death the authentic voice of labour in Ireland was silenced.

We do not need armed revolution in Ireland today, but we certainly need a revolution in thought and spirit, a revolution that, as always, begins in the imagination. But where can we find that organ of the mass media that will present to the people of Ireland alternative ideas to consider, propose better solutions to problems and issues of national importance, show us the lessons of the past that can guide us towards more informed judgements and help us make better decisions? The answer is bleak. In the Ireland of the 21st century that organ of the mass media does not exist. But it cannot be beyond the means of today’s free citizens to create a modern version of The Workers’ Republic, Irish Freedom or The Irish Citizen, online. Here is a start – the masthead of the penultimate edition of James Connolly’s The Workers’ Republic.

The banner of The Workers' Republic of 15th April 1916


Interfering, Meddling People: Labour agitators and 1916

In 1891, in “The Soul of Man under Socialism”, Oscar Wilde had this to say – ‘What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary.’ 

Between 1896 and 1916 two very effective agitators combined to ‘sow the seeds of discontent’ among the working class, not just in Dublin, but in urban areas throughout the country, and abroad. The first, James Connolly, arrived in Dublin in 1896 and, very shortly after, founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. The other, Jim Larkin, arrived from Liverpool in 1907 as organiser for the National Union of Dock Labour, and the following year founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Both were the sons of Irish emigrants from the immediate post-famine period. Each of them had his own view as to how the working class could raise themselves up, both were strong willed, yet they were able to combine at critical moments when the opportunity presented itself to improve the position of the working-class. They were by no means the first agitators in the land. But they were undoubtedly among the most effective, and carried out their work during a critically important period in terms of potential for change.

On Connolly’s arrival in 1896, he immediately threw himself into the task of establishing his tiny party, relying on public open-air meetings, usually in Beresford Place, by pamphleteering, and later through the pages of his own newspaper The Workers Republic, and in various advanced-nationalist organs of the press. He involved himself in the preparations for the centenary commemorations of the 1798 Rising shortly after his arrival with the establishment of the ‘Rank and File ‘98 Club. He also involved himself in opposition to the Boer War, using the campaign to illustrate the nature of colonialism allied to capitalism. These activities brought him into contact with many of the leading political personalities of the day, but more importantly established his credentials with the social class whose cause he championed. While this did not bring electoral success for his party, it was to pay off later.

In 1903, disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of the ISRP and what he saw as the poor prospects of establishing a viable socialist base in Ireland, Connolly left for America where he continued his agitation on behalf of workers and eventually found employment organising on behalf of the International Workers of the World. He further established himself as a socialist intellectual of international stature during this seven-year exile. While Connolly was away, he still contributed to the debates of the day in Ireland through the medium of the press, and during this time continued to develop his political, social and economic arguments, culminating in the publication, following his return to Ireland, of his most important work – Labour in Irish History – in 1910.

By the time Connolly returned to Ireland, Jim Larkin had also established his position as a labour leader of considerable stature. The formation of the ITGWU had created a union which was free from cross-channel control. It developed a set of tools by which workers could pressurise the employers into negotiating better terms; lightening strikes, sympathetic strikes, ‘flying pickets’ and so on. In all this it helped to radicalise the working class and to create a sense of solidarity among them, which is not to deny that, given the economic conditions of the day, there was not a ready supply of ‘blacklegs’ or ‘scabs’ available to the employers in the attempt to break the effectiveness of the union. But this was a militant union, and its members were not afraid to stand their ground. With the union growing in strength, Connolly and Larkin also took a prominent role in the foundation of the Irish Labour Party in 1912.

Workers flocked to join the ITGWU. Between 1910, when Connolly and Larkin joined forces, and 1912, union membership grew from 4,000 to 10,000. Irish employers who had up to then dictated terms of employment with impunity recognised the threat to their power and profits and began to organise against trade unionism. In this, they had the backing of the Catholic church, all of the leading newspapers, and the British administration in Ireland, in other words, the political class. The conflict between the union and the employers increased, with conditions imposed on workers that they not join or that they renounce existing membership of the ITGWU. When tram workers employed by William Martin Murphy’s Dublin United Tramway Company walked off the job on the 26th of August 1913, during the highly popular Dublin Horse Show, 400 Dublin employers retaliated by locking out over 20,000 men and women workers, and so the Dublin lock-out began.

The lock-out, which was led on the employer’s side by William Martin Murphy, who besides being a wealthy industrialist was owner of the influential Irish Independent newspaper, saw acts of extreme brutality inflicted by the police on civilians. This resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army by Larkin, Connolly and others, an idea brought back by Connolly from his time as an organiser with the IWW in the US where a Citizens’ Army was a necessary protection for striking workers who were regularly targeted for extreme violence, including murder, by gangs of thugs hired by employers. First conceived to provide protection to strikers, the Irish Citizens Army developed quickly into an armed and well drilled force, albeit small in numbers.

Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU, became the centre of activity for the striking workers and their families. As the Employers Federation tightened its grip on the city, blocking food supplies and other essentials of life from entering the city, soup kitchens were set up in Liberty Hall with Countess Markievicz, Helena Moloney and other radical women organising the distribution of limited amounts of food to the destitute workers’ families. Dr Kathleen Lynn set up first aid facilities in Liberty Hall to treat workers injured in action on the picket-line and also to alleviate sicknesses brought on through starvation, especially affecting children. Over the course of the lock-out a union official died in police custody following torture, two workers were killed on the streets by police, and another, a woman, was shot dead by a strike-breaker. Hundreds of strikers were injured, mainly in police baton charges. Lives were lost too in tenements in the poorest parts of Dublin as women and children in particular succumbed to starvation, disease and cold during that winter.

The lock-out petered to an inconclusive ending after seven months, with workers drifting back to work out of necessity and many Dublin businesses fatally wounded by the actions of their owners and forced to close. The ITGWU had though established the right of workers to organise in trade unions and the principle of workers’ solidarity as paramount in the struggle against oppression and exploitation. Liberty Hall had been established as an important centre of resistance and as an excellent training ground for another battle that would soon be fought. The workers involved in the lock-out had garnered support from a wide variety of sources – feminists, advanced nationalists, artists and intellectuals, and republicans. The Irish Citizen Army had been established as a military force with James Connolly in a pivotal position, and a group of men and women in leadership roles who would be of crucial importance later.

Connolly assumed command of the Citizen Army in 1914 following Larkin’s departure for America to raise funds, where he would remain until 1923 having spent a number of years in prison for criminal anarchy. Connolly was a multi-tasker. Apart from the Irish Citizen Army he was acting General Secretary of the ITGWU. He was a newspaper publisher and journalist, first under the banner of The Irish Worker and when that paper was suppressed reviving his own paper, The Workers Republic, in which he wrote most of the copy. He was a leader of the anti-conscription campaign in the lead-up and during the First World War. He was forging alliances with various elements working to create a revolution. He was developing a strategy and tactics for urban guerilla warfare that drew on research into other revolutionary events, and that would substantially form the basis for the military campaign during Easter Week 1916 and would serve as a model to be used during the War of Independence and in other revolutions in other parts of the world.

In January 1916, after a period in which Connolly had baited the Volunteer leadership on their timidity in not seizing the opportunity of British involvement in a major war to strike for Irish freedom, he disappeared for three days. His own people in Liberty Hall believed he had either been kidnapped by the Volunteers or lifted by the police and was being held in Dublin Castle. He was in fact mainly in Eamon Ceannt’s house with the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB). While some speculate that this period was spent in attempting to dissuade Connolly from taking premature action with the Citizen Army, as he had indicated he would, it is more likely that the discussions focussed on what sort of republic would be the endgame of any revolutionary action. What we can safely assume, knowing Connolly’s character and his strong convictions, is that he emerged from this series of discussions fully committed to the alliance of the IRB, Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army, with a date for action determined, and with the template for the new Irish Republic nailed down.

What republic did Connolly want? The Workers’ Republic. What did the Proclamation lay out as the model of republic? A socialist republic – with the potential for the citizens of a free Ireland to take that to the next level, the Workers’ Republic. Would Connolly have settled for less? No! Did the other leaders with whom he had spent three days walk away from the discussions? No! All seven signed their names to it, knowing that they would likely die for that action.

If a revolution can have a head office, then Liberty Hall was that – for socialists and republicans alike. When the flag of the Irish Republic was raised in Dublin for the first time it was over Liberty Hall, a week before it was raised over the GPO on the 24th of April 1916. It was in Liberty Hall that the Proclamation was printed, and it was from Liberty Hall that all orders went out immediately prior to the revolution, and from Liberty Hall that the GPO garrison marched to light the fire of revolution. The central importance of Liberty Hall to the Irish revolution – from the experience of the 1913 lock-out, to the pressure applied by Connolly and the Citizen Army for revolution, to the planning and the execution of the revolution, must be recognised. The fruit of all of that was to be the socialist Irish Republic, but it was the rotten fruit of counter-revolution that would ultimately be served up to the Irish people in 1922, a fruit that they are still forced to eat today.

An oft-repeated criticism of Connolly, principally by those who claim to be ‘pure’ socialists, is that he in some way let the socialist side down in 1916 by aligning himself and his army with nationalists. The lie is given to that in the text of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for which the leadership and rank-and-file of the revolutionary force in 1916 were prepared to lay down their lives to achieve – a socialist republic. Paragraph four of the Proclamation could have been written by no-one other than James Connolly, and that is the key paragraph. And if he did align himself with nationalists, they were nationalists who were republican in their ideology. And what is a republican? According to Connolly himself, to be a republican is to be a socialist and to be a socialist is to be a republican. But perhaps not a ‘pure’ enough socialist for some, the measure of whose opinion should be their own achievements, or lack thereof.

Perhaps these egotistical ‘pure’ socialists would point to a single instance of a ‘pure’ revolution in history. They cannot, for none exist. Connolly himself had written in ‘Erin’s Hope’ as far back as 1897 – “we will, as the true revolutionist should ever do, have called into action on our side the entire sum of all the forces and factors of social and political discontent. By the use of the revolutionary ballot we will have made the very air of Ireland as laden with ‘treason’, as fully charged with the spirit of revolt, as it is to-day with the cant of compromise and the mortal sin of flunkeyism; and thus we will have laid a substantial groundwork for more effective action in the future…”.

“But he showed himself to be a nationalist”, the internationalists cry. The fools! Connolly, an internationalist to the core, pointed out that you cannot be one, the inter-nationalist, without being the other, the nationalist. Nationalism is neither an automatically good or bad thing. If the Nation – the collective of citizens – operates to a set of benign, progressive and non-insular ideas and values then it is obviously a good thing, and the values in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic have these good attributes. Connolly wished the Irish Republic would act as a ‘beacon of hope‘ to the oppressed people of the world, in other words that it would provide an example for them to emulate as they wished. What did Connolly have to say in Erin’s Hope 19 years before the revolution? “The interests of Labour all the world over are identical, it is true, but it is also true that each country had better work out its own salvation on the lines most congenial to its own people.” The ‘pure’ socialists on the other hand, adopt the position of the imperialist in seeking to impose a universal solution regardless of local cultural norms and nuances – another form of tyranny.

It is a pity that sectarian elements on the left would not study Connolly’s words and try to understand what the true revolutionist needs to do. And given that the parliamentary Irish Labour Party has aligned itself with the forces of the right it is even more of a pity that the rank-and-file members of the Irish Labour Party, in the centenary year of the party founded by Connolly and Larkin, would not familiarise themselves with those same words and understand where their rightful place should be – firmly on the left, not in the middle, and certainly not on the right.

What was it that Oscar Wilde wrote?

What is said by great employers of labour against agitators is unquestionably true. Agitators are a set of interfering, meddling people, who come down to some perfectly contented class of the community, and sow the seeds of discontent amongst them. That is the reason why agitators are so absolutely necessary.’

True one hundred years ago, just as true today. Agitators are absolutely necessary!


Know the revolutionaries to understand the revolution

I never had personal contact with my paternal grandfather, since by the time I was born he was eight years dead, but in my earliest memories as a young boy he was already becoming to me  a man of mythic stature, a heroic figure in our family, a presence. What I knew of him as I grew was gleaned from snippets of information, often just overheard, sometimes the result of answers to my expressed curiosity about this absent man. It was obvious to me even from my earliest days that he was loved and missed by my father and his siblings, and that they were always proud of him and what he had done in his life. I had no image of him either until much later when I was shown a yellowing newspaper clipping that reported on the circumstances of his death with an accompanying postage-stamp sized photo, too small and too faded to give any real sense of the man.

John Stokes - D Company 3rd Battalion - Boland's Mills Garrison

John Stokes – D Company 3rd Battalion – Boland’s Mills Garrison

That newspaper clipping confirmed what I by then knew, that my grandfather, John Stokes, had died in attempting to rescue a young woman from drowning at the Shelley Banks near Poolbeg on the southern side of Dublin Bay. Other clippings, discovered later, gave greater detail to the story – that the young woman had been cut off on a sand island when the tide started to rise, that John had gone to her assistance and that when she couldn’t swim to shore he went back for assistance but disappeared underwater having suffered cramp. The young woman, Nellie Macken of Parliament Street, was rescued by a boatman. At the inquest into his death John was commended for his bravery. He was 63 years-of-age when he died. That one act of selfless bravery, particularly at a relatively advanced age, would have been enough to establish his heroism, but there was more to him than that one act.

Born in County Wexford, in Bunclody, his people were farmers. But they were, according to family lore, also perpetually rebellious, with an involvement stretching back to the United Irish rebellion of 1798, and the short-lived Wexford Republic of that year. As a young man, John had to flee Wexford to avoid a trial at the Wexford Assizes on a charge of holding off at gunpoint a bailiff who had caught him poaching game on a squire’s land. He made his way to Dublin where he eventually met and married my grandmother, Catherine Finnegan of Slane, County Meath.

By 1913 John was employed as a ‘motorman’ – a driver – with the Dublin United Tramways Company. When he and his co-workers walked off the job because of the company’s refusal to allow them membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, led by James Larkin and James Connolly, that strike allowed the Employers’ Federation, led by Ireland’s leading industrialist William Martin Murphy, to declare a general lockout of unionised workers, leading to a sustained and highly organised attempt by the employers to starve the workers and their families into submission, a cynical programme that lasted over four months bringing death and sickness to the poorest of Dublin’s poor.

Although records of who was involved in and around Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the ITGWU, are virtually non-existent, it is highly likely that John and Catherine were active there. In our family, James Connolly – a central figure in the Lockout and in Liberty Hall – was revered above other leaders, as was Liam Mellows, a disciple of Connolly’s. And, right up to the time of her death in 1956, Dr. Kathleen Lynn, who had worked for the welfare of the locked-out workers and their families in Liberty Hall and had been appointed by Connolly as  Chief Medical Officer to the Irish Citizen Army that Connolly led, and later as second-in-command of the City Hall garrison during the 1916 revolution, was a frequent visitor to Catherine at her home in Rathmines, as a friend.

John made the journey from striking tram-worker in 1913 to revolution in 1916 in which he fought in the Boland’s Mills garrison as a member of  D Company 3rd Battalion of the Volunteers, under the command of Eamon de Valera. On April 24th, Easter Monday, he turned up for duty with his Howth rifle and was put in charge of four Volunteers to take over the Gas Works and went from there to the Old Distillery (where the flag of the Republic was flown to divert British Army attention) until Wednesday when they were withdrawn back to Boland’s Mills. On Thursday he was ordered home by de Valera due to a back injury he had carried into the fight. Two days after the surrender he was arrested and taken to Richmond Barracks with the other revolutionaries, and then to Frongoch Prison Camp in North Wales via Wakefield Prison in England. He was released in August 1916. While in Frongoch his commanding officer was Terence MacSwiney. During the War of Independence John provided ‘assistance’ to D Company and to the Active Service Unit, and during the Civil War provided a safe house for guns and men to Anti-Treaty republicans with the active participation of my grandmother Catherine.

The Lockout exacted a high price on both John and Catherine. As a black-listed worker due to his union activity, and as a man of principle who would not work for certain employers on his own blacklist, he often found himself struggling to provide for his wife and young family. This evidently led to occasional difficulties between these two strong-willed characters, she who had children to feed and he who had principles to live up to.  On Fianna Fail’s accession to power in government in 1932 Catherine wrote to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera asking if there was any work available for John to which de Valera replied that if John came to the Dáil on a certain date there would be a job as a porter. John’s response was that he hadn’t fought in 1916 to get a job for himself and refused the offer. He continued to find what work he could, mainly around the motor trade and occasionally as a hackney driver.

There is no doubt that John and Catherine made a solid contribution to achieving independence for Ireland from British domination, but they made another lasting contribution. In being active citizens in their everyday lives they passed on a set of worthwhile values and beliefs that they held dear to their children, who passed them on to their own children, and the ripple effect goes on.

They were not unique in this, and that is the impetus behind telling their story for the first time.

On the 24th of April 1916, ‘ordinary’ men and women, estimated to number between 900 and 1200, assembled at Liberty Hall and at various outposts to create a revolution against the mightiest empire in the world at that time. But very little is known about these heroic, generous people who would take extraordinary risks to benefit future generations with little prospect of gain for themselves and a high possibility of death, injury or long-term imprisonment as a result of their actions.

These people, these revolutionaries, do not figure in history books, other than as statistics. In writing them out of the story as individual people, each with a personal story to tell of before, during and after the revolution, we consistently fail the test of understanding what the revolution was really about and how important it was for them to achieve the Irish Republic that was the objective of the revolution.

There is no doubt that it suited what was, and continues to be, the political class in this non-republic, to narrow the focus of understanding the revolution by concentrating on its leaders and on its opponents, including the failed constitutional politicians and those who faltered and fell away from the revolutionary movement at the last minute.

Far easier to present the revolution as a ‘Rising’, or an ‘Insurrection’, or a ‘Rebellion’ if the motivations and the objectives of the rank-and-file men and women do not form part of the evidence of genuine revolution. Far easier to underplay the fundamental importance to the revolution of the 1913 Lockout and trade unionism, of the centrality of socialism to the Proclamation, of the most advanced form of feminism in the world which was revealed at the barricades and in the Proclamation, if the revolution could be sold as a ‘poets’ rebellion’ or some-such nonsense. Far easier to allow the Catholic church to successfully sell the spurious notion that it was behind the ‘rebellion’ and therefore a party to the gaining of independence when the direct opposite was the case. And so, far easier to create a permanent counter-revolution the aim of which was to destroy the Irish Republic so as to preserve a privileged class, to avoid redistribution of wealth, to introduce rigid controls on society and social behaviour, to embed capitalism and its local offshoot, gombeenism, as the hegemonic ideology.

Even at this late stage, when those generations with a direct connection with the rank-and-file revolutionaries are dying off, it is still possible to salvage these stories involving the ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries and their families, but further delay in doing so cannot be entertained. A concerted effort needs to be made to reach out to the remaining families of 1916 rank-and-file revolutionaries to gather the stories and where possible photographs, so that we can better know who they were and what were their personal circumstances, why they did what was extraordinary, and how it impacted their lives thereafter.

There is work to be done, first in finding the descendants, then in gathering the stories, collating the information and analysing it, and publishing the stories and the analysis. Once again that work involves, in a very fundamental way, ordinary people. But, given its potential scale, it will also need to involve local and national organisations and societies, sociocultural historians and researchers, archivists and museums.

After almost 100 years of obscurity we need to think of ways to acknowledge and honour these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries. Apart from publishing their stories, one other way would be to ensure that included in the commemorations on April 24th 2016, Republic Day, will be a contingent of citizens, each individual – preferably a family-member – representing an identified revolutionary of Easter Week 1916, and assembled according to the garrison that the revolutionary was part of, to take part in the march-past at the GPO in Dublin.

It is time to give these ‘ordinary’ revolutionaries mythic stature, to understand the extent of their heroism, and to make their presence felt once again as we continue the task of completing their revolution by constructing the Irish Republic that they gave so much to bring to life. We owe it to them, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to the future generations.


Naming National Children’s Hospital

The news that the new National Children’s Hospital will most likely not be built on the Mater Hospital site in Dublin’s city centre is a welcome turn of events. It is widely believed that this major project was to be shoe-horned onto the very restricted Mater site because it was located in former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s constituency, coupled with the fact that Ahern was formerly employed by the Mater Hospital.

That the site was unsuitable goes without saying. To fit the children’s hospital on the site meant that it had to be a 16 storey building, with a multi-storey car-park underground. Traffic congestion is frequently at critical level in the streets approaching the site from all directions. Air quality in the city centre would hardly be considered to be a positive factor in the treatment of sick children.

It is likely that the new hospital will either be built on the site of the existing Crumlin Children’s Hospital or a green-field site even closer to the M50 ring-road, making access from all parts of Ireland much easier and quicker. Either of the new site-options would also allow for a lower-rise building, and one which would allow sick children to see the sky and the Dublin Mountains, and to breathe fresher air than in the city centre – altogether a far more sensible and pleasant prospect for sick children and their families.

Building this much needed National Children’s Hospital also allows for another significant act – the naming of the hospital. No doubt there will be many and varied suggestions on this subject, but none more suitable than to name it in memory of Dr Kathleen Lynn, one of the true heroes of the 1916 revolution, a revolution that she carried on to her life’s end in a very practical way in her work as a doctor and founder of St. Ultan’s Hospital.

Kathleen Lynn was born into a wealthy protestant family, her father being the Church of Ireland Rector of Killala in County Mayo. After her secondary education in Alexandra College in Dublin she studied medicine, graduating in 1899 – one of the first women in Ireland to achieve this. Life in Killala had made her aware of widespread deprivation still evident in Mayo after the famine of 1847-48 and this would influence her work as a doctor, putting her firmly on the side of the poorest of the poor.

When she was elected to be House Surgeon to the Adelaide Hospital her appointment was resisted by her male colleagues on the grounds that she was a woman. She became active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement and was drawn towards republicanism through her feminism. Like Countess Markievicz, another Protestant from a wealthy family, Kathleen Lynn went against type with this support for republicanism, and like Markievicz was met with the displeasure of family members for doing so.

She supported the cause of the workers during the 1913 Lockout and worked with Countess Markievicz and others in the soup kitchens in Liberty Hall and became close to Markievicz and James Connolly. Connolly appointed her Chief Medical Officer to the Irish Citizen Army and she gave the Citizen Army ambulance and first aid training, and was involved in weapons smuggling. On Easter weekend, 1916, Kathleen was appointed Captain in the Irish Citizen Army and second-in-command of the City Hall Garrison in the revolution. When Sean Connolly was killed early on in the revolution, Kathleen took command of the Garrison before it was forced to surrender.

Released from British custody in 1917 she, together with her life-long companion, republican activist and feminist Madeleine ffrench-Mullen, nursed the ill during the deadly influenza epidemic of 1918. The following year, while Kathleen was practicing as a GP in Rathmines, the two spearheaded the opening of a children’s hospital in Charlemont Street, Dublin, named St. Ultan’s. The first hospital of its kind and staffed entirely by women, St. Ultan’s catered for children of the tenements who suffered terrifyingly high mortality rates, and concentrated on infectious diseases. This led to pioneering work in the treatment of TB including the use of the BCG vaccination, and later the experimental use of Streptomycin, which later facilitated the work of Dr Noel Browne and the TB eradication programme.

Kathleen Lynn was elected a Sinn Fein TD between 1921 and 1926 but, opposed to the Treaty of 1921, did not take her seat.

Kathleen and Madeleine, and the group of prominent republican women who supported them, managed to keep the hospital open despite opposition from the Catholic Church, and the State. Operating in a period that was expressly counter-revolutionary, hallmarked by official meanness, rigidity and cruelty, when women were being marginalised, censorship was rife, and politics and the Catholic Hierarchy worked hand-in-hand against the interest of women and of the poor, Kathleen Lynn kept her eyes firmly on the prize of saving and enhancing the lives of Ireland’s most vulnerable children who had been discarded by both Church and State.

Kathleen Lynn may have left active participation in politics in 1926 but never gave up on the Republic or its citizens. She personifies the finest ideals of republicanism and of patriotism. There can be no doubt about her bravery, not just in battle, but in the war against disease and deprivation in the tenements of Dublin and in the struggle to keep her great little hospital open and in pushing the boundaries of medicine without asking for permission that would have been denied.

Kathleen Lynn was effectively written out of history by not being spoken about in the ‘official’ version of history. Those who knew her knew she was remarkable, and lovely and kind and generous. Perhaps, apart from her unyielding republicanism, it was the question of the nature of her relationship with Madeleine that powerful men in the Church and State could not cope with. When Madeleine died in 1944 Kathleen wrote in her diary on her return from the burial to the house they had shared –“..the loneliness of coming back, with no Madeline to greet me and say what a barren wilderness it had been while I was away.”

Kathleen Lynn died in 1955 and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery. To the very end of her life she dreamed of and worked for the establishment of a National Children’s Hospital. Almost 100 years after she fought to create the Irish Republic that dream looks set to be realised in time for the centenary of the 1916 revolution. It would be right and fitting that the hospital should be named ‘The Kathleen Lynn National Children’s Hospital’.


Let Black Bloomers Be Our Banner

‘The Queen is coming’, the delighted RTE reporters and presenters tell us, seemingly thrilled by the prospect of producing several-months-worth of guff, and, who knows, even of being in the same air-space as herself – all in the call of duty, of course. No doubt, celebratory dinner parties with live flat screen coverage of the ‘real’ banquet, are already being planned by society hostesses in the leafy suburbs of Dublin. ‘It is a sign of the growing maturity of our relationship with the Old Enemy’, the commentariat tell us, as if we were, up to now, mere children.

Déjà vu! Yes, the Irish have been here before. When Ms Saxe-Coburg (Elizabeth mark 2 if you prefer) arrives, it will be 114 years after her great-great-granny Victoria came to view her Irish subjects – at least the ones who had survived a long famine over which she presided with a large degree of indifference. Then as now there was sycophantic adulation by some, and sincere, creative and sometimes humourous opposition by many others as well.

Maud Gonne and James Connolly combined in organising public protests. They set up a magic lantern projector in a room in Parnell Street and projected images of famine and eviction scenes across the street to a gable wall, to be seen by a large crowd of protesters in the street. The police baton-charged the crowd and one woman was killed. The protest headed down O’Connell Street, led by a hand-cart on which there was a coffin with the words ‘British Empire’ painted on it. Some protesters carried placards with slogans or with statistics of famine deaths. As they approached O’Connell Bridge the police made to stop them and there was a pitched battle. The coffin was hurled into the Liffey by the protesters to shouts of “Here goes the British Empire. To hell with the British Empire”. Connolly was arrested.

The Ladies Committee of the Patriotic Children’s Treat was formed to organise a picnic for children to counter the officially organised celebrations. Shops and bakeries and such-like contributed cakes, buns, lemonade and sweets for over 25,000 children who attended the picnic in Clonturk Park. Many of those children got their first lesson in politicisation on that day. Writing about it in his newspaper, the Workers’ Republic, James Connolly said:

“Last week we witnessed in Dublin the first political parade of the coming generation…Between twenty-five and thirty thousand children turned out and walked in processional order through the streets of the city, to show the world that British Imperialism had cast no glamour over their young minds…And that in the person of Her Britannic Majesty they recognised only a woman – no better than the mothers who bore them, if as good…It was a great sight to see the little rebels taking possession of the city – a sight more promising for the future of the country than any we can remember.”

Six years later Maud Gonne came up with another novel way of registering her opposition to the visit of King Edward VII. Living in a suburb of Dublin that was staunchly unionist at that time , Rathgar, she contrived to annoy her neighbours by hanging a pair of her black bloomers on a flag pole from a window of her house. Naturally, the police were summoned by the neighbours, but it would have taken a brave man indeed to interfere with Maud Gonne’s knickers.

We should save our rotten tomatoes for the compost, and make omelettes of our eggs. We should hold off the unfurling of our Tricolour and our Starry Plough for better days of celebration and of commemoration. We should instead, while Ms Saxe-Coburg is here, remember Maud Gonne – a great, subversive, republican woman – and emulate her.

Let black bloomers be our banner.


The Watchword of Labour

The Labour Party, founded in 1912 by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien, is in closed negotiations with Fine Gael, a party whose ethos and values lie in direct opposition to the ethos and values of Connolly, Larkin and O’Brien, over a programme for government to which both parties can sign up to.

The Labour Party website states that: ‘The founders of the Labour Party believed that for ordinary working people to shape society they needed a political party that was committed to serving their needs; they knew that there is only so much that trade unions and community organisations can do, an effective political party is needed to create a fair society.’

This barely skims the surface of what the founders believed, but we can rely on a line from the Proclamation of the Irish Republic for the fundamental principles that Connolly was prepared to die to establish, to understand his final position: “The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”

The Labour website also states, with regard to the period after the 1918 elections: “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background. Moreover, the major parties were conservative and opposed to socialism. This meant that there was little or no attention given to issues of social justice, such as poverty, unemployment and emigration which badly affected the lives of Irish working people.

Poverty, unemployment and emigration? If those words create a sense of déjà vu, then so too should the opening line of that quote – “The debate about the national issue pushed consideration of social issues into the background.”

Yes, we have been here before, many times. And now, as in previous times the leaders of the Labour Party, post-1916, will wrestle with their consciences, and the leadership will win, and win easily.

The Labour Party’s members, who just might exercise some authority over the leadership if they had a mind to, will be familiar with a song by James Connolly – indeed many of them will have joined in lusty renditions at Labour Party conferences and gatherings.

Just to remind them of Connolly’s stance on Labour’s duty, here it is:

The Watchword of Labour by James Connolly (1916)

Oh, hear ye the watchword of Labour,
the slogan of those who’d be free,
That no more to any enslaver
must Labour bend suppliant knee,
That we on whose shoulders are borne
the pomp and the pride of the great,
Whose toil they repay with their scorn,
must challenge and master our fate.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Aye, we who oft won by our valour,
empires for our rulers and lords,
Yet knelt in abasement and squalor
to things we had made with our swords,
Now valour with worth will be blending,
when answering Labour’s command,
We arise from our knees and ascending
to manhood for freedom take stand.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.

Then out from the field and the city
from workshop, from mill and from mine,
Despising their wrath and their pity,
we workers are moving in line,
To answer the watchword and token
that Labour gives forth as its own,
Nor pause till our fetters we’ve broken,
and conquered the spoiler and drone.

Then send it aloft on the breeze boys,
That watchword the grandest we’ve known
That Labour must rise from its knees, boys,
And claim the broad earth as its own.



Election Mania: the mud of political intrigue

Sometimes, up out of the mud that is political intrigue, comes a recollection that illuminates how flawed democracy can be when it is constructed on a foundation of ignorance, or prejudice or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

In the mid 1990s, Eamon Gilmore responded to an observation that he was from the area of East Galway where Liam Mellows had led a successful campaign during the 1916 revolution, by saying that Mellows was ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’. That response was made outside RTE’s Television Centre after a ‘Questions & Answers’ programme, to me.

Eamon Gilmore is, of course, entitled to have an opinion about Mellows. In that, he may indeed have known more about Mellows 80 years later than did James Connolly in 1915. Did Connolly describe Mellows as ‘just another fucking Catholic nationalist’? He did not. Connolly said to his family that Mellows, then 20 years of age, was ‘the finest republican of them all’. So highly did Connolly think of Mellows, in common with the other members of the IRB Military Council, that when Mellows was placed under house arrest in England, Connolly sent his own daughter Nora to rescue Mellows and get him back in disguise to Ireland, so that he could command the forces in Galway.

There is a sad irony in the negotiations between Eamon Gilmore and Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael, a party that has its political roots in the Free State’s first government. During the Civil War that ensued between that government and the republican anti-Treaty forces, Liam Mellows was captured along with Rory O’Connor, Joe McKelvey and Dick Barrett at the Four Courts, and held in Mountjoy Jail from June 1922. Six months later, on the 8th of December, the four genuinely heroic patriots of 1916 and the War of Independence were summarily shot – in brutal circumstances – in Mountjoy Jail by order of Fine Gael’s political ancestors, without trial. This is usually explained as an act of reprisal for the shooting of Sean Hales, a pro-Treaty member of parliament with which killing, as prisoners in the State’s custody, the four had no connection. But these extra-judicial murders were more probably a counter-revolutionary act, the clearing out of revered and therefore politically dangerous foes, and an act of State terrorism.

Eamon Gilmore claims to be a socialist, or at least a social democrat. What did James Connolly, the principal founding father of the Irish Labour Party say about socialism? He said that to be a socialist was to be a republican, and to be a republican was to be a socialist. How do Eamon Gilmore, and the rest of the old guard of the Labour Party, as they enter into negotiations with the right-wing Thatcherite Fine Gael Party, measure up to Connolly’s statement?

Neither Eamon Gilmore nor Enda Kenny bear any responsibility of the murders of Liam, Joe, Dick and Rory, or for the other awful acts of atrocity carried out by that first government. But they each have a responsibility, as political leaders, to know and understand the history of the State, of the Nation and of its people. More than that, they each have a responsibility to have their own distinct and identifiable political value system, and to transmit that value system, their personal political principles, to the citizens in a clear and honest way. There is no place in democratic political leadership for gross dishonesty, for playing the ‘cute hoor’, for ignorance, or prejudice, or the unprincipled pursuit of power for power’s sake or for personal advancement.

Did the voters not make that clear?



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