Wednesday, April 12, 2006


The seven signatories - James Connolly

James Connolly - hero"We believe in constitutional action in normal times; we believe in revolutionary action in exceptional times."

James Connolly, from The Workers Republic, 4 December 1915

Continuing United Irelander's focus on the seven signatories of the Proclamation of the Republic as we count down to this Sunday's military parade, today I will take a look at the great socialist leader, James Connolly.

Born in Edinburh, Scotland, to two Irish parents, Connolly took a job as a printer's devil at the age of eleven. When he was fourteen he joined the British Army, spending seven years stationed in Cork, Ireland. Here he witnessed how the Irish were treated not just by the army but also by the landlords who owned the land there. It was at this time that Connolly developed a hatred of landlords.

In 1889, James Connolly left the army and married. He moved back to Edinburgh where he worked as a labourer and a carter. It was around this time that he became interested in socialism. Connolly joined the Scottish Socialist Federation and he was also involved with Keir Hardie’s Independent Labour Party. He accepted a job in Dublin in 1896 as organiser for the Socialist Society. Within a few days of his arrival, Connolly founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party and soon after established a newspaper, the Workers' Republic. After this, Connolly embarked on a series of lecture tours, both in Scotland and America.

The party proved a fairly unsucessful venture, although Connolly was becoming renowned for his social thinking. He left for a trip to America, touring and lecturing until his return to Ireland, where he accepted the position of organiser for the Belfast branch of James Larkin's new union, the ITGWU (Irish Transport and General Workers Union). Connolly came to Dublin to help during the 1913 Lockout and was instrumental in founding the Irish Citizen Army, an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim was to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Though they only numbered about 250 at most, their goal soon became the establishment of an independent and socialist Irish nation.

Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. He considered them too bourgeois and unconcerned with Ireland's economic independence. In 1916 thinking they were merely posturing, and unwilling to take decisive action against Britain, he attempted to goad them into action by threatening to send his small body against the British Empire alone, if necessary. This alarmed the members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who had already infiltrated the Volunteers and had plans for an insurrection that very year. In order to talk Connolly out of any such rash action, the IRB leaders, including Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse, met with Connolly to see if an agreement could be reached. It has been said that he was kidnapped by them, but this has been heavily disputed. As it was, he disappeared for three days without telling anyone where he had been. During the meeting the IRB and the Irish Citizens Army agreed to act together at Easter of that year.

When the Easter Rising occurred, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, and as the Dublin brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto Commander in Chief.

James Connolly was sentenced to death for his role in the Rising. Some of the employers with whom he had battled in the ‘Great Lock-Out’ of 1913, called on the British government to execute Connolly.

On May 12th, 1916, Connolly was shot by firing squad. He had been taken by military ambulance to Kilmainham Gaol, carried on a stretcher to a courtyard in the prison, strapped to a chair because he was too weak from his wounds to stand and then shot.

The manner of his death caused great anger amongst the Irish people and contributed to the swift U-turn of public opinion which would give retrospective support to the actions of the rebels.

Interestingly, in a 2002 poll conducted by the BBC of the 100 Greatest Britons, Connolly was voted the 64th greatest Briton of all time, even finishing ahead of David Lloyd George.

This is James Connolly's last statement, given to his daughter Nora Connolly, on the eve of his murder by the British:

To the Field General Court Martial, held at Dublin Castle, on May 9th, 1916:

I do not wish to make any defence except against charges of wanton cruelty to prisoners. These trifling allegations that have been made, if they record facts that really happened deal only with the almost unavoidable incidents of a hurried uprising against long established authority, and nowhere show evidence of set purpose to wantonly injure unarmed persons.

We went out to break the connection between this country and the British Empire, and to establish an Irish Republic. We believed that the call we then issued to the people of Ireland, was a nobler call, in a holier cause, than any call issued to them during this war, having any connection with the war. We succeeded in proving that Irishmen are ready to die endeavouring to win for Ireland those national rights which the British Government has been asking them to die to win for Belgium. As long as that remains the case, the cause of Irish freedom is safe.

Believing that the British Government has no right in Ireland, never had any right in Ireland, and never can have any right in Ireland, the presence, in any one generation of Irishmen, of even a respectable minority, ready to die to affirm that truth, makes that Government for ever a usurpation and a crime against human progress.

I personally thank God that I have lived to see the day when thousands of Irish men and boys, and hundreds of Irish women and girls, were ready to affirm that truth, and to attest it with their lives if need be.


Commandant-General, Dublin Division,
Army of the Irish Republic

This Sunday remember to pay tribute to this brave hero.


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