Monday, September 14, 2015

Celtic Corner - September 2015


JAMES CONNOLLY (1868-1916):

        James Connolly was born in the Irish ghetto of Cowgate in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 5, 1868. His father John Connolly (1833-1900) and his mother Mary McGinn (1833-1892) both came from the vale of Analore near Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. They were married on October 20, 1856 and had three children, John (born 1862), Thomas (born 1866) and James (born 1868). Many people believed that he was born in Monaghan; this was due to his reluctance to acknowledge his ghetto origins.

          More than any other patriot he epitomized the poverty and misery that led to the Irish race being displaced and cleared from their land in the aftermath of the Great Hunger. Scotland had seen the worst of the refugees being close to the north of Ireland. It was the destination for the weakest and most vulnerable of the estimated 3,500,000 that fled the shores of Ireland in the forty years that followed The Famine.

          Many of the economic refugees resented the fact that they were forced from a land that they loved so much and many like Connolly knew that Ireland had tremendous potential given a government that would act in the interests of its people. Many Irish poor were victims and personally suffered from the deliberate policies of clearance from the land. The London Government’s policies had led to their destitution. Born outside their homeland, many never accepted that they had left Ireland at all. I have met people all over the world, generations removed from Ireland, that still regard their country of origin as Ireland and Ireland as their homeland.

          James Connolly spent his life wandering and speaking to the displaced Irish in Scotland, England, the U.S. and Canada as well as in Ireland itself. The eight years that he spent in the United States, from 1902-1910, were important for both the Irish and U.S. labor movements. The communities he addressed were those which had survived the previous generations since the Famine. They we fully aware of the hardships that the exiled endured just to survive in the Irish slums of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee The tenements of New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Albany were no different, but they did offer the hope of the American dream and the possibility of social advancement.

        After spending several years in Troy NY where textile and manufacturing industry developed Connolly worked tirelessly and successfully to introduce Unionism. A statue to memorialize Connolly remains to this day in Troy, NY.

          Connolly moved on to Newark, NJ. He worked for Singer Sewing Machine Co. as a machinist. All of Connolly’s free time was spent speaking on the street corners of Newark and Elizabeth, sometimes in the company of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

          Connolly and his family always lived in poverty but made lives better for working men and women. He preached, organized and won contracts for unions.



          James Connolly returned to Ireland and accepted the position of organizer for the Belfast branch of James “Big Jim” Larkin’s new union, the ITGWU  (Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union). Connolly came to Dublin to help and during the 1913 Lockout was instrumental in developing the Irish Citizen Army into a well-disciplined socialist revolutionary force.

          At noon on Saturday April 29, 1916, Connolly supported the majority view of the leaders that they should surrender, as he “could not bear to see his brave boys burnt to death”. His expectation was that the Rising’s organizers would be shot and the rest set free. Under military escort, Connolly was carried to the Red Cross hospital at Dublin Castle were hours later he signed Pearse’s surrender order on behalf of the Irish  Citizen Army. He was court-martialed there on May 9th while propped up in his bed. At his trial he read a brief handwritten statement which state that: “The cause of Irish freedom is safe-as long as Irishmen are ready to die endeavoring to win”. His execution took place at Kilmainham Gaol after dawn on May 12th. He was the last of the rebel leaders to face the firing squad.

          James Connolly was shot by firing squad on May 12, 1916. A member of the British Army Firing Squad (the son of a Welsh miner) was so moved by the experience of having to shoot a badly wounded man in a chair that he later paid a visit to the family home of James Connolly.  

No Irish patriot is remembered quite as affectionately as James Connolly. His house in Dundee, Scotland, his statue in Troy, New York, his house in Malden, Massachusetts, and the plaque in Edinburgh, Scotland have all been pointed out with pride by American and Scottish Irish patriots and political activists abroad, some of them generations removed from Ireland and many who have never visited their homeland.

                   He went to his death like a true son of Ireland

                   The firing party he bravely did face

                   Then the order rang out, “present arms and fire”

                   James Connolly fell into a ready made grave


Tom Giblin is heading up a committee to memorialize James Connolly in Newark, NJ.

This is perfect timing being 2016 is the 100 year celebration of a 26 county Irish Republic.


Frank Darcy