About James Connolly
James Connoly (5 June 1868 - 12 May 1916) was an Irish republican and socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland to Irish immigrant parents, and spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but became one of the leading Marxist theorists of his day. He also took a role in Scottish and American politics. He was executed by a British firing squad because of his leadership role in the Easter Rising of 1916.
Connolly was born in an Irish slum in Edinburgh in 1868. His parents had emigrated from Scotland from Monaghan and settled in the Cowgate, an Irish ghetto where thousands of Irish settled.
He was born in St. Patrick's Roman Catholic parish, which was known as "Little Ireland". His father and grandfathers were labourer. He had an education up to the age of about ten in the local Catholic primary school. He then left and worked in labouring jobs. Because of the economic difficulties he was having, like his oldest brother John, he joined the British Army.
He enlisted in the Army at age 14, falsifying his age and giving his name as Reid, as his brother John had done. He served with Ireland with the Army for nearly seven years. It was a very turbulant period in rural Ireland. He would later become involved in the land issue.
He developed a deep hatred for the British Army that lasted his entire life. When he heard the regiment was being transferred to India, he deserted the Army.
Connoly had another reason for not wanting to go to India: a young woman by the name of Lillie Reynolds. Lillie moved to Scotland with James after he left the Army and they married in 1890. They settled in Edinburgh. There, Connolly began to get involved in the Socialist Movement, but with a young family to support, he needed a way to provide for them.
He briefly established a cobbler's shop in 1895, but this failed after a few months, as his shoe-mending skills were insuffidcient. He was also strongly active within the socialist movement at the time, and he prioritized this over his own work.
He became secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation. At the time his brother John was secretary; after John spoke at a rally in favour of the eight-hour day, however, he was fired from his job with the Edinburgh Corporation, so while he was looking for work, James took over as secretary. During this time, Connolly became involved with the Independent Labour Party which Keir Hardle had formed in 1893.
Sometime during this period, he took up the study of, and advocated the use of, the neutral international language Esperanto.
By 1892 he was involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895. Two months after the birth of his third daughter, word came to Connolly that the Dublin Socialist Club was looking for a full-time secretary, a job that offered a salary of a pound a week. Connolly and his family moved to Dublin, where he took up the position. At his instigation, the club quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party. The IRSP is regarded by many historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. While active as a socialist in Great Britain, Connolly was the founding editor of "The Socialist" and was among the founders of the Socialist Labor Party which split from the Social Democratic Federation. While in America, he was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America (1906), the Socialist Party of America (1909), and the Industrial Workers of the World , and the International Socialist Federation of the World, and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907. He famously had a chapter of his 1910 book "Labour in Irish History" entitled "A chapter of horrors: Daniel O'Connell and the working class" critical of the achiever of Catholic Emancipation 60 years earlier. On his return to Ireland he was right hand man to James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He stood twice for the Wood Quay ward of Dublin Corporation but was unsuccessful. His name, and those of his family, appears in the 1911 Census of Ireland - his occupation is listed as "National Organizer Socialist Party". In 1913, in response to the Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer, Jack White, founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), 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. He founded the Irish Labour Party as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress in 1912 and was a member of the National Executive. Around this time he met Winifred Carney in Belfast, who became his secretary and would later accompany him during the Easter Rising.
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 the ICA 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 Connoly to see if an agreement could be reached. During the meeting, the IRB and the ICA agreed to act together at Easter of that year.
When the Easter Rising occurred on 24 April 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade. As he Dublin Brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto commander-in-chief. Following the surrender, he said to the other prisoners, "Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free." Connolly was not actually held in gaol, but in a room (now called the "Connolly Room") at the Slate Apartments in Dublin Castle, which had been converted to a first-aid station for troops recovering from the war. He was taken to Royal Hospital Kilmainham, across the road from the gaol and then taken to the gaol to be executed. Visited by his wife, and asking about public opinion, he commented, "They will forget that I am an Irishment." He confessed his sins, said to be his first religious act since marriage.
He was so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad. His absolution and last rites were given by a Capuchin, Father Aloysius. Asked to pray for the soldiers who were about to shoot him, he said: "I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights."
Instead of being marched to the spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot. The executions were not well received, even throughout Britain, and drew unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government was trying to lure into the war in Europe. Herbert Asquith, the Prime Minister, ordered that no more executions were to take place, an exception being that of Roger Casement, as he had not yet been tried.
James Connolly was survived by his wife Lillie and several children, of whom Nora became an influential writer and campaigner within the Irish republican movement as an adult, and Roddy continued his father's politics. In later years, both became members of the Oireachtas (Irish parliament.)
Connoly was sentenced to death by firing squad for his part in the rising. On 12 May 1916 he was transported by military ambulance to Kilmainham Gaol, carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, tied to a chair and shot. His body (along with those of the other rebels) was put in a mass grave without a coffin. The execution of the rebels deeply angered the majority of the Irish population, most of whom had shown no support during the rebellion. It was Connolly's execution, however, that caused the most controversy. Historians have pointed to the manner of execution of Connolly and similar rebels, along with their actions, as being factors that caused public awareness of their desires and goals and gathered support for the movement that they had died fighting for.
His legacy to Ireland is mainly due to his contribution to the Irish republcan cause, and his Marxism has been largely overlooked by mainstream histories (although his legacy as a socialist has been claimedby a number of left-wing and left-republican groups). Despite claims to the contrary, however, Connolly's writings show him to be first and foremost a Marxist thinker. In several of his works, he rails against the bourgeois nationalism of those who claimed to be Irish patriots. Connolly was among the few European members of the Second International who opposed, outright, World War I. This put him at odds with most of the socialist leaders of Europe. He was influenced by and heavily involved with the radical Industrial Workers of the World labor union.
In Scotland, Connolly's thinking was highly influential for socialists such as John Maclean, who would similarly combine his leftist thinking when he formed his Scottish Workers Republican Party.
There is a statue of James Connolly in Dublin, outside Liberty Hall, the offices of the SIPTU building. Another statue of Connoly stands in Union Park, Chicago near the offices of of the Chicago branch of the IWW and UE. There is a bust of Connolly in Troy, NY, in the park behind the statue of Uncle Sam.
In a 1972 interview on the Dick Cavett show, John Lennon stated that James Connolly was an inspiration for his song, "Woman is the Nigger of the World". Lennon quoted Connolly's "the female is the slave of a slave" in explaining the feminist inspiration of the song
Connolly Station, one of the two main railway stations in Dublin, is named in his honour.
In 2002, BBC television production "100 Greatest Britons" where the British public were asked to register their vote, Connolly was voted in 64th place.
Song in memory of James Connoly
A folk music group named "Wolftones" has commemorated James Connoly in song. The name Wolftones is a pun that involves a double entendre on the name of Theobald Wolfe Tone (see his profile) and the fact that a wolf tone is a spurious sound that can affect members of the violin family.