January 30th marks the anniversary of Jim Larkin, who died in 1947. The Irish Press reported on the day after his passing that it marked the end of an epoch in Irish history, and that “with him to the grave goes the turbulence and tumult of 1913.” Larkin was 72 years old at the time of his passing, and to this day remains a giant of not only trade union history in the city of Dublin but also the collective memory of the capital. On the day following his death, Sean O’Casey paid tribute to ‘Big Jim’ in the pages of the national media, where he was quoted as saying:
It is hard to believe that this great man is dead; that this lion of the Irish Labour movement will roar no more. When it seemed that every man’s hand was against him the time he led workers through the tremendous days of 1913 he wrested tribute of Ireland’s greatest and most prominent men.
O’Casey noted that Larkin was far and away above the orthodox labour leader, “for he combined within himself the imagination of the artist, with the fire and determination of a leader of the downtrodden class.”
To deny that Larkin was an at-times difficult character is to deny the truth, and many biographies of Larkin give insight into what was at times a dangerously sharp tongue and what historian Emmet O’Connor perfectly described in his biography of Jim as a “brash personality.” His clashes with others in the union movement like William O’Brien on occasion quite literally divided the movement, yet he remains the most inspirational figure to arise from the pages of Irish labour history, on par with the Edinburgh born James Connolly.
The funeral of the Liverpool born agitator brought thousands of Dubliners onto the street. The removal alone witnessed thousands coming out to see the body removed to St Mary’s Church, draped in the Plough and the Stars, the flag of the Irish Citizen Army of which Larkin had been a founding member. Prior to this the body had been at Thomas Ashe Hall, and The Irish Times noted that “the guard of honour who kept watch beside the coffin throughout Saturday were drawn from members of the Irish Citizen Army and veterans of the 1913 labour struggle.” Among the messages of sympathy received was one from Archbishop McQuaid, along with others from the international trade union movement. George Bernard Shaw told the media that “we all have to go. He done many a good days work.”
Thousands lined the route of the funeral procession from St Mary’s Church to Glasnevin Cemetery, and the scale of the turnout is obvious from reports, which noted for example that at Liberty Hall 1,200 Dublin dockers formed a guard of honour. The mass itself had been celebrated by John Charles McQuaid, and John Cooney notes in his biography of McQuaid that “while the poor poured out their grief at Larkin’s death, McQuaid thanked God that the man long feared as the anti-Christ had died with Rosary beads wrapped around his hands. Larkin’s pious death was McQuaid’s most treasured conversion.”
At Glasnevin Cemetery the oration was delivered by William Norton, Labour T.D. Norton told the crowd that: “If each of us here would resolve to reunite our movement, to eliminate the bickering, the pettiness and the trivialities which divide and impede us, our success in achieving a united movement is assured.” It was not until 1990 that SIPTU was formed from a merger of the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland.
Multitext, UCC’s remarkable online project in Irish history, contains fantastic images of Larkin’s removal and funeral. We have reproduced them below. Larkin remains a giant of Dublin history and the story of the Irish working class, and he should be remembered with pride on this year in particular, which marks the centenary of the 1913 dispute.