Media coverage of the 1916 Rising is a favourite subject here, and in the past we’ve looked at how American newspapers reported on the events in Dublin. I recently found this report from the Daily Chronicle and thought it worth posting. It deals with James Connolly, who is contrasted with Jim Larkin. By the time of the Rising, Larkin was in the United States. Despite that, as you’ll see in the above link, some American newspapers managed to blame him for events, even printing images of Larkin in their reports.
There’s lots of food for thought in a recent contribution by Brian Hanley to a panel discussion of the Irish Labour History Society on the theme on Connolly, which is posted in full over on Cedar Lounge Revolution.
Here is the piece from the Daily Chronicle, published in May 1916:
Jim Connolly hardly belongs to any recognised type of Irish agitator. To hear him speak one would have thought of the most pronounced type among the strong Glasgow accent. He measured his words and spoke with a reticence that was wholly un-Irish. In the substance of his talk, apart from his fervent Irish Nationalism, he would have seemed to be neither Irish not Scottish, but Western American, with strong notions of industrial unionism, as practised by the IWW and the Federation of Labour, and in these characteristics were summed up the history of the man. Born in Scotland, of Irish parents, he became an advanced Socialist of the self-educated type, traveled to America, where he absorbed the new ideas of labour agitation, drifted back to this country, and eventually became Larkin’s right hand man in Dublin and his chief organiser.
Connolly’s greatest achievement was to have succeeded in planting Syndicalist theory and practice – industrial anarchist of the most pronounced type – among the unskilled workers of Dublin. When Larkin descended on the Irish capital in 1907, to lead a dock strike, Connolly became his right-hand man. The one, a hysterical, half-insane enthusiast, supplied the rhetoric and the emotion; the other supplied the wonderful semi-political organisation that had its headquarters at Liberty Hall.
Of the two chiefs of the movement it might be said that the moment it began to assume the character of political revolt Connolly, as the man of strong will and almost unique organising ability, was the more dangerous. During the labour troubles of 1913-14, he preached and taught his followers to practice pure Syndicalist doctrines, as have been practiced in Los Angeles and other cities of the American West – no trust with employers, violence if necessary, cynical repudiation of contracts, unceasing war, by any and every means. He was sentenced for conspiracy, but was set free after a seven days’ hunger strike.
On the subject of James Connolly, his political ideas and his involvement in the Rising, this Witness Statement from Mortimer O’Connell, an Irish Republican Brotherhood member and Volunteer, is interesting reading. He recalled that:
I attended many of the strike meetings of 1911, 1912 and 1913, coming in from Blackrock with other students from The Castle to hear Larkin and Connolly, amongst others, speak. My impression was that he was an extreme international Socialist or what we would now term a Communist.
O’Connell believed that Connolly’s political views were shaken by the outbreak of the World War and the manner in which many Socialist Parties threw themselves behind their national war efforts, supporting recruitment and the like, rather than opposing the brutal conflict. He recalled that:
Between January 1916 and Easter Week Connolly gave lectures to selected groups of Volunteers. These lectures were held in the offices of some accountant in Nassau St., whose name I cannot recall. I was on occasion one of the Volunteers sent to stand guard, and I was present at some of these lectures. I remember Frank Fahy, later Ceann Comhairle, and others discuss with Connolly’s his views of a National Policy and asking him how it happened that he was taking this National stand in view of his past pronouncements.
Connolly’s explanation was that he got a shock when the Labour Leaders of England, France, Germany, Austria and Russia all had declared in 1914 for their respective countries. In other words they had become national. He felt that he himself should take stock, and he came to the conclusion that his first duty in the crisis was to be an Irishman.