The spirit of an Irish revolutionary labor leader thrives
Story and photo by DEBORAH A. MILES
There is a saying about dying twice. The first is when you stop breathing, and the second time is when somebody says your name for the last time.
If that is true, then the spirit of an Irish patriot named James Connolly is alive and well in the graveyard of labor leaders. Even today, tributes continue to this man whose impact on the world labor movement and the struggle for an independent Ireland was monumental.
Although highly remembered for the Easter Rising in Ireland in 1916, he spent a few years in the United States. In Troy, NY, part of the Capital Region, he and his wife, Lillie, and their daughters, lived at 55 Ingalls Avenue. The girls joined other Troy children pulling wagons through the streets collecting and delivering collars at 50 cents a week. Connolly worked at the Metropolitan Insurance Company, but lost his job when hard times hit, and workers could not afford to pay the premiums.
The family moved to Newark, NJ. But during the seven years they lived in the U.S., Connolly was a member of the Socialist Labor Party of America, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York.
They returned to Ireland in 1910, when Connolly became the right-hand man to fellow-syndicalist James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In a 1911 census of Ireland, his occupation was listed as “organizer socialist party.”
He founded the Irish Citizens Army (ICA), a response to the 1913 Dublin Lockout.
His goal was to defend workers and strikers against the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. His army consisted of only 250 people, but its goal soon became the establishment of an independent and socialist Irish nation. The ICA was a potent force, as it was well disciplined, trained and ideologically united.
With the outbreak of World War 1, Connolly became increasingly committed to fomenting an insurrection against British rule in Ireland. He gradually transformed from being a labor organizer into a military commander. He joined the Irish Republic Brotherhood Military Council, and was later appointed vice-president of the Irish Republic and commandant-general, Dublin Division, Irish Army.
The Easter Rising occurred April 24, 1916, when Connolly led his troops from Liberty Hall, his headquarters, to the General Post Office where military operations transpired throughout the week. He planned strategies for his brigade, nine of whom died during the fight. He took constant risks himself, even after being severely wounded. He was known to be the guiding brain of the resistance.
On April 29, he no longer could bear to see his men burn to death. He was taken to the Red Cross Hospital at Dublin Castle, where he signed a surrender order on behalf of the ICA.
Connolly, whose leadership in the Easter Rising was formidable, was court-martialed and sentenced to death by a firing squad. At his trial he read a statement: “The cause of Irish freedom is safe, as long as, Irishmen are ready to die endeavoring to win.”
Connolly had been so badly injured, he was unable to stand in front of the firing squad. He was carried to a prison courtyard on a stretcher, and shot while being tied to a chair, at the age of 47. His body, along with other leaders, was placed in a mass grave without a coffin.
There is a statue of Connolly in Dublin, outside of Liberty Hall. Another statue stands in Union Park in Chicago, near the offices of the IWW. And there is a bust of Connolly in Troy, in the park behind the statue of Uncle Sam. He was an inspiration to John Lennon who used Connolly’s quote, “The female is the slave of the slave,” in a song. Connolly Station, one of the two main railroad stations in Dublin, and Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, are also named in his honor.
A documentary film is currently in production and is being filmed in Troy, and will shed new light on Connolly’s years in the Collar City. It is being directed by screenwriter Denis Foley.
Undoubtedly, Connolly’s name will be spoken for a long, long time.
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