James Connolly

DESCRIPTION: "Where O where is our James Connolly? Where O where is that galland man? He's gone to organize the Union." Conolly's Union and a citizen army fight for freedom, but he is wounded, imprisoned, and killed; Ireland buries and mourns him
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1962 (Galvin)
KEYWORDS: Ireland rebellion death labor-movement prison execution IRA
1916 - Execution of James Connolly, Irish patriot, union leader, and socialist
FOUND IN: Ireland
REFERENCES (3 citations):
PGalvin, pp. 99-100, "James Connolly" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, JMCONNLY (JIMCON -- probably a sequel to the oter, but not part of the original poem)
ADDITIONAL: Frank Harte _Songs of Dublin_, second edition, Ossian, 1993, pp. 82-83, "James Connolly" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #12495
NOTES: James Connolly (1868-1916) was one of the first labor organizers in Ireland as well as one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising. As such, he has had many biographers. The newest work, as of this writing, is Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Seven: The Lives and Legacies of the Founding Fathers of the Irish Republic, Oneworld Books, 2016; it covers all seven of the leaders (Thomas J. Clarke, Sean MacDiarmada, Eamonn Ceannt, Patrick Pearse, Thomas MacDonagh, Joseph Plunkett, and Connolly), but at 370 pages, it has substantial information on all of them.
Connolly was not, properly speaking, Irish; he was born in Scotland and raised in a poor Edinburgh slum (Edwards, p. 207). By the age of twelve, he was working; at fourteen, he lied about his age and joined the British army (Edwards, p. 208). He spent the years from 1882 to 1889 serving in Ireland, and it seems to have captured him -- even though he spent very little time learning to understand the Irish.
Certainly it didn't instill any loyalty in him; he deserted in 1899 (Edwards, p. 209); this may have been due to love, disloyalty, or the fact that his regiment was due to be sent to India.
Not surprisingly for someone of his background, he was interested in Marxism and believed that Ireland's political freedom was linked to the strength of her labor movement. He picked up many of his ideas from John Leslie, who was secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation (Edwards, p. 212). He remained a very poor man, working to collect refuse in Glasgow -- and lost even that job in the winter of 1894-1895 (Edwards, p. 216). In 1896, his friends raised the money to let him move to Dublin -- where he ended up in an even poorer slum than in Scotland, and where he didn't even fit in with Irish culture (Edwards, p. 217). He was so poor that, by the time he was 28, he had suffered so badly from starvation that he could no longer work as a day laborer (Edwards, p. 220). Strident and opinionated, and outspoken in his support for the Boers against Britain, he did much to make himself unemployable in any non-manual occupation (Edwards, p. 223). In 1893, having spent seven years in Dublin, he gave up and went to the United States (Edward, pp. 220-221).
He didn't have much better luck in America; he still couldn't keep a job, and his oldest daughter died of burns (Edwards, p. 227).
In 1913, Connolly and James Larkin (1876-1947, for whom see "Jim Larkin, R.I.P.") organized a great strike against the United Tramway Company. It eventually spread to most of Ireland, but some political blundering cost them support in Britain, and the strike fizzled in 1914. Larkin fled to America, not to return until 1923, leaving Connolly as Ireland's leading labor figure.
Incidentally, the reference to a "citizen army" is probably not a reference to the 1916 rebels. according to Robert Kee, The Bold Fenian Men, being Volume II of The Green Flag, p. 199, "A so-called 'Irish Citizen Army' was officially formed on 23 November 1913 (in reaction to an army crackdown on August 21).
By 1916, Connolly was leading rebels in Dublin; he commanded the assault on that city's GPO which ended with Padraic Pearse proclaiming the Irish Republic. Connolly was one of the signers of the proclamation. But less than a week later (April 29), Connolly was directing his forces to surrender to the overwhelming British forces.
(It should be noted that the failure of the rebellion was expected, at least by Pearse and some of his associates. In a way, they didn't even want to succeed. They thought Irish independence could only be achieved by a sort of mystic sacrifice -- and set out to make it. Their timing was bad, as well; with millions of British troops fighting in France, Britain had to end the rebellion with all possible speed -- i.e. with great brutality.)
In the process of the fighting, Connolly received an ankle wound which turned gangrenous. He was executed on May 12, 1916, already so ill that he had to be strapped into a chair to be shot. He had had to be taken to the site of the execution in an ambulance (see Robert Kee, Ourselves Alone, being volume III of The Green Flag, p. 6).
Kee also notes (p. 57) that Connolly's influence lasted after his death. The Dail -- the Sinn Fein congress elected in 1918 had as one of its early acts "the unanimous adoption of a so-called Democratic Programme containing vague socialistic phrases which claimed to emanate from 'our first President, Padraic Pearse,' but were more truly an acknowldegement to the memory of Connolly." - RBW
Last updated in version 4.0
File: PGa099

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