Tag Archives: James Larkin

August 1920 appeals for James Larkin in U.S. prison

From New York Daily News, May 4, 1920.

Numerous Irish politicians, writers, and other public figures espoused the rights of their homeland during late 19th century and early 20th century visits the United States. They included Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt in the 1880s; William Butler Yeats in 1903/4, 1911, 1914, and 1920; and Éamon de Valera’s 18-month tour from June 1919 to December 1920.

Leftist labor activist James Larkin is also among this cohort, but his American experience was more troubled than the others. He arrived shortly after the 1913/14 Dublin strikes and became involved with the Socialist Party of America, Industrial Workers of the World, and eventually the Communist Party of America. His association with the latter group in the aftermath of World War I, “with America gripped by major strikes and a ‘red scare’ ” resulted in his November 1919 arrest for “criminal anarchy.”1

Larkin was convicted in April 1920 and sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. He was sent to New York State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a notorious maximum security prison opened nearly 100 years earlier. Advocacy for Larkin’s release and return to Ireland gathered pace by August 1920:

  • The Irish Labor Party and Trade Union Congress meeting in Cork city passed a resolution calling Larkin’s imprisonment a “gross outrage of every principal of justice, a violation of individual liberty, and the right of freedom of opinion and freedom of speech, a brutal and criminal act of class hatred, inspired by ruthless and unscrupulous capitalism, an attack upon the rights of the working class as much in Ireland as in America.”2
  • The Associated Press reported that several of the town and county councils elected in June “have taken up the matter and are busy passing resolutions about it.”3
  • In America, the James Larkin Defense Fund raised money and circulated an appeal on his behalf that was published in friendly U.S. newspapers.4 It said in part:

We feel that he is the victim of as foul a conspiracy as was ever hatched against a member of our race by the hidden hand of the British government. It is your fight as well as ours. Today it is Larkin who lies in jail on a trumped up charge of ‘criminal anarchy.’ Tomorrow it may be de Valera. Irishmen and Irishwomen and lovers of human freedom, your attitude toward Larkin in this critical hour will be the acid test of your professed devotion to the Gael. Larkin today is in a felon’s cell, but remember in the Irish history it was no disgrace to be a felon. Larkin is in jail because he was fighting your battle.

Actor Charles Chaplin and Irish activist Constance Georgine (Countess) Markievicz, who had participated in the 1913 lockout, visited Larkin in prison. It took three years, however, until he was pardoned and deported by newly-elected New York Gov. Al Smith, who later became the first Irish Catholic presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party. Larkin returned to Ireland in April 1923 and renewed his trade union activities.

Larkin also was elected three times to Dáil Éireann. When he died in 1947, Irish newspapers dismissed his U.S. imprisonment as simply “because of his pacifist and labor activities.”5. His burial at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery drew much attention, and he has been immortalized in songs, poems, and a 1979 statue on O’Connell Street.

No disgrace for the former felon.

Larkin statue. Image from Stair na hÉireann.

1913 lockout commemorations, columns

I posted an earlier blog about the 1913 Dublin lockout centennial, but here are some new links heading into the commemoration weekend. (Also Labor Day weekend here in the U.S.)

  • President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, will lead the State commemoration of the 1913 Lockout on Saturday, 31st August – 100 years to the day of Bloody Sunday 1913. Higgins will lay a wreath at the statue of the ITGWU leader James Larkin on O’Connell Street.
  • The Civil Public & Services Union is also supporting numerous events.
  • Here are two stories about the status of Irish unions 100 years after the lockout, one in the Financial Times; the other in The Irish Times. The later publication says,

Unions have been declining in modern Ireland to a significant degree because they have struggled to gain recognition from employers who are increasingly reluctant to work with them. The ways unions have sought to represent members and the ways employers’ have resisted recognition are, of course, dramatically different from 100 years ago. In place of turbulent and sometimes violent opposition, they now face a more silent process of marginalisation.

  • Here is a piece from The Irish Story that considers the lockout as “the first of a series of momentous events to be commemorated in Ireland’s forthcoming decade of centenaries,” but one that “is in many ways an awkward guest at the table of commemoration.” John Dorney writes,

The Lockout was tangential to the developing storm over whether Home Rule for Ireland would be passed in the face of unionist opposition in Ulster. It occurred at the same time but the two had little to do with each other. … However, there is an argument to be made that the Lockout played a role in radicalising some republican activists.

  • Finally, those who haven’t read James Plunkett’s novel Strumpet Citywhich is set during the lockout period, are urged to pick up a copy, put on the kettle and settle in for a great story.
Civil Public & Services Union poster for the lockout centennial.

Civil Public & Services Union poster for the lockout centennial.

Dublin transit workers on strike, 1913 and 2013

As the centennial of the 1913 Dublin strike and lockout nears at the end of August, the capital city is coping with a contemporary work stoppage by Dublin Bus employees.

Irish News Review quickly noted that history repeats itself:

In the summer of 1913, James Larkin [photo below] called a general strike of the employees of the Dublin Tramway Company. It escalated to this point after William Martin Murphy owner of The Irish Independent, The Evening Herald, and of course the trams, banned workers from joining or being a member of Larkin’s union, the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. History would remember Larkin’s decision to go on strike as an impressive and tactical bit of timing on his part, as it coincided with the opening day of the Dublin Horse Show; one of the busiest days for Dublin’s public transport. This led to an agreement between the majority of large business owners in Dublin locking out their workforce, causing riots, civil unrest, and very poor conditions, and lasted nearly six months.

One hundred years later, three days before the Dublin Horse Show opens, the management of Dublin Bus introduce new cost cutting measures, which – after long debates with representatives from the unions representing the drivers, the inspectors, the cleaners, hospitality staff, the mechanics, and the clerical staff – were not agreed upon by the majority of their workforce.

Here’s a detailed chronology and background of Dublin’s 1913’s labor unrest, including the city’s deplorable tenement conditions, from University College Cork.


Contemporary Dublin Bus workers are to vote over the coming week on proposals to settle their dispute, The Irish Times reports.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my grandfather, his brother-in-law and several cousins and friends — all from Kerry — worked as streetcar motormen and conductors in Pittsburgh. They would have participated in numerous strikes against Pittsburgh Railways Co. in the 1910s and 1920s.