James Connolly was born on June 5, 1868, at 107, the Cowgate, Edinburgh. His parents, John and Mary Connolly,
had emigrated to Edinburgh from County Monaghan in the 1850s. His father worked as a manure carter, removing dung from the
streets at night, and his mother was a domestic servant who suffered from chronic bronchitis and was to die young from that
Anti-Irish feeling at the time was so bad that Irish people were forced to live in the slums of the Cowgate and the Grassmarket
which became known as 'Little Ireland'. Overcrowding, poverty, disease, drunkenness and unemployment were rife -- the only
jobs available was selling second-hand clothes and working as a porter or a carter.
James Connolly went to St Patricks School in the Cowgate, as did his two older brothers, Thomas and John. At ten years
of age, James left school and got a job with Edinburgh's Evening News newspaper, where he worked as a 'Devil', cleaning
inky rollers and fetching beer and food for the adult workers. His brother Thomas also worked with the same newspaper. In
1882, aged 14, he joined the British Army in which he was to remain for nearly seven years, all of it in Ireland, where he
witnessed first hand the terrible treatment of the Irish people at the hands of the British. The mistreatment of the Irish
by the British and the landlords led to Connolly forming an intense hatred of the British Army.
While serving in Ireland, he met his future wife, a Protestant named Lillie Reynolds. They were engaged in 1888 and the
following years Connolly discharged himself from the British Army and went back to Scotland. In 1890, he and Lillie Reynolds
were wed in Perth.
In the Spring of 1890, James and Lillie moved to Edinburgh and lived at 22 West Port, and joined his father and brother
working as labourers and then as a manure carter with Edinburgh Corporation, on a strictly temporary and casual basis.
He became active in Socialist and trade union circles and became secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation, almost
by mistake. At the time his brother John was secretary; however, after John spoke at a rally in favour of the eight-hour day
he was fired from his job with the corporation, so while he looked for work, James took over as secretary. During this time,
Connolly became involved with the Independent Labour Party which Kerr Hardie formed in 1893.
In late 1894, Connolly lost his job with the corporation. He opened a cobblers shop in February 1895 at number 73 Bucclevch
Street, a business venture which was not successful. At the invitation of the Scottish Socialist, John Leslie, he came to
Dublin in May 1896 as paid organiser of the Dublin Socialist Society for £1 a week. James and Lillie Connolly and their three
daughters, Nora, Mona and Aideen set sail for Dublin in 1896, where he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party in May
In 1898, Connolly had to return to Scotland on a lecture and fund-raising tour. Before he left Ireland, he had founded
The Workers' Republic newspaper, the first Irish Socialist paper, from his house at number 54 Pimlico, where he lived
with his wife and three daughters. Six other families, a total of 30 people, also lived in number 54 Pimlico, at the same
In 1902, he went on a five month lecture tour of the USA and, on returning to Dublin he found the ISRP existed in name
only. He returned to Edinburgh where he worked for the Scottish District of the Social Democratic federation.
He then chaired the inaugural meeting of the Socialist Labour Party in 1903 but, when his party failed to make any headway,
Connolly became disillusioned and in September 1903, he emigrated to the US and did not return until July 1910. In the US,
he founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, and another newspaper, The Harp.
In 1910, he returned to Ireland and in June of the following year he became Belfast organiser for James Larkin's Irish
Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913 he co-founded the Labour Party and in 1914 he organied, with James Larkin, opposition
to the Employers Federation in the Great Lock-Out of workers that August. |Larkin travelled to the USA for a lecture tour
in late 1914 and James Connolly became the key figure in the Irish Labour movement.
Irish Citizen Army
The previous year, 1913, had also seen Connolly co-found the Irish Citizen Army, at Liberty Hall, the headquarters of the
ITGWU, -- this organisation, the ICA, was established to defend the rights of the working people. In October 1914, Connolly
returned permanently to Dublin and revived the newspaper The Workers' Republic that December following the suppression
of his other newspaper, The Irish Worker.
In The Workers' Republic newspaper, Connolly published articles on guerrilla warfare and continuously attacked
the group known as The Irish Volunteers for their inactivity. This group refused to allow the Irish Citizen Army to have any
in-put on its Provisional Committee and had no plans in motion for armed action.
The Irish Volunteers were by this time approximately 180,000 strong and were urged by their leadership to support England
in the war against Germany. It should be noted that half of the Provisional Committee of the Irish Volunteers were John Redmonds
people, who was the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The Irish Volunteers split, with the majority siding with Redmond
and becoming known as the National Volunteers -- approximately 11,000 of the membership refused to join Redmond and his people.
However, in February 1915, The Workers' Republic newspaper was suppressed by the Dublin Castle authorities. Even
still, Connolly grew more militant. In January 1916, the Irish Republican Brotherhood had became alarmed by Connollys ICA
manoeuvres in Dublin and at Connollys impatience at the apparent lack of preparations for a rising, and the IRB decided to
take James Connolly into their confidence. During the following months, he took part in the preparation for a rising and was
appointed Military Commander of the Republican Forces in Dublin, including his own Irish Citizen Army.
He was in command of the Republican HQ at the GPO during Easter Week, and was severely wounded. He was arrested and court-martialled
following the surrender. On May 9, 1916, James Connolly was propped up in bed before a court-martial and sentenced to die
by firing squad -- he was at that time being held in the military hospital in Dublin Castle. In a leading article in the Irish
Independent on May 10, William Martin Murphy, who had led the employers in the Great Lock-out of workers in 1913, urged
the British Government to execute Connolly.
At dawn on May 12, James Connolly was taken by ambulance from Dublin Castle to Kilmainham Jail, carried on a stretcher
into the prison yard, strapped into a chair in a corner of the yard and executed by firing- squad. Connollys body, like that
of the other 14 executed leaders, was taken to the British military cemetery adjoining Arbour Hill Prison and buried, without
coffin in a mass quicklime grave.
The fact that he was one of the seven signatories of the 1916 Proclamation bears evidence of his influence.
As a post script, and on a personal level, I will quote James Connollys words to the Irish Citizen Army on 16 April, 1916.
"The odds are a thousand to one against us, but in the event of victory, hold onto your rifles, as those with
whom we are fighting may stop before our goal is reached."