Both socialist and nationalist revolutionary, James Connolly (1868–1916) was born to an Irish immigrant family in Edinburgh, Scotland. Connolly first came to Ireland in 1896 to organize the Dublin working class and founded the Workers' Republic, Ireland's first socialist newspaper. He left Ireland in 1903 for the United States, where he worked with the International Workers of the World for seven years. Returning in 1910, he was soon appointed Belfast organizer of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), James Larkin's fast-growing labor organization. With Larkin, he led Dublin workers during the Lockout of 1913. Following that catastrophic defeat and Larkin's departure for the United States, Connolly assumed leadership of the ITGWU.
But it was not within the world of working-class politics that Connolly would make his name. Convinced that more extreme tactics were necessary, he revived the Irish Citizen Army, an armed militia of the Dublin left. At the same time, he began talks with Patrick Pearse and other advanced nationalist leaders who were actively planning a wartime rising. This reflected Connolly's belief that Ireland had to win its freedom before a socialist republic could effectively be created. Apparently, he believed that the socioeconomic grievances of the Irish poor would be better addressed by Irish nationalist leaders than by the British, whom Connolly hated as the creators of Dublin's tenement slums.
Connolly quickly became one of the chief figures of the revolutionary nationalist conspiracy. When the Rising occurred on Easter Monday, 1916, Connolly played a leading role, taking active military command in Dublin. He was gravely wounded in the conflict, shot in the ankle while leading a sortie outside the General Post Office. But Connolly's influence was more than military; his hand can also be seen in the Proclamation of the Irish Republic, which expressed an egalitarian socioeconomic vision and an implicit commitment to women's suffrage rarely seen in Irish nationalist circles.
When the Rising ended with the arrest of the Irish insurgents, Connolly and fifteen other leaders were given capital sentences. Combined with widespread arrests, the British military's semi-secret and prolonged execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising transformed Irish public opinion, which had originally been rather ambivalent and conflicted toward the nationalist rebellion. Connolly's execution was particularly important in this shift. Too weak to stand, he was shot sitting on a chair. Connolly quickly became one of Ireland's most celebrated martyrs, a man whose vision of a more just and equitable society remains inspirational for those seeking change in Ireland and abroad.
SEE ALSO Labor Movement; Larkin, James; Lockout of 1913; Markievicz, Countess Constance; Murphy, William Martin; O'Brien, William; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Trade Unions; Primary Documents: The Proclamation of the Irish Republic (24 April 1916); "What Is Our Programme?" (22 January 1916)
Connolly, James. Labour in Irish History. 1967.
Edwards, Ruth Dudley. James Connolly. 1981.
Greaves, C. Desmond. The Life and Times of James Connolly. 1971.
Townshend, Charles. Political Violence in Ireland. 1983.