James Connolly was a Scottish-born Irish Socialist who has impacted the hearts and minds of those who lived in his time and the generations after his death at the hands of the British Army after he was captured during the Easter Rising of 1916.
James grew up in Cowgate, Edinburgh (Scotland). He was born to two Irish refugees; John and Mary Connolly. Cowgate was assigned as the slums of Edinburgh where the Irish immigrants were forced to live in over-populated and miserable conditions. James’ father worked for the local corporation, shovelling horse shit off the roads at night and his mother worked as a domestic servant.
He attended a local school, which he left at the age of 10 to enter the work force and got a job with Edinburgh’s Evening Newspaper, cleaning printing hardware and running errands for the staff. After four years he went on to join the British Army. He was stationed in Ireland for quite some time and witnessed the barbarity that the Irish people suffered at the hands of the colonists. This is where Connolly was radicalised. During his service with the British Army, he met his future wife, Lily Reynolds (a British woman), who would give him much support throughout his career. As they say, behind each great man is a great woman.
At the age of 21, James had left the British Army in disgust and went to live in Ireland where he married Lily and joined the struggle. He had a daughter (Nora) and a son (Roddy). Both of whom became influential Socialists and went on to join the Oireachtas.
In 1913 what is known as the Dublin Lockout (most substantial labour dispute in Ireland) began. 20,000 workers went on strike, and therefore suffering of the Irish peoples escalated severely. This seriously alarmed James and a comrade (and ex-British Officer) Jack White, and inspired them to establish the Irish Citizen’s Army.
In the two years since their founding the Irish Citizen’s Army grew to a fine and strong number. Connolly could not hold in his passion to free the Irish people for very long as he decided to instigate other factions of the resistance into overt-struggle. He notified the Irish Republican Brotherhood that he planned to bring the fight into the streets. Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse arranged talks with Connolly to talk some sense into him. It was very important that the resistance acted in unity, as the IRB had gained a lot of influence over the Irish Volunteers, and had planned their very own uprising.
A deal was made that on the week of Easter of that very year (1916), the ICA, IRB and the Volunteers would revolt in unison. The revolt was a failure in practical terms, and ended with the deaths of many Irishmen along with Connolly himself. Although this single uprising in our history didn’t free our nation, it attracted global attention to the issue of Irish sovereignty and even sympathy from the peoples of England (which resulted in the barring of all (official) executions), which we appreciated.
James Connolly is an idol to which all men and women of Ireland and the entire world can look up to and gain inspiration from. He was a man of conviction who came from the immigrant slums of Edinburgh, and wiggled his way into the public consciousness to show us a better way.