I'm not sure how I first heard about James Connolly, an Irish working class leader and founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party, but I know Connolly wasn't mentioned in any of my schools' history books. Nor was he discussed among my Irish American relatives. In Irish America we celebrated that Ireland won independence but we didn't know the dirty details on how it came about. In my family, we imagined that once formed, the Republic of Ireland reverted back to early Brehon or Irish native law, when all land was common property and everyone had a right to it. When times were tough here in America we fantasized about going back to the old country, where, we thought, at least they have the land. This, of course, was not the reality in Ireland, but if James Connolly had had his way, it might have been.
I remember a mention of James Connolly in my late twenties, from the writings of a freedom fighter from my generation, Irish republican political prisoner, Bobby Sands. In Sands' prison diaries he mentioned James Connolly over and over again. Sands said every time he felt down he thought of James Connolly in Armagh prison.
On Bobby Sands' 27th birthday, March 09, 1981, on the ninth day of his hunger strike in prison, Sands wrote about Connolly. He said,
I always keep thinking of James Connolly, and the great calm and dignity that he showed right to his very end, his courage and resolve. Perhaps I am biased, because there have been thousands like him but Connolly has always been the man that I looked up to.
In 1981, I didn't know about Connolly yet, so I didn't know what Sands meant when he said 'he looked up to' James Connolly. Bobby Sands died in prison on May 5, 1981, after a sixty-six day hunger strike. If James Connolly was someone Bobby Sands looked up to, I thought I would probably look up to him too. I filed James Connolly away in the back of my mind as someone I wanted to learn about.
I moved to the Bay area in 1984 and sometime that year I was involved with a musical event at The Starry Plough in Berkeley, California. I walked in the door for the first time and there in front of me on a plaque were the words of James Connolly.
No Revolutionary movement is complete without its poetic expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is a dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude"?-James Connolly 1907
There' s a Connolly song called Be Moderate. I think it' s the Irish socialist version of This Land is Your Land. I picked this song to sing because it shows Connolly' s wit and humor. (Musical interlude)
Renee said All the labor people already know about James Connolly, and I said Oh no Renee. Only the Socialists remember him. The rest never even learned about him in the first place. How would I describe James Connolly to you? To me, he was the Irish equivalent of Bill Haywood, Helen Keller and Joe Hill all wrapped up in one person: a Socialist Party leader from the working class, a prolific writer for the movement, and also one who wrote songs about the struggle and in the end, was executed.
Every Irish American would love a person who, as you' re about to see in this film, did so much for Ireland.
And every working class person would love the person who said, The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labor.
Every socialist would love the person who said,
We are out for Ireland for the Irish. But who are the Irish? Not the rack-renting, slum-owning landlord; not the sweating, profit-grinding capitalist; not the sleek and oily lawyer; not the prostitute pressman-the hired liars of the enemy. Not these are the Irish upon whom the future depends. Not these, but the Irish working class, the only secure foundation upon which a free nation can be reared.
And every revolutionary poet and musician would love the person who said,
No Revolutionary movement is complete without its poetic expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song .
It was James Connolly who said all these things.
As an Irish American working class, socialist, writer, poet, and musician it is my greatest honor to introduce a film about James Connolly. I encourage you to read his writing. You won't be disappointed.
© 2012 Margaret Cooley