William Walker, Unionism’s James Connolly 

It’s hard to overstate the centrality of Pearse and Connolly to the modern Irish state and Irishness. Yeats wrote in his famous verse wrote:

‘Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn’

Eamonn McCann wrote:

“One learned quite literally at one’s mother’s knee, that Jesus had died for the human race and Patrick Pearse for the Irish section of it.”

Professor Michael Laffan wrote:

“When I was a schoolboy… reading Carter’s history of Ireland, more space was devoted to Pearse than to all the other leaders put together or to the Easter Rising. There was almost a state-imposed distortion whereby not only are the Irishmen who fought in the British army in the First World War airbrushed out, the constitutionalist tradition was seen as a dead end.”

The Irish republic has achieved the unchallenged deification and total ubiquity of republican icons Connolly and Pearse.

But this idolatry has been achieved at the expense of other Irishmen and another Irishness that is, in the true republican sense, broader and future-looking and less authoritarian.

I could talk about the great many constitutional Irishmen, from Parnell to Davitt to Redmond; William O’Brien who articulated a language of Orange-Green reconciliation that far preceded early Hume and late McGuinnness; Or Ireland’s great “social revolution” steered from the palace of Westminster.

But right now I’m thinking more of those who were Irish and British. Men like Edmund Burke and William Drennan, John Philpot Curran, Thomas Sinclair, and James Pirrie (please point me to any women you may know of*).

John Philpot Curran, defence advocate for many of the detained revolutionary United Irishmen, said in 1794 (as paraphrased by Frederick Douglass:

“I speak in the spirit of British law, which makes Liberty commensurate with, and inseparable from British soil; which proclaims Liberty even to the stranger and sojourner. The moment he sets his foot on British earth, the ground on which he treads is holy. No matter in what language his doom may have been pronounced; no matter in what disastrous battle his Liberty may have been cloven down; no matter what obligation incompatible with freedom may have borne upon him; no matter with what solemnity he has been devoted on the alter of slavery; the moment he stands on British earth the alter and the God tumble to the dust; his spirit walks forth in its majesty, his body swells beyond the measure of his chains that burst from round him, and he stands redeemed, regenerated, disenthralled by the irresistible genius of universal emancipation.”

Edmund Burke, who called the United Irishmen “that unwise body”, wrote in a November 17 1796 letter to John Keogh:

“I can not conceive that a man can be a genuine Englishman without being a true Irishman… I think the same sentiments ought to be reciprocal on the part of Ireland, and, if possible, with much stronger reason.”

He wrote elsewhere:

The closest connection between Great Britain and Ireland is essential to the well-being, I had almost said to the very being of the two kingdoms… By separation Ireland would be the most completely undone country in the world, the most wretched, the most distracted and the most desolate part of the inhabitable globe.”

I write this with the caveat that the great body of Irishmen quickly turned into unionists, a fact skimmed over republicans who unendingly invoke Tone and other United Irishmen.

As Edward Carson wrote to Woodrow Wilson in 1918:

“The Ulstermen of to-day, forming as they do the chief industrial community in Ireland, are as devoted adherents to the cause of democratic freedom as were their forefathers in the eighteenth century. But the experience of a century of social and economic progress under the legislative Union with Great Britain has convinced them that under no other system of government could more complete liberty be enjoyed by the Irish people.”

The slogan that many Irish revolutionaries were Protestant is as effective and lazy as someone saying that a good many Catholics are unionists.

But the purpose of this post is to consider specifically the Irish unionist trade unionist William Walker – a kind of unionist equivalent to James Connolly.



William Walker was a self educated shipyard worker from Belfast. He apprenticed as a joiner in Harland and Wolff.
Born in 1871 he founded and led the Independent Labour Party in Belfast, dying in 1918 after a long illness.
His brand of socialism and unionism was known as ‘Walkerism’. His life with trade unions began with the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners. He later sat on the British Trades Council. Walker was also President of the Irish Trades Union Council and an executive member of the British Labour Party.
William Walker was a regular orator at of Belfast’s speaker’s corner on the steps of the Custom House.

A landscape drawn on site.

Walker is well known for his public dispute with James Connolly, who he called “the drawing-room warrior”.

Walker saw himself as a socialist, but he clashed with James Connolly on the question of Irish independence – William Walker opposed Home Rule for Ireland.

William Walker wrote in ‘A Socialist (Symposium and An Evasion‘ (1910) to explain his wider Irishness that went beyond nationalism:

“I am an Internationalist because the same grievances which afflict the German and the Englishman afflict me. I speak the same tongue as the Englishman: I study the same literature: I am oppressed by the same financial power: and, to me, only a combined and united attack, with out geographical consideration, can assure to Ireland an equal measure of social advancement as that which the larger and more advanced democracy of Great Britain are pressing for.”

He opposed Home Rule on the ground that workers would be better off within a liberal British state than a conservative, clerically dominated Irish one. As Irish History Society explained:

“By the 1890s, however, the memory of Grattan’s parliament had slipped beyond the horizon. If trade unions still clung to an obsessive ‘buy native’ mentality, they could see no purpose in their support for nationalism other than nationalism itself. Only the tiny coterie of socialists, and William Walker’s labourites in Belfast, gave any serious thought to what kind of regime might follow Home Rule. Connolly’s syndicalism shaped the socialist view of the state; and syndicalism itself was notoriously weak in its analysis of state power. The ‘Workers’ Republic’ ideal did little to clarify the options facing the contemporary labour movement. Walker opposed Home Rule on the ground that workers would be better off within a liberal British state than a conservative, clerically dominated Irish one. Mainstream labour had no economic policy in place for the proposed Home Rule administration, and could scarcely think of any specifically working class argument for self-government.”

The clash with Connolly affected Walker’s electoral chances, and ultimately he was never able to bring together Catholic and protestant voters in the numbers required to beat the incumbent parties. He failed to secure the North Belfast Westminster seat in 1905, facing similar defeats in 1907 and 1910.

During the 1905 election campaign Walker declared support for the retention of the British sovereigns accession declaration against transubstantiation and for the exclusion of Roman Catholics from high State positions. Walker said he would put the interests of Protestantism before those of the ILP:

“Protestantism means protesting against superstition, hence true Protestantism is synonymous with labour.”

Walker wrote in ‘Socialism and Internationalism: A Reply to Friend Connolly‘ (2011):

“Against clericalism I am (and I have said much more about the Protestant than the Catholic clergy); yet there is not a worker in either ranks who doesn’t know that my activities are not self-interested. But that my opinions are honestly if wrongly (?) held, and that not once in all my public career did personal religion in the least influence me.”

He also wrote in that essay:

“Into a pitfall of errors Comrade Connolly falls when he assumes that I was quoting “the Protestant rebels,” as approving of them. I wasn’t, but I was pointing out that Catholic Ireland had many Protestant leaders in all the great revolutionary movements, and this evidently was information to friend Connolly. But to get to essentials. What do you want an Irish Labour Party for? Will Ireland more readily respond to it than to the British Labour Party? What is your experience? Have you proved that? No; everything that the people of Ireland want can be safeguarded much better under the protection of the United Democracies than if we were isolated. This truth has been reaffirmed at the recent Irish Trade Union Congress, when once again a Congress of Irish representative workmen pledged themselves over to the British Labour Party, recognising therein the elements of protection; but Comrade Connolly, who three weeks ago found me without Nationalism, finds me today full charged with parochialism, and this he declares is why I am not an Internationalist like unto him. Just so. That is just the reason. Whilst frothy talk about “Nationalism forming the basis of Internationales” has been plentiful with some people, some of us in Belfast have been doing something to improve conditions – in the Poor Law Board, in the City Council, and the Trade Union branch. Amongst the textile workers, the sweated and oppressed, the dockers and the carters, we have gone to help to lift them to a better condition of life. Of course this is Parochialism. Well, Friend Connolly, I am proud of my ‘parochial’ reputation.”

Like many republicans today. James Connolly was almost unending in his contempt for Belfast and the unionists of the north. The north and the northern Protestants was an irredeemable morass, a target the Labour activist and Citizens Army leader regularly assailed.

As William Walker wrote, Connolly loved to “sneer at Belfast” and used his writing to “attack Belfast and all within its borders” – he was “obsessed with an antipathy to Belfast and the Black North.”

It reminds me of what Newton Emerson wrote of the modern left:

“The infantile contradiction of the modern left, ‘no hatred except for those we hate’.”

Connolly’s chief weapon, “vituperation” as Walker called it, certainly was a strange method for converting Irish monarchists to the cause of an independent Irish republic.

I can give a few examples of Connolly disparaging the north and its thran inhabitants.  Connolly wrote in 1911 in an essay, ‘Plea For Socialist Unity in Ireland’:

“It may be assumed that the 12th of July parade in Belfast this year will be exceptionally large, as every effort will be made, and no money spared, to make an imposing turnout in the hopes of, at the last moment, averting Home Rule, but the parade will be as the last flicker of the dying fire which blazes up before totally expiring. A spell of bad trade in Belfast might have enabled Orange orators to stir up rioting among idle mobs, but the rush of good trade we are at present enjoying destroys any chance of such senseless exhibitions. The Orangemen of today may hate the Pope, but he hates still more to lose time by rioting, when he might make money by working, and in this he shows the “good sense which pre-eminently distinguishes the city by the Lagan.” Home Rule, then, is almost a certainty of the future.”

Connolly wrote an essay in March 1914, ‘The War in Ulster,’ and described the faces on the streets:

“Strangely enough, Belfast itself seems bent upon its use lines of strict attention to the business of profitmaking, and when I look around for the “grim, determined faces”, so celebrated in the song and story of the Tory Press, I fail to see them, and see instead… in the faces of the people in the streets the same unimaginative smugness, tempered by the effects of a Calvinistic theology in some cases, and by drink in many more.”

Connolly wrote in another essay:

“For that matter a sense of humour is not one of the strong points in an Orangeman’s nature.

The dead walls of Belfast are decorated with a mixture of imprecations upon Fenians, and, the Pope, and invocations of the power and goodness of the Most High, interlarded with quotations from the New Testament. This produces some of the most incongruous results.”

Connolly was good at distasteful and politically incorrect attacks on his opponents.

Connolly wrote in early 1916 a three part series entitled, ‘Slackers‘. In Part I, published February 5 1916, Ireland’s venerated martyr called migrants to Ireland “hordes” and a “swarm of locusts, “boys of the bull-dog breed” and “Brit-Huns”.

These sound like rantings of an angry nativist. This is interesting in the age of the refugee, especially since Cameron was excoriated for using the word “swarms”.

Addressing Connolly’s attacks on Belfast and the north, William Walker wrote in ‘Rebel Ireland:
 And Its Protestant Leaders’ (1910):

“Bunkum, friend Connolly; you are obsessed with an antipathy to Belfast and the black North, and under your obsession you advocate reactionary doctrines alien to any brand of Socialism I have ever heard of.”

Walker also wrote:

“He utilises the first two paragraphs to attack Belfast and all within its borders, and draws a lurid picture of what the “Orange orators” would do, etc., “if trade were bad.” A picture that, however true of 20 years’ ago, is totally false as applied to the present day. For I affirm that it has now become impossible in Belfast to have a religious riot, and this is due to the good work done by that much despised body, the I.L.P.

Walker makes a critical observation about Belfast and advances made under the Union:

“I hold no brief for Belfast, but past bigotry aside, we have moved fast towards Municipal Socialism, leaving not merely the other cities of Ireland far behind, but giving the lead to many cities in England and Scotland. 

We collectively own and control our gas works, water works, harbour works, markets, tramways, electricity, museums, art galleries, etc., whilst we Municipally cater for bowlers, cricketers, footballers, lovers of band music (having organised a Police Band), and our works’ department do an enormous amount of ‘timed’ and ‘contract’ work within the Municipality. With the above in operation, we, in Belfast, have no need to be ashamed of being compared in Municipal management with any city in the kingdom. What does Comrade Connolly say?”

Walker also wrote in, ‘Rebel Ireland: And Its Protestant Leaders’ (1910):

“Bailie Jack (Scottish Ironmoulders) declared that “what was wanted was the unity of our forces all over.” Just so, but Ireland has to be, must be, treated differently. Why? Because of the Conservative temperament of certain Irish propagandists, and because of their insistence on viewing the class war as a national question instead of, as it is, a world-wide question.”

Walker wrote in ‘A Socialist (sic) Symposium and An Evasion‘ (1910):

“Belfast’s municipal activities seem to be gall and wormwood to our Comrade. They excite his ire. They induce him to throw aside the last vestige of comradeship, and to descend to the level of the corner-boy in his rage against all and sundry, who have dared to spend their time in doing the collar work which ALONE makes for success, instead of leading an invisible ammy nowhere, but content if the general be visible to the people of the plain.”

William Walker makes a strong and compelling stand against the vision presented by Connolly. His alternative is confident and just as legitimate. Unfortunately Walker, never mind his British-Irish ideals, is almost unknown.

However there is reason for unionists to consider Walker and Walkerism and his arguments for an Ireland in partnership with Britain as against the isolated Ireland conceived by Connolly.

Brian is a writer, artist, political cartoonist and legal blogger.

Actively tweeting from @brianjohnspencr. More information here: http://www.brianjohnspencer.com/

  • Zorin001

    Fascinating, thanks for this.

    The history of Socialism and the revolutionary Socialist tradition prior to the Russian Revolution (and later subordination of national Communist parties to the Comintern) is an interesting and all too often overlooked one. It’s one of the more interesting “what ifs” of history, how would the individual Trade Union and Radical Socialist movements have developed without the interference of the Trotskyite/Stalinist movements.

  • Séamus

    The clash with Connolly affected Walker’s electoral chances, and ultimately he was never able to bring together Catholic and protestant voters in the numbers required to beat the incumbent parties. He failed to secure the North Belfast Westminster seat in 1905, facing similar defeats in 1907 and 1910.

    The Connolly-Walker controversy took place over the summer of 1911, at which point Walker had already lost the elections he stood in, in 1905, 1906, 1907 and 1910. The clash with Connolly had nothing to do with that.

    Ramsay MacDonald acted as Walker’s election agent in 1905 but despaired of his sectarian bile. He wrote, “I was never more sick of an election than that at North Belfast and then the religious replies coming at the end of it knocked everything out of me. I am afraid that those answers of his will make it impossible for Walker to win the constituency.”

    As it eventually happened of course, the British Labour Party took Connolly’s side and supported an independent Irish Labour Party. Not that you’d know it from the original post. It’s a weak effort, overly dependent on half-truths, distortions and selective quotation to come to the author’s predetermined destination.

  • Lex.Butler

    A fascinating article about a forgotten figure. There is an alternative history of Ireland that doesn’t fit the Republican narrative nor the neat anti-imperalist stance that still clutters thinking on the left. One that unites, not segregates.

  • Jack Stone

    If by “The north and the northern Protestants was an irredeemable morass,” you mean the Northern Protestant elite then you might be right. I mean it certainly didnt extend to all Protestants (James Connoly’s own wife Lillie was born into a Wicklow Protestant family) One should remember that one of James Connolly’s greatest allies in the 1913 Lockout was Captain Jack White, protestant who was born in Co. Antrim, outside Ballymena and was a co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army. Jack was born a privileged member of the Northern Protestant elite (His father was Field Marshal Sir George White V.C.) but was converted by Connolly to socialism after he had been soured on militarism by the British Army. It was Jack White who originally proposed the workers militia which would become the The Irish Citizens Army.

  • aquifer

    Yep, this “Municipal Socialist’ stuff is impressive:

    “We collectively own and control our gas works, water works, harbour works, markets, tramways, electricity, museums, art galleries, etc., whilst we Municipally cater for bowlers, cricketers, footballers, lovers of band music (having organised a Police Band), and our works’ department do an enormous amount of ‘timed’ and ‘contract’ work within the Municipality.”

  • eireanne3

    think in those days the great and good in the Municipality raised subscriptions etc to pay for these things.That certainly happened in the great industrial cities in England so i suppose the same system applied in belfast

  • tmitch57

    Wikipedia in its disambiguation page listed some 40 different William Walkers worthy of note. The one I was familiar with was the most famous/infamous of the American filibusterers of the 19th century. After qualifying first as a doctor and then a lawyer he ended up working in neither profession but spent his short adult working life as a journalist and mercenary leader. In a six-year career in the last profession he invaded in turn northern Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras. He fought his way to control of Nicaragua before being ousted from power by a pan-American army. He couldn’t take the hint and ended up dying by a Honduran firing squad four years later.

  • aquifer

    This collaborative ‘mixed’, public private, or social democratic political economy stands in contrast to the ‘divide and overthrow’ revolutionary practice of Connolly and others.

    Adding religion into the mix provides momentum, but what result did it lead to? Partition and sectarianism.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    Here also is another Belfast Custom House Steps Speaker at the time Arthur Trew who was also a political opponent of William Walker’s Socialist Views from a completely different spectrum to Connolly’s !

  • JohnTheOptimist

    According to the post, Sir Edward Carson (in a letter to Woodrow Wilson):

    “But the experience of a century of social and economic progress under the legislative Union with Great Britain ….”

    Was Carson for real? Or was he having a laugh?

    The century to which he refers in such glowing terms was actually one of total economic devastation for Ireland. Its population fell by 60% between 1841 and 1918 (when he penned the letter), while rising in every other country in Europe.

    The overwhelming evidence is that the Union was a total economic disaster for Ireland. It was slightly less disastrous in what is now N. Ireland than in what is now R. Ireland, hence the divergent political trends that emerged. But, compared with every other European country (except what is now R. Ireland) N. Ireland fared disastrously under the Union. Tyrone and Fermanagh have been part of the Union for 200+ years. Their populations are currently half what they were in the mid 1800s. How exactly has the Union benefitted them?

    Unionists make much of the fact that, after its wise decision to exit the Union, R. ireland struggled for about 35 years. How could it have been otherwise? The new state had seen its economy collapse and its population decimated in the previous 75 years, it had virtually no industry, and it had a largely unskilled workforce of subsistence farmers. Add to which this period saw the Great Depression and World War 2. But, by 1958/59 the economic collapse inherited from the Union was finally arrested. Since then R. Ireland has outperformed U. Kingdom and N. Ireland both in relation to economic growth and population growth (apart from brief periods 1983-1986 and 2008-2011). It is now poised to leap further ahead, with regular 4%-5% economic growth as far ahead as one can see, while the U. Kingdom struggles to achieve 2%. A continuation of current growth tends will see the pro- and anti-Union economic argument settled once and for all. Of course, I accept that economics isn’t everything (emotion and identity come into it as well), so it doesn’t necessarily follow that a United Ireland is inevitable. But, it is inevitable that the economic case for a United Ireland will be overwhelming.

  • John Collins

    Partition was going to happen anyway. What is now the Republic and indeed Fermanagh and Tyrone, were totally neglected under the Union, as Derry City was after 1922. The Union was OK for Belfast and surrounding areas but its benefits ended there.,

  • Donagh

    Walker was a Unionist who gave up [his northern Protestant] class struggle in return for a few shillings from Lloyd George. Connolly on the other hand was a trade unionist who devoted his whole life to the struggle for the Irish and international working classes. Walker was no James Connolly.

  • Old Mortality

    Your association of population growth with prosperity is rather puzzling. If anything, excessive procreation was an impediment to economic improvement in Ireland. To put it more bluntly, if you haven’t been born you can’t be unemployed, emigrate or starve to death. Your argument also assumes that the concentration of industry in the North East was imposed by government rather than being the consequence of natural advantages and private enterprise. Of course, you might well subscribe to the view that Ireland would assuredly be the wealthiest country in Europe if only the English had left it alone.

  • Old Mortality

    Did Connolly not make a deathbed request to to his wife that she should convert to Catholicism?

  • Jack Stone

    Well deathbed conversions of unbelievers are a staple part of Catholic folklore, Father Aloysius, the friar who claimed that Connolly had confessed and taken communion from him before being shot, probably isn’t lying BUT Connolly did have a history of lying to authorities about his Catholicism, a British Army chaplain wouldn’t be too far outside of that history. “though I have usually posed as a Catholic, I have not done my duty for 15 years, and have not the slightest tincture of faith left…” – Letter from James Connolly to John Carstairs Matheson, 30 January, 1908. In all the biographies I have read, I have never read that he requested his wife convert. Father Aloysius does not mention her conversion in his accounts of James Connolly’s last days. She did not convert before his funeral. We do know he was denied the right for his wife to witness his execution and his wife did not convert to the Catholic Church until 3 months after James Connolly was executed.

  • grumpy oul man

    If I might point out protestant socialists are not a extinct people. As regards women i must mention Betty Sinclair a founder of the Communist Party of Ireland and a founder of NICRA.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    Whatever were the reasons for N. Ireland to have higher economic and population growth than R. Ireland between 1841 and 1922 (undoubtedly the driving force between their divergent political attitudes to the Union), they have been well and truly reversed since partition and R. Ireland’s exit from the Union. Under the Union what is now R. Ireland experienced economic and population collapse. Out of the Union it is experiencing rapid economic and population growth. That doesn’t say much for the Union, does it?

    Unfortunately N. Ireland is being left behind. N. Ireland’s share of All-Ireland GDP has fallen from about 42% in 1961 to about 17% in 2016. On current growth rates it will be under 10% by 2030. In 1961 R. Ireland’s population was just under twice that of N. Ireland. In 2016 its rapidly approaching 3 times that of N. Ireland. Its GNI per capita is soaring out of sight of that in N. Ireland. The concentration of industry in the North East is totally gone, being replaced by a concentration of modern industry in the Dublin and Cork regions. In the early 20th century Belfast was a much more vibrant city than Dublin and was well on the way to overtaking it in population, In the early 21st century the exact opposite is the case.

    Just as the divergent economic and population growth rates between 1841 and 1922 had inevitable political ramifications, so too is it inevitable that the current economic and population growth rates (in the opposite direction) will have political ramifications.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’m always concerned about such “Black hat” verses “White hat” evaluations myself. I imagine that BJS, who seems usually very far from a Unionist apologist, is attempting to show that Unionism has its own Socialist figure, but taking the bitter recrimination of the Walker/Connolly confrontation is hardly offering a helpful insight into the complex experience of the political Labour movement in Ireland north and south. The old NILP was riven between the world wars with disagreement over partition, the Harry Midgley/Jack Beattie spats being the most evident expression of this, but even Midgley was some considerable distance from Walker, with a more recognisable anti-sectarian Labour agenda.

    Walker’s espousal of a Unionist position was not borne out with the formation of NI. Far from his belief that a continuing “link” would actually help the Labour Party in the north, the PR system that marked the very first election was changed by Craig’s administration to a first past the post system for Council elections in 1922 (“Under PR undesirable candidates may succeed in being elected”- quoted in an MA thesis by Coiln Reid at QUB). This immediately reduced Labour representation in Belfast from 11 to 2 councillors. This was applied to all elections in 1928, with the deliberate intention to limit Labour’s election possibilities. In the debate for this both Sam Kyle and Jack Beattie accused Craig of institutionalising sectarianism. Craig fully embraced this: “What I want in this house…are men who are for the Union on one hand …or who are against it and want to go into a Dublin Parliament on the other.” (NI House of Commons debates, vol 8, col. 2276, 25/10/1927). When Labour began to surmount these problems with strong gains in 1962, the old call of Labour equates to Home/Rome Rule resurfaced in a “Campaign Fear” by no less a person than that most liberal of Unionists Captain O’Neill!

    I’d also seriously question the unthinking Unionist orthodoxy underlying the quoted statement that “Walker opposed Home Rule on the ground that workers would be better off within a liberal British state than a conservative, clerically dominated Irish one”. Over on another thread (http://sluggerotoole.com/2016/08/13/the-catholic-church-flounders-again-over-sexuality-within/) I’ve been strongly arguing this very point that an IPP steeped in Liberal political policies, with many protestant MPs (Parnell was not some stand lone) and viewed as a most dangerously secularist party by the Catholic Bishops, can be seen as working towards anything like “a conservative, clerically dominated Irish [State]”. Walker’s position was inherently flawed by that same failure to envisage a single Irish community such as the IPP could envisage, that very lack of imagination which also drove Unionist separatism.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Most interesting too is the manner in which the rich variety of Socialist theory from before 1917 was displaced by an almost entirely Marxist model after the success of Lenin, another example of the “payer” calling the piper’s tune worldwide. The Syndicalism of Connolly which is so casually dismissed in BPS’s article was one of the strongest threads of Socialist theory before the Great War, and itself played a major role in the development of the Labour party in Britain and Ireland. I frequently have to correct those describing Jack White as a Marxist, to remind them that he was always an Anarco-Syndicalist in his thinking. (“Jack the mad Anarchist” as his Unionist cousins always described him).

  • Zorin001

    “When Labour began to surmount these problems with strong gains in 1962, the old call of Labour equates to Home/Rome Rule resurfaced in a “Campaign Fear” by no less a person than that most liberal of Unionists Captain O’Neill!”

    My father was somewhat involved with Peoples Democracy at the tail end of the 60’s and he was always convinced that the harsh Unionist response was more to do with the fear of them being Communist fifth-columnists than sectarianism in and of itself. One of my fathers acquaintances, who was a young man in the Lodge at the time, remembers fevered rumblings in the Orange Halls that the civil rights movement were simply a prelude to another French May ’68.

  • Zorin001

    Exactly what I was thinking of when I posted this.

    It was certainly seen as a threat by the Marxists even post WW1, one just has to look at the Spanish Civil War and the purges and massacres carried out by the Soviet backed forces against their erstwhile Left-wing allies on the Republican side.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Indeed! This Marxist slant in most of his readers is the single most potent reason as to why Connolly’s writing is so “unsatisfactory” to quite a large portion of the left wing. His “nationalism” is, to my thinking, much more to do with decentralisation away from the centralised power systems that both Communism and Capitalism require to function (what is described in the quote “Connolly’s syndicalism shaped the socialist view of the state; and syndicalism itself was notoriously weak in its analysis of state power.”) Rather than the loaded “notoriously weak” I’d opt for a more accurate “starting from a very different model of social organisation which was entirely incompatible with the accepted models of elitist centralisation.”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As one of the two pre McGuffin “anarchists’ mentioned as part of the PD in “Politics in the Streets”, and with a brother very active in the LOI and other relations active in Unionism at the time, I can entirely confirm this.

    I keep trying to point out on Slugger that Cyril Toman, et alia, were actually members of the NI Labour Party Young Socialists, not the Trotskyist YS some historians have been hammering on about. Your father will probably confirm that we all had our heads much fuller of Marcuse and the Frankfort School critique of Marxism (oh, and IT & OZ) , something light years from anything the Unionists at the time could ever begin to imagine!! They were all still back there with Craig and the perception of anyone with a social conscience dressing up in early Bolshevik Red Army gear and drilling when we went home from a day at University!!! This keeps coming up on Slugger too where at least one outsider of the period has still been trying to tell me that the PD was Trotsky’s Flying Column, complete with Unionist “proof” of this from CAIN……..


    This pamphlet by Stratton Mills and Robin Bailie has many examples of just where the subtleties of leftist discourse at that date simply pass well over the heads of the authors who can understand from the language only a Théâtre du Grand-Guignole plot by mad Commies to destroy “Ulster.” The full exchange is on:


  • Old Mortality

    It took the RoI economy more than 30 years to make any progress, even during the 1950s when the western world was experiencing rapid and sustained expansion. That was a vintage period for Irish emigration. The RoI was only able to prosper after an enlightened change of policy to attract US investment through low corporate taxation. Of successful indigenous enterprise there is little evidence apart from Ryanair.
    You should also by now have realised that RoI GDP is a meaningless parameter since so much of it is accounted for by profits attributable to foreign-owned companies which are erratically inflated by tax-induced transactions.
    And you still haven’t explained how population is an indication of economic strength.

  • Old Mortality

    I wasn’t suggesting that Connolly was a closet Catholic but the assertion that he asked his wife to convert was certainly put forward in discussions among historians about the Rising earlier this year. Is there any other plausible reason why she should have wished to convert?

  • John Collins

    They (those in the ROI) would not have been allowed ‘to have an enlightened change of policy to attract US investment’ if they were still under GB Rule. The reduced CT Rate has been in fully in the Republic since 2003 and it is only now, after much wrangling, that GB have allowed their friends in NI to reduce it. Indeed, I doubt if it ever would have come in NI if it had not been such a success in the South.
    As regards population been an indication of economic strength, I have to say that almost 60,000 people left Ireland in every single year from 1886 to 1900. Belfast’s population was actually growing during that period so the vast majority of the 60,000s left what is now the Republic and West NI. I do not think those statistics are signs of economic strength, quite the opposite in fact.
    Anyway you yourself almost always point out that the high emigration figures from the ROI from 22 to 60 are a sign of economic failure, so you cannot have it both ways.

  • cu chulainn

    It is true that the ROI did not have appropriate policies in the early 1950s, but they changed course. Before that, the 1930s and 1940s were not ideal for economic expansion.

    ROI GDP is somewhat inflated, and the previous post mentions GNI. And whether NIs proportion of Ireland’s wealth has declined from 42% to only 20% or 21% when measured by other measures, it does not change the point.

    But all in all, coming up with some less than ideal policies for a few years over 60 years ago is a pretty poor response to JTOs points about the comparative failure of the occupied part of the island when compared to the rest.

  • Jack Stone

    It seems to me, that If anything, Connolly’s deathbed request for Lillie to convert is myth because it is not backed up by anything written by the people who were there. Father Aloysius never mentioned it when recalling conversations he had with Lillie after Connolly was executed. Nora never mentioned it and she was with her mother and father in the last few hours. She wrote verbatim conversations and I feel she would have mentioned it. I still think Connolly was a closet atheist. Remember he was sometimes teased by Jim Larkin during the lockout era because Connolly often attended the Catholic mass and openly identify himself as a Catholic even while attacking the clergy and the Pope, not out of theological furor in my opinion but more out of opportunistic solidarity Catholic working class and it was important not to be seen to affront their faith by not attending Mass. Larkin too often identified as a Catholic but was often castigated for not attending Mass. Did Connolly ask his wife to convert? I don’t know, but it does not appear to be a fact in evidence.

  • JohnTheOptimist

    Because when a country is prospering it tends to attract immigrants. And when its failing it tends to see its own population emigrate. Between 1841 and 1922 Ireland had net emigration of 7-8 million, resulting in severe population decline (65%) despite every year there being more births than deaths. This was by far the highest rate of net emigration in Europe, a true indicator of the failure of the Union. Within this figure the (what is now) R. Ireland had a significantly higher level of net emigration than (what is now) N. Ireland, but N. Ireland’s rate of net emigration was still higher than that of any other European country other than R. Ireland. N. Ireland fared disastrously under the Union, but not as disastrously as R. Ireland, which, given that (in that pre-internet pre-media age) R. Ireland was the main focus for comparison for people living in N. Ireland, led them to think N. Ireland was doing well under the Union. It wasn’t.

    Because of the higher-level of net emigration from nationalist areas, the unionist share of both all-Ireland and N. Ireland populations rose markedly between 1841 and 1922, which put unionism in a much stronger position politically, enabling it to bring about the partition of the island. Unionism would never have been anywhere near powerful enough to bring about partition if its share of population had remained the same in 1922 as it had been in the 1840s. I say this without commenting on the morality of partition, merely pointing out the demographic trends that helped it come about.

    Post-1922 net emigration continued from both parts of Ireland, with 1 million net emigration from R. Ireland between 1922 and 1961. This was still a very high rate, but actually lower than what it was pre-1922. The tide turned in the late 1950s. Between 1961 and 2016 R. Ireland has had more immigrants than emigrants, contributing (along with a surplus of births over deaths) to its population rising from 2.8m in 1961 to 4.8m in 2016. N. Ireland’s population rose from 1.4m to 1.8m in the same period, resulting in its share of all-Ireland population falling from about 33% to about 28%. Nearly all the growth in N. Ireland’s population in that period was in the nationalist population. The unionist population has remained fairly constant at around 1m. But, on an all-Ireland basis, that’s 1m out of 4.2m in 1961 (nearly 25%) to 1m out of 6.6m in 2016 (about 15%). Thus, the unionist population’s share of all-Ireland population is in freefall. We are seeing the reverse of what happened between 1841 and 1922. I take no pleasure in this. I am merely pointing out that its bound to have significant political ramifications, just as the movements in the opposite direction had in the late 1800s.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    In this context it is perhaps important to remember that when in 1912 Connolly, Jim Larkin and William O’Brien moved to found a united Irish Labour Party, only Walker’s branch of the Independent Labour Party (of which Walker was a founder member) refused to participate, the other two ILP branches in Belfast and the four branches of the ISP all participated. This should be understood as the reaction of Belfast Socialists to the 1911 controversy between the two men, which is available on line in the actual words of the protagonists:


    It is important to remember that Walker was not in any meaningful sense speaking for more than a very small portion of socialists of protestant birth in Belfast even, in fact he was only able to find backing in his views from his own personal branch of the ILP.