James Connolly (Irish: Séamas Ó Conghaile; June 5, 1868 – May 12, 1916) was an Irish socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish immigrant parents. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but despite this he would become one of the leading Marxist theorists of his day. Though proud of his Irish background he also took a role in Scottish politics. In addition, he studied the neutral international language, Esperanto. He was shot by firing squad following his involvement in the Easter Rising of 1916.
By 1892 he was involved in the Scottish Socialist Federation, acting as its secretary from 1895, but by 1896 he had gone to Dublin to take up the full time job of secretary of the Dublin Socialist Society which at his instigation quickly evolved into the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). The ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of pivotal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. While active as a socialist in Great Britain Connolly was among the founders of the Socialist Labour Party which split from the Social Democratic Federation in 1903. While in America he was member of the Socialist Labor Party of America(1906), the Socialist Party of America(1909), the Industrial Workers of the World and founded the Irish Socialist Federation in New York, 1907. On his return to Ireland he was right hand man to James Larkin in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. In 1913, in response to the Lockout, he, along with an ex-British officer Jack White, founded the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), an armed and well-trained body of labour men whose aim was to defend workers and strikers, particularly from the frequent brutality of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. Though they only numbered about 250 at most, their goal soon became the establishment of an independent and socialist Irish nation. He founded the Irish Labour Party in 1912 and was a member of the National Executive of the Irish Labour Party when he was executed in 1916.
Connolly stood aloof from the leadership of the Irish Volunteers. He considered them too bourgeois and unconcerned with Ireland's economic independence. In 1916 thinking they were merely posturing, and unwilling to take decisive action against Britain, he attempted to goad them into action by threatening to send his small body against the British Empire alone, if necessary. This alarmed the members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, who had already infiltrated the Volunteers and had plans for an insurrection that very year. In order to talk Connolly out of any such rash action, the IRB leaders, including Tom Clarke and Patrick Pearse, met with Connolly to see if an agreement could be reached. It has been said that he was kidnapped by them, but this has been denied of late, and must at some point come down to a matter of semantics. As it was, he disappeared for three days without telling anyone where he had been. During the meeting the IRB and the ICA agreed to act together at Easter of that year.
When the Easter Rising occurred on April 24, 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, and as the Dublin Brigade had the most substantial role in the rising, he was de facto Commander in Chief. Following the surrender, he said to other prisoners: 'Don't worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free.' Connolly was not actually held at the jail, but at the Dublin Castle - the British centre of Administration in Ireland at the time. He was taken to the Kilmainham Hospital, across the road from the jail and then taken to the jail to be executed by the British. Visited by his wife, and asking about public opinion, he commented 'They all forget that I am an Irishman'. He confessed his sins, said to be his first religious act since marriage.
He was so badly injured from the fighting (a doctor had already said he had no more than a day or two to live, but the execution order was still given) that he was unable to stand before the firing squad. His absolution and last rites were administered by the Capuchin, Father Aloysius. Asked to pray for the soldiers about to shoot him, he said: 'I will say a prayer for all men who do their duty according to their lights'.
Instead of being marched to the same spot where the others had been executed, at the far end of the execution yard, he was tied to a chair and then shot. Although nobody knew it at the time, this was to be last of the executions for the Easter Rising. The executions were not well received, even throughout Britain, and were drawing unwanted attention from the United States, which the British Government were trying to lure into the War in Europe. There was uproar on both sides of the Atlantic when it became known that a dying man had been tied to a chair and killed. Asquith, the British PM then ordered that no more executions were to take place and all other death sentences were commuted.
He was survived by his wife and several children, one of whom -Nora Connolly-O'Brien- became an influential writer and campaigner within the Republican movement as an adult.
His legacy in Ireland is mainly due to his contribution to the republican cause and his Marxism has been largely overlooked by mainstream histories (although his legacy as a socialist has been claimed by the Communist Party of Ireland, Connolly Youth Movement éirígí, the IRSP, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin, the Socialist Party, the SWP, the Workers' Party and a variety of other left-wing and left-republican groups). However, despite claims to the contrary, Connolly's writings show him to be first and foremost a Marxist thinker. In several of his works he rails the bourgeois nationalism of those who claimed to be Irish patriots.
Connolly was among the few left-wingers of the Second International who opposed, outright, World War I. This put him at odds with most of the Labour leaders of Europe - but meant he was a co-thinker of those that would later come to call themselves communists, such as Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. He was influenced and heavily involved with the radical Industrial Workers of the World labour union.
Apparently Lenin was a great admirer of Connolly, although the two never met. Lenin berated other communists, who had criticised the rebellion in Ireland as bourgeois. He maintained that no revolution was "pure", and communists would have to unite with other disaffected groups in order to overthrow existing social orders. He was to prove his point the next year, during the Russian Revolution.
In Scotland, his thinking was hugely influential to socialists such as John Maclean, who would similarly combine his leftist thinking with nationalist ideas when he formed his Scottish Workers Republican Party.
There is a statue of James Connolly in Dublin, outside Liberty Hall, the offices of the SIPTU Trade Union. Dublin Connolly railway station, one of the two main railway stations in Dublin, is named in his honour.
Despite Connolly's role in the Easter Rising and subsequent execution by the British authorities, in a 2002 poll conducted by the BBC of the 100 Greatest Britons, Connolly was voted the 64th greatest Briton of all time, ahead of other notable Britons such as David Lloyd George and Sir Walter Raleigh.
Levenson S. James Connolly A Biography. Martin Brian and O'Keeffe Ltd., London, 1973. ISBN 0-85616-130-6.
Connolly, James. 1987. Collected Works (Two volumes). Dublin: New Books.
Anderson, W.K. 1994. James Connolly and the Irish Left. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-2522-4.
Fox, R.M. 1943. The History of the Irish Citizen Army. Dublin: James Duffy & Co.
Fox, R.M. 1946. James Connolly: the forerunner. Tralee: The Kerryman.
Greaves, C. Desmond. 1972. The Life and Times of James Connolly. London: Lawrence & Wishart. ISBN 0-85315-234-9.
Lynch, David. 2006. Radical Politics in Modern Ireland: A History of the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP) 1896-1904. Dublin: Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-3356-1.
Kostick, Conor & Collins, Lorcan. 2000 "The Easter Rising" Dublin: O'Brien Press ISBN .0-86278-638-X
Nevin, Donal. 2005. James Connolly: A Full Life. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan. ISBN 0-7171-3911-5.
Ó Cathasaigh, Aindrias. 1996. An Modh Conghaileach: Cuid sóisialachais Shéamais Uí Chonghaile. Dublin: Coiscéim.
Townshend, Charles (2005). Easter 1916: the Irish rebellion. London: Allen Lane, xxi, 442p. ISBN 0-7139-9690-0.