James Connolly

James Connolly - Public domain
James Connolly - Public domain

James Connolly (1868-1916) was one of the principal leaders in the struggle for independence from the Irish Republic. A politician deeply rooted in a socialist and Marxist ideology, he led many actions in the workers’ struggle and was one of the leaders of the Easter Uprising of 1916, before being executed by the British authorities a few days later .

Biography of James Connolly

A Childhood in the Scottish Working-class Neighbourhoods

James Connolly - Domaine Public

James Connolly was born on June 5, 1868 in Edinburgh, Scotland. His family is modest and of Irish origin. It is said that she fled Ireland during the dark years of the Great Famine of 1845-1848 to settle in Edinburgh, where life was nevertheless precarious.

Very quickly, the needs of this family precipitated James Connolly into the world of work. At barely 10 years of age, he took on odd jobs as an apprentice printer, assistant baker, and even worked in a tile factory. In 1882, at the age of 14, he decided to enlist in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, a regiment based in Ireland.

At that time, James Connolly met Lillie Reynolds, his future wife, and took pleasure in reconnecting with his Irish origins. In 1889, the regiment was reassigned to Scotland, and Connolly suddenly deserted the army, to take refuge in Perth, marry Lillie Reynolds, and learn about Marxism.

James Connolly joins the Irish Maxist circle and discovers writing

In 1885, he was well established in socialist circles and joined the Scottish Socialist Federation as secretary. He took the opportunity to publish a few articles in the political newspaper “Social Democratic Federation”. But these meagre texts were not enough for Connolly’s family to survive, and Connolly gradually fell into poverty and unemployment. After a lot of research, he found a job as a journalist in Ireland, for the newspaper “Dublin Socialist Club”.

Finally settled in Ireland, James Connolly wanted to found an official Socialist Party, in collaboration with the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He then took advantage of this opportunity to publish numerous texts and essays on his Marxist and socialist ideologies.

In 1898, he launched his own diary: the “Worker’s Republic”. Deeply rooted in his political convictions, he was finally elected to the Trade Council of Dublin, and tried unsuccessfully to be elected mayor of the city. After these failures, Connolly decided to leave for the United States to pursue his political career in favour of Irish immigrants.

He did not return to Ireland until 1910, and settled in Belfast. He wrote many works there and gave his political support to the working classes of the city. He was the first to organise huge strikes in Belfast, in the name of the workers of the city’s mirror factory.

In January 1913, he created the Irish Volunteer Force and organised a general strike in Dublin on 26 August. Very quickly, tensions in the city degenerated, provoking numerous clashes in which Connolly was arrested. In protest, James Connolly organised a hunger strike in his cell, but was released less than 30 days after his imprisonment.

Connolly created the Irish Citizen Army and organized the Easter Uprising in 1916

Increasingly radical, James Connolly created the Irish Citizen Army on November 23rd, a small military group designed to protect the Irish working class, as well as the strikers. But very quickly, tensions degenerate in Ireland, and the nationalists, as well as Connolly, decide to use this army, with the help of the Irish Volunteers, to foment an insurrection:

The uprising begins on April 24th. James Connolly goes into battle, with the help of Patrick Pearse, Michael Collins, Joseph Plunkett and Thomas J. Clarke. Unfortunately for Connolly, the latter is wounded on April 27, and the Insurrection ends in a bitter failure: the insurgents are for the most part subdued and imprisoned. For example, James Connolly was one of the leaders who were then shot.

He was executed on May 9, 1916 in Kilmainham Gaol prison. Suffering at that time from a particularly serious wound, he was shot blindfolded, sitting on a chair, in front of the British firing squad.