James Connolly and the Easter Uprising

Paul Buhle

PERHAPS THE 2014 Ken Loach film “Jimmy’s Hall” brought back to hundreds of thousands of art house viewers the popular iconography of Irish martyr James Connolly, his photo prominently displayed in the community space of a returning exile of the 1920s. In this fine film, we do not learn much more about Connolly, and indeed the memory of the socialist and Wobbly revolutionary had been buried successfully in the martyr for national independence.

The ironies were still deeper because the prospects for a successful national uprising on Easter, 1916, had never been great, and Connolly’s commitment to nationalism conflicted with his stated belief that without socialism, Irish independence would ring empty. And yet . . . the brilliant autodidact, labor organizer, editor and formulator (in Labour in Irish History) of a genuinely anti-imperialist doctrine, had made his decision on fair grounds. The Great War greatly weakened England. If the time ever existed to break free, here it was.

The defeat of Connolly and his comrades came quickly. A countryside uprising never took place, and British reinforcements finished off the resistance within days. But the repression that followed, over a half dozen years, proved so brutal (it is now believed that British army veterans suffered PTSD, or at least that has been offered as excuse for the torture, rape and murder that passed as the return to law), that independence from a weakened British empire was inevitable. Not independence of Ireland, of course, but of the southland (the 26-county Irish Republic — ed.), away from the majority Protestant, Anglophilic north.

Where does the James Connolly saga stand in all this? A good question, since public monuments and such to Connolly in Dublin, Cork and elsewhere have kept his memory alive, in ways that few American socialists “exist.” Thus the present comic art effort to bring Connolly back as he was. Readers will want to get the comic, and to learn more.

May/June 2016, ATC 182