January 21: TODAY IN IRISH HISTORY (published by IrishmanSpeaks)
1876: James “Big Jim” Larkin is born to Irish parents in Toxteth, Liverpool.
Larkin became of the most effective labor leaders in Irish history leading major strikes of 1907 (Belfast and Dublin), 1911, and the 1913 Dublin Lockout, a six-month ultimately failed standoff between Dublin workers and employers. In 1908, he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.
Larkin who stood well over six feet tall was an excellent orator. On hearing him speak, Constance Markievicz said: “I realized that I was in the presence of something that I had never come across before, some great primeval force rather than a man.”
Unusual for his time in working class Dublin, Larkin was a proponent of the temperance movement and strongly anti-sectarian. “I have tried to kill sectarianism, whether in Catholics or Protestants. I am against bigotry or intolerance on either side.”
At the same time, he was somewhat blinded to the vices of the new Soviet regime, “Russia is the only place where men and women can be free.”
Big Jim was a thorn in the side of authority everywhere. While in the United States, he was indicted along with many other socialists for attempting to overthrow the government, a charge he denied. In 1920, he was sentenced to 5-10 years jail. He was pardoned by incoming New York Mayor Al Smith in 1922 and returned to Ireland.
Larkin won election to Dail Eireann on a number of occasions and was sufficiently reconciled with Irish society at the time of his death in 1947, that his funeral mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid.
1919: The first meeting of Dáil Éireann occurs in the Mansion House, Dublin. Cathal Brugha was elected Speaker (Ceann Comhairle) (chairman or speaker). The membership was composed of elected to the Westminster parliament. Only 27 MPs were in attendance with a further 35 reported as “imprisoned by the foreign enemy.” Unionist MPs, primarily from the North of Ireland refused to attend.
1919: On the same day, the first Dail was meeting, an ambush took place in Soloheadbeg, County Tipperary that is seen as being the opening skirmish in the War of Independence that would ultimately see much of Ireland gain independence from Britain. An unauthorized attack led by Sean Treacy and Dan Breen resulted in the deaths of two RIC constables, James McDonnell and Patrick O’Connell. Although much of nationalist Ireland went on to support the war against Britain, this attack evoked outrage. Breen, a ruthless fighter later said “The people had voted for a Republic; now they seemed to abandon us who tried to bring that Republic nearer, for we had taken them at their word. Our former friends shunned us. They preferred the drawing-room as a battleground.”
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