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HISTORY: Big Jim Larkin

Thursday, 16th February, 2017 7:00pm
HISTORY: Big Jim Larkin

The Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street.

HISTORY: Big Jim Larkin

The Jim Larkin statue on O’Connell Street.

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JAMES Larkin was a union organiser, powerful orator, Communist agitator and co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.  

He was born on January 28, 1874, in Toxteth, Liverpool, to Irish parents. After only a few years of schooling a very young Larkin worked to supplement his family’s meagre income.

By 1890 he worked as a docker and twice attempted to stow-away to North America. He suffered an accident at work and during his recuperation he studied Socialism.

In 1905 he came out on strike with his fellow dock workers in Liverpool, despite his position as foreman, and his employers dismissed him. The National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDL) took him on as an organiser, which allowed him to travel Britain and Ireland campaigning.

He was the chief instigator of the Belfast strikes in 1907. Larkin even convinced the police that they were underpaid and overworked and they went on strike alongside the workers!

Larkin came to Dublin where in December 1908 he founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

A court case in 1910 concerning misappropriation of funds (he used NUDL money for an unofficial strike) saw Larkin sentenced to a year in jail. After three months he was released under a pardon.

In 1912 Larkin co-founded the Labour Party and by 1913 his union had 20,000 members. That August he led the workers of Dublin in a battle against William Martin Murphy and employers of Dublin during the Lockout.

The brutality of the Police during the strike led Larkin, James Connolly and Captain Jack White to organise the workers into the Irish Citizen Army.

Big Jim’s physical and mental health suffered greatly during the Lockout and Connolly used his contact, Big Bill Haywood, to invite Larkin to the US on a lecture tour.

Larkin stayed there for seven years where he involved himself with the Socialist Party of America and Clan na Gael. He received payments from the Germans to campaign against the US entering the war in Europe.

By 1918, following the success of the Russian Revolution, Larkin devoted himself to Communism and within a couple of years found himself in Sing Sing Prison sentenced to ten years for ‘anarchy’.

After nearly three years he was pardoned and deported.

Upon his return to Dublin in 1923, just as the Irish Civil War was nearing an end, Larkin called on the IRA to surrender their weapons, even though he was supportive of their cause.

The ITGWU was now under the control of William O’Brien and after a bitter battle Larkin was expelled from the very union he founded. 16,000 ITGWU workers then defected to the newly founded Workers’ Union of Ireland, which became closely associated with the Communists in Russia thanks to Larkin.

He was elected to Dáil Éireann a number of times in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Big Jim Larkin died on 30 January 1947. His grave is in Glasnevin Cemetery there is a statue on O’Connell Street. 

 • Lorcan Collins runs the Michael Collins Walking Tour (www.michaelcollinstour.com) and the 1916 Walking Tour (www.1916rising.com). His books, published by O’Brien Press, include 1916: The Rising Handbook (2016) and James Connolly: 16 Lives (2012).

Lorcan Collins Jim Larkin

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