Posted tagged ‘William O’Brien’

Lockout, part 3: The Irish Citizen Army

January 7, 2013


The Irish Citizen Army

Labour clenches its fist!

by Cieran Perry

“An armed organisation of the Irish working class is a phenomenon in Ireland. Hitherto the workers of Ireland have fought as parts of the armies led by their masters, never as a member of any army officered, trained and inspired by men of their own class. Now, with arms in their hands, they propose to steer their own course, to carve their own future.”

(James Connolly, Workers’ Republic 30 October 1915)

One of the most notable aspects of researching this article was the lack of material to be found on the IRISH CITIZEN ARMY. An issue as important, and unique, as the formation of an armed militia of workers for their own protection against the State and scabs is something that one would expect to be well recorded and documented. The opposite is in fact true. Apart from “The History of The I.C.A.” by R.M. Fox, produced in 1943, there does not seem to be a documented history of the Irish Citizen Army.

There are a number of personal recollections from individuals who were members of the Citizen Army, including Sean O Casey’s overly opinionated version in “The Story of The I.C.A.” which he wrote in 1919. By definition, a personalised account is seen through the eyes of a particular individual and, while adding to our knowledge of the events, will naturally incorporate a persons prejudices/beliefs/interpretations.

Compared with the acres of print detailing the Republican history of 1916, the scarcity of an equivalent history of the Labour Movement’s contribution to the events leading to, during and after the Rising is all the more remarkable. Perhaps a neglected history of Labour militancy is more suitable to the conservative ethos of Irish society, especially in the light of the lack of militancy within the Labour Movement.

The Irish Citizen Army was born out of the struggle between the workers and the employers during the Great Lockout of 1913. According to William O’ Brien’s recollections in the book ‘Forth The Banners Go’, the name of the Citizens Army came from the Social Democratic Federation, who in the early 1880’s planned to form a Citizens Army to replace the States army.

Considering the strong working class character of the Irish Citizen Army, it is surprising that members of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy were involved in it’s formation. The diversity in the backgrounds of, on the one hand, Countess Constance Markievicz and Jack White and those of James Connolly and Jim Larkin, could not be more pronounced.

Jack White in his ICA uniform

Jack White in his ICA uniform

Jack White was the son of Field Marshal Sir George White V.C. who had won almost every honour possible in the British Army and was famous as the man who defended Ladysmith against the Boers. Coming from a military family with a Protestant ascendancy background it was strange that White should find himself organising the defence of the Dublin working class during the 1913 lockout.

Having fought against the Boers himself, White subsequently began to oppose militarism and left the army to travel around Europe. This travelling led to his increasing liberalism and on returning to Ireland he opposed Sir Edward Carson’s sectarian version of Protestantism along with the likes of Sir Roger Casement.

Countess Constance Markievicz was also of an Anglo-Irish ascendancy background. Her grandfather, Sir Robert Gore-Booth was an M.P. in the House of Commons in the mid 1800’s. As a landlord he was responsible for evicting some of his tenants so as to use their land for pasture, a situation commonplace in those days for the native Irish.

It is all the more remarkable that Markievicz, coming from such a comfortable existence, would, while in her forties, throw herself into the struggle of the Irish working class against their employers and the Irish people against their British rulers. During this period of her life she became the first woman M.P. in the British Parliament and also the first Minister for Labour in the first Dail Eireann.

In complete contrast, Jim Larkin’s background was that to be expected of most working class people of the time. Born of Irish parents in Liverpool in 1876, he began working at the age of nine. It was during this time that he began to read and listen to the socialists of the day. Having experienced the grinding poverty inflicted on the working class by capitalism, he joined the Independent Labour Party when he was only sixteen.

Four years after joining the National Union of Dock Labourers (N.U.D.L.) he became their National Organiser. In 1907 Larkin came to Ireland to organise his union. After organising the dock workers in Belfast in 1907 and Cork in 1909, Larkin clashed with the General Secretary of the N.U.D.L. over his confrontational methods and particularly the tactic of the sympathetic strike. After being sacked by the N.U.D.L. he formed the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (I.T.G.W.U.) on January 6th 1909. So began one of the most militant periods of Irish Labour history.

James Connolly, like Larkin, had experienced the extreme poverty that was the lot of most working class people. Born in Edinburgh in 1868 to Irish parents, Connolly began working at the age of eleven. At the age of fourteen, like many before him, lack of work drove him to join the British Army. Connolly choose the Kings Liverpool Regiment, then considered an Irish regiment.

His first visit to Ireland was in a British uniform and lasted seven years. Already a socialist at this time, his desertion from the army enabled him to begin his involvement with active socialism. In 1896 the Dublin Socialist Club offered him a job as a full time organiser on the strength of his writings in Justice, the journal of the Social Democratic Federation.

After arriving in Dublin he set up the Irish Socialist Republican Party (I.S.R.P.) but in 1903 he and his family were again on the move due to poverty, this time to the U.S.A., where he was to remain for seven years. By 1910 he was again back in Ireland, this time as an organiser for the Socialist Party of Ireland, which had been formed by William O’Brien a former member of the I.S.R.P. In 1911 Connolly became Belfast’s secretary of the I.T.G.W.U.. After Larkin’s arrest in August 1913 Connolly returned from Belfast to take over the organisation of the strike, and so into the industrial battleground that was Dublin of the time, came James Connolly.


The idea of a strikers defence force had been mooted many times before the Irish Citizen Army was actually formed. Police brutality during previous strikes in Dublin, Cork and Wexford, had convinced some people of the absolute necessity of a defence force. Larkin himself had said during the 1908 Dublin Carters strike, that he would organise a “workers army”, to defend the strikers if the employers sent in the army, as they had done in Belfast in 1907.

The ICA drilling in the Phoenix Park

The ICA drilling in the Phoenix Park

P.T. Daly proposed the formation of a ‘Workers Police’, after a worker died as a result of a police baton charge during the 1911 Wexford strike for I.T.G.W.U. recognition. However this never materialised as the dispute was settled shortly afterwards. The offer from a military man like Jack White to organise and discipline a workers defence force, coupled with the sheer brutality of the police during the first weekend of the strike in August 1913, in what became known as Bloody Sunday, were the factors which actually resulted in the formation of the Irish Citizen Army.


By 1911 Larkin had been so successful in organising the unskilled workers in Dublin that the employers led by William Martin Murphy formed the Dublin Employers Federation to combat the I.T.G.W.U. By August 1913 the employers decided that Larkinism must be smashed. Murphy, whose business interests included The Tramways Company and The Irish Independent Group of Newspapers, knew that Larkin’s tactic of the sympathetic strike posed a real threat to the employers power.

On Friday August 15th, Murphy took the initiative in provoking a confrontation with the I.T.G.W.U. by informing his employees in the despatch department of The Irish Independent that they had to choose between the union or their jobs. After forty employees were laid off, the following Monday the union blacked The Independent Group of Newspapers.

By Tuesday the union members in Easons had been locked out for refusing to handle Murphy’s papers. The following Thursday Murphy upped the ante by giving the tram workers the same ultimatum, sacking over two hundred men who refused to resign from the union. Larkin bided his time as he knew that the Dublin Horse Show was on the following week and there would be thousands of visitors to Dublin.

On Tuesday August 26th the I.T.G.W.U. struck back with over seven hundred tramway men walking off the job and leaving their trams where they stood. The following day began the clashes between the striking tramsmen and the scabs brought in by Murphy to replace them. The scabs service had to be discontinued after dark due to attacks from the strikers. In the meantime Murphy had been in contact with the Dublin Castle authorities who promised him that the Dublin Metropolitan Police (D.M.P.) would be reinforced by the Royal Irish Constabulary (R.I.C.). A camp of R.I.C. men from Cork was set up in Dun Laoghaire for this purpose. Special constables were also sworn in.


At one of the huge nightly rallies in Beresford Place, Larkin announced a public meeting to be held the following Sunday in O’Connell Street in support of the strikers. In doing so he promised that

“that if one of our class fall then two of the other should fall for that one.”

The following day the I.T.G.W.U. leadership, Larkin, William O’Brien, P.T. Daly, William Partridge and Thomas Lawlor, were arrested and charged with seditious libel and conspiracy. All five men were released after giving an undertaking to be of ‘good behaviour’. The demonstration called for August 31st in O’Connell Street in support of the strikers had been proclaimed by the authorities.

Police baton charge on 'Bloody Sunday', August 31st 1913 in Sackville Street [O'Connell Street].

Police baton charge on ‘Bloody Sunday’, August 31st 1913 in Sackville Street [O’Connell Street].

At another mass rally in Beresford Place on the Friday before the proposed demonstration in O’Connell Street, Larkin burnt The Proclamation banning the rally and declared that he would hold the meeting “dead or alive”. The police broke up the Friday rally but Larkin managed to escape and hide out in Constance Markievicz’s home.

The next day Connolly and Partridge were arrested. With Larkin in hiding and Connolly arrested, William O’Brien decided to transfer Sunday’s meeting from O’Connell Street to Croydon Park on which the I.T.G.W.U. had a long term lease. Later on that Sunday evening squads of drunken police roamed the streets of Dublin beating up anybody who got in their way.

There were reports of baton charges by police against strikers in Ringsend and pitched battles between the people from Corporation Buildings and the police. During police attacks on people in the vicinity of Liberty Hall two workers, James Nolan and James Byrne, were beaten to death.

An eye witness to the killing of James Nolan, Captain Monteith of the Irish Volunteers, reports that a mixed patrol of about thirty five D.M.P. and R.I.C. attacked Nolan and clubbed him to the ground, leaving him in a pool of blood. Monteith himself was beaten up by these police for remonstrating with them but “had sense enough to lie (still) until the patrol passed on”. Later on that weekend Monteith’s fourteen year old daughter was beaten up by a drunken policeman.

Larkin was determined to go ahead with the meeting in O’Connell Street despite O’Brien’s decision to rally in Croydon Park. To avoid detection he disguised himself as an elderly clergyman until he got on to the balcony of the Imperial Hotel, owned by William Murphy, where he proceeded to speak to the crowd who had recognised him.

Within minutes he had been arrested. The police once again went wild batoning and clubbing everybody in the area despite the fact that most people in O’Connell Street that day were coming or going to church and most of Larkin’s supporters were in Croydon Park. Constance Markievicz was one of those arrested by the police. She had turned to wish Larkin good luck when

“the inspector on Larkin’s right hit me on the nose and mouth with his clenched fist. I reeled against another policeman, who pulled me about, tearing all the buttons off my blouse, and tearing it out all round my waist. He then threw me back into the middle of the street, where all the police had begun to run, several of them kicking and hitting at me as they passed…….I could not get out of the crowd of police and at last one hit me a back-hand blow across the left side of my face with his baton. I fell back against the corner of a shop, when another policeman started to seize me by the throat, but I was pulled out of the crowd by some men, who took me down to Sackville Place and into a house to stop the blood flowing from my nose and mouth and to try to tidy my blouse”.

(Terrible Beauty by Diana Norman, pg.89)

The viciousness of the police on that day left over five hundred people injured and made the front pages of both the Irish and British newspapers. Later that night Corporation Buildings were again attacked by the police in revenge for the battles of the previous day, but they were repulsed by a combination of residents and strikers. The police returned with reinforcements around 2am that night and proceeded to attack men, women and children and wreck their homes.

On the same day in Inchicore, an arrested picketer had been rescued by a crowd of strikers resulting in the police storming the local Union Hall, Emmet Hall. Again pitched battles broke out between strikers armed with sticks and stones and the police. The fighting continued into the night leaving hundreds of people injured.

Thousands of police had been mobilised but eventually a detachment of the West Kent Regiment were required to restore order. Such was the outcry against the savagery of the police that the authorities were forced to set up a ‘Commission into the Dublin Disturbances’. Naturally this was a whitewash and absolved the police of any blame.

The employers again upped the ante on September 3rd when the Employers Federation issued their ultimatum to their I.T.G.W.U. employees – resign from the union or loose your job. Four hundred and four employers locked out their unionised workers. Upwards of 25,000 people were locked out, which, including their dependants, affected over 100,000 people, a third of the population of Dublin. The working class of Dublin, who, even in times of employment had to suffer squalor and poverty, now found themselves destitute and facing starvation.


It was against this background that the idea of a citizens army took root in peoples minds. The funeral of James Nolan on September 3rd, attracted over 30,000 people and was guarded by I.T.G.W.U. men with pick-handles topped with a cylinder of steel, against police attack. The police kept their distance. Towards the end of October in a speech to the now regular rally at Beresford Place, Larkin announced that he was organising a citizens army to defend the workers.

This loose idea of Larkin’s became more solid with the offer from Captain Jack White to James Connolly to form a citizens army. On November 13th at another rally in Beresford Place, Connolly announced that a citizens army was to be organised along military lines by Captain Jack White and called for volunteers. While a thousand hands were raised in response to the request for volunteers, on the first public appearance of the Irish Citizen Army in Croydon Park on November 23rd 1913, a mere forty odd men turned up to drill.

Membership of the Citizen Army at any particular time is extremely hard to calculate due to the fact that some sections did not train or drill with the rest of the Citizen Army due to their unsociable working hours and other sections, such as the dockers, did not openly associate with the Citizen Army as they could be better utilised in other capacities such as acquiring arms, monitoring scabs and military ships etc… O’Casey in his book remembers thousands of Citizen Army men marching but most of these would not have been actual members.

The appearance of the Citizen Army, to quote Jack White himself, “put manners on the police”. The very fact that they had weapons, even if they were only pick handles, hurleys, broomsticks etc.., and were prepared to use them, forced the police to keep their distance.

The story of the Citizen Army company from Aungier Street and their dealings with the police is a good example of the situation the police found themselves in. The members of the Citizen Army from Aungier Street formed a marching band, with instruments bought with borrowed money, to accompany them on their marches. One evening after a march from Croydon Park to Liberty Hall this small company left the main body of the march and continued on its way to Aungier Street.

In Georges Street the police attacked them and tried to smash their instruments, a favourite tactic of the police at that time. The band managed to fight their way through and succeeded in getting their precious instruments to safety in their branch room. A police superintendent followed and threatened that his men would be waiting for them as they left. It was decided to face down the police.

Each member who wasn’t playing an instrument was to arm himself with a hurley to protect the band. The band marched out surrounded by its ‘armed’ guard playing the tune of ‘The Peeler and The Goat’. On seeing the hurleys and the willingness of the men to use them the ‘peelers’ decided to back off. The Aungier Street Citizen Army had made their point.

Ironically, after the Citizen Army had been formed as a force to protect the workers they were never called into action in any major way during the lockout. Their very existence subdued the police and more importantly the employers had decided on a change of tactics by starving the strikers into submission.

The generosity of the general English public and the treachery of the British Trade Union leadership has been covered in depth elsewhere, suffice to say that by substituting food ships and charity in place of solidarity actions, the British trade unions, as much as the Dublin employers, were responsible for the defeat of the Dublin working class.

Towards the end of the lockout with people drifting back to work, the Citizen Army began to lose what little members it had. After nearly six months of struggle, people wanted to keep their heads down and not attract attention to themselves by being associated with Liberty Hall and the Citizen Army. Being so tied to the labour movement meant that when the morale of the workers was high the Citizen Army benefited but when morale was low, the Citizen Army suffered and with the defeat of the strike, morale plummeted.


The Citizen Army was in competition for members with the Irish Volunteers who were formed a few weeks after the I.C.A. The Irish Volunteers were appealing for members through an nationalist agenda, regardless of class. Membership was open to all, from Irish Republican Brotherhood (I.R.B.) members to followers of Redmond’s Irish Parliamentary Party (I.P.P.). The attractions of the volunteers over the Citizen Army were numerous.

The Volunteers were organised nationwide whereas the Citizen Army were confined to Dublin and the surrounding areas. The Volunteers were supplied with uniforms and equipment which the Citizen Army members had to buy themselves. The leaders of the Volunteers could devote more time to the training of their men whereas the time the leaders of the Citizen Army could devote depended on the pressures of the strike. For all these reasons, and more, recruitment to the Volunteers grew quickly.

Relations between the Volunteers and the Citizen Army were strained due to the presence among the Volunteers of employers who has locked out their employees during the strike. Nationalists, such as Sinn Fein leader Arthur Griffith, further added to the bad feeling between Labour and the Nationalist Movement by supporting the employers during the lockout. Venomously attacking the strikers, especially Larkin.

Referring to Larkin as “the English trade unionist” Griffith accused him of trying to destroy Irish industry to the advantage of British industry. During the Volunteers’ inauguration at the Rotunda on November 25th 1913, a group of men from Liberty Hall heckled the meeting, particularly targeting Lawerence Kettle whose family employed scabs on county Dublin farms.

The Citizen Army’s first handbill contained a list of reasons not to join the Volunteers, (controlled by forces opposed to Labour, officials having locked out union men etc..,) and a list of reasons to join the Citizen Army (controlled by working class people, refuses membership to people opposed to Labour etc..,).

Both Larkin and O’Casey were antagonistic towards the Volunteers, O’Casey bitterly so. This was not the case with all the Citizen Army though, Constance Markievicz had quite cordial relations with the Volunteers and most of the rank and file of both organisations got on quite well.

If the Citizen Army was not to disappear altogether a total reorganisation was needed. O’Casey suggested to Captain Jack White that the Citizen Army should be overhauled and improved

“so that it might become an influential fighting force in the ranks of Labour”.

On March 22nd 1914 a general meeting of workers was held in Liberty Hall to reorganise the Citizen Army The following proposed constitution was unanimously accepted by the meeting;

1. That the first and last principle of the Irish Citizen Army is the avowal that the ownership of Ireland, moral and material, is vested of right in the people of Ireland.

2. That the Irish Citizen Army shall stand for the absolute unity of Irish nationhood and shall support the rights and liberties of the democracies of all nations.

3. That one of its objects shall be to sink all differences of birth, property and creed under the common name of the Irish people.

4. That the Citizen Army shall be open to all who accept the principle equal rights and opportunities for the Irish people.

5. Before being enrolled, every applicant must, if eligible, be a member of his Trades Union, such Union to be recognised by the Irish Trades Union Congress.

A Provisional Committee was elected consisting of:

Chairman: Captain White, D.S.O.

Vice-chairmen: Jim Larkin, P.T. Daly, Councillor W. Partridge, Thomas Foran, F. Sheehy-Skeffington.

Hon. Secretary: Sean O’Cathasaigh.

Hon. Treasurers: Richard Brannigan, Constance Markievicz.

Sean O'Casey (right) with actor Barry Fitzgerald, 1959

Sean O’Casey (right) with actor Barry Fitzgerald, 1959

The drilling of the reorganised Citizen Army was also to be taken more seriously. Three battalions were formed, the City Battalion, the North County Battalion and the South County Battalion. Training was held twice a week in Croydon Park. Uniforms were ordered from Arnotts which the members had to pay for themselves. A distinctive feature of the uniform was the big slouch hat pinned up at one side by the ITGWU’s red hand badge. In the enthusiasm generated by the reorganisation attempts were made to extend the army around the country.

A manifesto was sent to various Labour bodies in Cork, Belfast, Derry, Sligo, Limerick, Kilkenny, Waterford, Dundalk, Galway and Wexford, but no success was had in organising outside Dublin. Companies were set up in areas surrounding Dublin such as Clondalkin, Lucan, Swords, Finglas, Coolock etc.,. On April 6th 1914 the Dublin Trades Council officially recognised The Irish Citizen Army.

As well as being secretary of the Citizen Army O’Casey also wrote the ‘I.C.A. notes’ in The Irish Worker. He let his antagonism towards the Volunteers spill over into print with constant attacks on the Volunteer leadership. As secretary he was responsible for booking halls for Citizen Army drilling. As most halls available had been taken by the Volunteers he had great difficulty in getting somewhere to train and he took every refusal as a direct snub to the Citizen Army. While some were indeed snubs it is generally felt that O’Casey exaggerated the situation so the Volunteers would be seen in a bad light.

All this inter-organisation rivalry and the success in building the Volunteers caused Jack White to resign from the Citizen Army in May 1914 and join the Volunteers. Larkin replaced White as chairman. O’Casey’s animosity towards the Volunteers also led him to a clash with Constance Markievicz over her links with them.

He insisted she sever her connection with the Volunteers or resign from the Citizen Army. He put forward a motion to the Citizen Army Council to this effect but lost the vote and resigned himself. Larkin tried to get O’Casey to reconsider his resignation and apologise to Constance Markievicz, but he refused and had nothing more to do with the Citizen Army


Ironically, in the light of O’Casey’s feelings towards the Volunteers, the Citizen Army were given equal status as a guard of honour for the Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown in June 1914 while he was still secretary. With both organisations obeying the same commands it was the first time full co-operation between them was seen. Another public display of co-operation between both organisations occurred in October of that year during the Parnell Anniversary Commemoration.

By this time the Volunteers had split, with the majority supporting Redmond’s Home Rulers and the minority remaining loyal to the more militant elements represented by Pearse and Clarke. The Redmondites took the name National Volunteers.

Both sets of Volunteers and the Citizen Army had decided to march to Parnell’s grave in Glasnevin to honour his memory. After visiting the graveyard Larkin led the Citizen Army contingent back to Parnell Square where the Irish Volunteers had organised a public meeting. While this meeting was taking place a large detachment of the National Volunteers, on their way back from Glasnevin, tried to force their way through Parnell Square.

Outnumbered by over four to one a line of Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers confronted the Redmondites. A clash seemed inevitable. The Citizen Army were all armed but had no ammunition. Captain Monteith of The Irish Volunteers gave each of the Citizen Army men a round of ammunition in full view of The Redmonites.

Monteith and another officer of the Irish Volunteers then went and negotiated with two officers of The National Volunteers. For a very tense period of time there was a stand off situation but eventually The National Volunteers were persuaded to take an alternative route by Dorset Street. Having prevented unnecessary bloodshed Captain Monteith attempted to retrieve his ‘lent’ ammunition, but found that none of the Citizen Army men could remember receiving any!

Shortly after this event Larkin left for a fundraising tour of the U.S.A. He had planned to go earlier but had been dissuaded by people in the I.T.G.W.U. who understood the loss he would be to the union. By the end of October 1914 he had decided it was finally time to make his move. With no prior agenda and no organised fundraising plan, Larkin’s future plans were at best, hazy. William O’Brien of the I.T.G.W.U. tried to get an intended return date from Larkin but again he was non-committal. Jim Larkin, still General Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U., was to remain away from his union for over seven years.


James Connolly now became Commandant of the Citizen Army (in place of Larkin) and Acting General Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U. The era of Connolly’s leadership of the Citizen Army ushered in a period of much closer co-operation between the Irish Volunteers and the Citizen Army. Even before Larkin went to the U.S.A. Connolly’s influence on the Citizen Army could be seen. The attitude to military training became a lot more serious and attaining arms became a priority.

In September 1914 an incident which shows the seriousness of their militarism was the proposed disruption of a recruitment meeting for the British Army in the Mansion House which was to be addressed by British Prime Minister Asquith and John Redmond. It was decided that a mixed party of Volunteers and Citizen Army men would take over the Mansion House the day before and would hold it for twenty-four hours to prevent the meeting from taking place. The plan was dropped when it was learnt that a strong force of British soldiers were already in occupation of the Mansion House.

Instead, on the night of the meeting, the Citizen Army turned out for an opposition demonstration in Stephens Green. They marched from Liberty Hall openly carrying their rifles and bayonets. The sight of a disciplined troop of Irishmen marching through the streets of Dublin openly displaying their weapons, created a great impression on the thousands of people attending the rally. What the crowd didn’t realise was that apart from some revolver bullets none of the Citizen Army had any ammunition.

The procurement of arms and ammunition was always a problem for the Citizen Army. Up until the Howth gun running incident the Citizen Army had the grand total of one Lee Enfield rifle and a few revolvers. As the Citizen Army were not informed or involved in the landing of the arms at Howth they were fortunate to be able to add to their arsenal at all.

The whole operation had been planned and carried out by the Irish Volunteers but while attempting to transport the arms into Dublin a force of police and British soldiers tried to stop them. While a stand off situation occurred between the two sides the Volunteers began to slip away across the fields with the guns.

A company of the ICA training at Croydon Park in Marino, 1914.

A company of the ICA training at Croydon Park in Marino, 1914.

As there wasn’t enough Volunteers to carry all the guns some had to be abandoned or hidden for further collection. Word reached the Citizen Army at Croydon Park of the days happenings and some members went to see if they could be of assistance. On arriving in the area they were delighted to find abandoned and hidden arms, which they brought back to Croydon Park for use by the Citizen Army. Rifles were also smuggled into Dublin through Liverpool, sent by supportive trade unionists in Britain. Another avenue for the procurement of arms was through British soldiers, either stolen by supportive soldiers or sold by entrepreneurial members of her Majesty’s Armed Services.

Connolly had been using the pages of the ITGWU’s ‘Irish Worker’ to argue against working class participation in the imperialist war. He urged people to join the Volunteers or the Citizen Army rather than the British Army. He was a great believer in the old maxim that England’s difficulty was Ireland’s opportunity and with England involved in a war, now was the time for Ireland to assert itself.

With Connolly in charge at Liberty Hall nobody was left in any doubt as to where he stood. Soon after Larkin’s departure Connolly draped the now famous, “We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser But Ireland” banner from Liberty Hall. He choose as his second in command in the Citizen Army another ex-British army man, Michael Mallin, who was head of the Inchicore branch of the I.T.G.W.U.


With Connolly becoming more stringent in his criticism of the War the authorities began to censor The Irish Worker. In December 1914 the authorities closed down The Irish Worker along with Sinn Fein and Irish Freedom. Connolly tried to have The Irish Worker printed in Glasgow and smuggled into Ireland but the February issue was seized by the authorities as it came off ship.

Connolly decided to set up his own printing press in Liberty Hall and so produce his own propaganda. It was the end of May 1915 before a new paper was produced, which he called Workers Republic. From the very beginning this newspaper preached insurrection. A page under the title “ICA notes” was given over in each issue to the subject of military tactics and examples were given from other countries around the world where uprisings had occurred. In these articles Connolly concentrated on issues such as street fighting, building barricades etc.

In complete contrast to the conspiratorial methods and elitist tactics of the I.R.B. Connolly and the Citizen Army were very public in their intentions. Openly carrying arms and printing seditious material in Workers Republic they were pushing the authorities as far as they could. Without a doubt the authorities would have closed down Liberty Hall and the printing press had they not to worry about the resistance expected from the Citizen Army.

In the inquiry into the Rising, evidence was given that while most government officials wanted to close Liberty Hall their military advisers estimated that up to a thousand soldiers would be needed, with the inevitable resulting bloodshed. With the armed protection of the Citizen Army, Connolly was able to make his campaign for an uprising more direct and longer sustained than in any other insurrectionist period in Irish history.

Throughout 1915, as well as goading the authorities, Connolly began using Workers Republic to attack the Volunteers and their lack of activity. As he wasn’t privy to the I.R.B.’s military council plans he felt that the moderates were gaining control of the Volunteers and a rising was becoming more remote as time went on. In issue after issue of Workers Republic Connolly appealed to the rank and file of the Volunteers over the heads of the leadership, arguing that were the War to end before a rising could take place, Ireland would have lost a great opportunity to further its aim of independence.

It wasn’t only the authorities and the Volunteers who felt unhappy at the direction Connolly was taking. Within the I.T.G.W.U. there were elements who disapproved of the attention Connolly and the Citizen Army were attracting from Dublin Castle. As far back as the plan to disrupt the Asquith meeting, murmurs of discontent had begun. The installation of the printing press in Liberty Hall and the increasing public display of the Citizen Army added to the fears of a section of the I.T.G.W.U. that Liberty Hall would be closed down and the I.T.G.W.U. smashed as a result of the activities of the Citizen Army.

As most of the Citizen Army were members of the I.T.G.W.U., Connolly, with the support of key people like O’Brien, Foran and Partridge, had been able to persuade the union to support his actions. Incidents such as the time in November 1915 when Connolly sent armed pickets to deal with police harassment during the strike at the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, made it hard for those who disapproved of the Citizen Army in Liberty Hall to do anything about it.

Towards the end of 1915 the Citizen Army manoeuvres had been increasingly provocative. Numerous public displays and marches were held. One particular incident was a mock attack on Dublin Castle on a foggy night in October. Due to the short notice of mobilisation and the chosen target, even members of the Citizen Army themselves didn’t know if this was the real thing or a practice. This was an indication of the state of readiness of the Citizen Army for any eventuality.


Connolly’s increasingly belligerent writings and the Citizen Army’s actions began to worry the military council of the I.R.B. who had decided on a rising in principle and were afraid that the Citizen Army would proceed unilaterally and destroy whatever chance of success their own plans had. What the I.R.B. did not know was this was exactly what was going through Connolly’s mind at the time.

He was convinced that a rising must be attempted before the authorities struck first and suppressed the Citizen Army and the Volunteers. He had decided that, if necessary, the Citizen Army should go it alone in the hope that this would be the spark which would set the more militant wing of the Volunteers on the road to revolt. In late 1915 Connolly had asked each of the Citizen Army members individually whether they would be willing to go ahead with a rising without the support of the Volunteers.

At different times most of the Military Council of the I.R.B. Clarke, Mc Dermott, Tom Ashe, Pearse and Mc Donagh, individually came to see Connolly to try and dissuade him from attempting a rising as the time was not right. None of them had any luck in convincing him to bide his time, so in what has become known as the ‘kidnapping’ of James Connolly, the I.R.B. Military Council met with him and informed him of their plans for a rising.

This incident has never been fully explained but the end result was that during his disappearance from Sunday January 19th 1916, to the following Wednesday, Connolly agreed to hold off on any plans to go it alone. He also became a member of the I.R.B. and its Military Council. At last Connolly was to achieve his aim of a rising and the date was set for Easter Sunday April 23rd 1916, to coincide with the arrival of a shipload of arms from Germany brought over by Roger Casement.

Dr Kathleen Lynn, Captain in the ICA and founder of St Ultan's children's hospital in Dublin

Dr Kathleen Lynn, Captain in the ICA and founder of St Ultan’s children’s hospital in Dublin

Around this time it is estimated that there were approximately three hundred and fifty members of the Citizen Army. Unlike the Volunteers, women were given equal rights in the Citizen Army and some of the women soldiers carried arms and were in positions of authority within the army.

Constance Markievicz, Dr. Kathleen Lynn and Helena Moloney were all officers in the army. A Citizen Army Scout Corps had been formed around July 1914 and its members drilled and trained with guns like their seniors. James Connolly’s son Roddy was a member of the Scout Corps and fought alongside his father in the G.P.O. during the Rising. The situation began to hot up in the run up to the Rising.

On March 24th 1916 a squad of police raided the paper shop beside Liberty Hall searching for The Gael , a nationalist newspaper. Connolly was called from Liberty Hall and arrived as the police were searching the shop. When informed that the police had no search warrant he pulled a gun and ordered them out. Connolly, fearing that the police would return to raid Liberty Hall, sent out a mobilisation order to all Citizen Army members. Before the Citizen Army had returned another squad of police arrived at the paper shop with a warrant.

As the shop was connected to Liberty Hall, Connolly was afraid the police would use the same warrant to raid Liberty Hall. He told the Inspector in charge that as the warrant only related to the shop, they would be stopped from entering Liberty Hall, by force of arms if necessary. Rather than provoke trouble the police retreated. The mobilisation itself was a complete success. Nearly one hundred and fifty men arrived at Liberty Hall from all over the city. From that day on Liberty Hall was guarded night and day by the Citizen Army.

The Tuesday before the rising was due to start the plans were thrown into disarray by Eoin Mac Neill’s famous order to call off the rising. Further problems arose when “The Aud” the ship bringing arms and ammunitions from Germany, was discovered and it’s captain scuttled the vessel rather than let it fall into British hands.

Of all the I.R.B. Military Council members, Connolly was least affected by the discovery of “The Aud” and Mac Neills countermand. He looked on outside help as a bonus but in the event of this not materialising he was determined to go ahead. Throughout that Easter weekend, with the decision to call off or go ahead with the Rising being debated, Connolly was one of the strongest voices in favour of carrying on with the Rising.

With Mac Neills countermand, Liberty Hall became the centre of operations for the Rising. The Military Council of the I.R.B. met in Liberty Hall under the armed guard provided by the Citizen Army on Easter Sunday morning. They decided to postpone the Rising until noon the following day. Also in Liberty Hall that day, ‘The Proclamation of The Irish Republic’ was printed on the Workers Republic printing press by members of the I.T.G.W.U. who were guarded by a group of armed Citizen Army men. Connolly’s foresight had put the Labour Movement to the forefront of the fight for Irish independence.


Mac Neill’s action dictated that the Rising would fail, in military terms anyway. On leaving Liberty Hall on the morning of the Rising, Connolly remarked to William O’Brien that they were going out to be slaughtered. Of approximately five thousand people expected to take part in the Rising, Mac Neill’s orders reduced the numbers to around one thousand two hundred.

As the Citizen Army was a much smaller force and Dublin based, most of the expected numbers turned out. It is estimated that about two hundred and twenty Citizen Army members took part in the Rising. At the head of this force was James Connolly who had been given the position of Commandant General Dublin Division, Army of The Irish Republic. Facing the rebels was a force of around twelve thousand British soldiers.

Apart from James Connolly’s contingent of Citizen Army men in the G.P.O. the Citizen Army were also represented in most of the other battlegrounds, such as The Four Courts, Bolands Mill etc..,. One of the first actions of Connolly was to have the Starry Plough flag of the Citizen Army hoisted over the Imperial Hotel, a defiant signal to the arch enemy William Martin Murphy. The majority of the Citizen Army were involved in the fighting around St. Stephens Green under Commandant Michael Mallin and his second in command Constance Markievicz. It was a force of Citizen Army people under Captain Sean Connolly who attacked Dublin Castle.

The Rising lasted less than a week and all those who took part in or were suspected to have taken part in the Rising were interned in English jails. Sixteen of those considered to be leaders of the Rising were executed, included among them were James Connolly and Michael Mallin. Constance Markievicz had been sentenced to death but had her sentence commuted to life in prison. Eleven members of the Citizen Army, including Captain Sean Connolly, were killed in action during Easter week. Twenty seven women members of the Citizen Army had taken part in the Rising with one woman, Margaret Skinnider, wounded in action.


In the aftermath of the Rising sections of Labour and the trade union movement were already trying to distance themselves from the events of Easter week and the actions of the Citizen Army. Aware that the British had already tried to destroy Liberty Hall during the Rising they were concerned that the authorities must not be provoked again.

At the Irish Trade Union Congress in August 1916 a motion was passed paying respects to all Irishmen and women who had died in the Rising and in the ‘European’ war. The executive’s report was at pains to emphasise the Citizen Army were merely tenants at Liberty Hall. It also quoted a British Army intelligence report claiming that ‘not more than half the Citizen Army were members of the ITGWU’

The Labour Movement, in the absence of a leader of the calibre of James Connolly, had begun to withdraw from the struggle for Irish Independence. None of the remaining trade union leaders had the foresight of Connolly in seeing the link between the right to self determination industrially, politically and nationally. Even the union leaders who supported Connolly, such as William O’Brien and Thomas Foran, confined themselves to sorting out the mess of the affairs of the I.T.G.W.U. Labour had lost its chance to be a major influence in the building of an independent Ireland.

Michael Mallin, Secretary of the Silk Weavers Union in 1913 and ICA Chief-of-Staff in 1916

Michael Mallin, Secretary of the Silk Weavers Union in 1913 and ICA Chief-of-Staff in 1916

Into this atmosphere came those Citizen Army members who had been released from British prisons in late 1916. By December 1916 the Citizen Army were back in Liberty Hall but under the name ‘Connolly/Mallin Social and Athletic Club’ with none of their previous freedoms. By February 1917 the Citizen Army were back drilling in Liberty Hall, to the dismay of some of the union officials.

The uneasiness about the Citizen Army and its presence in Liberty Hall which had been building up during Connolly’s time, began to affect relations between the Citizen Army and the I.T.G.W.U. A number of incidents took place which caused a major rift between the union and the Army, the first was the nailing of a Tricolour to the front of Liberty Hall by a member of the Citizen Army, against the wishes of the union. Another was the caretaker being threatened by a member of the Citizen Army who he had refused entry to.

The major incident which had seen the Citizen Army themselves barred temporarily and an end to their drilling in Liberty Hall for good occurred on the anniversary of James Connolly’s death. The union had put up a banner on the front of Liberty Hall which read “James Connolly – murdered May 12th 1916”. The police demanded that it be taken down and the union obliged. But women members of the Citizen Army made another banner with the same message, put it up again and refused to take it down.

It took a party of police to force their way onto the roof to remove it. After this the authorities closed Liberty Hall until they were given an assurance that the Citizen Army would be barred from the hall. A few weeks later it was agreed that the Citizen Army could use the hall as individual members of the union. The Citizen Army had lost its headquarters.

The Citizen Army was in a very difficult position in the aftermath of the Rising. The situation which had required the formation of the Citizen Army didn’t exist any more. It’s labour tradition made it wary of the Nationalist movement but its union base had made it clear that they saw no future for the army. While not sure where its future lay the Citizen Army reorganised itself into two companies, one south of the city and the other north of the city.

On June 18th 1917 Constance Markievicz had been released from prison and a troop of the Citizen Army, headed by the new Commandant, James O’Neill, marched to Westland Row station to meet her. They then proceeded to march through the city, their first victory parade since the Rising. A rousing welcome was given to Constance from the thousands who gathered to see her. On September 25th 1917 she led a contingent of the Citizen Army during the funeral of Thomas Ashe who had died while on hunger strike. On July 15th 1927 the Citizen Army once again marched after Constance Markievicz, this time at her funeral.

In the intervening years they had never solved the dilemma which faced them when they first reorganised after the Rising. What direction were they to travel in. Without the clear vision of a Connolly, they were lost. There are reports of Citizen Army involvement in the fight against the Black and Tans and even unconfirmed reports that the Citizen Army were involved in the burning of the Custom House. In this period details of the Citizen Army are very sketchy and almost impossible to find.

In relation to the Civil War it is reported that Constance Markievicz proposed that the Citizen Army support De Valera in his rejection of the Treaty. The majority of the Citizen Army, over one hundred and forty, are reported to have taken the side of the anti-treaty forces during the fighting. As with all organisations in Ireland at the time there was dissent among the ranks over its attitude to the Civil War. Some members became involved in the peace negotiations along with officials of the Labour movement, who were trying to broker a Peace.

For all intents and purposes the Civil War signalled the end of the Irish Citizen Army.

“However it may be for others, for us of the Citizen Army there is but one ideal – an Ireland ruled, and owned, by Irish men and women, sovereign and independent from the centre of the sea, and flying its own flag outwards over all oceans”

(James Connolly, Workers’ Republic 30 October 1915)