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The Irish Citizen Army

Political Parties
    When the Irish Transport and General Workers Union was formed by the radical socialist James Larkin, mainly to bring together unskilled and otherwise unorganised workers, it almost instantly butted heads with the Dublin Employers' Federation (the Millionaires Club), a coalition of 400 of Dublin's richest bosses.

In August 1913 the Union responded to attacks made against it in the Irish Independent, owned by William Marty Murphy - Dublin's richest man, by calling for it to be boycotted. The Employers' Federation then delivered a notice to all its workers that no-one associated with the Union could work for them.

At twenty to ten on the morning of Tuesday 26 August 1913, the Dublin tram system was brought to halt as striking drivers and conductors left them were they stood. They joined their locked-out comrades, and by the end of the month over 20,000 Dublin workers were either locked out or on strike. This meant that 100,000 people were affected by the dispute.

The Transport Union called a meeting for Sunday 31 August in O'Connell Street, which was quickly proscribed by the authorities. Nonetheless, the meeting went ahead. Larkin appeared in disguise on a first floor balcony of the Imperial Hotel, ironically owned by Murphy. He began to speak but was speedily arrested by the police.

A scuffle broke out and the police charged the crowd, batons swinging. The police attacked indiscriminately, and many people attacked had not been part of the demonstration but were returning from mass. Two workers, James Nolan and John Byrne, were killed and hundreds more were injured.

A short time later another worker, 16-year-old Alice Brady - a member of the Irish Women Workers' Union, was shot dead by a scab labourer. After being arrested and charged, he was later released by a grand jury made up of property-holders.

The court system was not the only enemy of the militant workers. Dublin Castle, which controlled the country's police, and the Catholic Hierarchy as well aligned themselves with the bosses. Nationalist politicians such as Arthur Griffith launched scathing attacks on the labour movement, as well as Larkin personally.

Though the workers received some support from sections of the Republican movement, they realised there was no-one they could depend on to defend them but themselves. In a speech to striking workers outside of Liberty Hall, Larkin announced the formation of a militia under the command of Captain Jack White, a former officer in the British Army. Larkin then introduced White, who declared that this new army would fight for Labour and for Ireland. The Citizen Army was born.

On the roof of Liberty HallDrill and training began immediately, but as the Lockout dragged on it was difficult to sustain it regularly. After the army's formation, their training was very rarely required. When they marched to protect workers' protests and rallies or the union band, armed with hurleys, the police were not as inclined to attack.

As the struggle dragged on, starvation forced the strikers back to work. The employers were able to victimise these workers, but they could not enforce the ban of the Union. The Lockout ended in a stalemate.

The fear of victimisation compelled many workers to keep clear of Liberty Hall, and the Union was left crippled after its great battle. The Citizen Army dwindled, and as the Irish Volunteers appeared matters worsened. The Volunteer movement had wealth, influence, national sentiment and widespread approval behind it, and it was now competing with the Citizen Army for the loyalty of Dublin workers.

Friction between the Army and the Volunteers increased as the Volunteer Council came under the control of John Redmond, whose Home Rule party had more sympathy for the bosses and landlords than for the workers. The union soon realised that the Citizen Army would need to reorganise for it to survive.

Seán O'Casey, who believed strongly in an independent workers' force, came to White with suggestions for how to revitalise the Army. He suggested that the Army should be given a definite place in the Labour Movement, that a constitution be written, a council elected to arrange drills, open funds for equipment, arrange public meetings, and form companies of the Citizen Army wherever possible.

Attempts were made to spread the Army into other areas. A manifesto was sent to various Labour bodies in Belfast, Cork, Derry, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and others but it found difficulty in gaining a foothold. It encountered opposition from employers and other conservative forces, and in many areas the Irish Volunteers had already been signing up members.

While the rivalry between both forces continued, White made an attempt at rapprochement by offering to put two fully uniformed and equipped Citizen Army companies at the disposal of the Volunteer Executive. Eoin MacNeill, leader of the Volunteers, replied that they could not get involved with an organisation that had recently been in conflict with the police.

There was also many in the Citizen Army who opposed such motions. White eventually left the Army, and Larkin was voted unanimously to take his place as Chairman of the Citizen Army Council. Ironically, this was at a time when the relationship between the two organisations began to improve. Thomas Clarke, chairman of the Wolfe Tone Committee, invited the Citizen Army to join the Bodenstown demonstration.

As Redmond tightened his grip on the Volunteers, the Citizen Army became more worried about the prospects of co-operation. O'Casey moved a resolution on the council that no member may be involved in both the Volunteers and the Citizen Army, essentially directed at Constance Markievicz as a member of Cumann na mBan. Markievicz refused to leave either, and was supported by the Council. Larkin asked O'Casey to apologise, and he replied by resigning.

When the First World War broke out James Connolly, who had been an observer to events because of his position in Belfast, began to assert himself. He wrote articles in the Irish Worker, the Union's paper, on the possibilities the war had presented for the working class. He also began to argue for a united front of the Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers, who had split between the IRB left wing and Redmond's new National Volunteers.

On October 24 1914, Larkin announced that he was leaving for America to raise funds for the Transport Union, which was still suffering after the struggle of the Lockout. A thousand men marched under military discipline through the city to see him off. James Connolly was appointed Commandant of the Army in his absence.

Under Connolly, Michael Mallin became Chief of Staff. Mallin had experience in the British army, and was known in Labour circles for his role as secretary of the Silk Weavers' Union. Both men emphasised the need for military training and worked hard towards obtaining arms.

Connolly also took over Larkin's role in the Transport Union. Not long afterwards, a huge scroll appeared across the front of Liberty Hall bearing the message "We Serve Neither King nor Kaiser, But Ireland!"

Outside Liberty Hall (click to enlarge)The British government decided to censor and then suppress rebel papers such as the Irish Worker, but Connolly got around the problem by setting up a printing machine in Liberty Hall, which could be protected by the Citizen Army. This led to friction with some members of the Union, who were afraid that association with the Army would get the Union suppressed. Connolly addressed a general meeting of the Union and got approval for the printer, but this was not the last attempt to separate the Union from the Army.

With this new paper, the Workers' Republic, up and running Connolly began writing a series of articles on the military lessons of various revolutions and uprisings, including the Moscow insurrection of 1905.

At a time when Dublin was plastered with propaganda posters and the Defence of the Realm Act was in force, Connolly addressed a Labour Day demonstration in Phoenix Park and advised the crowd to join the Army. There were cries of "What army?" and Connolly replied: "I won't insult your intelligence by saying which army, but if I am charged with anything I say here today, I will call you all as witnesses to prove that I advised you all to join the army."

The Army continued training and drilling, and arming itself however it could. In October 1915 dockworkers went on strike after the employers broke an agreement over pay, and Connolly announced triumphantly that these workers were able to use the dispute to their advantage by getting the training they would otherwise miss. Uniformed and armed pickets helped protect striking workers who were being pushed around by the police.

A rifle range was installed in Liberty Hall and men and women were equally involved in improving their marksmanship. Classes in first aid and ambulance work were taught by Dr Kathleen Lynn, a Captain in the Army. They developed a method making bombs in the basement of the Hall, which were later tested on the grounds of St. Enda's.

For months work carried on, and Connolly continued to urge immediate action. If the war ended, he believed the opportunity for insurrection would go with it. His conviction aggravated the Volunteer leadership, and in late January they detained him for three days to discuss the issue of a Rising.

After his release, the Army continued organising, training, and arming. They also took part in events that they felt would strengthen the spirit of revolt amongst Irish workers. One such event was the funeral of O'Donovan Rossa. Another event occurred in April 1916, when Connolly announced that the Green Flag would be hoisted over Liberty Hall. The event was to be a propaganda exercise, and also used to get the authorities familiar with demonstrations, so that the eventual rising would catch them off-guard. When the Union executive opposed the decision, he asked why he needed their permission to unfurl the Irish flag over the Union premises.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to see the event. A large Citizen Army contingent was present outside Liberty Hall, along with the Citizen Army Scout Corps and the Army pipe band. Mollie O'Reilly of the Citizen Army, escorted by a colour party, took the flag to the roof of the building. As the flag billowed out from the mast, men and women cried, and a defiant cheer erupted from the crowd.

The last days before the Rising were spent organising. Liberty Hall was busy with men and women making bombs and casting ammunition. Mallin went to Jacob's factory and to Stephen's Green, to take bearings and to examine the area for particular buildings and entrance points. He thought the Green would be a good place for 500 men to hold, because of the water supply, the nearby hotels with their beds and food and the hospital that was also close by.

A plan was formulated to sink ships along Dún Laoghaire harbour, to prevent troops being brought in. Another plan was formed to seize artillery at Athlone. Considering that Connolly and Mallin were both keen students of military strategy, it is likely that their plans could have come together in a successful uprising. 5,000 men would hold Dublin until insurgent forces from Wicklow and Kildare came to relieve them. These plans were dashed by MacNeill's countermand order, and the confusion it created.

Nonetheless the Rising went ahead on April 24 1916. Of the 1200 who participated in the Rising around 220 were Citizen Army, including about 30 women. They joined their comrades in the Volunteers in Liberty Hall and marched out together. As Mallin marched out to Stephen's Green, he led a contingent of 32 Citizen Army men and women. Another group of 45 later joined them, but it was still a far cry from the originally intended 500.

After five days of fierce fighting, the vastly outnumbered insurgents eventually surrendered. Mallin and Connolly, who had received two bullet wounds during the fighting, were both executed for their parts along with the 13 other leaders. Without the leadership of these two gallant men, the Citizen Army was left a shadow of its former self. A fearful and reformist trade union leadership soon cut its ties with the Army, denying organised labour its place at the fore of the Republican struggle.

One of Connolly's first actions when the Rising started was to have the Citizen Army's Starry Plough flag hoisted over the Imperial Hotel, the building from which Jim Larkin had spoken in 1913. This defiant act, in the midst of such a defiant struggle, underlined the class nature of the Easter Rising. Most if not all of those who took part, both Citizen Army and Irish Volunteer, were workers and labourers and with little or no skills. It was these people who Theobald Wolfe Tone and Henry Joy McCracken, Robert Emmet and James Connolly understood to be the only people capable of carrying through a revolution for national, political and social freedom.