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James Connolly holds a significant role in Irish history. As one of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising, he stood beside Patrick Pearse as he proclaimed the Irish Republic by reading the Irish Proclamation outside the GPO on Easter Monday, 24th April 1916. Connolly’s death had a huge impact on the Irish population’s view on the 1916 Easter Rising rising.

Early Life

James Connolly was born on 5th June 1868, the third child to John and Mary Connolly (nee McGinn), and grew up in Cowgate, Edinburgh. Known by some as ‘Little Ireland’ there were 14,000 Irish immigrants living there in slum tenements. This poverty meant that a full education was impossible, and by the age of 10 James was working in a bakery. At 14, he lied about his age and joined the British Army. Sent to Ireland, he spent seven years in the country, becoming increasingly disillusioned and angry towards the British Army. He soon left the army so that he could marry Lillie Reynolds, a Protestant from Co. Wicklow. The two moved back to Scotland, where Connolly would begin to become involved with the socialist movement.

Move into Politics

Upon arriving home, in order to provide for his family, Connolly set up a cobblers shop, however this venture failed due to his inability to fix shoes. An avid reader, he was influenced by socialist thinkers such as Karl Marx. In 1892 he became the secretary of the Scottish Socialist Federation after his brother, John, had to step down in order to seek employment.

However, four years later Connolly and his family moved to Dublin and he became secretary with the Dublin Socialist Club. He was paid £1 a week, however this was entirely based upon members paying their subscription, so he would often end up unpaid. In 1896 he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party, and two years later he would also start the Workers Republic, a socialist newspaper aiming to be released once a month, although this was sporadic.

After seven years in America, Connolly moved back to Ireland in 1910 where he joined the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU) and became the right hand man of the leader, Jim Larkin. He also established the Irish Labour Party in 1912. During the 1913 Dublin Lockout, he helped to create the Irish Citizens Army, established to protect the workers who were out on strike and enlisted both men and women. From 1914, he began to turn this group into a small revolutionary army, seeking a socialist republic.

1916 Easter Rising

Connolly had little time for the Irish Volunteers after their establishment in November 1913, due to their lack of interest in bettering the economic conditions for the Irish people. The leadership of the IRB fearing that Connolly would lead his army to battle first; invited him to a secret meeting in January 1916, where he agreed to join forces with the IRB. He was made the Commandant of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Volunteers. Connolly’s socialist aims are clearly visible in the Irish Proclamation which was read by Patrick Pearse at the front of the GPO on Easter Monday 24th April1916, they include equality between Irishmen and Irishwomen.

When the Irish Volunteers, led by Eoin MacNeill, were informed not to mobilise on Easter Sunday, the planned first day of the Easter Rising, the seven leaders, as well as other key individuals such as Countess Markievicz, met in Liberty Hall – where Connolly and the ICA were based. The Irish Proclamation was completed and the decision was made to fight the following day instead with severely depleted numbers – Connolly himself said ‘we are going to be slaughtered’. When asked was there any chance of success he responded ‘none whatsoever’. Connolly was one of the five leaders inside the GPO during Easter Week. Twice while leaving the building, he would be caught by a bullet, once to the arm and then later a ricochet bullet caught him in the ankle – to which he then famously could not walk for the rest of the rebellion, and had to be carried out of the GPO on a stretcher and into Moore Street. When the rebellion came to an end on the sixth day, Patrick Pearse wrote his surrender notes, however the ICA would only surrender if they were told so by Connolly, and so he had to write his own note under Pearse’s.

Execution

Of all sixteen executions that occurred after the rebellion, Connolly’s had perhaps the most impact amongst the Irish population. Having not healed from the bullet wound, he had to be tied to a chair in order to be executed; famously saying that he would ‘say a prayer for all brave men who do their duty according to their lights’, for the British soldiers ordered to fire the shots. Connolly Station was renamed after him in 1966 and there are now statues to him in Dublin and New York.