Where, oh where, is our James Connolly: #Connolly150

One of the remarkable things about James Connolly is how his life provides an intersection with so many long-standing themes: immigration, poverty and disadvantage, Irish-British relations, the Irish in Scotland, class politics, imperialism, socialism and Irish republicanism.

Another critical area, in which so many of these issues, and others, converge is in service in the armies of the British empire. A range of motivations brought individuals into service. Patriots mingled with those compelled by a sense of duty or adventure, others by poverties: disadvantaged urban communities, impoverished rural communities, immigrants seeking financial or political affirmations, colonial subjects speculating on an exchange of years of their lives for some degree of pensionable future financial security. All of these journeys meet within Connolly’s life. Oddly enough, in one of the least known and most obscure episodes, his military service.

Back in July 2017, I had a look at what is known about his British Army service. Pretty much nothing of the details of his military career are clear. This is not out of keeping with our real knowledge of his early life. He fleetingly appears in some documentary records in Edinburgh such as his birth on 5th June 1868. He is listed as an apprentice baker in the 1881 census (again in Edinburgh) with his parents and older brother Thomas (a trainee print compositor). His eldest brother John had already left home with the British Army by this date. Thomas’ later life is completely obscure. The historical Connolly literally re-emerges in a letter to Lillie Reynolds on April 7th 1889 (they were later to marry). The commonly held belief is that Connolly’s letter to Lillie was written just after he deserted the British Army.

This appears to be supported by a throwaway reference in the April 7th letter to Lillie as ‘the girl he left behind him’. This paraphrases the refrain of ‘The Girl I Left Behind Me’, considered the parting song for eighteenth and nineteenth British Army regiments as they left for overseas service. This may be the closest thing to a direct reference by Connolly to his own British Army career in his own writings.

The Girl I Left Behind Me

Extract from Connolly’s letter to Lillie Reynolds from April 7th, 1889 (original in the National Library).

Consensus had it that James had followed his eldest brother John into the British Army and his biographer Desmond Greaves identified his regiment as the King’s Liverpool Regiment, which is to some extent supported by later biographers like Nevin.
The difficulty here is that Connolly is believed to have served under an assumed name so it is not simply a matter of finding a soldier named ‘James Connolly’ in the relevant regimental records. Despite the lack of documentary evidence, a reported anecdote told by Connolly suggested he was stationed in Haulbowline in December 1882 (indicating he had joined underage). Based on the date of his letter to Lillie, his departure from the British Army was believed to be in the period shortly before the letter was sent (i.e. just before the start of April 1889). This gives his period of service as the second half of 1882 through to (roughly) March 1889, a time period that matched the period in which the King’s Liverpool Regiment was stationed in Ireland (the basis of Greaves argument). Connolly’s service number, presuming he had joined roughly between his 14th birthday (although giving his age as 16) and December 1882 would be between 200 and 260 in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.
Fortunately, his desertion in early 1889 gives us another fixed reference point to use to identify him. Deserters were listed in the Police Gazette with their name, regiment, service number, age, a brief description and information where they deserted. Since Connolly deserted in February or March 1889, he would feature (under his assumed) name, in one of those issues.

police gazette.png

Front page of Police Gazette, February 26th, 1889, showing format of deserter lists.

Over the course of February, March and April 1889 the following were reported in the Police Gazette as deserters or dismissed from the King’s Liverpool Regiment for misconduct (their service numbers are included in brackets):
Police Gazette, February 12th: John Keating (2151), Peter Murphy (2730), James Calligan (443), William Clare (2557), Patricks Collins (1468), Martin Connolly (254), Dean Walter (1474), Patrick Gorrie (1087) and William Henderson (1259).
Police Gazette, February 19th: William Miller (2672), George Omerod (2705).
Police Gazette, February 26th: Charles Burke (2715), James Sears (2697);
Police Gazette, March 12th: Alfred Clark (2762), John Doherty (2732), Thomas Noon (2768), John Wilson (no number).
Police Gazette, March 19th: Herbert Coughtrey (1518).
Police Gazette, March 26th: Ben Aspinall (2577), John Curtis (2636).
Police Gazette, April 9th: W.H. Wakeman (no number).
Police Gazette April 16th Tim Kelly (2588), Joseph Stedman (2680), Frederick Wilson (2579), William Purcell (no number).
Police Gazette, April 30th Thomas Burns (2666), Charles Evans (2592), Thomas Quinn (2627).

This includes only one candidate with a service number between 200 and 260, conveniently enough sharing the same surname: Martin Connolly (254). Martin Connolly is listed in the Police Gazette as having deserted from the Reserve of the King’s Liverpool Regiment at Warrington. His personal records indicate that he served in the 4th Battalion of the Regiment (it’s reserve battalion). The Police Gazette records his age as 30, height as 5 foot 6 ½ inches, hair brown in colour and eyes grey. His attestation forms, though, indicate his age as 20 when he signed up in 1885, his height as 5 foot 7, his hair colour as black and his eyes brown (perhaps highlighting how unreliable some of the Police Gazette and attestation form data can be). These latter details (even if not consistent) are at odds with information recorded about James Connolly. The RIC recorded Connolly’s height in Kenmare in 1898 as 5 foot 4 and his hair colour as black. Various people identified him as having light blue or grey eyes. All of these details seem to indicate that ‘Martin Connolly’ is not James Connolly.

A review of the attestation records for the other King’s Liverpool Regiment deserters, where available, invariably show they returned to the service after 1889, or otherwise did not fit with the rough outlines of Connolly’s life. This raises significant questions about Greaves identification of Connolly with the King’s Liverpool Regiment. The information on his military service used by Greaves is largely in the form of second- and third-hand anecdotes, even Connolly’s daughter Nora appears to be quoting Greaves when she mentions his desertion in 1889. The claims about his military service include that he enlisted under a false name, John Reid, and in the same regiment as his brother, John, purportedly the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots. Anecdotes include the story about being on sentry duty in Haulbowline in December 1882 and also that he made reference to serving in India. There is no direct evidence to support either (as yet).

The earliest actual source referring to his military service is an anti-Larkin newspaper, The Toiler, published in 1913. It mentions Connolly in a couple of issues, claiming that he had joined the British militia twenty years or so ago, rumoured to be the Monaghan Militia and that he had deserted.

Given that the references in The Toiler are the earliest reference to Connolly’s military career, it is worth giving them some further consideration. The ‘Monaghan Militia’ was the 5th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. While the reference is intentionally derogatory, it may be referencing Connolly’s reputed family connection to Monaghan (he did, incorrectly, list Monaghan as his place on birth in the 1901 and 1911 census). However, that family connection may have had some role in his route into the British Army. A plausible basis for The Toiler claim is that he may have used family connections in Monaghan to join the Royal Irish Fusiliers. A number of deserters from the regiment are indeed listed in the Police Gazette including John Donnolly (2312), William Freeman (3035), John Kelly (2969), John Walker (676), Thomas Dawson (3110), Fred Wm Malyon (2625), Francis Kelly (3131), Thomas Flanagan (3076), John McSourley (2905), Thomas Webb (no number), Loughlin Ward (2088), Robert Green (3041), Thomas Dougherty (3045), William McDonald (3087) and Robert Simpson (813). But again, none appear to provide a sufficient match to Connolly’s details to suggest that it might be the false name he adopted for his military service.

Aspects of the other anecdotal claims about Connolly can also be tested against the list of deserters to try and identify him. Firstly, there is the false name: John Reid. A John Reid, service number 2089, had deserted at Mullingar on 31st January 1889, while serving in the Royal Irish Rifles. A labourer claiming to be from Armagh, he roughly fits the description of Connolly, being reported as 21½ years of age, 5 foot 6 in height with brown hair and grey eyes. Reid, though, enlisted in 1887 and served well into the 1890s and so is clearly not Connolly. A review of other men enlisting under the name John Reid does not immediately identify a suitable candidate for Connolly.

The ‘John Reid’ pseudonym is possibly a garbled version of Connolly’s older brother’s military career. John Connolly was four years older than James and had enlisted, under age, in 1878 using the name James Reid. He had served in the Border Regiment according to his documentation when he enlisted in the Royal Scots in the first world war, although his medal and decorations are not entirely consistent with those awarded to the Border Regiment. Either way, confusing James and his brother John seems to be the origin of the ‘John Reid’ claim for Connolly and the association with the ‘Royal Scots’ regiment.

 

John C Borders

John Connolly’s re-enlistment form (as ‘James Reid’) showing his previous service with the Border Regiment.

 

 

John C medals etc

John Connolly’s medal and decorations.

 

 

John Connolly form

John Connolly’s discharge form (as ‘James Reid’) from February 1916 showing his correct address.

 

The information on those listed as deserting from either the Border Regiment can also be cross-referenced against Connolly’s details to look for possible candidates. The Border Regiment deserters were John Rushton (no number), J. McIntosh (2009), who was discharged for misconduct), Thomas Cook (1856, reserve) Joseph Howells (1827, reserve), Percy Seymour (2165, reserve), W. Anderson (1414), Cosgrove T. (726), D Lundy (489), Arthur Copping (2730), Charles Fry (2223), H Ashby Carwood (2672), John Coulthard (2213), Thomas Hall (2620), Robert Little (2721) and Robert McCole (no number). None of these could plausibly be identified with Connolly.

The last of the anecdotal claims linked Connolly to the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots. A review of the Royal Scots deserter listed in the Police Gazette, identifies Peter Devine (2557), John Bartlett (2970), Frank Newton (2566), Albert Hartwell (3043), Charles F White (2917), John Monaghan (2286), AM Woolidge (1395), William G Hunt (3212), James McAuley (2741), Thomas Clegg (2905), Thomas Moody (3129) and James Scott (2713).

The only possible candidate is James Henry, who deserted the Royal Scots at Aldershot on 11th February 1889. Henry came from South Leith in Edinburgh and listed his occupation as ‘carter’. His physical description as 5 foot 4 in height, with dark brown hair and grey eyes, roughly matches Connolly as does his age in 1889 (20). Even the name (James Henry) is attractive as a false name. James Henry’s service number (2580), suggests he enlisted in the Royal Scots in 1887. Without further documentation, unless he had transferred from another regiment, it would seem unlikely that he had enlisted in 1882 as James Connolly is purported to have done. However, in the absence of further information to formally exclude him as a candidate, he appears to be the most plausible of the listed deserters to be Connolly.

Today, the 150th anniversary of Connolly’s birth, it seems that the exact details of his military service are still, and will continue to remain, elusive!

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James Connolly 150th anniversary

The 5th June 2018 will mark the 150th anniversary of James Connolly’s birth in Edinburgh of Monaghan parents. I’m sure the year will include various events and discussions of Connolly, his life and legacy.

One area that interests me and, I think, seems wholly under-explored, is Connolly’s time as a British soldier. Not just in how it must have contributed to Connolly’s own political and intellectual formation but also in how it provides an example of that tradition of service in Britain’s armed forces by Irish Catholics. Connolly’s military experience is very much suppressed in the post-1916 twentieth century hagiography and biographical treatments of his life (Greaves being the obvious pioneer of reintroducing his years as a soldier into the substance of the Connolly legend). That’s a thread I’m going to try and continue to pick up in 2018.

During this year, I’m hoping to start adding contributions from other people. The guiding principle will be that I’ll add anything relevant: memoirs, old historical news items, ephemera, songs/ballads etc. It doesn’t need to be academically written or of any particular length. The only requirement is that it adds something new, not well known or interesting. Easiest way to let me know you’ve something of interest is to message me via the Facebook page or by email (jjconeill at gmail.com works best).

In the meantime, best wishes for 2018 and thanks for continuing to read and comment on the blog and Facebook and here’s some Connolly reading from the blog to get your new year started.

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2017/11/11/learn-all-he-can-and-put-his-training-to-the-best-advantage-irish-republicans-in-the-british-army/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2017/07/31/james-connollys-time-as-a-british-soldier-some-new-evidence/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/nora-connolly-obrien-on-her-father-belfast-and-1916/

https://treasonfelony.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/they-told-me-how-connolly-was-shot-in-the-chair/

The Manchester Martyrs centenary and echoes of the 1969 split in the IRA

Up to the Easter Rising, one of the key annual events in the republican calendar was the commemoration of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’, William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien, the IRB members who were publicly hanged in front of a crowd of 8-10,000 outside Salford Gaol on 23rd November 1867. They were hung for the death of a police sergeant during an attempt to free two IRB prisoners from a police van. Neither Allen, Larkin or O’Brien fired the shots that killed the policemen and two others that had also been sentenced to death had their sentences commuted due, in one case, due to American citizenship (a lesson not lost on a future generation), and in another, due to the clearly perjured evidence against him (bizarrely, the others were all convicted on the same evidence but not reprieved).

Smashing of the Van

‘The Smashing of the Van’ – the attempt to free two IRB leaders that led to Sergeant Brett being shot and the execution of the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ in 1867.

The execution was only the second public hanging in Manchester and The Pall Mall Gazette in London noted (on 25th November) the well behaved nature of the crowd (as opposed to the rioting that frequently accompanied hangings in London) and put it down to the fact that “…a taste for execution is perhaps, rather acquired than natural.” The hangman, William Calcraft, was notoriously inept and only Allen is believed to have been killed by the initial drop. Calcraft himself pulled on Larkin’s legs to break his neck but a priest in attendance, Fr Gadd, stopped him from doing the same to O’Brien. Instead the priest held O’Brien’s hands for three quarters of an hour until he finally died. The three were buried in the New Bailey prison in Manchester, although public funerals were held across Ireland and in some cities in Britain. Allen, Larkin and O’Brien are publicly commemorated in the song ‘God Save Ireland’, first published by Tim Dan Sullivan in December 1867. Another song, ‘The Smashing of the Van’ commemorates the events that led to their execution. Their remains were moved from the New Bailey prison to Strangeways in 1868 and then cremated and reinterred in Blackley cemetery in 1991.

Even after 1916, a huge commemorative ceili continued to be held annually in the Mansion House in Dublin for several decades. There are a lot of parallels with 1916, in terms of how the event became a focal point within the broader political methodology of Irish republicanism. For long periods, Irish republicanism had focused on building towards an event that might become the spark that would lead to the establishment of the Irish republic, rather than what would later become known as a ‘long war’ strategy (or low intensity conflict). In 1916, the ‘blood sacrifice’ concept understood by Pearse and Connolly was rooted in a realisation that failure to secure a republic by force of arms, in April 1916, would likely see their deaths either in battle or by execution. However, both knew Irish republicans could then catalyse the reaction to executions (rather than the whole Rising) into an ideological parable to try and give impetus to the Irish public to go out and establish that republic (as had happened with the Manchester Martyrs). Arguably, the structure of republican strategy, post-1981 hunger strike can be read within a similar framework. In the late 19th century, the Manchester Martyrs had provided a similar focus rather than the broader ‘Fenian movement’.  In many ways, the historical narrative around Irish republican ideology is often best understood within the context of such events involving a small number of individuals, rather than by looking at time periods defined in other ways (eg the ‘War of Independence’ was often reduced to a summary that focused on the likes of the execution of Kevin Barry).

The centenary of the Manchester Martyrs saw various events organised. Known, by 1967, as the Manchester Martyrs and Easter Week Commemoration Committee, the main organisers announced a few weeks in advance that a ‘Manchester Martyrs Commemoration Week’ was to be held in Manchester from November 20th to 26th. This was to include a folk night in St Bernadette’s Hall, Princess Road, a play presented by the St. Brendan’s Irish Players in St. Brendan’s Irish Centre. City Road, Old Trafford, a High Mass in St. Patrick’s Church, Livesey Street on the actual anniversary (celebrated by the Bishop of Salford),  a dinner dance in St. Brendan’s Irish Centre, City Road with the Assarce Ceili Band and then a parade on the 26th from Bexlev Square past the place of execution to St. Patrick’s Church for 11.30 am Mass. The parade was then to reassemble at Ben Brierley, Moston at 3 p.m. and continue to Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, Moston, where an oration was to be given by Jimmy Steele, Belfast, and a decade of the Rosary in Irish. All Irish organisations in Manchester were requested to keep that week free of engagements to support the committee’s functions.

In Manchester itself the centenary was preceded by a dispute over the erection of a memorial plaque at the site of the execution. The memorial was proposed and sponsored by the Manchester branch of the Connolly Association rather than the official Manchester Martyrs Memorial committee. It was given planning permission but opposed by the Manchester police and the issue was not resolved prior to the centenary itself. The Connolly Association had offered to include the policeman’s name on the plaque (arguing that he too was equally a victim of British imperialism). But the left wing politics of the Connolly Association also brought it into conflict with the conservation Catholicism of the official Memorial committee.

At the end of the main commemoration on the 26th November, the Memorial committee chairman, Austin Fitzmaurice, was prompted by one of his committee to add some final comments. The first was that the commemoration was nothing to do with any other commemoration committee (clearly meaning the Connolly Association), the second was that ‘those present’ did not want Ireland freed with the help of Soviet Union and the last was “We are Catholics first and Irishmen afterwards.” (Irish Democrat, January 1968).

The Connolly Association plaque was put on display during the commemorations, though. The main gathering on the Sunday was attended by 3,000 people including 77 year old, Elizabeth Maher, a cousin of Michael Larkin, who had travelled from Dublin. Also in attendance were Tomas MacGiolla, President of Sinn Féin and Jimmy Steele, Chair of the Republican Clubs in the north, members of Fianna Éireann (whose Dublin branch organised Ms Maher’s travel and provided a colour party), Cumann na mBan, the Brian Boru Pipe Band and the Pre-Truce IRA Association.

At the main gathering in the cemetery in Moston, Jimmy Steele gave what the Connolly Association’s newspaper, The Irish Democrat, described as a ‘spirited oration’ in its December issue. In it he criticised the ‘New Departure’ of John Devoy and Michael Davitt, stating that “…it was always an error to become involved in political parties.” (Irish Democrat, December 1967). Devoy, who had later supported the Treaty and Cumann na nGaedhal, had pushed the IRB leader, Michael Davitt, into supporting Parnell and the constitutional nationalists sitting at Westminster in 1878. This was perceived as having weakened the IRB and directed energies towards four decades of an ineffectual ‘Home Rule’ campaign in Westminster (the culmination of its failures being the IRB’s response with the 1916 Rising).

The month previously, Dan Breen, the former IRA leader who had been a Fianna Fáil TD, led a commemoration and wreath laying at the John Devoy memorial in Kildare, alongside leading Fine Gael politicians. Notably, neither party appears to have been represented at the official Manchester commemoration. There is an interesting echo here of last year’s 1916 centenary and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s embarrassingly strained emphasis on constitutionalists like John Redmond.

Steele might have intended his comments to be a commentary on the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael détente at Devoy’s memorial, or at least be read as such. But within the IRA and Sinn Féin, Cathal Goulding had been pushing for an end to abstentionism at Leinster House, Stormont and Westminster. This had been repeatedly defeated when put to a vote. While his strategy was being questioned, Goulding had increasingly been centralising control of both the IRA and Sinn Féin in himself and in its public voice, like The United Irishman newspaper. The Belfast IRA newspaper Tírghrá, edited by Steele, was starved of resources and effectively closed down by Goulding in 1965. In September 1968, Goulding was to dilute the ability of the IRA to oppose his attempts to end abstentionism by dramatically expanding the Army Council so that he could then install a majority of his supporters and force through changes (and, apparently, stall any Army Convention that might reverse the changes). This precipitated the crisis within the IRA that surfaced in the early summer of 1969, led by Steele. In that light, Steele’s comments in Manchester should be seen as commentary on Goulding’s aspirations to transform the IRA. The Manchester Martyr’s commemoration in 1967 should perhaps be regarded as an opening salvo in the dispute that was to split the IRA two years later.

For more on the Manchester Martyrs, see Joe O’Neill’s The Manchester Martyrs.