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.

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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!

Winnie Carney at the GPO, via #Herstory

Last night, the image of Winifred Carney was one of those projected onto the GPO as part of #Herstory, to coincide with Nollaig na mBan (literary, ‘the women’s Christmas’, the traditional Irish name for the Christian feast of the Epiphany in Ireland).

You can check out more text and images via the Herstory social media and website.

Carney, born in Bangor but brought in Belfast, was a trade unionist, suffragist and republican activist. Living at Carlisle Circus, she was active in the textile unions, Gaelic League and nationalist organizations and was prominent in highlighting the dreadful conditions faced by workers in Belfast, particularly women and children.

She worked closely with James Connolly, particularly throughout the Easter Rising where she was the first woman into the GPO and last to leave. The other Belfast republicans active in Dublin during the Rising was mainly women (eg see Nora Connolly’s account here). Afterwards she stood for election for Sinn Féin and continued to be active in the likes of the TGWU and, later, the NILP. She married George McBride in 1928 (below, with Carney, image held by District Trades Union Council), who had been in the UVF and Orange Order but was by then a committed socialist.

Carney died in 1943, ages only 56, and is buried in Milltown.

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/

Learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage: Irish republicans in the British Army

It is probably not coincidental that the passing of the very last of the generation who fought in the first world war has coincided with a rise in overt nationalism centred around displays of the poppy as a symbol of British military commemoration. With the second world war generation, too, now dwindling rapidly, an aggressively vocal lobby insistently equates both generation’s sacrifice, as individuals and units, with a celebration of British imperial policy and militarism. This is conducted at such a volume that it drowns out any nuanced discussion of the experience of serving in the British forces. This is maybe most acute for those, particularly in Ireland, whose relatives were more likely driven into the British Army by circumstances than any political conviction.
You can get a clear, and unapologetic, sense of what the poppy, as a symbol, is intended to commemorate from the British Legion. Under its pages on remembrance, it specifically stipulates that it includes the recent conflict in the north (one in which the British army was allowed to use violence with impunity). The Legion also pointedly includes…those who fought with them and alongside them”, which would obviously cover the local unionist militias, the RUC and UDR, which were both discredited and then disbanded. Arguably it also extends to the unionist paramilitary groups like the UDA and UVF who fought ‘alongside them’, given the British government’s continuing refusal to open up its archives on the extent to which it operated those groups as local counter-gangs.
There is peculiar lobby among the likes of Fine Gael and the Irish Labour party that try and promote the poppy. The kindest thing that can be said about it is that they appear to barely have a surface knowledge of what the British Legion actually tells us the poppy is meant to commemorate. Ironically, the leader of the Irish government probably wore a British Legion poppy in Leinster House the other day simply to provoke Sinn Féin members present (in the hope that he could use a backlash to retrospectively validate his embarrassing car crash comments about sexism in an interview the previous day).
What we are seeing there, really, is the long term impact on censorship in the south. After Section 31 of the broadcasting ban lapsed, media censorship, and the world view it had promoted, have more or less persisted in a voluntary form. No real attempt has been made in the south to either revisit events or explore other perspectives on the conflict in the north and, in reality, most people who formed their views, values and opinions under Section 31 have no sense of having been exposed to heavily censored media coverage. That pretty much extends to any genuine understanding of the typical Irish experience in the British military which many seem to completely blur with a broader anti-republicanism sensibility.
Ex-servicemen (and indeed some still enlisted in the British army) appear to have always been a component of republican organisations. IRB leader William Harbinson’s life is illustrative of how young men typically ended up in the British Army. Driven from his birthplace in Ballinderry to Liverpool at the height of the famine, he enlisted underage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his army service was punctuated with bouts of ill-health. Yet, through the likes of Harbinson, the IRB organisation appears to have relied upon serving British soldiers for access to military capability and arms.
The year after Harbinson’s death, James Connolly was born – brought up in great poverty, he too enlisted underage in the British Army and was one of a number of those who participated in 1916 that had a military background. It is notable, now, how the input of ex-servicemen surely contributed to the overall tactical view of the IRB. It embraced using some form of conventional standing army to establish an Irish republic, either using serving soldiers (as in 1867) or the Irish volunteers and Citizen’s Army (as in 1916). After 1916, and the formation of an Irish Republican Army, ironically, the tactical remit instead shifted to guerrilla actions (even though it still had many members who were former British soldiers).
In Belfast in 1920-22, ex-servicemen were prominent in the ad hoc defence of districts that came under attack from unionists. Joseph Giles, a former soldier killed when the military opened fire in Bombay Street on 22nd July 1920 is noted as an IRA volunteer in Jim McDermot’s Northern Divisions. Other former soldiers, like Daniel Hughes and Freddy Craig, were killed when unionists attacked their home districts or, as in the case of Malachy Halfpenny, were abducted, tortured and killed by B Specials. In some districts, like Ballymacarret, many ex-servicemen were believed to have joined the IRA and provided the spine of the republican forces that defended the district from attack. Certainly, in most IRA units, former British soldiers provided the technical support to maintain weapons and train in their use. Even in the 1950s, the IRA was able to place members inside British Army barracks in preparation for arms raids. In the 1970s, again in the face of unionist violence, ex-servicemen (this time, formally) grouped themselves under the banner of the Catholic (later ‘Local’) Ex-Servicemen’s Association.
In areas of high socio-economic deprivation (across Ireland), the needs of the British for servicemen offered an opportunity for the paid work (and pension) and a trade that were often denied to them in their own districts. How far the economic necessity that drove them into the services was underscored by political support is difficult to disentangle.
One hundred years ago, Charles O’Neill, my great-grandfather, a veteran of both India and the Boer War, was serving on the Italian front. He also had a brother at sea with the British Navy. After the war he was still burnt out of Ballyhackamore and driven from his work by ‘loyalists’. Whether he was political at all, never mind supportive of British imperial policy, he was to be brutally schooled in the value placed on his military service. Yet economics also dictated that two of his sons (my granny’s brothers, Andy and Charlie) also fought in the British Army during the second world war (my granny also had one brother-in-law in the US Army and another as Adjutant-General of the IRA). Charles, Andy and Charlie’s experience was probably typical. Political or not, they chose not to serve in the likes of the RUC or UDR that the British Legion now commemorate as having fought alongside the British Army. I suspect the current flag-waving poppy celebrations of the British Legion would be completely alien to them.
The traditional inclusion of ex-servicemen within Irish republican organisations is often overlooked and has probably yet to be fully explored. Opening it up may provide some rich insights. While a British soldier in Dublin, James Connolly likely participated in war games that included defending Dublin city. Given that he was one of a number of former servicemen who took part in the Rising, was the often derided military plan for the Rising based on an insight into the British defensive strategy practised in war games in which the likes of Connolly took place?
Connolly may also have provided the most succinct rationalisation of the motivation behind a young Irish man joining the British Army “…let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community.

William Harbinson: a New Lodge ‘Fenian’

September 11th 2017 marks the 150th anniversary of the death of William Harbinson in Crumlin Road prison. On the evening of his death, Harbinson was found dead in his cell and the coroners inquiry heard he had an unexplained head wound but did not establish if it occurred prior to his death. The Head Centre of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Belfast, Harbinson lived in the cottages known as Pinkerton Row just above the junction of North Queen Street and the New Lodge Road (roughly where Pinkerton Walk is today).

Map of Belfast in 1860s showing North Queen Street, the Infantry Barracks (later Victoria Barracks) and the lower New Lodge Road. Pinkerton Row is unmarked appears to be the line of cottages just above ‘Trainfield’. The breaks in the houses on that side of the New Lodge Road roughly correspond to Bruslee Street, Carntall Street, Carnmoney Street and Pinkerton Street that all linked back to Artillery Street (which appears on the map as dotted lines). These streets were flattened in the 1960s and 1970s. The Half Bap and Little Italy districts extend from the bottom right of the map.

Harbinson was a Staff Sergeant in the Antrim Rifles and had access to the Infantry Barracks arsenal. He was one of a number of ‘Fenians’ among the serving garrison in the barracks. The IRB had consciously inserted soldiers in the British Empire’s army and used them to both cultivate further recruits and bring back a quantum of military know-how and material to the organisation. In many respects this was an expression of the complex relationship between the Empire and its Irish subjects.

Harbinson’s life is illustrative of how young men typically ended up in the British Army. Driven from his birthplace in Ballinderry to Liverpool at the height of the famine, he enlisted underage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his army service was punctuated with bouts of ill-health. The year after Harbinsons death, James Connolly was born – brought in great poverty, he too enlisted underage in the British Army and was one of a number of those who participated in 1916 that had a military background. In Belfast in 1920-22, ex-servicemen were prominent in the ad hoc defence of districts that came under attack from unionists. Many of them became involved in the IRA. In the 1970s, again in the face of unionist violence, ex-servicemen (this time, formally) grouped themselves under the banner of the Catholic (later ‘Local’) Ex-Servicemen’s Association. So, in many respects, Harbinson reflects a tradition within republicanism that is often overlooked. James Connolly rationalised the motivation behind a young Irish man joining the British Army “…let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community”.

Harbinson also reflects a largely unexplored aspect of republican tradition across north Belfast. In some respects, like Harbinson, this is connected to the presence of the Infantry Barracks and Irish soldiers serving there. But he is far from the only senior IRB figure to have lived in the north of the city. Frank Roney, Head of Centre in Belfast before Harbinson, was from Carrickhill. Robert Johnston served on the Supreme Council from the 1860s, FJ Biggar was co-opted onto the Supreme Council by the end of 1870s. Henry Dobbyn was also prominent in the IRB. That generation was slowly eased out and replaced by the likes of Denis McCullough (President of the IRB’s Supreme Council in 1916). All lived in the north of the city, on of around North Queen Street or the Antrim Road. Johnston was the father of Eithne Carbery, the pre-eminent poet of the nationalist revival of the late 19th century and editor of the Shan Van Vocht newspaper. Her brother, James and cousin James were also active in the IRB (the likes of Major John McBride were also connected to north Belfast through St Malachy’s College). Another Antrim Road resident, Winifred Carbery, was Connolly’s assistant throughout the Easter Rising.

So, on the 150th anniversary of his death, it is worth remembering how William Harbinson reflects many aspects of republican history in north Belfast (and further afield) that really should warrant further exploration in the future.

James Connolly’s time as a British soldier, some new evidence

James Connolly, signatory of the 1916 proclamation, is widely accepted to have served as a British soldier in Ireland. Remarkably little is known about this period of his life and its impact on his political formation and views. It is assumed that he joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment, although direct documentary proof has yet to be found. However, new evidence about his brother’s service and the King’s Liverpool Regiment in Ireland suggests that Connolly could have been on duty as a British soldier during sectarian violence in Belfast, evictions in Meath and prison protests on Spike Island. He also took part in war games that tested the British governments deployment plan for the army in the event of war in Dublin.

Image result for james connolly

Connolly as a young man, not long after leaving the army.

Some biographers have Connolly joining the same regiment as his older brother John who had enlisted underage, using a false name, in 1878. John’s regiment is (variously) given as the Royal Scots or the King’s Liverpool Regiment and the suggested false name is usually ‘John Reid’ (much of this is teased out in Donal Nevin’s  James Connolly: a full life). However, it is possible to recover a bit more information about John Connolly as he re-enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots (see WO/363, service number 20308), during World War 1. John was discharged due to ill health in February 1916. The reason given was Bright’s Disease, brought on through exposure to bad weather while guarding German prisoners at Stobs Camp in the Scottish Borders in 1915.

This photo shows the exposed positions from which sentries guarded the prisoner of war section of Stobs Camp during World War 1 (the original is online here).

This may, in part, explain why James Connolly’s last statement (smuggled out of his cell by his daughter Nora) begins, “I do not wish to make any defence, except against the charge of wanton cruelty to prisoners.” Given that he followed John into the army and then to Dundee, it would seem that he was close to his older brother. Concern at his brother’s reaction may even have influenced how James framed his own last words. John never recovered his health. He died on 22nd June 1916 and is buried in Edinburgh’s North Merchiston Cemetery.

His military records show that John had not served as ‘John Connolly’ but as ‘James Reid’ and his files note that he had previously spent sixteen years in the army, which he states was with the Borders Regiment. There is a ‘James Reid’ listed in the regiment in WO/121, service number 1524, who joined on 9th July 1878 and was discharged in Dublin (due to ill health) on 9th March 1886. The dates match up so this may mark his departure from full-time service. Like his false name, John’s age was consistently recorded as two years younger than it was, due to his enlistment underage as James Reid. He does correctly list his wife’s surname as Connolly in his army documents, though. John had medals for his service in Afghanistan and Egypt (1882). He also re-entered the Royal Reserves in Edinburgh for a year up to April 1901 (service number 1597) before re-enlisting in December 1914.

As the Border Regiment was not awarded either the Afghanistan or Egypt 1882 medals, this seems to be where John completed his service or joined the reserve rather than where he served full-time. Of the other regiments mentioned, the Royal Scots did receive the former award (for the campaign in Afghanistan from 1878 to 1880) while the King’s Liverpool Regiment received both. While it confirms some truth to the various rumours around the Connolly brothers’ military service, it doesn’t really bring us any closer to complete certainty on the regiment in which James served.

If John served as ‘James Reid’, is that the confused source of the false name ‘John Reid’? Or does it even open the possibility that, when enlisting James followed John in using the name ‘Reid’ and swapped first names with his brother? No records appear to be available for a John Reid in the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment. But this may simply be down to the surviving records or extent of digitisation since only the records of some soldiers named in the battalion in newspaper reports in the 1880s can be found, most cannot be identified. Whether John Reid was the name or not, it may be possible a soldier can be found to match up with his putative army service in the records of the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment (possibly with a service number between, roughly, 200 and 260).

The earliest reference to Connolly’s military service appears in the anti-Larkin newspaper The Toiler in 1913 which claimed he had served in the Monaghan militia, deserted and went to Scotland. Since Connolly had lived in Edinburgh, not Monaghan, he wouldn’t have served in the Monaghan militia (he is listed in the census in Scotland in 1881). The strongest argument for him serving in the Liverpool Regiment appears to be Nora Connolly’s assertion that he was going to be demobbed in Aldershot in February 1889 when he left the army while her mother was to take up a post in London (in her account in Uinseann MacEoin’s Survivors). This is consistent with the dates that 1st Battalion Liverpool Regiment moved from Dublin to Aldershot between 15th and 18th of February 1889 (see Aldershot Military Gazette 23rd February 1889). Connolly’s father, John, had a serious accident in February 1889, which may have precipitated his return to Scotland rather than to serve out his remaining time and complete his discharge in Aldershot. However going to assist his father seems less plausible when, by April he was living in the main area of Irish immigration in Dundee, Lochee where he was to begin his involvement in socialist politics.

Connolly arrived in Dundee in 1889 not long before he wrote what seems to be the first of his surviving letters to his future wife, Lillie Reynolds, from Mrs Boyle’s, St Mary Street in Dundee and dated April 7th (see MS 13,911/1, where it is dated as 1888). In the letter he mentions how “It was only across the street from here a man murdered his wife and they are all discussing whether he is mad or not, pleasant, isn’t it?”. Bridget Redmond was murdered by her husband, Joseph, in their grocers shop on St Marys Road on the 30th March. According to the Dundee Advertiser, both were Irish immigrants and Joseph was a retired soldier from the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Press reports in the likes of the Dundee Courier state that he had been taken to an asylum on 6th April, the day before Connolly wrote the letter. Redmond’s trial later was told that he had delusions about being threatened by Irishmen in Dundee into joining the Land League and that he had suffered from sunstroke while in the army in India.

Redmond

The images, from Dundee Advertiser 2nd April 1889, showing where Bridget Redmond was killed (James Connolly lived across the road at the time).

The circumstantial evidence for Connolly having served in the 1st Battalion, King’s Liverpool Regiment seems solid enough. Desmond Greaves quotes a story told to him in which Connolly reminisced about being on guard duty in Haulbowline, in Cork, on the night when Myles Joyce was executed in Galway for the Maamtrasna murders on 16th December 1882 (Connolly reputedly was able to show his knowledge of the local geography during political activity there in 1911). The 1st Battalion had moved to Ireland in 1882 to replace the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards (who were bound for Egypt). When it’s 480 men assembled in Liverpool to cross to Ireland onboard the Batavia, contingents came from Plymouth, Bradford, Fleetwood, the Isle of Man and Tynemouth. By the end of August, though, an additional 45 men had been sent from the regimental depot in Warrington. It is possible that Connolly joined at any of these locations and came either in July or August (meaning he was just four or five months short of his seven years’ service in February 1889). Connolly had just turned fourteen on 5th June 1882.

The battalion’s arrival in Cork, with companies based in Youghal, Haulbowline and Carlisle Fort coincides with a number of news reports of soldier beaten up by locals in Cork and Youghal. Shortly after Myles Joyce’s execution, in January and February 1883, 400 convicts from Spike Island prison, adjoining Haulbowline, were used as labour on works and staged a protest that ended up requiring the Royal Marines and military to be called out. Even if the 1st Liverpool Regiment wasn’t called out, it was surely a topic of conversation. This was James Connolly’s introduction to the British garrison in Ireland. The battalion relocated to the Curragh in September 1884 (some companies being rotated to Castlebar). It then moved to Dublin in September 1885, first Linen Hall Street and Ship Street, then Beggars Bush. While in Dublin it took part in manoeuvres and war games around the city.  This included a war game where flying columns left Beggars Bush to intercept invading flying columns at locations outside the city. In 1916, it was probably assumed that this was the defensive plan the British army would expect to have to deploy, rather than an attempt to seize the centre of the city itself. So Connolly may well have taken part himself in practise deployments of the British army’s defensive plan for Dublin.

The most regular feature of the Liverpool Regiment’s posting in Ireland was the performances of its regimental band. It began performing publicly in August 1882 and continued through to 1889, playing at events such as regattas, sports days (including one under GAA rules in Ballsbridge on 30th July 1886), army parades, the Cork Industrial Exhibition (in 1883), banquets, the Rotunda, RDS, the Grand Promenade, Phoenix Park and many more. Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire) was a recurring venue from 1887, and it may have been on a trip out to see the regimental band play that Connolly famously met Lillie Reynolds, both of them having missed the same tram.  The regimental band also played at the visit of various dignitaries, such as the Viceroy, the Earl of Carnarvon in January 1886. In June 1887, the whole regiment provided a guard of honour (presumably including James Connolly) for Queen Victoria’s on her arrival and during her visit.

Not that the regiment’s period in Ireland was all band performances and guards of honour. Indiscipline and violence were never far away, with soldiers regularly appearing before the courts for attacking locals at the various postings, or as the victims of attacks (one drunken sergeant was reportedly seen shouting “Three cheers for Parnell!” and making ‘insulting comments about the Queen’ in February 1886). A Sergeant Carrigan shot himself in the head in Youghal Barracks in August 1884. There are also hints at the conditions inside the battalion in December 1888, when a Major Whitely had his house attack over conditions in the battalion. There was an inquiry into the condition of the barracks hospital and loss of stores around the same time.

For the individual soldiers, there was the recurring possibility of being posted overseas. Throughout 1882 to 1889, drafts of recruits and reserves were regularly processed through the 1st Battalion en route to the regiment’s 2nd Battalion on service in India. There are recurring claims that Connolly also saw service in India and it is conceivable that he somehow was added to one of the drafts that went out (if his brother John was on active duty in India that might have been sufficient incentive for him to go).

Ironically, if Connolly didn’t serve in India, the battalion’s duties over 1886 and 1887 may have contributed just as significantly to the formation of his political views. In the summer of 1886, the Liverpool Regiment was deployed on the streets of Belfast during serious rioting that saw over thirty deaths. It was reported in the Dublin Daily Express on August 12th that 379 men from the regiment were in Belfast (making it quite likely that Connolly was present). In October 1887, a company from the battalion was deployed to carry out evictions at Lord Masserene’s estate in Collon. While bailiffs and RIC constables removed the tenants, the soldiers were face-to-face with those opposing it as they formed a cordon to prevent the hostile crowds from intervening to prevent the evictions taking place. The soldiers had boiling water, gruel and mud thrown at them as well as much verbal abuse (eg see the account in the Dundalk Democrat, 29th October 1887). This may not have been the only occasion on which the regiment took part in an eviction. If the Bridget Redmond murder is anything to go by, the Land League was still a topical issue among Irish immigrants in Dundee in 1889.

If these events, or Indian service (or both), were contributing to Connolly’s political awakening, it was to be accompanied by increasing reports that the Battalion was to move from Dublin. This began in May 1887, with first Newry then Tipperary proposed (any move was formally suspended in August). Then in January 1888 it was suggested that the Battalion would now return to England (as a preliminary to a move overseas). By March the destination had been announced as Preston then the move was suspended again, only to be re-confirmed, without a destination, in April. This speculation would seem to overlap with James and Lillie meeting and may provide some sort of context to a decision to make an early break with the regiment rather than complete his service.

Just to expand slightly on the earlier point – Connolly would have acquired a service number between (roughly) 200 and 260 in the 1st Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment and a soldier of that number should be listed in Regimental Defaulter Book in February or March 1889.

Unfortunately, Connolly did not leave any (known) account of his own army service or motivations for joining. Donal NevinClearly, from his own literacy and vocabulary, and even his letters from as early as 1889, he did acquire some education while in the army. Instead, the closest we may have to his own judgement on the value of his army service may be hidden in a story told by his daughter Ina in her own witness statement to the Bureau of Military History. Ina has Connolly giving his view of the value of serving in the army to a woman they knew whose son had ran off to enlist:

“Well”, said my father, “didn’t you ask for it, pumping the child’s head with the glories of the British Empire. What more can you expect?”.

“But he is so young” implored the mother. “What can I do? Won’t you help me? I thought of you, the first person I must go to; you never encouraged anyone to join up in the Boer war; surely the same applies now?”

“Not exactly”, replied my father: “there is no war on now and by the time he serves his three years he will be out of their reach by the next war. At least, I hope so, and if I can be of any service to you, I will do my damnedest to keep him at home then. You just remember these words and keep me to this promise for the next war and see how I’ll help you then”.

No, she could not see that long ahead.

“I will buy him out; the money will be well-spent. I can’t bear to think of him in the British army”.

At this father went over to her and put his hand on her shoulder saying: “Many a good man was in the British army; there is nothing wrong in being well-trained and it is in the British army the soldier gets a good training. It’s getting out of the army in time of peace and putting your knowledge to the advantage of your country is what I call a good soldier. You try, and no doubt you will succeed in buying him out, but the average youth that is Inclined to run away from home and join the British army will do so again if he is brought home against his wishes. The training and mixing with other youths, older than himself, will develop him and let him see the other side of the picture. Take my advice and leave him where he is at present”.

The story concludes with Connolly responding to this question from Ina:

“Well, why leave him in the army if you think it is wrong?”

– by saying:

“But I did not say being in the army was wrong. It was his mother who tried to insinuate that. My remarks were to let him make the best of it and learn all he can and put his training to the best advantage he can when he comes out. A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community”.

The story may actually be a deliberate set-piece dialogue created by Ina to allow him to summarise his views rather than an accurate retelling of an actual conversation. That last phrase, ‘A well-trained soldier will always find his allotted place in the community’ maybe should be taken as Connolly’s own opinion on his time in the British army for now.

They told me how Connolly was shot in the chair…

How was James Connolly executed? The popular image is of Connolly strapped into a chair to be shot. This may not exactly be the case, though.

I found this recent post on the 1916 Easter Rising Historical Society Facebook group. It concerns a graphic account of Connolly’s execution (posted by Kevin Good). A subsequent comment by Michael Barry include a sketch from the military archives which is taken as showing Connolly in the chair. I think both can be reconciled and suggest Connolly’s execution was slightly different to the usual depiction.

Kevin Good posted that church sacristan Hubert O’Keeffe was obliged to accompany priests like Fr McCarthy on their jail visits and so recorded this account of Connolly’s execution and wrote it down in 1944 (also published here):

In giving a description of James Connolly’s execution, Father McCarthy told me that the prisoner, who was in a bad condition, elected to stand like the rest but failed.

“He was then tied to a chair but slumped so much he overbalanced. Finally, he was strapped to a stretcher and placed in a reclining position against the wall. In this manner he passed into the role of Ireland’s honoured martyrs.”

“The sight left an indelible impression on Fr. McCarthy. Describing the scene to me afterwards he said, ‘The blood spurted in the form of a fountain from the body, several streams shooting high into the air. The possible explanation of this may have been the tightening of the straps around the body.’

In response, Michael Barry posted this sketch (also online here):

He states that the sketch was from military archives and was done by the officer presiding over Connolly’s execution. While it is a quick sketch, it is taken as showing the chair, but no stretcher. Given that Connolly, according to O’Keeffe, had been unable to sit up on a chair, it seems unlikely that he could have held himself rigid across a chair as shown. In fact, this is the exact position he is described as being unable to hold in the chair. A more likely explanation appears to be that Connolly was tied to a stretcher, which was then balanced over the chair (and apparently leant up against a wall). I don’t know enough of terminal ballistics and forensics to make any comment on the description of the impacts of the bullets on Connolly’s body.

In the song ‘The Patriot Game’, Dominic Behan has Fergal O’Hanlon remembering that ‘They told me how Connolly was shot in the chair. His wounds from the battle, all bleeding and bare…’ While that may be the classic republican image, the reality appears to be even more shocking.