Happy birthday Mr Connolly

He was born into a country that despised him for what he was.

It was 1868 and the Irish were the loathed Gastarbeiters of Victorian Scotland.

James Connolly first saw the light of day 150 years ago today.

However, in the overcrowded slum that was Cowgate in Edinburgh, there was very little of that shining on a newborn face.

His parents from County Monaghan were dirt poor.

It was 1966 when the story of this remarkable man flickered onto my radar.

I suppose that I processed the image of Connolly in a chair facing a firing squad as well as any eight-year-old could have under the circumstances.

I was no stranger to depictions of war and violence as my room was well provisioned with copies of The Victor.

However, this seemed different.

My maternal grandmother only needed to know one thing as she scuttled about the house making sure everything was just so.

“They shot him in a chair”.

For her, this seemed to be the main issue.

The eight-year-old me knew that my granny seemed to know what was important.

I studied the record sleeve that had the depiction of James Connolly’s last moments of life.

The bit I didn’t get was that this was a good man (my granny had said so) but the British were shooting him.

Yet that wasn’t how it was in my war comics in my bedroom.

However, a child can only process information as a child and I went back to the serious business of playing.

I was a twenty year old in 1978 when a man took me to a house in Bray.

By that time I had no doubt in my mind about who the British wanted to shoot and why.

I had travelled south that day from Belfast.

The graffiti on the wall there had sent out a message to the Brits:

“78 not bate”.

James Connolly would have approved.

The IRA were anything but beaten.

In that house in Bray, I sat for an hour or so with a lovely old lady.

She had a gently lilting Scottish accent.

Her name was Nora.

She was the last family member to speak to James Connolly.

I sat and listened as she spoke about her father who the British had shot in a chair.

I listened and listened…

One word that you would not use to describe Nora Connolly O’Brien or her father was “plastic”.

As I said, the attitudes towards the Irish in Scotland that were extant 150 years ago are still there.

In the 40 years that have elapsed since that afternoon in Bray James Connolly’s vision for this island has been a constant reference point for me.

He knew that simple political separation, though vitally necessary, would not free the Irish working class from oppression.

From Bunreacht na hÉireann to the bank bailout his writing seems eerily prescient 150 years after his birth.

The cause of labour and the cause of Ireland are still entwined.

There is still much to be done, but we are getting there.

Happy birthday Mr Connolly.

18 thoughts on “Happy birthday Mr Connolly”

  1. My mum was born in Greenock, and my grandparent’s were Irish (Done gal and,for my nan, gesala, County Mayo). Both arrived in Scotland about 1920. I’m from London, with a university eduction and anarchist leanings. My mum, a woman in her 80s, like to use We when deceiving anything British: “our government”. I’d snap back, “mum, come on!You know what they did in ireland, how can this state be ours!” She kept on, as a habit, saying “our government said…” then one day, after saying it, I saw her wearing a little broach, in green, with the picture of James connelly, my hero. “Do you know who he is mum?” I asked. “Wee Jim connelly?”I nodded. “I…great Wee man taiy!”she said proudly. Despite everything, the BBC, the state propaganda, the false British nationalism, every Scottish person of irish heritage will always love “Big Jim.”

  2. A bit of class, amigo. Thank you.
    Quite simply, he was the man. The toast this evening is Mr James Connolly.

  3. Another fine article Phil . Mr Connolly , a man among men and an inspiration.

    Lets not kid ourselves ,the Scottish contribution to the age of empire was considerable and not entirely coerced by any means.
    Glasgow was the second city of the empire and contributed accordingly

    1. AT The same time during the rising The shinners has more support in Scotland Than in Ireland The I R B was well funded with weaponary money food ect on a small scale proud Irish men and women from the west of Scotland played there part and should be remembered with gratitude and pride A SMALL BAND OF REBELS BROUGHT THE EMPIRE TO ITS KNEES AND HISTORY WAS MADE

  4. Enjoyed that piece Phil James Connolly was a remarkable man great vision man that will always be remembered in the history of Scotland and the island of Ireland brought British imperialism to a halt for a short time God bless his soul at The same time progression to his goal is very slow to put it mildly the capitalism within the Republican movement leaves a lot to be desired people living like kings people hung out to dry

  5. Phil,
    I visited Dublin in December last year to celebrate my 60th birthday with my Wife, My Daughter and her Husband to be, whom she will marry in two weeks time. We visited Kilmainham Gaol and saw the spot where James Connolly, a hero; a socialist; a republican; and a fellow Scot, was brutally murdered, shot in a chair to send out a message to others. I cried in memory of him and his achievements as my Daughter asked “When they say that the British did this do they mean us?”. And I replied: “No darling, they mean the English and they mean the people who governed us”. In my 61st year I remain entirely confident that during my lifetime I will see an independent Scotland and a united Ireland; and we will all be the better for it.
    Keep up the good work!
    Keep up the good work.

    1. The past is our only reference point my friend
      I used to think like you until I realised that
      If the truthful past is retold you can learn and improve your future

      When I grew up in Bonny Scotland the history books lied We didn’t learn the truth It was a British story we learned about , of their Empire , and glorified to suit them

      Perhaps if the actual truth of the Irish suffering had been told we would not need to be “reiterating “ it now

      Keep talking Phil

      1. If you want to know or understand what might happen read history. Why ? Because human nature doesn’t change and history REPEATS ! The dark side of human nature is at the centre of all our woes.

  6. “The cause of labour is the cause of Ireland, the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour”. I saw that on a statue near Connolly station, Dublin.

    I was a teenager, reading that, alone away from family for various reasons. I learned who the man was, I had heard of him. But that’s it really.
    My politics are as I see things. They are left leaning, occasionally fiscally a shade to right of centre.

    I am what I am, but my respect for men like Connolly is huge.

    His ideas are not out of kilter, with the issues of today.
    A little guidance from his writings would certainly not go a miss today.

    What would Connolly make of where we are today. Progress no doubt, from what he was seeing.

    Capitalism dominating certainly would have dismayed him. But the advancement of man and woman would surely have heartened him.

    Poverty whilst still a big issue he would see across the western world is much better than in his day.

    However I think he would lament the enslaved of mind all over, England’s corporations place has been taken by American , Japanese and Chinese ones and they enslave us now. To join the system.

    The unfairness, the injustices that we inflict as we go about getting what we need. From choosing to want certain food to goods to such and such.
    Leaves a person thousands of miles away in peril.

    A penny for James Connolys thoughts.

  7. What a lovely mixture of the personal and the historical – just right, thank you.

    Growing up in Scotland (decades ago) and attending a fee-paying, supposedly superior school, which would give us a ‘more rounded education’ (it didn’t), our ignorance of Irish – and, indeed, Scottish – history, was comprehensive.

    After twelve or so years living in Ireland, trying really hard to read as much as possible about Irish history (from multiple perspectives), some horrible gaps in my lopsided education have been filled. But
    goodness, what an ignorant tosser my school made me become. Not sure if anyone attending school in Scotland these days is better served? I really hope so.

    This detail – ‘They shot him in a chair’ – ought to haunt the fair-minded. It gets under the skin.

    Thank you, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, for all that you’ve done and continue to do.

    1. Hear hear,very well said,I think it may have improved ever so slightly on the schooling and the teaching of these islands’ history.
      As for Phil,well,he really IS out there on his own,and thank(insert Your God here) for that.
      I’ll stick to donating,when possible,straight to the man himself.
      Thanks Phil,always appreciated.
      ps.Happy Birthday Mr.James Connolly

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