James Larkin And Liverpool’s Radical Tradition

By Seafra O’Cearbhall

Saturday 8thOctober sees the 14th Annual James Larkin March + Rally take place in Liverpool. This year the theme for event is the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Hunger Strike. The Main Speaker will be Danny Morrison, and a large turnout of Republicans and Socialists fromacross Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England is expected on the day. (See events page here)

A Rebel tradition

Radical political activism and cultural resistance has been a feature of the Irish community in Liverpool since it established itself as the city’s largest ethnic group in the years following 1847 and An Gorta Mor.

This has taken many and varied forms over the years, including –

  • The Fenian Brotherhood Societies of the late 19th century and the activities of the Gaelic League in the early part of the 20th century.
  • The Liverpool Irish volunteers who fought in the Easter rebellion in Dublin 1916, and the
    local battallion of Oglaigh na hEireann.
  • The political and trades union struggle led by Big Jim Larkin in the city up to his move to Ireland, and the election of an Irish Nationalist MP, T P O’Connor and Irish Nationalist councillors in the city in the 1920’s.
  • The Liverpool Irish volunteers of the International Brigades and the Connolly Column who fought Fascism inSpain in the 1930’s.
  • The Irish community activists who organised solidarity work in support of the Hunger Strikers in 1981, on the streets of Liverpool in the face of fierce and violent opposition from local Loyalists and
    Fascists.
  • The Merseyside branch of the IBRG (Irish in Britain Representation Group) which organised Republican POW – support work and cultural awareness campaigns in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s.
  • The establishment of the James Larkin RFB in 1996, which brought an Irish Republican campaigning street presence back on to the Liverpool streets.

These groups, and many others, kept the Liverpool Irish identity and radical Republican politics alive over the years…..and that cultural and political struggle continues to this day.

Recent developments

Republicans in Liverpool have been very active during the past few years.

Early 2008 saw the establishment of a local cumann of Cairde na hEireann. The group has
organised a range of activities and events since its formation, around a variety of themes, including exploration and promotions of the Liverpool Irish identity, the campaign for a United Ireland, and an annual ‘wear an Easter Lily’ campaign on Merseyside.

In 2010, Cairde Na hEireann Liverpool and the Liverpool Irish Patriots RFB jointly organised a commemorative event in honour of Liverpool IRA volunteer Sean Phelan, who was killed in action the Upton Ambush in West Cork in 1921.

At the start of 2011 Cairde cumann and Flute Band members joined with other Irish community activists in Liverpool to organise a major campaign encouraging the wider community to ‘tick the Irish box’ in the 2011 national census.

More recently in July 2011, the James Larkin Society brought Irish Republicans, anti-fascists and local trade unionists together for a series of events to commemorate the centenary of the 1911 General Strike in Liverpool, a major event in the city’s proud history of resistance, which saw the British Army on the streets and gunboats on the Mersey.

Local republicans are currently working on a research project exploring in greater detail the Liverpool Irish community’s contribution to the armed phases of the struggle for Irish freedom. This will culminate in the publication, scheduled for February 2012, of a full ‘’Roll of Honour’’ of Liverpool Irish Republicans, detailing those volunteers who fought in the Easter Rising, the Tan War, against Fascism in Spain in the
1930’s, and through to the last phase of the armed struggle in the north of Ireland in the 1990’s.

Scouse Irish and Proud

The war is over, but the struggle for Irish freedom goes on. Republicans in Liverpool remain committed to the twin objectives of supporting the campaign for the peaceful reunification of Ireland, and the defence and promotion of the rights and culture of the Irish community on Merseyside. The most important thing to remember about the Liverpool Irish is that they are just that, Liverpool Irish – not British, not English, and certainly not ‘plastic paddies’, just very much Scouse Irish and Proud.

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2 Comments

  1. In the 1918 General Election, Sinn Fein won 73 seats. 72 in Ireland 1 in Scotland road area of LIVERPOOL. If my memory is right in John Belchem Book, Irish,Catholic and Scouse between 1875 and 1930s Liverpool elected around 43 Irish Nationlists councillors in the local Elections in areas, Scottie/Vauxhall Kirkdale Bottle and i think even Toxteth.

  2. My mistake Sinn Fein won Liverpool Exchange in 1918 general Election, not scotland road.

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