Shaw, Connolly, and the Irish
Nelson O`Ceallaigh Ritschel
This paper will examine G. B. Shaw’s
role in the Irish labor movement, 1913-1916, and specifically Shaw’s
involvement with the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) – Europe’s
first red guard of the twentieth century. Shaw’s little known relationship with
the ICA will reveal that his involvement
continued through the 1916 Easter Rising, when the ICA
fought with nationalist volunteers for an independent Ireland.
Shaw’s direct participation with
Irish labor surfaced during the height of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, a monumental
clash between the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) and the
Employers’ Federation, with the latter attempting to crush organized Irish
labor. Specifically, Shaw spoke at a London
rally on 1 November, on behalf of Irish labor. In his speech “Mad Dogs in
Uniform,” Shaw likened the Dublin Metropolitan Police who brutally beat locked-out
workers to mad dogs, and provocatively stated that there can only be one end:
“all respectable men will have to arm themselves.”
Shaw’s statement to arms was made on
a platform that he shared with, among others, James Connolly, soon to be Acting
Secretary of the ITGWU. Two weeks later within the charged Dublin atmosphere, Connolly reacted by
organizing and arming the Irish Citizen Army with the distinct purpose of
protecting Irish workers from government sanctioned police and army attacks.
Arguably, Shaw’s arming remark was conscious of the Ulster Loyalists who had
formed militias as early as 1912 in an effort to hold off Home Rule; Shaw was
insinuating that Irish labor was a cause more worthy of arming that Ulster’s archaic desire to remain under Britain.
Following the ICA’s formation, nationalists too
began arming themselves – hence, Shaw’s initial, if distant role in the
militarizing of Ireland.
Shaw’s continued involvement with
whether wittingly or unwittingly, continued into 1916 as Connolly prepared to
lead the army into the Easter Rising. Contextualizing Shaw at this time in
relation to Irish labor, reveals that, Connolly’s labor ally, journalist
Francis Sheehy-Skeffington used Shaw to propagandize the British public for the
coming Irish rebellion. Shaw’s relationship with Connolly and the ICA even continued after
the Rising’s military collapse. This paper will clarify that Shaw’s public
protests against Britain’s failure to treat the Irish rebels as POWS, and
Britain’s executions of some of the Rising’s leaders, made prior to Connolly’s
execution, were a disguised effort to save Connolly from the firing squad.
Following Connolly’s death, Shaw sent financial support to Connolly’s widow and
socialist books to Connolly’s followers who survived the Rising. Interestingly,
and tellingly, Shaw was among the very few who understood that Connolly’s led
rising was far more socialistic than most were prepared to accept or
This paper is stemming from my
recent project of editing James Connolly’s play Under Which Flag? for Syracuse
University Press. While
writing my introduction to Connolly and his play, I repeatedly stumbled across
Shaw in my research of primary sources connected with Connolly and early
twentieth-century Irish labor.