Shaw, Connolly, and the Irish Citizen Army


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 the ICA, 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 acknowledge.

            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.