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Richard O’Carroll a great man!





imageRichard O’Carroll: Brickie, Labour Councillor, Trade Unionist and Irish Volunteer.
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Richard O’Carroll

While the Irish Citizen Army was regarded as the armed-wing of the trade union movement a century ago, it should be noted that there were also many trade unionists and men from the left of the political spectrum in the ranks of the Irish Volunteers.

Richard O’Carroll was the Secretary of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers’ Trade Union, as well as an elected Labour representative to Dublin Corporation. As a member of the Irish Volunteers he took part in the Easter Rising, and he met his death in tragic circumstances. Later this year, the Members’ Room of City Hall will be renamed in his honour.

Trade unionists and leftists in the Volunteers:

There were a variety of reasons why some from the left of the political spectrum would opt to join the Irish Volunteers over the Irish Citizen Army. In some cases, it was merely down to local convenience. Thomas Pugh, who fought under Thomas MacDonagh and Major John MacBride at Jacob’s during the Easter Rising, had been a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland who would recall that “the first time I heard the Soldiers Song was at a celebration held by the Socialist Party.” For Pugh, a chance encounter with Richard Mulcahy in the hallways of the National Library that was enough to convince him to join the Irish Volunteers, which were more geographically convenient:

Coming up to about three weeks or a month before the Rising I felt that something was coming off soon, and when I met Dick Mulcahy one day in the National Library I said to him, “I’ll join the Irish Citizen Army”. He said, “Join my Company”, I suppose because I had been at some of the drills of his Company at 25 Parnell Square in the Gaelic League Hall. I said, “I’m more in favour of the Citizen Army, but wouldn’t the sensible thing be for me to join the nearest Company”, and I went down to the Father Mathew Park and joined “B” Company of the 2nd Battalion.

It has been suggested, most notably by Sean O’Casey in his history of the Irish Citizen Army, that there were strong class divisions between the Volunteer and Citizen Army forces. O’Casey claimed that “the old lingering tradition of the social inferiority of what were called the unskilled workers, prompted the socially superior tradesmen to shy at an organisation which was entirely officered by men whom they thought to be socially inferior to themselves.” A great article on ‘The Irish Story’ blog, examining the ‘Rabble and the Republic’, looks at some of the class complexities of this period. In the commments section, historian Brian Hanley correctly points out that “skilled and white-collar workers” were more likely to join the Volunteers than the ICA.

While it is true that white-collar workers tended to join the Volunteers, there were notable exceptions to this – for example the Connolly siblings of Gloucester Street. Seán Connolly, the first rebel fatality of the Rising, was a clerk in the motor taxation department of Dublin Corporation, while his brother Joseph was a firefighter, and one of few in the movement who was capable of driving a vehicle. Both men would have been of a social class more normally found in the Volunteers, but strong Larkinite sympathies in their family ensured their membership of the Citizen Army. As Hanley has pointed out, there were middle class women in particular in the ranks of the ICA, who perhaps favoured the status and position on offer within the workers’ force to Cumann na mBanimage
A poster for the inaugural public meeting of the Irish Volunteers.

The belief that the Citizen Army were drawn primarily from the ranks of unskilled workers is reflected in the firsthand account of Liam de Róiste, an active member of the Irish Volunteers from their inception, who provided the Bureau of Military History with a diary that amounts to a running commentary of the revolutionary period. He noted in 1916 that:

Since Larkin went to America, James Connolly is in command of the Citizen Army and the Transport Workers’ Union. Connolly, I believe to be a sincere Socialist Republican and a determined man. The men he leads are also, beyond doubt, a determined body of men; dock labourers and other workers called “unskilled.” The work of Larkin, Connolly and others at Liberty Hall has aroused their intelligence and done much to educate them.

Some trade unionists and socialists, perhaps members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (the ‘IRB’, or the Fenians) or other nationalist bodies prior to the emergence of a distinct workers’ militia, may have felt a strong affinity to the nationalist movement, for example in the case of Peadar Macken, who had been a member of the Socialist Party of Ireland, and who contributed towards publications like Jim Larkin’s The Irish Worker. Macken, Charles Callan has noted, was a member of the oath-bound IRB from about 1900. Elected as a Dublin Labour Party alderman in 1911, he was a member of the Irish Volunteers from the inception of the organisation. Macken was tragically killed during the Easter Rising at Boland’s Mills, as a result of a shot fired by a fellow Volunteer. Macken Street is today named in his honour.

Seán McLoughlin, the son of an Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU) activist, was a veteran of the Gaelic League and Na Fianna Éireann, who despite socialist inclinations had joined the Irish Volunteers, with whom he would fight at Easter Week. He briefly joined the Irish Citizen Army in the War of Independence period, and was active in communist political agitation for decades, both in Ireland and Britain. Michael Molloy, one of the compositors who worked on the 1916 proclamation in Liberty Hall on the eve of the rebellion, and who was hired by James Connolly to compose and print trade union materials, took part in the Rising as an Irish Volunteer at Jacob’s factory. Also at Jacob’s during the insurrection was Patrick Moran, an active trade unionist who in 1917 was centrally involved in the established of the Irish National Union of Vintners, Grocers and Allied Trades, the forerunner of today’s Mandate union.


Macken Street Flats, January 2016. Peadar Macken, like O’Carroll, was a Labour-aligned Irish Volunteer. (Thanks to Patrick Brady for image)
That the Citizen Army was almost exclusively a Dublin force limited the options of many trade unionists throughout the country. Tadhg Barry in Cork for example was prominent activist within the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, and became a founding member of the Cork corps of the Irish Volunteers in 1913.Historian Donal Ó Drisceoil has noted that a secret report compiled on Barry by the authorities during the War of Independence years would describe him as “a mischievous socialist, Bolshevist, or Sinn Féiner, as the occasion demanded.”

There were tensions between the Irish Volunteer and Citizen Army forces at times, though not to the exaggerated extent suggested by O’Casey. The inaugural public meeting of the Volunteers at the Rotunda Rink in Dublin was interrupted by hecklers from the Transport Workers’ Union.In an article on the Irish Volunteers and the Lockout, historian D.R O’Connor Lysaght draws on The Irish Worker newspaper from after this meeting, which noted:

A regrettable incident happened at the Volunteer meeting held in the Dublin Rotunda Skating Rink on Tuesday. One of the persons chosen to take a leading part – indeed the leading part as he was to read the manifesto of the new organisation – was a Mr L.J.Kettle, who has been notorious of late as an active enemy of the right of the working class to combine for its own benefit. Naturally his attempt to pose as a friend of freedom was actively resented by the major part of the audience and a most stormy scene marred, as a consequence, the proceedings.

Sean O’Casey, who was Secretary of the Irish Citizen Army at its foundation, famously left the workers’ militia on the basis that a motion he put forward with the explicit aim of forcing Countess Markievicz to choose between the ICA and the Irish Volunteers failed. Some accounts even state that O’Casey rather boldly condemned her for “general bourgeois tendencies” and “fraternisation with the enemy”. In spite of O’Casey’s view of the Volunteers, it was a movement with many men from the ranks of organised labour in its ranks.

A young Sean O’Casey. The writer and activist proved hostile to the emerging Volunteer movement, something that is evident from his own memoirs and his published history of the ICA (Image: East Wall For All)

Richard O’Carroll’s background:

Richard Patrick Carroll, later to become known as Richard O’Carroll, was born in February 1876 in the working class Liberties district of Dublin. His father worked as a stonemason, while his mother was a machinist. The family home was located at Hanover Square. Leaving school at a young age, Richard took to manual labour. Lawrence William White produced O’Carroll’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, noting:

A bricklayer by trade, in 1906 (on the crest of a rank-and-file revolt following a divisive lockout of Dublin bricklayers the preceding year) he was elected General Secretary of the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers Trade Union. Instilling the body with a renewed vitality, he rebuilt its strength and extended its organisation beyond the Dublin region; by 1913 he had established fourteen branches throughout Ireland, travelling to building sites and provincial offices on a motorcycle provided for his use by the union.
Brickies in Dublin were, from time to time, prone to union militancy. In 1899 “over 60 bricklayers struck for two days while awaiting an apology for an employer’s charge of dilatoriness against one of their fellows”, while as White mentioned above 1905 had witnessed a lockout designed to strangle their union and allow employers to use non-union labour on sites in Dublin. In the classic study Dear, Dirty Dublin, we’re told that:

One thousand men were directly and indirectly involved and the lockout lasted for four months until referred to local arbitration. The dispute, as usual, saw the use of free labourers. although the employers won their point, the union ultimately profited from the stipulation that any new employees would be required to join the Dublin Society of Bricklayers and Stonelayers within twelve months.

In his personal life, O’Carroll was married to Annie Esther Power in 1902, and the couple had seven children. The youngest of these, baby Seán, was actually born two weeks after O’Carroll’s death in 1916. He would die at only eight months of age, compounding the grief of the O’Carroll family
O’Carroll’s 1911 Census form, shows he was then living at 49 Cuffe Street with his wife and six children (National Archives of Ireland)

Labour and the Lockout (1913/1914):

O’Carroll had first succeeded in winning election to Dublin Corporation in 1907 as an Independent candidate in the Mansion House Ward, something he would repeat in 1910. The commemorative website marking the centenary of his passing notes that he had been a member of the executive of Sinn Féin prior to this, yet he and a number of other figures “all resigned their positions after a falling out with Arthur Griffith over the issue of trade unionism.” Certainly, Griffith was hostile to trade unionism, and ‘Larkinism’ in particular. He would later pour scorn on Jim Larkin and his militancy, insisting that:

In Dublin the wives of some men that Larkin has led out on strike are begging on the streets. The consequences of ‘Larkinism’ are workless fathers, mourning mothers, hungry children and broken homes. Not the capitalist but the policy of Larkin has raised the price of food until the poorest of Dublin are in a state of semi-famine.

Opposition to trade unionism within Irish nationalism was motivated by a variety of factors. For some, it was the internationalism of the labour movement that was a cause for concern. Seán Mac Diarmada, the Sinn Féin and IRB organiser, would write in private correspondence during the Lockout that he feared the influence English working class solidarity with Dublin workers would have:

Socialism and the sympathetic strike are dangerous ruinous weapons in Ireland at the present time. The present labour troubles are doing a lot of harm….But all the talk about the friendliness of the English working man and the Brotherhood of man, the English foodships etc, have a very bad unnational influence…

Not everyone shared the hostility of Griffith to trade unionism. Éamon Ceannt’s biographer Mary Gallagher has noted that “In August 1911, when the foundry owners of Wexford locked out their workers in a dispute over membership of the ITGWU, Ceannt – by then a member of Sinn Féin – publicly disassociated himself from the position taken by his party leader, Arthur Griffith.”Ceannt would insist that “the right of free speech, of public meeting, and of organising for a lawful purpose ought to be unquestioned and unquestionable.” P.H Pearse was moved to write that while he was not sure of the wisdom of the tactics of Larkin, “here is a most hideous thing to be righted and that the man who attempts honestly to right it is a good man and a brave man.”

While O’Caroll had been elected as an Independent in 1907 and 1910, he stood in 1912 on a Labour ticket. The Labour Party had been established in 1912 at Clonmel by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and others in the trade union movement. As Peter Berresford Ellis has noted, this was in many ways shaped by the Home Rule debates of the period, as Connolly stressed that there was a need for “an Irish Labour Party, independent of all other parties in the country, in order that organised workers might be able to enter the proposed Irish Parliament in an organised Labour Party in the political field.” Despite the hysteric condemnations of sections of the press, the party succeeded in winning five seats in Dublin – with a sixth added through a by-election shortly afterwards.

Executive of the Irish Trade Union Congress and Labour Party, 1914. Richard O’Carroll is standing on the right. James Connolly is standing on the left. Also pictured are Jim Larkin and William O’Brien.

O’Caroll found himself working as both a Labour politician at municipal level and a trade union orgnaiser, a difficult and requiring task. While the Ancient Guild of Incorporated Brick and Stonelayers’ Union grew under O’Caroll’s leadership, it was to become entangled in the very bitter events of 1913, and the lockout of union members by the Dublin Employers Federation. While William Martin Murphy and his ilk preached about the dangers of sympathetic strikes – they had no opposition to the tactic of the sympathetic lockout; many of Dublin’s employers followed his example.

O’Carroll served on the conciliation board that hoped to resolve the crisis in the city, alongside men such as William O’Brien, Tom McPartlin and Jim Larkin. On ‘Bloody Sunday’, August 31, O’Carroll and ITGWU organiser William Partridge were both badly assaulted by the police at Emmet Hall in Inchicore, a centre of the trade union movement in the working class district just beyond the city. O’Carroll had addressed a meeting of locked-out workers earlier on that day at Croydon Park, and this coupled with his public recognition as a Labour Councillor would not have endeared him to the DMP or the RIC during the dispute.

In the aftermath of the brutal police riot on Sackville Street on that same Sunday, O’Carroll delivered a fine speech a week later to a huge crowd at the Nelson Pillar. A report on his speech noted that he told the gathered audience:

If the workers had been allowed on the previous Sunday to hold their meeting, Dublin would have been spared one black people which will be a lasting disgrace in its history to those who are responsible for the administration of the law in Ireland…The workers must..march to the [polling] booths with the same unanimity with which they came to this meeting and vote for Labour representation.

The Lockout ultimately ended in defeat for the labour movement, with many workers returning to their former employers pledging to leave the ITGWU, while others found themselves blacklisted. The historian J.D Clarkson would write that “In the deepest sense, Larkinism had triumphed. The Dublin struggle had fired the hearts and minds of the working classes throughout the length and breadth of Ireland.” Yet if the Lockout “fired the hearts and minds” of Dublin’s poor in its early stages, their empty bellies were enough to force them back to work come 1914

Out of defeat came a move towards something positive. In February 1914, O’Carroll was central to the establishment of an urban housing co-op, the Irish Builders’ Cooperative Society, which aimed to provide homes for Dublin’s poor and marginalised. As Murray Fraser has noted “for the beleaguered ITGWU at the end of the 1913-14 Lockout, guild socialism offered an alternative means to by-pass and subvert Irish capitalism.” Jim Larkin’s newspaper, The Irish Worker, proclaimed that such a co-op building houses for working class people should mean the building boss would “become a rapidly disappearing body.”

O’Donovan Rossa’s Funeral and the Easter Rising (1915/1916):

The death of veteran Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa in 1915 led Thomas J. Clarke to state that “if Rossa had planned to die at the most opportune time for serving his country, he could not have done better.” The exiled radical (and architect of the ill-fated Fenian dynamite campaign of the 1880s) died in a Staten Island nursing home in late June 1915, and immediately plans to bring his body home to Ireland were put in motion.

O’Carroll served on the O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee, which brought together essentially the entire political spectrum of Irish separatism. Other trade union representatives included Thomas Farren, Peadar Macken and William O’Brien, while James Connolly would contribute to the commemorative programme for the funeral, and the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army would parade together in a unified show of strength. In hindsight this event is now seen as a sign of what was to come the following Easter, but even in 1915 the authorities recognised the importance of it all; an internal Dublin Metropolitan Police report noted that “nothing is being left undone to make the affair as impressive as possible. Those concerned are anxious that the greatest harmony will prevail.”

O’Carroll (left) served on the O’Donovan Rossa Funeral Committee. Behind him is Éamon de Valera of the Irish Volunteers.

A volley of shots rang out in Glasnevin Cemetery that day, something as indicative of what was to come as the famed and stirring speech of Pearse, and his warning that “Ireland unfree shall never be at peace.” Sean T. O’Kelly remembered that:

This must have been one of the first -if not the very first- occasion on which this military demonstration took place in our lifetime and this too in its way made a deep impression not alone on all who were present but on all who read the report afterwards. The I.R.B. and the Irish Volunteers were very proud of having been able to accomplish this military demonstration despite the orders of the British against the carrying of arms.

Richard O’Carroll’s union work continued against the backdrop of an increasingly tense national situation. In July 1915 for example, notices “to bricklayers and masons” appeared in The Workers’ Republic, newspaper of James Connolly, making it clear that “bricklayers and masons will please take notice that sub-contracting and piecework are prohibited by the rules of the Union.”

O’Carroll was one of those Volunteers not deterred by the disastrous countermanding order of Professor Eoin MacNeill on the eve of the 1916 Rising. Serving under the command of Thomas MacDonagh and Major John MacBride of the Jacob’s garrison, some accounts state he was assigned to command a post in Camden Street, at a premises known as Delahunt’s. There are conflicting accounts of just where and when O’Carroll arrived into the picture in 1916. Volunteer James Grace claimed that O’Carroll arrived on his motorbike at Earlsfort Terrace:

Dick Carroll, “C” Company, Quartermaster, arrived on his motorbike and side car in which he had Mauser ammunition and which he distributed to members of the Company. Dick Carroll when on a return Journey was pulled from his motorcycle combination in Camden Street by English Officer, Captain Bowen-Colthurst, and shot.

Bowen-Colthurst is primarily remembered today for his role in the death of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington. Skeffy, a well-known feminist and pacifist, and a loved eccentric of Dublin political and cultural life, had actually gone into the city in a well-meaning attempt to stop looting and to protect law and order. After his death, his friend Padraic Colum wrote that “the spiritual life of Ireland has been depleted by as much of the highest courage, the highest sincerity and the highest devotion as a single man could embody.”

For poor Skeffy, death came with a firing squad. For O’Carroll, days of agony followed. He finally succumbed to his injuries on 5 May 1916, the same day Major MacBride was shot by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol. While MacBride found his place in the nationalist pantheon, O’Carroll was more forgotten. There were calls for an inquiry into how this Dublin Corporation representative met his death, but O’Carroll would not become a rallying point for commemoration as James Connolly, and to a lesser extent Michael Mallin, did to the left.

O’Carroll left much behind him. His wife, Annie, was left with the raising of seven children. It hasbeen noted that “at the time of his death, the family resided in the living quarters above the Brick and Stonemason’s Guild Hall in Cuffe Street, Dublin 2. In 1920/21 Annie was re-housed to the Tenters area of Dublin where she resided until her death following a heart attack on February 19, 1937 aged just 57 years.”

The Irish left also lost much in 1916.Reflecting on this decades later, O’Casey wrote in the pages of the Irish Democrat:

The flame that burns in the heart of the Irish Labour Movement, whether we like it nor not, was lit by Jim Larkin…We should not forget either, that others died in Easter Week, besides Jim Connolly. Peadar Macken was one; Richard O’Carroll was another, so was Seán Connolly and so was Mallin, not forgetting the splendid bill Partridge, who died after doing penal servitude. And who wants to forget the indomitable little figure of the valorous Sheehy-Skeffington, who fell at the hands of a frantic British officer? These I hope, some day, will form a group of statuary in some Irish park.

On a cold November day in 1935, republicans and trade unionists gathered in Glasnevin Cemetery to remember O’Carroll, for a ceremony to unveil a headstone in his memory, held under the auspicious of the National Graves Association and the bricklayers union. Trade unionist James Litholder delivered the oration, reminding those present of the sacrifice of O’Caroll and others like him in 1916:

They died so that the people of this country could live a fuller and free life, assured of a living in the land that gave them birth. Their hopes and ambitions are enshrined in the Proclamation of Easter Week 1916.

A commemorative website in memory of Richard O’Carroll can be viewed here.