In Dublin City in 1913
1913 was the year of the heroic uprising by the Dublin prolateriat. A new book, "Divided City" prepared by the Curriculum Development Unit of the VEC, chronicles the struggle, and here, with the permission of the publishers, O'Brien Press, we publish a precis of the text and some of the book's most, outstanding photographs.
FOR THE RICH life was sweet and exciting in Dublin in 1913. It was a beautiful city, distinguished by the Georrgian buildings of Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam Square, by the elegance of places like Pembroke Road and the glamour of Grafton Street, by gracious parks in the suburbs, and by fine houses and estates on the outskirts of the city.
The population was growing, and 1 urban area was spreading out. In 1900 an Act was passed to extend the city boundaries to include Clonntarf, Drumcondra, Clonliffe, Glassnevin and Kilmainham. The most striking growth occurred along the sea coast in the south east. By 1911, over 400,000 people lived in the city and suburbs.
Better transport systems made it possible for wealthy families to move out of their city centre houses and to buy or build new houses in the suburbs. The excellent train service from Kinggstown to the city centre, and the tramlines that serviced a wide area, enabled people to work in the city while living in the suburbs.
Mr. Belton Yearling, a characcter in James Plunkett's Strumpet City, could have been a typical suburbbanite. "He liked travelling by train, esppecially on the Kingstown line. He liked the yachts with coloured sails in the harrbour, the blue shape of Howth Hill across the waters of the bay, the bathers and the children digging sanddcastles. These were pleasures to look at in the last hours of an August evenning, the easy conversation of her people."
Monkstown and Blackrock became fashionnable, and wealthy people built houses in these districts. Large gardens were another attraction of the suburbs whereas in town, lack of space often ruled out an elegant garden. In addition, relatively easy access to the leisure purrsuits such as golfing, hunting and racing', and the sea and mountains, contributed much to the popularity of the southhern suburbs.
Nonetheless, a city centre probably makes more of an impression on a visitor than the surrounding area, and in this respect Dublin was distinctly diffferent from the large industrial cities of the United Kingdom. In Newcastle, Glasgow or Belfast, smokey factory chimneys and bustling industrial works dominated the skyline abovedour red brick houses. The city of Dublin was by comparison graceful and elegant, set off by its natural setting of river, sea and mountain.
Along the Liffey, as far as O'Connell Bridge, tall-masted sailing ships, steammers and paddle-ships docked in busy clusters. Guinness drays and barges were a common sight in the city as were the exceptionally large members of the Dublin Metropolitan police, each carrying a baton and wearing a large spiked helmet.
Another common feature on the streets was the lamp lighter, who lit and extinguished the gas lamps with a crook-ended stick. Electric street lighting had been introduced in Dublin in 1882 but most streets were still gasslit. But perhaps the most distiriguishing feature of the city centre was the trams - "the galleons of the street".
The motor car has just arrived and as James Joyce noted: "rapid motion through space elates one; so does notoriety; and so does the possession of money".
Foreign travel was becoming a feaature of life as well, as yachting cruises around the British Isles. The latest fashions were much in vogue - a person's social position was immediately deterrmined by his or her appearance.
Social life among the "best" families revolved around the Viceregal Lodge, then inhabited by Lord and Lady Aberdeen. There was a regular "season" of party-going and social magazines to comment on who was there and the relative merits of each gathering. Going to the races and the theatre were immportant social events and among the more popular threatres at the time were the Gaiety, the Theatre Royal, the Tivoli, the Empire, the Queen's, the Rotunda and the Abbey.
Cinema had arrived and among the best known venues were the Rotunda Picture House, the O'Connell St. Picture House and the Phoenix Picture Palace.
Dublin was a commercial rather than an industrial centre and it was in commerce that most businessmen made their money. The main industries in the city were based on foodstuffs. Guinness Brewery and Jacobs biscuits were among the better known.
Dublin was also the centre of adminiistration with the large civil servant population which made up an important segrrient of the Dublin middle classes. The civil servants, bank officials and other "white collar" workers saw themmselves as the backbone of Dublin's life. It was quite common for the middle and upper class families to have servants who "lived-in" (downstairs of course) with the family. To have a male domeestic servant was a special sign of social standing.
To most of these wealthy and middle class people the "other Dublin" was almost unknown. Although several enq uiries had exposed searing poverty throughout the heart of the city, the correspondence columns of the papers revealed a startling ignorance of the conditions in which the vast majority of Dubliners lived at the time. James Plunkett's description of the life of the poor would have been unrecognissable to most of them. "In the mornings, just at the breakfast hour, the poor searched diligently in the ashbins of the well-to-do for half-burnt cinders and carried sacks and cans so that as much
as possible of the fuel might be salvaged, The ash bin children were pinched and wiry and usually barefooted. They lived on the cast-offs. They came each mornning from the crowded rooms in the casttoff houses of the rich; elegant Georgian buildings which had grown old and had been discarded. The clothes they wore had been cast-off by their parents, who had bought them as cast-offs in the second-hand shops in Little Mary Street or Winetavern Street. If the well-to-do had stopped casting-off for even a little while the children would have gone homeless and fireless and naked." There were just over 400,000 people living in Dublin in 1913 and of these 87,305 lived in tenement houses in the centre of the city. Of these, more than 80% (i.e.70,000 appro x.) were members of families living in a single room. These tenement houses were used by the rich before they moved to the suburbs or to England.
It was quite common for up to 100 people to live in one house and up to 15 people per room. Alcoholism was rammpant, there was a very high rate of prostitution (one side of O'Connell St. was taken over by prostitutes every night) and the standard of general health was appalling.
The poor living conditions were seen as directly responsible for about oneethird of the deaths registered in Dublin between 1902 and 1911. About 20% of all deaths in the city occurred among those less than a year old: nearly all of them occurred amongst the poorest Classes.
The lack of manufacturing industry meant that there was an unusually high number of skilled workers employed in various jobs, which were very often of a casual nature. The rate of unemployyment was about 20%, hence there was fierce competition for employment and this, coupled with the non-industrial nature of whatever employment there was, left the trade union movement in a very weak position.
It was into this situation that James Larkin, an official of the National Union of Dock Labourers, came in 1907.
Throughout the United Kingdom, the rift between the labour movement and the employers had widened greatly in the early years of the century. Strikes had occurred frequently in many places, but entering the second decade, it seemmed that industrial relations were becomming more settled. For the most part, DUblin had escaped the troubles of labour unrest. In 1900 the Dublin Chamber of Commerce had announced:
"We are pleased to note the growing disposition of all clases to unite in promoting the best interests of our country."
As the ITGWU grew in Dublin, it appeared that the different classes had different ideas as to what exactly those "best interests" were. As labour relations settled somewhat in the rest of the United Kingdom, strikes and lock-outs became more frequent in Ireland, and in Dublin in particular. The ITGWU were most always involved.
One of the greatest sources of disagreement between employers and trade unions, was the use of what was known as the "sympathetic strike". This was a tactic often used by Larkin. A sub-committee to investigate the troubles between the employers and workers in Dublin, defined the symmpathetic strike as: 'a refusal on the part of men who may have no complaint against their conditions of employment to continue work because in the ordiinary course of their work they came into contact with firms whose employees have been locked out or are on strike'.
A famous example of a sympathetic strike 0 ccurred in July and August 1913 when W.M.Murphy refused to employ ITGWU members on the staff of his Irish Independent newspaper and sacked i 00 members from the Tramway Company. Workers involved in disstributing the newspaper - though not employed by Murphy - refused to handle it in protest. Messrs. Eason and Co., the large city newsagents, were asked by Larkin not to sell the paper. Eason refused to oblige Larkin. The result was the dock-workers at Kingsstown refused to handle any goods from England addressed to Eason - regardless of what they may be;
The dispute was escalated on the 21st of August, 1913, when about 100 workers in the Tramways Company received the following notice: 'As the Directors understand that you are a member of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union whose methods are disorganising the trade and business of the city, they do not further require your service.'
This was a direct challenge to the ITGWU. Meetings of workers were called by Larkin but it was obvious that there could only be one reply to Murphy's challenge. From the point of view of the union, Murphy and his fellow directors had started a lock-out: the workers could only respond with a total withdrawal of labour.
Larkin carefully chose the moment to strike. He delayed the call to cease work until the time of the greatest impact. So it was, that shortly before 10.00 a.m. on Tuesday, August 26th, 1913, trams around the city stopped in their tracks: drivers and conductors got out. Dublin was plunged into a bitter labour dispute. The date was well chosen, for on that day The Dublin Horse Show began, and the city was crowded with visitors. Thus the action would create the maximum amount of disruption.
On August 28th, Larkin and four of his comrades had been arrested on charges of libel and conspiracy. They were released on bail. It had been announced that Larkin would address a meeting in O'Connell Street on Sunday the 31st August, but the authorities issued an order banning the asernb ly. On Friday night Larkin publicly burned a copy of the order and encouraged his listeners to fight any attempt to stop the meeting.
Sunday at midday saw people begin to gather on O'Connell Street, in exxpectation of something, though no one was quite sure what. Larkin, disguised with a beard, entered the Imperial Hotel - owned by Murphy! - opposite the GPO. He appeared at a balcony window on the first floor, and caught the attention of the crowd. As he had promised, he spoke to them briefly, before leaving the window. Uproar broke out on the street below. Larkin was promptly arrested. The police in panic attacked the crowd in heavy baton charges.
And Ernie O'Malley described the police charge: 'I was in O'Connell Street one evening when Jim Larkin, to keep a promise, appeared on the balcony of the hotel, wearing a beard as a disguise. He spoke amidst cheers, and hoots for the employers. Police swept down from many quarters, hemmmed in the crowd, and used their heavy batons on anyone who came in their way. I saw women knocked down and kicked - I scurried up a side street; at the other end the police struck people as they lay injured on the ground, struck them again and again. I could hear the crunch as the heavy sticks struck unprotected skulls. I was in favour of the strikers.'
The employers escalated the dispute even further that night when Murphy announced that workers throughout the city would be forced to give an undertaking that they would not join the ITGWU. Thousands of workers, many of them not members of the union, refused to sign this undertaking and were thereby dismissed.
James Connolly wrote of one such case: "A labourer was asked to sign the agreement forswearing the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, and he told his employer, a small capitalist builder, that he refused to sign. The employer, knowing the man's circumstances, reminded him that he had a wife and six children wko would be starving within a week. The reply of this humble labourer rose to the heights of sublimity. "It is true sir," he said, "they will starve; but I would rather see them go out one by one in their coffins than I should disgrace them by signing that." And with head erect he walked out to share hunger and privation with his loved ones. Hunger and privation - and honour. Defeat, bah! How can such a people be defeated? His case is typical of thousands more.'
Dublin was set for a struggle, which was to last for longer than most people thought.
The situation in Dublin was getting desperate: starvation was widespread in tenements. Then on Saturday 28th September a ship, "The Hare", arrived in Dublin carrying food gathered by British trade unionists. On board the ship were 60,000 "family boxes". each box holding enough food for five people. Thousands of people lined up at Liberty Hall, holding vouchers ready to be exchanged for their boxes. The food-ship had a great effect on the morale of the strikers. It showed them that the workers of Britain supported them in their struggle. Food kitchens were set up in Liberty Hall, and after all the British family boxes had been given out, bread and soup became the usual menu for the starving Dubliners.
James Larkin had been in jail since Bloody Sunday. On his release on bail from Mountjoy Prison, he went to England in order to gain as much support there as possible. Speaking to huge meetings, he got a great response from English workers: sympathetic strikes continued in Manchester, Liverrpool and Birmingham.
Larkin and Connolly attempted to push the British trade unions into a general stoppage of work in support of the Dublin workers. The leaders of the unions, however, were not prepared to go that far. This failure was something which Larkin and Connolly never forgave, and left them bitterly dissappointed.
As the dispute dragged through October, it became clear that not even the food kitchens of Liberty Hall would be enough to keep starvation from running riot in the city. A plan was proposed by some women to send children of the strikers to homes in England, where they could be adequaately cared for by families there. The idea appealed to Larkin because it was so daring and he set about organising it. The plan, however, raised the disappproval of the Church. The Archbishop of Dublin, William J. Walsh, wrote to the newspapers, stating that the Catholic faith of the children would be endangered in English homes.
Violent scenes occurred as parents brought their children to the docks to send them across to England. Groups organised by Catholic parents and priests blocked the way to the ships, and scuffles broke out between the two parties. More than any other event in the course of the three-month old dispute, the sending away of the chilldren raised the wildest emotions in people. James Connolly replied to the Archbishop, on behalf of the ITGWU: 'Nobody wants to send the children away - the Irish Transport and General Workers Union least of all desires such a sacrifice. But neither do we wish the children to starve.' The plan had aroussed too much anger for it to succeed, and was therefore dropped. The childdren were to remain on in Dublin, and manage as best they could.
James Larkin was sentenced to seven months imprisonment for incitement, on October 28th. In his .absence the workers were led by James Connolly and his other close colleagues. However, such was the pressure on the government, that Larkin was released on November 13th. He immediately left on another tour of England, drumming up support for the stricken city of Dublin. His reception was huge. "The Fiery Cross" campaign, as he referred to his series of torch-lit meetings, caught the imagination of the British workers. The Irish Labour leaders still aimed to get the British unions to come out in a general sympathetic strike, but despite Larkin's great reception, the union leaders in England were not prepared to take this final step.
By Christmas 1913, the outlook for the jobless Dublin workers was extremely bleak. The food ships from England, their life-line, could no longer be depended upon. 'It may well be,' wrote Tom Kettle, 'that the critical moment has come. There is a limit to human endurance, and a point beyond which the belt cannot be tightened.'
A significant development during the strike was the establishment of the Irish Citizen's Army in October 1913 at the instigation of Captain Jack White.
1913 was a unique opportunity for socialist and Republican strands in Irish politics to coalesce but in fact almost the opposite occurred. Arthur Griffith the Sinn Fein leader bitterly attacked Larkin, calling him a "strike organiser", and "the representative of English trades-unionism in Ireland".
When the lock-out occurred in 1913, Griffith showed little sympathy for the workers. The food-ships from England he saw as a dangerous bribe. Similarly, when the "save-the-kid dies" campaign began he was strongly opposed: 'The number of Dublin parents who would consent to send their children to be nurtured in the homes of the enemies of their race do not form five per cent of the parents affected by the strike.'
With the failure of the British Trade Unions to come out in sympathetic strike, the cause of the Dublin workers was doomed. Supplies of money and food from Britain dwindled away and the strikers had to face the prospect of returning to work.
On January 18th, 1914 leaders of the ITGWO met secretly. They advised their members to return to work, if they could do so without signing the hated employers' document. Many were able to do this but some employers still refused to take back workers who did not sign the document. In a speech on January 30th, Larkin publicly declared: 'We are beaten. We make no bones about it; but we are not too badly beaten to fight.'
Two days later, the Builders Labourrers Union - about 3,000 men - surrenddered to the employers arid signed the documents promising never to join the ItGWU. This was the turning point: the strike was then seen to be over and other workers in the city slowly drifted back to work on the employers' terms.
In February, 1914, James Connolly wrote with great bitterness: 'And so we Irish workers must go down into Hell, bow our backs to the lash of the slave driver .... and eat the dust of defeat and betrayal.'
The defeat of the workers left their leaders very disappointed. Larkin and Connolly now directed their anger not at the employers of Dublin but at the leaders of the British trade unions who refused to come out on strike insupport of their colleagues in Dublin.
As the months went by however, it became clear that the employers had not won a total victory. Workers who had promised never to join the ITGWU slowly began to drift back into the union. Within a short time, the ITGWU was once more the largest union in the city. No employer was willing to sack large numbers of his workforce who had rejoined the union: a second lock-out was as frightening to the employers as it was to the workers.
In June 1914, all the Irish trade unions came together for their annual congress. Larkin gave a long speech to the delegates there, and he referred to the events of the previous year in a proud manner: 'The lock-out in 1913 was a deliberate attempt to starve us into submission and met with welldeserved failure ... The employers claim a victory but the employers did not beat back organised labour in this city. I admit we had to retreat to base, but that was owing to the treachery of leaders in affiliated unions and beetrayal in our own ranks.'
Looking back over the whole episode ill November 1914, James Connolly wrote: 'The battle was a drawn battle. The employers were unable to carry on their business without men and women who remained loyal to their union. The workers were unable to force their employers to a formal recognition of the union and to give preference to orrganised labour. From the effects of this drawn battle both sides are still bearing scars. How deep these scars are none will reveal.'
The principal figures of the events in Dublin in 1913 - William Martin Murphy and james Larkin - never again reached the same degree of public influence. Murphy died in Dublin in 1919, a rich, powerful and well-respected man of 73 years. After the exciting events of 1913 he retreated from public life; spending his last years in semi-retirement. On his death, he left an estate of over a quarter-million pounds. Larkin left Ireland for a tour of America at the end of 1914. The trip was part holiday and part work, as he was to lecture and collect support for the ITGWU from friendly sources in America. True to his character, Larkin found himself involved in trouble. while in America being imprisoned for incitement td riot. He did not return to Ireland until 1923.
When he returned from America in 1923, he found a country very different from the one he had left. It was not to his liking, however. He disagreed with Connolly's participation in the 1916 rising and was shocked that the party of his old enemy Arthur Griffith, should now hold power in Ireland. Larkin thought the achievements of the i 913 struggle had been lost in the smoke of the fight for independence. He found himself in disagreement with his old colleagues in the ITGWU, and founded a new union, the Workers Union of Ireland. For the rest of his life he remained dissatisfied with his country, and when he died ill 1947 he died a disappointed man.
Through the sufferings of the workkers of Dublin, the Irish Labour Moveement had come of age. the dispute of 1913 remains uniq ue in Irish history, a monument of social agony and courage •
James Larkin was born in Liverpool in 1876, the son of parents who had emigrated from Armagh in search of employment. He started work after his father's death, when he was only eleven years old. He worked at a number of different jobs before becoming involved with the National Union of Dock Labourers (NUDI) while working on the docks in Liverpool. He quickly attracted attention as being a great organiser, enlisting hundreds of dock-workers in the union. As a result, he was made a full-time official of the union.
His job as organiser for the union sent him to Scotland first, then to Belfast and then on to Dublin, Cork and Derry before he finally settled in Dublin. A powerful and inspiring public speaker, he made an enormous impresssion wherever he went. In all the cities where he worked, he helped organise workers, usually involving himself in bitter strikes.
He became deeply involved in labour troubles in Dublin and Cork, so much so that he began to embarrass the leaders of his own union. While attempting to organise the general workers in Dublin, he finally pushed his own superiors too far. In December 1908 he was sacked from his £4-a-week job as organiser for the NUDL.
Larkin was not too worried. He was now committed to the cause of building up a strong union among the Dublin general workers. To this end he gathered around him some other members of the NUDL and other unions and formed a new Irish-based union. Sean O'Casey described the occasion, which occurred on January 4th, 1909: "In a room in a tenement in Townsend Street, with a candle in a bottle for a torch, and a billy-can of tea, with a few buns for a banquet, the Church militant here on earth, called the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, was founded".
Due in the main to Larkin's own personal appeal, membership of the union grew to around 10,000. His tremendous ability as an orator and his obvious compassion for the oppressed made him the hero of thousands.
Among his close colleagues, he was admired but not always liked personnally. People like James Connolly - a leading socialist who returned to Ireland from the United States and became an official of the new union - Thomas McPartlin, W.P. Partridge and others all worked hard with him in building up the union, but they often resented his arrogant and often angry manner. Larkin was never an easy man to get on with. However, these problems were set aside in their total commitment to the new union.
The new union was involved in notable strikes in Cork and a six-months dispute in Wexford in 1911. It was fast becoming the most feared enemy of Irish employers, and, in particular, of the leading businessman of the day, William Martin Murphy.
William Martin Murphy
William Martin Murphy was born in Bantry, Co. Cork in 1845. His father owned a building contracting business, but died when William was only nineeteen years old. At that early age he took over the family business and guided it successfully through years of immense growth. He had a natural talent for the world of commerce and he acquired great wealth through business deals extending from London to Africa.
By the early 1900s, William Martin Murphy had become the foremost Irish businessman. Unlike his counter-parts in Britain, Murphy had little involveement with industry as such. His own personal business empire was built on trade and commerce rather than manufacture: in this he was typical of most Irish businessmen. Murphy's wealth and fame lay in his ownership of, or interest in such enterprises as Clery's Department Store, the Imperial Hotel, the Irish Independent newspaper and the Dublin United Tramways Company.
Because of his powerful position in the business world, Murphy had immense authority. In 1911 Murphy was the main force behind the formmation of the "Dublin Employers Fedeeration Ltd.". This was a group of employers who came together to discuss common action in the face of unions like the ITGWU. (A Cork Employers Federation had already been successful against Larkin's activities in 1909.)
He was greatly respected by his fellow-employers in the Dublin Chammber of Commerce. He had a reputation for being a good employer, who gave his workers fair wages. However he could not tolerate his workers disputing with him. Although he claimed to be in favour of trade unionism, he refused to recognise the ITGWU, and would not employ anyone who was a member of that union. Naturally there grew a great personal hatred between himself and Larkin, the leader of the rebel union.
In his private life, Murphy was a man of quiet tastes. He took great pleasure in sailing his yacht off the coast of Cork. He took little part in the social life of Dublin and was not highly regarded by the upper class of the capital city: there was too much of the "common merchant" about him.
In spite of the reputation history has left him with, Murphy was welllknown for his personal charity.
A woman wrote in 1913 - "Mr. Murphy is a just and kind employer. Outsiders know little of his real gooddness - I experienced it myself when my husband died after a long and expensive illness. The first letter I received was from Mr. Murphy enclosing a cheque for £30 - 'as my needs might be pressing' xand just asking me to say a prayer for the soul of his son who had died a year before my husband, although he had never laid his eyes on my children."
A strong supporter of the Home Rule movement, Murphy was not by nature a "public" person. He did hold some very strong views, and never hesistated to criticise those with whom he dissagreed. This was particularly true of his fellow-employers, many of whom he condemned for their ill-treatment of workers in their employment. Indeed, he blamed some employers for giving aid to Larkin's cause by not treating their workers more fairly. Murphy was a strong, aloof type of man. Wealthy, charitable, just and able. He was a loyal friend and a ruthless enemy.