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  • Shaw, Connolly, and the Irish Citizen Army
  • Nelson O'Ceallaigh Ritschel (bio)

Near the end of his life, G. B. Shaw wrote to dismiss a plaque acknowledging his Irish contributions that was to be placed on his Dublin Synge Street birthplace: "All my political services have been given to the British Labour movement and to International Socialism."1 This remark might appear misleading given Shaw's involvement in Irish social and political affairs. In fact, many of Shaw's biographers and scholars have focused much attention on his interest with Ireland and Irish political developments during his lifetime. Yet, despite this attention, there has been little if any focus on Shaw's specific flirtation with militant Irish socialism, from the 1913 Dublin Lockout to the Easter Rising in 1916. Although Dan Laurence and David Greene's second edition of The Matter with Ireland includes Shaw's writing on or within this subject, the context of such writing is not fully explored. In addition, biographers such as Michael Holroyd and A. M. Gibbs surprisingly offer nothing in regard to Shaw's involvement with organized socialism in Ireland during the 1913-16 period. Given Shaw's long participation in various forms of socialism, consideration of his role in Irish socialism is warranted.

Shaw's interest in socialism emerged with the Fabian Society during the 1880s. Tracy Davis writes that Shaw was taken with the Fabian "middle-class, tolerant, educated clique that sought to reform society by argument, brain power, and superior organization rather than working-class revolt."2 A nonconfrontational style, of course, is what one would have expected from the Fabians given that few of their members had "working-class connections," lacking the anger of the slums.3 In a sense, or at the risk of oversimplification, the Fabians sought to promote socialist change from outside the working-class/employer-class battlefields. Perhaps, as Davis also suggests, this Fabian philosophical approach helped Shaw to develop and realize the approach of his plays, which envelop his belief in what [End Page 118] "gave life to literature," namely, "a criticism of society," as Stanley Weintraub remarks.4

Shaw's dramatic canon certainly offers critiques of society and, in some cases, openly mocks the capitalist instinct, as epitomized in Tom Broadbent in John Bull's Other Island. Broadbent, a liberal Englishman professing a concern for Ireland's plight, proves himself to be another capitalist ready to exploit the rural laborers and Irish land in the old landlord tradition. As such, Shaw's play criticizes the Irish land scheme that allowed for the ruin of Ireland all over again. Though the comic and satirical John Bull's Other Island may be the most accessible example of Shaw's specific consideration of Irish social economic conditions, it is not the end-all of Shaw's interest in and involvement with Irish socialism. Events in his native country would draw Shaw in, pulling him in from the Fabian sidelines.

Economic class struggle in Ireland erupted in Dublin in 1913, following smaller rumblings over the preceding three years in cities and towns like Belfast, Cork, and Wexford. As Irish organized labor grew, spearheaded by James Larkin's and James Connolly's leadership of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union (ITGWU), Dublin employers led by the capitalist William Martin Murphy formed the Dublin Employers Federation. In August 1913, the Employers Federation began sacking workers who belonged to the ITGWU with the goal of breaking the union movement in Ireland. By the end of the month, the employers locked out their workers, and the 1913 Dublin Lockout was under way. On 30 and 31 August, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, with some assistance from the Royal Irish Constabulary and British Army, brutally attacked locked-out workers, clubbing hundreds with batons. The carnage on 31 August gave Ireland its first Bloody Sunday and made it clear that the government's forces were on the employers' side.5

In October 1913, the ITGWU's leader, James Larkin, was arrested and sentenced to prison on a charge of sedition. On 1 November, a rally for Larkin's release, which was also a fund-raising rally for the locked-out Irish workers, was held...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 118-134
Launched on MUSE
2007-10-22
Open Access
No
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