Read CHAPTER III of What's the Matter with Ireland?, free online book, by Ruth Russell, on


“A change of flags is not enough.”

In the sputtering flare of the arc lamp in front of Liberty hall stood squads of boys. Some of them wore brass-buttoned, green woolen waists, and some, ordinary cotton shirts. Some of them had on uniform knickers, and some, long, unpressed trousers. On the opposite side of the street were blocked similar squads of serious-eyed, high-chinned girls. Some of them were in green tweed suits, and others as they had come from work. They were companies of the Citizens’ Army recruited by the Irish Labor party, and assembled in honor of the return of the Countess Markewicz from jail.

“Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.”

Young voices, impatient of the interim of waiting, sang the socialist song. The burden was taken up by the laborers, whose constant movement to keep a good view was attested by the hollow sound of their wooden-soled boots on the stone walks. And the refrain was hummed by the shawled, frayed-skirted creatures who were coming up from Talbot street, Gloucester street, Peterson’s lane, and all the family-to-a-room districts in Dublin. On the skeletonish railroad crossing suspended over the Liffey, tin-hatted and bayonet-carrying British soldiers were silhouetted against the moon-whitened sky. Up to them floated the last oath of “The Red Flag”:

“With heads uncovered swear we all,
To bear it onward till we fall.
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.”

Clattered over the bridge the horse-dragged brake. In the light of a search lamp played on it from an automobile behind, a small figure in a slouch hat and a big black coat waved a bouquet of narcissus. There was a surge of the block-long crowds and people who could not see lifted their hands and shouted: “Up the countess!”

As we waited in the light of the dim yellow bulbs threaded from the ceiling of the big bare upper front room of Liberty Hall, Susan Mitchell told me of “the chivalrous woman.” The countess is a daughter of the Gore-Booth family which owned its Sligo estate before America was discovered. As a girl the countess used to ride fast horses like mad along the rocky western coast. Then she became a three-feathered debutante bowing at Dublin Castle. Later she painted pictures in Paris and married her handsome Pole. But one day some one put an Irish history in her hands. In a sudden whole-hearted conversion to the cause of the people, the countess turned to aid the Irish labor organizers. She drilled boy scouts for the Citizens’ Army. She fed starving strikers during the labor troubles of 1913 with sheep sent daily from her Sligo estate. In the rebellion of 1916 she fought and killed under Michael Mallin of the Citizens’ Army. She was hardly out of jail for participation in the rebellion when she was clapped in again for alleged complicity in the never-to-be-proved German plot. While she was in jail, she was elected the first woman member of parliament.

White from imprisonment, her small round steel-rimmed glasses dropping away from her blue eyes, and her curly brown hair wisping out from under her black felt hat, the countess embraced a few of the women in the room and exchanged handclasps with the men. Below the crowd was clamoring for her appearance at the window.

“Fellow rebels!” she began as she leaned out into the mellow night. Then with the apparent desire to say everything at once that makes her public speech stuttery, she continued: “It’s good to come out of jail to this. It is good to come out again to work for a republic. Let us all join hands to make the new republic a workers’ republic. A change of flags is not enough!”

Two oil flares with orange flame throwing off red sparks on the crowd, were fastened to the brake below. It was the brake that was to carry “Madame” on her triumphal tour of Dublin. The boys of the Citizens’ Army made a human rope about the conveyance. In it I climbed with the countess, the plump little Mrs. James Connolly, the magisterial Countess Plunkett, Commandant O’Neill of the Citizens’ Army, Sean Milroy, who escaped from Lincoln jail with DeValera, and two or three others. Rows of constables were backed against the walls at irregular intervals. I asked Sean Milroy if he were not afraid that he would be re-taken, and he responded comfortably that the “peelers” would never attempt to take a political prisoner out of a gathering like that. As we neared the poverty-smelling Coombe district, the countess remarked that this, St. Patrick’s, was her constituency. At the shaft of St. James fountain, the brake was halted. Shedding her long coat, and standing straight in her green tweed suit, with the plush seat of the brake for her floor, the countess told the cheering workers that she was going to come down to live in the Coombe. Heated with the energy of talking and throwing her body about so that her voice would carry over the crowd that circled her, the countess sank down on the seat. As the brake drove on, motherly little Mrs. Connolly tried to slip the big coat over the countess. But the countess, in one of those sudden meditative silences during which she seems to retain only a subconsciousness of her surroundings, refused the offer of warmth with a shrug of her shoulders. Then, emerging from her pre-occupation, she demanded of Sean Milroy:

“What have you planned for your constituency? I’m going to have a soviet.”


Like the countess, the Irish Labor party wants a workers’ republic. But it wants a republic first.

The Irish Labor party has been accused of accepting Russian roubles, of hiding bags of bolshevik gold in the basement of Liberty Hall. Whether it has taken Russian gold or not, it is frankly desirous of possessing the Russian form of government. James Connolly, who is largely responsible for the present Labor party in Ireland, was, like Lenin and Trotsky, a Marxian socialist, and worked for government by the proletariat. The Irish Labor party celebrated the Russian revolution by calling a “bolshevik” meeting and cheering under a red flag in the assembly room of the Mansion House. And in its last congress, it reaffirmed its “adherence to the principles of freedom, democracy, and peace enunciated in the Russian revolution.”

How strong are the revolutionaries? The Irish Labor party is new but it already contains about 300,000 members. It plans to include every worker from the “white collar” to the “muffler” labor. And the laborers alone make up seven-eighths of the population. For while there are just 252,000 members of the professional and commercial classes, there are 4,137,000 who are in agricultural, industrial and indefinite classes most of the farmers are held to be laborers because outside the great estates, holdings average at thirty acres and are worked by the holders themselves.

There’s the revolutionary rub. The Irish farmers make up the largest body of workers in Ireland. The Irish farmer sweated and bled for his land. Would he yield it now for nationalization? I put the question up to William O’Brien, the lame, never-smiling tailor who is secretary of the Irish Labor party. He said that the farm hand should be taken into consideration.

The farm hand would profit by nationalization. At present he is condemned to slavery. At a hiring fair called a “slave market” by the labor unions he stands between the mooing cows and snorting pigs and offers his services for sale for as little as $100 a year. He may wish to get more money. But his employer is also very often his landlord. What happens? In the spring of 1919, 35,000 farm hands went on strike. Lord Bellew of Ballyragget and Lord Powerscourt of Enniskerry used the eviction threat to get the men back to work, and in Rhode, evictions actually took place.

The small farmer on bad land would profit by re-distribution. Many such live in the west and northwest of Ireland. Take a farmer of Donegal. There there’s stony, boggy land. Fires must be built about the stones so that the soil will lose its grip upon them and they may be hauled away to help make fences. Immovable boulders are frequent, so frequent that the soil cannot be ploughed but must be spaded by hand. Seaweed for fertilizer must be plucked from the rocks in the sea, carried up the mountain side and laid black and thick in the sterile brown furrows. Near Dungloe in Donegal, one holding of 600 acres was recently valued at $10.50, and another of 400 at $3.70. So the Labor party is confident of bringing over the farmers to its point of view.

On the whole, it is said, the way of the labor propagandist is easy, for capital in Ireland is very weak. First, there is very little of it. In 1917 the total income tax of the British Isles was L300,000,000; Ireland with one-tenth the population contributed only one-fortieth of the tax. In the same year, the total excess profits tax was L290,000,000 and Ireland’s proportion was slightly less than for the income tax. Second, what capital there is, is not effectively organized. The first national commercial association is just forming in Dublin.

Whether the future prove the numerical strength of labor or not, the leaders are determined that labor will be organically strong. It is developing a pyramid form of government. Irish labor fosters the “one big union.” In some towns all the labor, from teachers to dock-workers, have already coalesced. These unions select their district heads. The district heads are subsidiary to the general head in Dublin. When each union inside the big union is ready to take over its industry, and their district and general heads are ready to take over government there will be a general strike for this end. The strike will be supported by the army the Citizens’ Army of the workers.

“There you have,” said James Connolly, who promoted the one big union, “not only the most effective combination for industrial warfare, but also for the social administration of the future."

“Certainly we mean to take over industry by force if necessary,” affirmed Thomas Johnson, treasurer of the Irish Labor party. He is a big-browed man with thick, pompadoured, gray hair, and the aspect of a live professor. Some people call him the coming leader of Ireland. In answer to my statement that it wouldn’t be a very hard job to take over Irish industry, he smiled and said: “That’s why we welcome the entrance of outside capital into Ireland. The more industry is developed, the less we will have to do afterward.”


Labor agrees with Sinn Fein not only that Irish industry must be developed but also that Ireland must have independence. After the national war, the class war must come. First freedom from exploitation by capitalistic nations, and then freedom from capitalistic individuals. Many socialists, it is said, do not understand why Ireland should not plunge at once into the class war. It was a matter of regret to James Connolly that many of his fellow socialists the world over would never understand his participation in the rebellion of 1916. Nora Connolly, the smiling boy-like girl who smokes and works by a grate in Liberty Hall, says that on the eve of his execution, when he lay in bed with his leg shattered by a gun wound, her father said to her: “The socialists will never understand why I am here. They all forget I am an Irishman.”

But James Connolly’s fellow socialists in Ireland understand “why he was there,” They back his participation in the national war. And they know every Irishman will. So they go to the workers and say: “Jim Connolly died to make Ireland free.” Then while the workers cheer, they swiftly show why Connolly advocated the class war, too: “Jim Connolly lived to make Ireland free. He believed that the world is for the man who works in it, but in Ireland he saw seven-eighths of the people in the working class, and he knew that to these people life means crowded one-room homes, endless Fridays, no schools or virtually none, and churches where resignation is preached to them. So his life was a dangerous fight to organize workers that they might become strong enough to take what is theirs.” At Liberty Hall, one is told that the martyr’s name is magnetizing the masses into the Irish Labor party. And, in order to propagate his ideas, the people are contributing their coppers towards a fund for the permanent establishment of the James Connolly Labor College.

So labor fights for a republic first. At the last general elections it withdrew all its labor party candidates that the Sinn Fein candidates might have a clear field to demonstrate to the world how unified is Irish sentiment in favor of a republic. And at the International Labor and Socialist conference held in Berne in 1919, Cathal O’Shannon, the bright young labor leader who goes about with his small frame swallowed up in an overcoat too big for him, made this declaration:

“Irish labor reaffirms its declaration in favor of free and absolute self-determination of each and every people, the Irish included, in choosing the sovereignty and form of government under which it shall live. It rejoices that this self-determination has now been assured to the Jugo-Slavs, Czecho-Slovaks, Alsatians and Lorrainers, as well as to the Finns, Poles, Ukrainians, and now to the Arabs. This is not enough and it is not impartial. To be one and the other, this principle must also be applied in the same sense and under the same conditions to the peoples of Ireland, India, Egypt, and to such other people as have not yet secured the exercise of the inherent right.... Irish labor claims no more and no less for Ireland than for the others.”

After the republic, a workers’ republic? After Sinn Fein, the Labor party? Madame Markewicz is high in the councils of both Sinn Fein and Labor. One day, lost in one of her trance-like meditations in which she states her intuitions with absolute disregard of expediency, she said to me:

“Labor will swamp Sinn Fein.”