The Clon man who went into Labour

Posted on: 6th August, 2014

Category: The History Corner

Contributor: Samuel Kingston

William X. O’Brien

William X. O’Brien

When people think of the Labour movement or socialism in Ireland the names of James Connolly and James Larkin immediately spring to mind. They are the towering figures of socialist history. Outside of these two, there were many prominent men and women in socialist circles and among them was a man born in Clonakilty, his name was William X. O’Brien. O’Brien was the organiser of the Labour movement compared to Connolly’s educator role and Larkin’s agitator role.

O’Brien was born just outside Clonakilty in 1881 but moved with his family to Dublin when he was 16. He was immediately drawn to the socialist circles in the city.

He became involved with the Irish Socialist Republican Party (ISRP). Founded by James Connolly in 1896, the ISRP is regarded by many Irish historians as a party of seminal importance in the early history of Irish socialism and republicanism. It is often described as the first socialist and republican party in Ireland, and the first organisation to espouse the ideology of socialist republicanism on the island. The party produced the first regular socialist paper in Ireland the Workers’ Republic, ran candidates in local elections and agitated over issues such as the Boer War and the 1798 commemorations. Politically the ISRP was before its time, putting the call for an independent ‘Republic’ at the centre of its propaganda before Sinn Féin or others had done so. O’Brien, along with Coachford man Con Lehane, Edward Stewart and Robert Dorman were other central figures in the party. The party split in 1904 following months of internal political rows. The party would re-emerge in various guises eventually becoming the Communist Party of Ireland in 1921.

Despite the quarrels of the ISRP, O’Brien remained good friends with James Connolly. O’Brien helped establish the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union in 1909. The ITGWU was founded by James Larkin as a general union. O’Brien was instrumental in the Dublin Lock-out strike in 1913. The Lock-out was a major industrial dispute between approximately 20,000 workers and 300 employers which took place in Ireland’s capital city of Dublin. The dispute lasted from August 26 1913 to January 18, 1914, and is often viewed as the most severe and significant industrial dispute in Irish history. Central to the dispute was the workers’ right to unionise. The employers were led by the powerful Beara born man William Martin Murphy. The Lock-out didn’t succeed in its aims but was important for the future of industrial relations. After the Lock-out Larkin left for America and O’Brien became the dominant figure in the union. He later served as general secretary for many years. Larkin and O’Brien had become quite estranged at this point.

During World War I, O’Brien was interned on several occasions by the Dublin Castle authorities for his activities as a member of the Irish Neutrality League, and the Anti-Conscription Committee.

O’Brien is a key figure in the early history of the Labour Party. The Labour Party was founded in 1912 in Clonmel, County Tipperary, by James Connolly, James Larkin and O’Brien as the political wing of the Irish Trade Union Congress. Unlike the other main Irish political parties, Labour does not trace its origins to the original Sinn Féin. With Connolly executed and Larkin absent, O’Brien wielded considerable influence in the Labour Party; he also controlled the Irish Trade Union Congress.  Despite this he was never leader of the Labour Party. Although he was elected a TD for Dublin South at the 1922 general election, and was later elected for Tipperary  in June 1927 and again in 1937.

In 1923, Larkin formed a new union, the Workers’ Union of Ireland, to which many of the ITGWU’s Dublin members affiliated. The ITGWU nevertheless remained the dominant force in Irish trade unionism, especially outside the capital. William O’Brien and James Larkin remained bitter personal enemies, and when Larkin and his supporters were re-admitted into the Labour Party in the early 1940s, O’Brien engineered a split in the party, with the new National Labour Party claiming that the main party had been infiltrated by communists. The National Labour Party did enter the First Inter-Party Government against the wishes of the ITGWU. National Labour was represented at cabinet level by James Everett, now its leader, and so the party was obliged to work with several coalition partners, including the Labour Party. Co-operation in government, the retirement of O’Brien and the death of Larkin removed the causes of animosity from the labour movement. In 1950, the National Labour Party folded back into Labour.

A further split occurred in the Irish Trade Union Congress when that body accepted the WUI’s membership in 1945. The ITGWU left the Congress and established the rival Congress of Irish Unions. From the 1950s on proposals to merge the two unions were floated. Finally, in 1990, the ITGWU merged with the Workers’s Union of Ireland to form the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU).

In 1930, O’Brien petitioned the Free State government to grant asylum to Leon Trotsky, a plea that was denied.

O’Brien was a leading figure in the Labour movement yet because he wasn’t as bombastic or fiery as Connolly or Larkin, his role in Irish history has largely forgotten even though his role as an organiser was just as vital to the movement.

For those wishing to know more about William O’Brien, there is a book by Thomas Morrissey called William O’Brien, 1881–1968 – Socialist, republican, Dáil deputy, editor and trade union leader which was published by Four Courts Press in 2007.

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Wave to Mary! 65-year-old Mary Nolan Hickey is running around the entire coast of the Island of Ireland to raise funds & awareness for the RNLI and is currently running the roads of West Cork.

Mary is the only woman to have completed every single Dublin Marathon (all 38 of them). She’s also completed the grueling Marathon des Sables in the Sahara Desert, known as the ‘toughest foot race on earth’.

To mark her 50th year involved in Athletics Mary is taking on her biggest challenge yet (even though she thought she’d already done that when completing the Dublin Marathon when she was over six months pregnant!) She wants to raise as much money as possible for the RNLI.

Mary started her epic journey in Arklow, Co. Wicklow, on New Year’s Day. She aims to cover up to 5000 kilometers, using coastal routes, over the next five months. She hopes to get back in time to get her first pension payment in June when she turns 66.

Mary will stop off at as many RNLI stations as possible, on her once in a lifetime adventure. As far as she knows no other woman has ever taken on this challenge.

Speaking about her journey Mary said:

“I wanted to prove that age not a barrier. Coming from a coastal town I have a deep affinity with our local RNLI station & volunteers and have huge admiration for the brave men and women who risk their lives to save lives at sea”.

Mary, who’s depending on the goodwill of communities along her route for accommodation, has been astounded by the response so far. “The support has been overwhelming,” she said. “I have met the most amazing and encouraging people along the way”.

To see more about Mary’s adventures, and to pinpoint her location today, check out her Facebook page - rnlilapofthemap2018.
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20th March, 2018  ·  


This Saturday the 10th March, will see some magically curious activity as local Bandon national schools compete in a Wizarding Harry Potter Quiz. The prize will be the beautiful Bandon Banshee Perpetual Cup.

As any Harry Potter enthusiast knows, Bandon has the unique honour of having a character named after the town. The Bandon Banshee, was referred to as the nemesis of Gilderoy Lockhart in the Chamber of Secrets. The book grossed €60 million in sales and was the 7th highest earning film of all time.

Locals, looking to enhance the town for young people, saw the quiz as an ideal way promote the connection. The universally absorbing book series brings young readers on a huge adventure of magic, adversity and triumph. It is also an exploration of loyalty and friendship, good and evil – so it is not only popular way to engage young people, it is a hugely positive connection.

Zoe Tennyson, one of the organisers said they were delighted with the response from schools who ran a qualifying quiz as part of World Book Day. On Saturday Bandon Town Hall will be transformed into Hogwarts Great Hall, with proceeds going Bandon Playground Group, and to cover costs of the event.

Bandon Books will be rewarding the winning team with vouchers to each of the five members. The Bandon Banshee, or Bean-sidhe na Bandaan Perpetual Cup will be hotly contested – but which school will the Banshee go to??

If you have any questions please call Marguerite McQuaid on 087 900 9494
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8th March, 2018  ·  

Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition 23 February 2018

The inaugural Ballineen Foróige Young Engineers Exhibition will take place in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen this Friday 23rd February. As part of Engineers Week 2018, leaders and members of Ballineen Foróige Club have organised an exhibition which will showcase a diverse and exciting range of engineering projects that have been undertaken by members of the club over the last few weeks, with the aid of leaders and a number of local engineers.

With the aid of local pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, along with the support of STEAM Education, a UCC based company focused on promoting science, technology, engineering, arts, and maths subjects in primary schools, Ballineen Foróige has been engaging members and leaders in all things engineering over the last six weeks. From researching, designing, and prototyping a project based on local problems, to participating in various workshops on coding and careers in engineering, Ballineen Foróige have been extremely busy in preparation for the exhibition this coming Friday night.

On the night itself, Michael Loftus, Head of Engineering at CIT, Fintan Goold, Manager at Eli Lilly and All-Ireland Cork winning Footballer, along with Geraldine Coughlan of GCA Architects & Designers, a local business, will act as judges on the night, evaluating the different engineering projects and offering some advice to the members of the club. Also in attendance will be the CEO of Foróige Seán Campbell, along with a number of local councillors, TD’s and Senators.

Leading the team of Ballineen Foróige leaders organising the event, is Rebecca Dwyer, a bioprocess engineer at Eli Lilly. Rebecca recently became a leader in the club and says that Ballineen Foróige Young Engineer Exhibition 2018 “promises to be a fun, challenging and rewarding experience for all involved and we look forward to welcoming parents, relatives, friends and members of the public to the exhibition and film screening on the evening of Friday 23rd February.” Overall, there are twelve projects entered in the exhibition. One project, led by Cian Kennefick and Charlie Nolan, members of the starting out club, examines the possibility of installing speed ramps on the road near local primary school. Fourteen-year-old Charlie says he got involved in the project as it was something to do and it gets you thinking. Cian says the most exciting part of the project was the building of the prototypes.

Both Cian and Charlie, along with thirty other members of the club will display their projects this coming Friday 23 February in Gort Mhuire Hall in Ballineen. Doors open at 8pm and the event runs until 10pm. All are welcome to attend, and admission is free. Catering, including tea and coffee, will be provided on the night.
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20th February, 2018  ·  

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Main course

17th February, 2018  ·  

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