Defenders of the risen people?

Defenders of the risen people? James Connolly memorial in Dublin today. Photo Credit: James Curry.
Thomas J.Morrissey
‘The Labour Hercules’: The Irish Citizen Army and Irish Republicanism, 1913-23

by Jeffrey Leddin (Irish Acadmic Press, €24.95)

The author’s research and wide reading is evident in relation to the origin, nature, and activity of the Irish Citizen Army from 1913-1923. The book is, perhaps, too specialised for the general reader, but it will be welcomed by students of labour history and serious readers of political and social developments during those key years in modern Irish History.

The critical role of James Connolly and Michael Mallin in turning the original Citizen’s Army into a well-drilled, organised and motivated organisation, is brought out in Mr Leddin’s account.

His detailed description of ICA activities during the 1916 rising will be a welcome addition to most readers’ knowledge of the insurrection.

There follows the account of the aftermath of 1916, the imprisonment of members of the ICA, the role of the organisation and its links with the IRA during the years of struggle, 1918-1921, and then the Treaty and the split in the Irish Citizen Army as some supported the Treaty and a larger number went against it, giving active support to the republican opposition in the civil war.

The ICA organisation effectively came to an end in 1923 when more than 100 of its members, including its main leaders, were captured on ‘the night of the Bridges’, when an anti-treaty force was foiled in its plan to blow up the bridges across the Liffey.

The author concludes with a chapter on the legacy of the Irish Citizens Army. The legacy, as presented, is thin and largely indirect: the number of left-wing organisations that fly the ICA flag of the Plough and the Stars, and the many who bolster their cause by appealing to the name, teachings and actions of James Connolly.

This book is based on a doctoral thesis presented at the University of Limerick. It bears the marks of a thesis, especially in its first five or six pages which are heavy with references to a range of authors, most of whom are likely to be unknown except to specialised readers.

The book would benefit from a much shorter account of the background and history of nationalist citizen armed forces. Again, when the author writes that ‘the ICA was born out of the Irish syndicalist movement’, it would have been helpful to explain what syndicalism means, particularly in the Irish context.

It is not clear for whom the author is writing. The fact that much special knowledge is assumed on the part of the reader, suggests that the writer has a small specialised readership in mind, which is great a pity because the work is, as mentioned above, a testimony to a great deal of reading and research and has many pages of wide interest, which might enlightened the ordinary reader about about perhaps unfamiliar aspects the Revolutionary period.