Friday, July 19, 2019

James Connolly, 12th July 1913

James Connolly2.jpg

A few months after the huge public events which saw the signing of the Ulster Solemn League and Covenant in September 1912, James Connolly was in Belfast on 12 July 1913, watching what he called the 'Orange Walk' - a term less militaristic than 'march' or maybe even 'parade' – and 'walk' is the term still used in Scotland to this day.

He wrote a lengthy article about what he saw and his reflections upon it. The whole piece makes for fascinating reading and is online here. If you have an interest in such things I would strongly encourage you to read it.

It's not just about the 12th, but goes back to the Plantation era, the Glorious Revolution, and the experiences of the 1700s and 1800s. He was very obviously well-read - how many 'Ulster Prods' either back then or today know about Andrew Stewart's History? It's been reprinted and is available here.

I wonder how much of an influence the Milligan family had been on his thinking? Connolly met Alice Milligan in the mid 1890s and her brother Ernest - who would later publish a small collection of Ulster-Scots flavoured poems – helped Connolly set up socialist organisations in Belfast and sold copies of The Workers Republic for him. (back in early 2018 I posted a series of articles here about the Milligans – see here).

There are points in the article where I disagree with him, there are points where I think he misses key ideas, but overall there's a lot there that I do agree with. He can see the differences of social class between those who carried out the Plantation of Ulster, and those who migrated to people it. He can see the 'three cultural strands' of Irish, English and Scottish. Being Edinburgh-born, to County Monaghan parents, maybe his own circumstances enabled him to understand. He could express admiration for aspects of the 12th and also level criticism. He could see some of the contrasts and contradictions within Ulster Protestant Unionism. He had bothered to read, listen, learn and think.

... The reader should remember what is generally slurred over in narrating this part of Irish history, that when we are told that Ulster was planted by Scottish Presbyterians, it does not mean that the land was given to them. On the contrary, the vital fact was, and is, that the land was given to the English noblemen and to certain London companies of merchants who had lent money to the Crown, and that the Scottish planters were only introduced as tenants of these landlords ... 
... Nor did the victory at the Boyne mean Civil and Religious Liberty… In 1704 Derry was rewarded for its heroic defence by being compelled to submit to a Test Act, which shut out of all offices in the Law, the Army, the Navy, the Customs and Excise, and Municipal employment, all who would not conform to the Episcopalian Church. The alderman and fourteen burgesses are said to have been disfranchised in the Maiden City by this iniquitous Act, which was also enforced all over Ireland. Thus, at one stroke, Presbyterians, Quakers, and all other dissenters were deprived of that which they had imagined they were fighting for at “Derry, Aughrim, and the Boyne.” …

Less than six months after the article was published, by the end of 1913 Connolly had helped to found the Irish Citizen Army, and so began the road which would lead to the Easter Rising, and his death by firing squad. History is full of 'what if' scenarios...