June 2012        

Oration at the graveside of James Connolly


On 13 May, at the invitation of the Communist Party of Ireland, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Britain, Rob Griffiths, delivered the oration in Arbour Hill Cemetery at the graveside of James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionary executed for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. In his oration he said: Shortly after the execution of James Connolly, his widow, Lillie, answered the door of their Dublin home. Standing there was a young-looking and distraught soldier. He was Welsh, and had served in the firing-squad that had killed her husband. Since that day he had learnt a little bit about the man he had shot, and, as she later recalled, he told Lillie:
     “I am a miner. My father was a miner, and my grandfather was a miner—they were both very busy in the trade union. How can I go back home? They would know about James Connolly, even if I didn’t. I haven’t been home on leave. I can’t go home. I’d let something slip, and they’d know I’d killed James Connolly. Oh, why was I chosen to kill a man like that?”
     Lillie replied: “James Connolly has already forgiven you. He realised you were being forced, he realised you were only a working-class boy.”
     Of course we know that the British ruling class has always used working-class men and women to put down revolt, to maintain imperialism, whether in Llanelli in 1911, Dublin in 1916, or India, Kenya, Malaya . . . and up to Iraq and Afghanistan today.
     And yet, working-class and international solidarity break through imperialism’s hegemony. This is true even in relations between the peoples of Ireland and Britain, including between the Irish people and the Welsh people.
     In the nineteenth century, Michael Davitt came to Wales and inspired the formation of the Welsh Land League.
     James Connolly addressed meetings in north Wales, after which the celebrated Welsh socialist and local Independent Labour Party leader Silyn Roberts recalled: “Gyda Larkin ym 1911 y cyfarfum ag ef ac y dysgais ei edmygu a’i garu. Un o drysorau gwerthfawrocaf fy llyfrgell yw copi o’i gyfrol Labour in Irish History, a roddwyd i mi ganddo a Larkin i gofio am eu hymweliad â Chymru.”—“I met him with Larkin in 1911 and learnt to admire him and love him. One of the greatest treasures in my library is a copy of his volume Labour in Irish History, which he and Larkin gave me as a memento of their visit to Wales.”
     During the great Dublin transport strike of 1913, railway workers in Wales, Birmingham, and Yorkshire, together with Liverpool dockers, refused to handle “tainted” cargo. When two Llanelli engine-drivers were dismissed for refusing to transport Jacob’s biscuits and Guinness stout, unofficial strikes spread across the railways of south Wales.
     In 1914 Connolly came to my home city, Cardiff, to address a national trade union conference.
     The great communist leader and later president of the National Union of Mineworkers in Britain, Arthur Horner, remembered people’s feelings in the south Wales mining valleys about the Easter Rising: “As a small nationality ourselves, we had watched with sympathy the Irish people’s fight for independence long before the Great War broke out. When war came we were told the fighting in France was for the rights of small nations . . . So it is easy to understand how we, who had seen the viciousness of the coal-owners, regarded what was happening in Ireland as the real struggle for the rights of small nations in a war-torn world. We were thrilled by the Easter Rising in 1916 and saddened by its defeat.”
     After chairing a meeting at Ynyshir Miners’ Hall in the Rhondda, on the Irish rising and the murder of James Connolly, Horner was helped by miners to escape military service and put on a boat to Dublin. Arthur Horner went on to do his military service—but as a volunteer in the Irish Citizen Army.
     Both Connolly and Horner understood how vital working-class and international solidarity is in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. Both fought to promote the socialist transformation of society. And both, in their different ways, gave their lives for what Nikolai Ostrovsky called “the finest cause in the world—the liberation of humanity.”

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