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Some famous Irish communists

Seán McLoughlin


Seán McLoughlin was born in Dublin in June 1895. He became involved in republican politics at the age of fifteen and five years later, shortly before his twenty-first birthday, took part in the 1916 Rising. He was part of the unit that took over the Mendicity Institution at Usher’s Island under Seán Heuston, with the aim of preventing the movement of British troops from the nearby Royal Barracks (Collins Barracks) into the city centre.
     After the fall of the building McLoughlin escaped to the GPO. There his leadership qualities and his ability to think and act decisively under fire were so remarkable that James Connolly, as commandant-general, with the support of Pearse, promoted the twenty-year-old lieutenant to commandant-general after he himself had sustained severe injuries on the previous day. McLoughlin was therefore the highest-ranking of the revolutionaries to survive, after a sympathetic British officer removed O’Loughlin’s rank markings because of his age.
     McLoughlin was interned in Wales and England. After his release from prison in December 1916 he became an organiser for the Irish Volunteers in Co. Tipperary. He became increasingly involved in socialist politics, joining the Socialist Party of Ireland and becoming prominent in both Irish and British communist circles.
     He embarked on two long speaking tours in Scotland and northern England organised by the Socialist Labour Party during the period 1920–21. The meetings were often attended by thousands of workers and were usually described by local branches as the best they had ever organised, as McLoughlin had become an orator of exceptional ability.
     “McLoughlin was also an innovative theoretician . . . Unlike most socialists of that era McLoughlin felt that socialism would be established in Ireland before Britain. He believed that this would detonate uprisings throughout the British Empire, which would in turn precipitate the destruction of capitalism in Britain itself. Taking an internationalist position, McLoughlin felt that the triumph of socialism in Britain would be the only way that an Irish socialist republic could survive in the long term. As a result of this analysis, he urged Irish and British workers to support both Irish independence, and the socialist movements in both countries.” (Charlie McGuire, Seán McLoughlin: Ireland’s Forgotten Revolutionary, 2011.)
     McLoughlin returned to Ireland in July 1922 following the outbreak of Civil War as an opponent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He joined the first Communist Party of Ireland, which was led by 21-year-old Roddy Connolly, son of James Connolly. The CPI’s strategy was to fight alongside the IRA against the neo-colonial Free State government while encouraging republicans to adopt a socialist programme that would win the support of workers and small farmers. McLoughlin commanded an IRA flying column in Co. Limerick, spreading socialist ideas within the local republican movement in the process. In December 1922 he was captured and sentenced to death by the Free State. The sentence was not carried out, and he was eventually released in October 1923, after the IRA had been crushed.
     The CPI was disbanded in January 1924, and McLoughlin decided to work with Jim Larkin, who had returned to Ireland from the United States some months previously. An acrimonious split between the two men, following Larkin’s disastrous handling of a railway workers’ strike, precipitated McLoughlin’s departure from Irish socialist politics nine months later when he moved permanently to England.
     He first moved to Hartlepool and then to Sheffield some time in the 1920s. Jailed yet again around the time of the general strike of 1926, he was active in Sheffield with Jack Murphy.
     McLoughlin slowly faded from revolutionary activity, and he struggled with ill-health in his later years. His last known address was 77 Lees Hall Road, Sheffield, in the late 1940s and early 50s. He died in Sheffield, largely unknown, aged sixty-four, in February 1960.

[Based on the article by Graham Stevenson.]

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