Today is Larkin’s birthday.
Through my involvement with 1913 Unfinished Business this past year I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the hero of the Lockout. This section of an engaging obituary by the American author James T Farrell is, I think, my favourite piece on Big Jim:
“Larkin was almost the polar opposite of his associate, James Connolly. Connolly was precise, methodical. He thought and planned ceaselessly. He tried to take everything into account in advance. He studied the revolutions of the past in order to draw lessons which he might apply in the Irish struggles which he anticipated. He had deep indignations, but he was usually controlled. Larkin was more emotional, impetuous, violent, extravagant. In his speeches and in his actions, he was an improviser. He did not stop to reason or to plan. He spoke with a rapid flow, with sweeping gestures. His speeches were filled with hyperbole, with castigation, with acidity, with sentimentality, and with rousing appeals. In one speech he declaimed that it was his divine mission to preach subversion and discontent to the working classes. This more than suggests his style.
“He was brave to the point of foolhardiness, and he was self-sacrificing. Again and again, he was ready and willing to give up his life and to be a martyr of the working class. In his great days as an organizer and an agitator, he lived a life of danger. He flung challenges into the teeth of the police of the British Crown. He flung bold and insolent challenges into the face of Martin Murphy and the other employers of Dublin. He gave his services to the struggle for the emancipation of the working class of the world: at the same time, he refused to appear on the same platform with an American Socialist of international repute because this man was divorced!
“In a period when the most depressed sections of the Irish working class were militant, he was peculiarly fitted to play the role of agitator. His ability to lash their enemies, and to rouse and stir them, enabled him to appeal to their manhood, to the will to freedom which slept within their hearts. He added his own daring example to the appeal of his words. And when he led these workers in strikes he was adamant, uncompromising, and in the forefront where danger lurked. His bravery and daring were as extravagant as his foibles. But in a period of letdown, of retreat, of the sodden rule of the middle classes and the clergymen in Ireland, he was like a lost child. In the slums of Dublin after ‘the Troubles,’ he could not repeat what he had done in this same area in the early days of this century. This was apparent when I saw him in Dublin in 1938. He was embittered […]
“Jim Larkin was a brave soldier of the working class. He was a great agitator. He gave his spirit, and the best years of his life in their service. Karl Marx spoke of the great heart of the proletariat in his pamphlet on the Civil War in France. Jim Larkin came from that great heart.”