100 Years Later – the Legacy of the Lockout” is the culmination of an oral history project run by Mary Muldowney and Ida Milne in which they, along with trained volunteers from the 1913 Alternative Visions Oral History Group talked to descendants of people who were involved in the Lockout. The book contains their stories as told to them by their fathers, mothers and close relations. Mary Muldowney spoke about the project and the people’s stories on the programme.
100 Years Later – The Legacy of the Lockout
By Mary Muldowney
It is now widely recognised that the everyday memories of so-called “ordinary” people, not just the rich and famous, have historical importance. If we do not collect and preserve those memories, those stories, then one day they will disappear forever. Stories passed from generation to generation can also offer great insight into the way people lived and the small and large events that shaped their lives. Correlating such stories across several generations, however, presents significant challenges as the information is transformed by time and memory.
In September 2012, twenty people gathered in the training rooms of the Technical Electrical and Engineering Union (TEEU) in Dublin to meet Ida Milne and myself, Mary Muldowney. They were all trade union members and they wanted to learn how to collect oral histories related to the 1913 Dublin Lockout, and Ida and I were ready to train them. Those present were the first participants in the 1913 Alternative Visions Oral History Group and several of them are contributors to this book. Other members of the group have given assistance in different ways, all voluntarily, in the best traditions of trade union activists.
The oral history training programme was generously sponsored by the TEEU. It was designed to develop a capacity among trade union members to set up and deliver oral history interviews that follow best ethical, legal and technical practice to enable the course participants in the future to apply their skills to the collection of their unions’ histories. Some of the chapters in this book show that this work is already underway.
It was not just the members of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union and the members of the unions that supported them in 1913/14 who felt the impact of the events of that fateful six months in Dublin’s history. Many families have proudly passed down the stories they were told about the involvement of their grand-parents or great grand-parents to younger generations. Other families have been silent, perhaps because of the trauma that they suffered during the Lockout. In one hundred years it is also possible that stories have simply been forgotten.
Post-memory describes the relationship of second and later generations to powerful, sometimes even traumatic experiences that preceded their births but that were nevertheless transmitted to them so deeply as to generate memories in their own right. It can often be difficult to distinguish between what the interviewee remembers for him or herself and the memory that has been passed on by someone else but overall the transmission of those memories, particularly within a family or other tightly knit community, such as a trade union branch, contributes to the understanding of the events that are being described. The post-memories elicited in the oral history interviews featured in this book are used to explore the influence of the Lockout “legend” on families and communities who had connections with the original actors in the Lockout story.
The Lockout occupies an important place in the collective memory of many trade unionists as well as in the wider consciousness of past events that shaped Ireland’s history. The centenary has been commemorated locally and nationally in art, film, history and music and this book is intended to contribute to the increasing recognition that the Lockout was an important event in itself and was not a mere “opening act” for the 1916 rising or any of the later milestone events in Irish history. It represented a significant event in Irish history and it is encouraging to see that this centenary year has prompted the analysis and reflection on the nature of that significance that such an iconic episode deserves.
In oral history, trust is the key to good interviews, especially when you are dealing with emotionally or politically sensitive issues. It can take time and patience on the part of the interviewer to build a working relationship that allows the interviewee to open up. One of the advantages possessed by many of the interviewers who collected the oral histories in this book is that they had the trust of their interviewees, either through prior acquaintance or even closer relationship or because of their mutual membership of an altruistic organisation like a community group or a trade union.
The book opens with Alex Klemm’s exploration of the Witness Statements in the Bureau of Military History. Alex has used the online access to this extensive database of statements by veterans of the national struggle for independence to search for evidence of connections between the activities of the Witnesses in the revolutionary period up to 1921 and any earlier politicisation because of their involvement in the Lockout. The interviewers who collected the Witness Statements between 1947 and 1957 were not instructed to ask about the Lockout. Their brief, according to the Director’s Report from 1957 that is quoted on the website was “to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25 November 1913, to the 11 July 1921”.
In Wexford in 1911/12 the 700 locked out workers from the town’s three foundry companies achieved a victory that was to elude the Dublin strikers, at least in the immediate aftermath of the Lockout. The centenary commemoration of the events was chaired by the then Mayor of Wexford, Councillor David Hynes, himself a life-long trade unionist from a family who were also committed to the labour movement. John Gibbons’s chapter explores the impact of the Lockout on the Hynes family but also on the town. John pays particular attention to the memory of the role played by Richard Corish, who came to the fore as a labour activist in 1911 and was to go on to spend the rest of his life in national politics as a Labour Party T.D. for Wexford. In terms of post-memory, David Hynes was greatly influenced by Michael Enright, who wrote a history in 1987 of the Wexford Lockout.
Alan MacSimóin’s chapter is based on an interview with Moira Crawford, great grand-niece of James Nolan, who was killed during the Dublin Lockout. The trauma associated with the event was perpetuated in the next generation, as James Nolan’s children were to suffer greatly after the loss of their father. The particular difficulties that afflicted the children resulted in a reluctance among some of the later generations to talk about what happened, while others are proud to claim their ancestor’s association with a struggle for the dignity and respect of working people.
Activism in a trade union accompanied by broader political activity in the labour movement is not uncommon in Ireland. Jim Quinn, the subject of Mick Halpenny’s chapter, was a seaman whose parents were friends of Larkin and “Big Jim” was a familiar visitor in the Quinn household. Jim Quinn was well connected in other ways, particularly to Barney Conway, often cited as the model for the heroic character of “Mulhall” in James Plunkett’s Strumpet City. Political allegiances were strong in the Quinn family and in typically Irish fashion, often quite contradictory.
Des Dalton’s interview with Úna Ó Callanáin, granddaughter of Michael Mallin, underlines the extent to which recall is shaped by the relative importance placed on the key events or people that prompt the recollection of memories. Séamus Mallin, eldest son of Michael met his father in Kilmainham Jail the night before he was killed and the memory of that trauma naturally affected him all his life. This is the key memory that has been passed through the family and they are less familiar with Michael Mallin’s activities during the Lockout although Úna believes that her father inherited his own father’s passion for social justice, which prompted his involvement in the 1916 rising and his early death.
The cataclysm of the Dublin Lockout is often described as if it were a clash between two men, rather than the pitching of more than 20,000 families against both the Dublin Employers’ Federation and the forces of the State in the shape of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. In Ida Milne’s chapter on the experience of living with the stories of a legendary ancestor, she discusses the reflections of William Martin Murphy’s great grandson, Gerry and James Larkin’s granddaughter, Stella. The former is anxious that Murphy should also be remembered for creating jobs in Ireland, not merely as the grabbing capitalist vulture of Ernest Kavanagh's caricature. Similarly, Stella remembers her grandfather with great fondness, as an amiable man, although others in this work have described a more mercurial personality. Even titans have families, and these two are recalled in the context of their families.
Family stories of Larkin’s influence on one of his followers shapes the next chapter, written by me, which examines how John Fitzpatrick’s involvement in the 1913 Lockout affected not just his own life but was also an important element in the long engagement of both his sons in the trade union movement. Seamus and Martin Fitzpatrick have spent years as activists in IMPACT and the National Union of Journalists respectively. They remember their father’s lifelong admiration for Larkin, even though he was more involved in republican activity than the labour movement after the Lockout ended. It is clear from their stories that their father’s personal code of honesty and loyalty was as strong an influence on the two men as was their family’s history of political commitment in the struggle for independence.
Sarah Lundberg and Joe Mooney collaborated in their chapters, which are written as two parts of an analysis of the impact of the Lockout on the East Wall docklands community in Dublin. The first part is based mainly on interviews with residents of the area. Some of the interviewees worked on the docks and act now as the conservators of the history of the community and the workplaces and work practices that were specific to the locality. Sarah and Joe are particularly engaged by the role played by strike-breakers and the second part of their contribution concentrates on a survey of “scabs” in Ireland and Britain, as background to some of the stories they have been told in their ongoing collection of the oral histories of East Wall.
In the following chapter, I explore the impact of the Lockout on women in terms of their struggle to feed themselves and their families; coping with living in often very severely sub-standard accommodation and in the context of their trade union activism. The analysis is informed by interviews with several women who are talking about women who lived through 1913 and others who were influenced by the stories they heard about it.
One interview is with Phil Crowley, Rosie Hackett’s second cousin, who remembers meeting her famous relative when a child. Rosie’s family did not talk about her activities in 1913, any more than Michael Mallin’s family did, and it was not until many years later that Phil came to know more about her. Another interview is with Aileen Morrissey who has been active in trade unions all her working life, to some extent because of the influence of her family’s attitude to workplace organisation.
Oral transmission of labour memories, politics and traditions has long been facilitated by song as much as by story. Nora Shovelin’s interview with trade unionist Fergus Whelan explores his family’s connections with Larkin and the Lockout as well as the role played by labour songs in Fergus’s own development. His father Paddy was a major influence on Fergus’s life as was his early politicisation through membership of the Workers’ Party and the role he played in the Tax Marches organised by the Dublin Council of Trade Unions in the late 1970s. Fergus’s mother Kathleen Sommerville was just as much an inspiration to him as was his father. She imbued her children with the appreciation of labour activism that she had learned about through song.
Like Fergus Whelan, Des Bonass and Mick O’Reilly were influenced by their parents and their encounters with major figures in the labour movement to take up their roles in both political and trade union activism. Both men spent years working for the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers Union which is now UNITE but they were also politically active and were involved in many campaigns for social justice. In retirement they are still active in the Dublin Council of Trade Unions. This chapter includes consideration of their views on commemoration of the Lockout over the century since it happened and the links between ideological and political changes in the labour movement and the approach to such commemoration.
Finally, Eimear Ging’s chapter reflects her considerable achievement in persuading seven members of her IMPACT branch committee to participate in interviews at the same time as the Croke Park 2 and Haddington Road negotiations required their involvement in the balloting process. Some of the interviewees in this chapter echo the comments of contributors elsewhere in the book that present-day union members need more of the spirit of 1913 to help them to fight back at a time when they are under pressure as a result of economic and political conditions.
There are photographs throughout this book, many of them taken by John Moran, one of the members of the 1913 Alternative Visions Oral History Group. John and his camera have been present at most of the commemorative events and he has captured the efforts to re-create the spirit of 1913 and to remind people of what that means. The photograph on page 17 of members of the North Inner City Folklore Project, Dublin Council of Trade Unions and many volunteers re-enacting the baton charge on “Bloody Sunday”, 31 August 1913 includes several of the people who took part in interviews for the oral history project. Some of John’s other photographs feature protests about the ongoing austerity programme that has so unfairly targeted those with the least capacity to take the pain.
The struggle in 1913 was essentially about the right of all workers to belong to the trade union of their choice and for employers to be obliged to recognise and negotiate with that union. It is not a battle that had been won when the strikers were forced to return to work in the spring of 1914 but neither was it a war that was lost. The employers, even with the full force of the State at their beck and call, abjectly failed to destroy the trade union movement, although we still need to secure full recognition rights. The many achievements in employment rights that were a feature of the twentieth century are a constant reminder of the bravery and the sacrifices of members of the labour movement in the 100 years since the Lockout that have consistently inspired and encouraged those who came after them. In 2013 we owe it to ourselves and our children to recognise the legacy and to keep that spirit of 1913 in our hearts as we tackle the considerable challenges that face us.