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Larkin makes dramatic appearance before arrest
Jim Larkin, still in disguise, being led away by police outside the Imperial Hotel Photo: Bureau of Military History 1913-1921, Military Archives

Larkin makes dramatic appearance before arrest

Trade union leader uses elaborate disguise to evade Police

Published: 1 September 1913

The incident which sparked the terrible scenes in Dublin yesterday was the dramatic appearance of Mr James Larkin, the General-Secretary of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union, on the balcony of the Imperial Hotel.

In making his public appearance, Mr Larkin may have been delivering on a promise made some days ago, but he was also acting in defiance of an official proclamation prohibiting the holding of a meeting on Sackville street. Of course, Mr Larkin had flagged his intentions in advance; before a massive crowd of an estimated 10,000 people at Beresford Place two nights ago - August 29th - he not only made a very public point of burning a copy of the proclamation which barred the proposed meeting on; he also claimed that he cared as little for the King as he did for the magistrate, Mr. Swifte. The tenor of his remarks on that occasion led to a warrant for his arrest, yet until yesterday, Mr Larkin managed to evade the clutches of the police.

The charge filed against Larkin, P.T. Daly, Thomas Lawlor, William O'Brien and W.P. Partridge, August 1913.
(Image: National Library of Ireland Ms 13913)

So how did yesterday’s daring stunt come to pass and how did Mr Larkin negotiate his way through a heavily policed city? Planning for the Sackville Street appearance began, it seems, on Saturday night, when a phone call was put through to the Imperial Hotel reserving two rooms for an elderly gentleman named Donnelly, who was going into hospital, and his niece, who was accompanying. At 12.45 pm on Sunday, the two guests arrived by taxi cab at the hotel. The old gentleman, soon to reveal himself as Mr Larkin, was dressed in morning coat, striped trousers and black patent boots and had to be helped from the cab by the young lady purporting to be his niece. The man, seemingly in a feeble condition, made no comment and the pair were shown to their respective rooms. Some minutes later, the man walked into the smoke-room, sat down for a few brief moments, before rising again and making his way to the verandah. All of a sudden he lost the frail appearance and waved to the people on the street below. He delivered a few words and returned inside, coolly walking towards the stairs.  

The scene was witnessed from inside the hotel by, amongst others, Mr Handel Booth, the Liberal MP for Pontefract, who was in Dublin on holiday. ‘I was sitting in the diningroom of the Imperial Hotel with my wife and some friends having lunch’, Mr Booth told The Freeman’s Journal. ‘I was reading a copy of The Irish Worker, Mr Larkin’s newspaper, and amusing myself and my friends reading the description it contained of 'scabs' and all that. A man with a black beard dressed in a frock coat and smoking a cigar came along in the direction in which of the windows and commenced to address the crowds.’

According Booth, the words spoken by Larkin were short and to the point: ‘Comrades and friends, the police have forbidden a meeting to take place in O’Connell Street to-day, but I am here to speak and will remain till I am arrested.’

The police responded instantly. About one hundred members of the DMP and RIC raced towards the hotel: about a dozen entered, while the remainder lined up outside. Larkin, when confronted by the police, surrendered quietly. ‘It’s alright’, he is reported to have told his captors. ‘I have done what I undertook to do.’

When he emerged onto the street, escorted by 20 policemen with batons drawn, he was bareheaded, a false beard still glued to his face.  Indeed, Larkin wore a look that had evidently been constructed by a make-up artist. As well as the beard, his brow and nose had been pencilled to give the appearance of old age. He was taken immediately to a local police station and he will appear today before the Divisional Justice at the Police Courts.

This is Mr. Larkin’s second time in three days to be arrested. Alongside a number of other prominent labour figures, Mr Larkin had been arrested on August  28th on charges of seditious speaking, seditious conspiracy, the excitement of hatred against the Government and unlawful assembly. The charges arose following the delivery of a series of incendiary speeches at a public meeting on August 26th, the day the strike of the Dublin tram workers began. The men were released on the day of their arrest, but the language used by Mr Larkin at Beresford Palace on the night of August 29th put him in violation of an undertaking he had given to the Police Court and led to the issuing of a fresh warrant for his arrest.

In addition to Mr Larkin, the police have also interviewed the young lady who masqueraded as his niece in the Imperial Hotel ruse. Clearly upset, she said her name was Donnelly and gave an address in Liverpool; it is believed she may be a member of a dramatic company that had recently been giving performances in Dublin.


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.