Jim Larkin Comes to the United States
From Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, The Rebel Girl, International Publishers NY, 1979

One day in the Spring of 1914 a knock came on our door at 511 East 134th Street in the Bronx. We lived up three flights of stairs and the bell was usually out of order. There stood a gaunt man, with a rough-hewn face and a shock of graying hair, who spoke with an Irish accent. He asked for Mrs Flynn. When my mother went to the door, he said simply: ‘I'm Jim Larkin. James Connolly sent me.’ He came regularly after that to drink tea with my mother, whom he called ‘my countrywoman.’ He had come to raise funds for the Irish Citizens' Army and the labor movement there. He had been a founder, with Connolly, of the Irish Transport Workers Union and a fiery leader of its great strike in 1913. Once he was out of Ireland, the British government did everything in its power to prevent his return. He remained throughout World War I, was jailed here during the Palmer raids and finally deported.

He was very poor and while in New York he lived in one room in a small alley in Greenwich Village, called Milligan Place. It ran diagonally from Sixth Avenue through to 11th Street and faced the old Jefferson Market Court. He had a small open fireplace and a tea kettle was ever simmering on the hearth. The tea was so strong that it tasted like medicine to us. His way of life was frugal and austere. He was bitterly opposed to drink and denounced it as a curse of the Irish. Once he was with a group of us at John's Restaurant on East 12th Street, which we frequented from 1913 on. He asked for tea. They had none, but out of respect for him they sent out for tea and a teapot and he taught them how to make it.

He was a magnificent orator and an agitator without equal. He spoke at anti-war meetings, where he thundered against British imperialism's attempts to drag us into war. My mother gave him the green banner of the Irish Socialist Federation and he spoke under it innumerable times, especially on the New York waterfront. It finally was lost somewhere on the West Side by an old Irish cobbler who used to take care of it in his shop – but visited taverns en route. When Connolly and his comrades were shot down in the 1916 uprising, Larkin aroused a tremendous wrath of protest here, especially when he roared against the professional Irish, mostly politicians, who tried to explain away an actual armed uprising of the Irish people. He went to Paterson with us after we won our free speech fight, and spoke to a large gathering of silk workers who contributed a pathetic collection of pennies, nickels and dimes to help the Irish, in response to Jim's appeal ‘for bread and guns.’ Many an Irish cop turned the other way and pretended not to hear when Jim made this appeal. He joined the American Socialist Party's Left-wing movement after his arrival here and was a delegate to a founding convention of the Communist Party five years later in Chicago, in 1919.

Larkin's record as a fighting labor leader in Ireland was well known in America. He had cemented bonds of solidarity between Irish and British workers while leading the 1913 strike against William Murphy, an Irish super-capitalist, owner of the Dublin streetcar and lighting systems, railroads, hotels, steamships and two newspapers. A strike meeting was prohibited as ‘seditious’ and Larkin burned the prohibition order, announcing the meeting would be held. Thousands waited patiently at the appointed hour and place. An old man with a long beard entered the Hotel Imperial. A few minutes later he appeared on a balcony, tore off the beard and said: ‘I am Larkin. I said I would be here and here I am.’ Then the police charged the crowd. That day, August 31, 1913, was marked as ‘the bloodiest day in Dublin’ – up to that time. Five hundred were injured by the police attack and one man, Nolan, killed. A mass funeral, two miles long, was arranged by Connolly and Larkin. As they had with us in Lawrence and Paterson, the police remained away during the strike funeral.

James Larkin was the nephew of one of the Manchester martyrs, hanged by the British government in 1867. He boasted of his family tree, amid cheers of approval from Irish audiences, that ‘a man was hung in every one of four generations, as a rebel.’ Connolly and Larkin represented a remarkably effective combination in the struggle for Irish freedom, the building of an Irish labor movement and the establish-ment of a socialist movement. They complemented each other and were loved and respected in Ireland – and respected each other. I am proud I had the opportunity to count both of these truly great sons of Érin as my comrades and friends.

Back to Jim Larkin



Any constructive comments/suggestions regarding this site? Please direct them to: Matt Kelly