From the beginning of the sit-in people calling in to the factory or at the marches would say to us
“Larkin and Connolly would be proud of ye lads.”
We would smile and shrug it off knowing there was no comparison.
“Go away out of that!” I remember saying to Ann Piggott many evenings, “They were great men, legends in any time, we are just standing up for ourselves and our families in our corner of the world.”
“I don’t know Greg,” she would say to me, “If Larkin and Connolly were alive they would be in this canteen with you, be sure of it.”
For many of the Celtic Tiger cubs, until the last couple of years, the images of Ireland in 1913 would be unfathomable. Low wages, casual work only, unprecedented corruption, 30,000 families living in 15,000 tenements in Dublin alone, no healthcare and emigration to England at Famine-era rates. The class-divide between rich and poor added an explosive element to the mix, the country was like a volcano with trouble bubbling below the surface and the government turned a blind eye. But by the time 2011 came around, we could certainly relate to the shortage of jobs, class-divide and political indifference and like 1913 we all just felt powerless to do anything.
In 1913, by August 26th James Larkin had had enough. He had spent the previous years fighting for the rights of un-skilled workers. On the Day of the Dublin Horse Show, a prestigious event in Ireland even then, Larkin lead the tram drivers in a strike that would result in the most severe industrial dispute in Ireland’s history. Employers in Dublin engaged in a lockout of their workers, bringing workers from Britain and elsewhere in Ireland. Dublin’s workers, among the poorest in Europe continued to fight their cause in poverty until January 18th of 1914.
Darren rang me last night. He has a knack for remembering things at exactly the right moment.
“Greg, how many days is it from August 26th to January 18th?” he asked.
“I don’t know boy,” I replied wondering if it was another one of his riddles.
“It’s 146,” he answered quietly, “Tomorrow you will be on the sit-in as long as the workers were locked out. You guys haven’t just made history symbolically, on Thursday you will actually make history.”
His words hung there for a second, like neither of us could speak to the significance of it. We hung up, not really knowing what else to do but it stayed in my mind all night.
I played it over and over in my head. How could we make history? We are just ordinary people? Not like those heroes of old. But 146 days ago, we decided to fight for justice. When we stood up to fight we had no way how it would end, or how we would survive like those 1913 workers. But they were different to us, they had great men like James Larkin and James Connolly to light the way, to be their heroes, we were on our own in those first few days and we certainly could have used some inspiration from big Jim.
But as word of our occupation and our “lock-in” spread, as the Facebook page and Twitter gained momentum and the media covered the story, our Larkins and Connollys emerged from Ballyphehane, from the wider Cork community, from across Ireland and indeed across the seas.
Our Larkins and Connollys brought food, sent mass cards, wrote poems, drew pictures and lit candles. They marched the streets, wrote to their politicians, brought torches to vigils and held us in their thoughts and prayers. For 146 days like those great leaders of old they did not give up, and I know that if it had lasted 146 more they would still be there standing with us. They lead us to victory and like the great leaders in 1913, they have been our rock, our reason to keep fighting.
In his poem about the Lockout, September 1913 W.B. Yeats wrote,
“Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave” .
Mrs Cross, Der O’ Callaghan, Pat Manning, Martha Dennehy, Kieran O Connell, Eleanor Murphy and every other person on here, too many to name, have shown that in 2012 this is not the case. You are our Larkins and Connollys and now, on Day 146, you have all made history. I remember Ann Piggott’s words “If Larkin and Connolly were alive they would be in this canteen with you, be sure of it.” She was right. They were there in every card, every box of chocolates, every prayer. They were in your visits, kind messages and support. They were here all along.
“Comrades – We are living in momentous times.”
Greg Marshall worked at Vita Cortex for 37 years, he writes on Day 146.