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James Connolly

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James Connolly

James Connolly (2)

Photo: James Connolly

Aged 43 at the time of the 1911 Census

Born: 5 June 1868 
Executed: 12 May 1916

Age 32 at the time of the 1901 Census

Census 1901 address: 54.3 in Pimlico (1-24; 36-77) (Merchants Quay, Dublin)1

The 1901 Census return for James Connolly records him as aged 32 and includes his wife Lillie who was aged 33. James and Lillie had 5 children recorded in this census: Mona (9), Nora (8), Ina Mary (4), Maria Elizabeth (2) and Roderic aged 1 month. (Aideen who appears in the 1911 census is not present). Connolly’s occupation was recorded as a Printer Compositor and he listed his place of birth as Co. Monaghan.  Lillie is recorded as Church of Ireland and the rest of the family as Roman Catholic. Lillie subsequently converted to Catholicism after Connolly’s execution.

Age 43 at the time of the 1911 Census

Census 1911 address: 70, Lotts Road, South (Pembroke West, Dublin)1

The 1911 Census return for James Connolly records his age as 43, (although he stated 32 in the Census of 1901). The return includes his wife Lillie (43) and his children Nora (18), Aideen (16), Ina (14), Moira (12), Roderic (10) and Fiona aged 4. Nora was listed as a dressmaker. Aideen and Ina had left school but had no occupation. Moira and Roderic were both at school and Fiona was not yet at school. Lillie Connolly is recorded as giving birth to seven children, of whom six were living at the time of the Census. (Mona died in a tragic accident in 1903). The occupation recorded for Connolly was National Organiser for the Socialist Party.

James Connolly was born in Cowgate in Edinburgh, (although on the Census he gives his place of birth as Monaghan), to Irish emigrants.  His family were extremely poor. James Connolly had an older brother John, who was prominent in local politics in Edinburgh. John was expected to do well in politics but joined the British army as a young man and died around June 1916, buried with British military honours2.

James Connolly left school at an early age and joined the British Army. He was stationed in Dublin for seven years. He met Lillie Reynolds and they married in Scotland in 1890. He became involved in Scottish Socialist organisations but with a young family he needed to earn a living. The Dublin Socialist Club was looking for a secretary and so he and his family moved to Dublin. Here Connolly founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party.

The working-class formed the vast majority of the population of Dublin but unemployment was high. Wages were low and a large part of the population lived in tenements where conditions were very poor. His view was that “We have a right to live; a right to be fed if we can’t work3”. Connolly believed the struggle for Irish freedom had two aspects, national and social. At the time of the 1901 Census, Connolly and his family were living in a tenement and in extreme poverty. This prompted his move to America in 1903 to secure a better life for his family.

In America he became involved in socialist groups and also published “Labour in Irish History4”. His family remained behind until he could get a job. When he had a house and a job, he sent the tickets for the journey to his family in Ireland. Tragically his eldest daughter Mona died (when her apron caught fire) one day before the family were to set sail for America. Connolly heard this news for the first time when he went to collect his family at Ellis Island. 

Connolly worked in insurance for the garment factories in America but this business hit a slump so he then got a job at Singer sewing machine manufacturers for a time before moving to the Bronx to work for the Industrial Workers of the World5. While in America Connolly corresponded with William O’Brien, a trade unionist in Dublin, keeping up to date with what was happening in Ireland. O’Brien managed to raise enough funds for the family to return to Ireland in 1910.

In Ireland he became the right hand man to fellow socialist James Larkin who was campaigning for worker’s rights. He worked as Belfast organiser for the Irish Transport and General workers’ Union. As he couldn’t afford to keep two homes going on his wages as a union official, he had to bring his family to the North. Though based in Belfast, he was called upon to help in trade disputes all over Ireland, having had success in the 1911 dock worker’s strike when he obtained favourable terms for the men. His two older daughters Nora and Ina found employment which helped the family financially. During this time James met Winnie Carney in Belfast who was an activist in the Irish Textile workers Union and subsequently went on to become James Connolly’s personal secretary, and assisted in the Easter Rising.

Connolly travelled to Dublin to assist Larkin during the General Strike in 1913. He was arrested and sent to Mountjoy prison. While there he adopted the methods of the suffragettes and went on hunger strike to fight for his rights and free speech, the first man in Ireland to do so. It was arranged that he would stay in the house of Countess Markievicz in Rathmines on his release, so she could nurse him back to health.

James Connolly helped establish the Irish Citizen Army which was set up to enable the locked-out men to defend themselves in clashes with the police and also to combat the demoralising effects of unemployment by providing some cohesion and sense of purpose6.  Connolly was also a committed feminist and the Irish Citizen Army admitted women who had the potential to be given the same rank and duty as men. This movement was partly political, partly social and partly military.

In 1916 the Irish Republican Brotherhood leaders, including Thomas Clarke and Pádraig Pearse, met James Connolly and an agreement was reached to launch a rebellion at Easter 1916. James Connolly was co-opted to the IRB Military Council. When the Easter Rising occurred on 24th April 1916, Connolly was Commandant of the Dublin Brigade and directed military operations. He contributed to the content of the Proclamation drafted by Pearse, particularly the socialist, feminist and egalitarian ideals.

James Connolly’s family were living in the North at this time but in the lead up to the rebellion his wife Lille sold what they had and the family moved to Countess Markievicz’s Surrey House, Rathmines for a time.  On Easter Sunday, there was a meeting at Liberty Hall.  Pádraig Pearse approached Connolly’s daughters with copies of the Proclamation. They were the first women to read it.  He wanted them to memorise it, so that they could tell the Irish Volunteers in the North what it contained and that it would be read outside the GPO that day at 12 o’clock.  He would not give them a written copy as it would be too dangerous.  Connolly’s daughters Nora and Ina were then sent to the North7. They were to help mobilise the Volunteers, both Easter Monday and Tuesday being Bank Holidays there.

During the Rising, Connolly was based at the GPO. Though Pearse’s position was that of Commander-in-Chief, it was Connolly who gave the orders to the rebels, Pearse being primarily an orator and propagandist.”I remember Commandant Connolly coming around on this day to inspect our positions. He inspired us with great confidence by the cool calm attitude he adapted to the firing all around. He was a grand character and did everything he could for the comfort of his men8”.

Connolly was badly injured in the fighting and when the surrender came knew what he would face. “There is no hope for me; all those who signed the proclamation will be shot9”. 

Following the surrender he was tried by court-martial and sentenced to death by firing squad. His last words were “I will say a prayer for all brave men who did their duty according to their lights”10On 12th May 1916 he was taken to the courtyard of Kilmainham Gaol by stretcher, tied to a chair and executed.

The military cemetery at Arbour Hill is the last resting place of fourteen of the executed leaders of the insurrection of 1916, including James Connolly. There is a statue of James Connolly outside Liberty Hall in Dublin, offices of the SIPTU trade union. Connolly Train Station is named in his honour.


  2. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Ina Heron daughter of James Connolly pg. 1
  3. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Ina Heron daughter of James Connolly pg. 24
  4. Ireland Since the Famine F.S. Lyons pg. 285
  5. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Ina Heron daughter of James Connolly pg. 40
  6. National Library of Ireland
  7. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement: William O’Brien later Director of the Central Bank and member of Dáil Éireann pgs. 2&3
  8. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Frank de Burca pg. 13
  9. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Rev. Fr. Aloysius, O.F.M. Cap., Chaplain to Irish Volunteer Leaders, 1916 pg. 18
  10. Bureau of Military History: Witness Statement Ina Heron daughter of James Connolly pg. 103



National Library of Ireland 

Go to Seán Mac Diarmada