by ehistoryadmin on June 1, 2023


On Friday night 1st June 1923, the Labour movement in County Kildare organised a huge procession and meeting in Droichead Nua (Newbridge). Jim Larkin, General Secretary of the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU), was the principal speaker at the meeting held outside the Town Hall. Kildare Labour leaders including Senator William Cummins and Hugh Colohan T.D. also spoke at the event, organised by former I.R.A. leader Cllr Michael Smyth (Labour Party) of the Transport Union.

Larkin addressed the huge attendance for over an hour, after receiving a rousing welcome by the general public in what was a Labour stronghold. His speech appealed for peace, the release of anti-Treaty prisoners and highlighted the potential of Labour in the new State. The Leinster Leader of 9 June provided extensive coverage of the event, noting that the demonstration was the largest since the anti-conscription campaign rally co-organised by the labour movement in 1918. A detailed description of the impressive scenes and of Jim Larkin’s speech can be read here Labour Demonstration at Droichead Nua 1st June 1923

Larkin himself headed the procession through the town that preceded his speech, with the Workmen’s Fife and Drum Band providing the music. Banners, including a giant streamer with the message “Welcome Jim” by the Town Hall, were on display. Those in the procession were organised by their own branch of workers. Women workers, carters, farm workers, railway workers, County Council workers (who had been given a half-day to attend) and workers from across County Kildare including Milltown, Suncroft, Nurney, Ballymore Eustace, Monasterevan and Rathangan were among the groups that featured in the procession. There was speculation that the attendance would have been larger only for the military authorities withdrawing the passes of National Army soldiers who planned to attend, while those residing South of the Curragh Camp being reluctant to attend due to the perceived danger of marching through the Curragh Camp late at night. The Voice of Labour detailed the extensive preparations for the event, including the renovation of existing banners and the procurement of a new banner specially for the event.

Larkin had embarked on a tour of the Provinces following his deportation from the United States of America and his return to Ireland in April 1923. The meeting in Newbridge on 1st June is significant as it was the final meeting where Jim Larkin presented a united front with the existing ITGWU Leadership, including General Treasurer William O’Brien and President Thomas Foran, who had run the union during his long absence in America from 1914 to 1922.  Two days later, 3rd June 1923, saw Jim Larkin launch a scathing attack on the role of O’Brien and Foran at a meeting of the Dublin No. 1 Branch of the ITGWU. This tension between Larkin, his followers and those who had looked after and grew the union in his absence, resulted in a damaging split in the labour movement. It led to the creation of the Larkin controlled Workers Union of Ireland in 1924 and bitter in-fighting amongst individuals and between organisations that lasted for decades.

Our thanks to Eimhin Clarke for re-typing the Leinster Leader article (linked above).

Further Reading:

Big Jim Larkin Hero Or Wrecker? by Emmet O’Connor, A City In Civil War Dublin 1921-4 by Pádraig Yeates & the subjective The Attempt to Smash the ITGWU Report 1924 – Irish Labour History Society

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