James Connolly is a true hero of the working people. He was born in Scotland in 1868, but spent much of his life in Ireland (corrected thanks to a comment by John). He educated himself and became one of the most influential Marxists in history. He was a militant workers leader, leading the Irish Transport and General Worker's Union (ITGWU) in many clashes with the establishment.
In one of his many speechs, Connolly declared:
"Perhaps they will see that the landlord who grinds his peasants on a Connemara estate, and the landlord who rack-rents them in a Cowgate slum, are brethren in fact and deed. Perhaps they will realise that the Irish worker who starves in an Irish cabin and the Scots worker who is poisoned in an Edinburgh garret are brothers with one hope and destiny."Connolly founded a workers' defence force, the Irish Citizens' Army (ICA), in response to endless agrression by the police and bosses. This was the first workers' Red Army in Europe and was a public militia.
The infamous Easter Rising took place on Monday 24, 1916 in Dublin, Ireland. Here Connolly led elements of the ICA in resistance against forces of the British Army and their backers. The army used artillery in their savage urban attack against the citizens and their homes. In the end, Connolly and many other martyrs fell. Connolly was shot at the firing range, strapped to a chair because he was unable to stand.
Connolly did not die in vain - his bravery inspires us still to stand up for what we know is right and just. The band Black 47 has an excellent song about the Easter Rising which I find particularly inspirational and I encourage folks to check it out.
(Note portions of this post summarized from an article by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, 2001)
Here are the lyrics:
Marchin' down O'Connell Street with the Starry Plough on high,
There goes the Citizen Army with their fists raised in the sky;
Leading them is a mighty man with a mad rage in his eye,
"My name is James Connolly - I didn't come here to die -
But to fight for the rights of the working man,
And the small farmer too;
Protect the proletariat from the bosses and their screws;
So hold on to your rifles, boys, and don't give up your dream
Of a Republic for the workin' class, economic liberty."
Then Jem yelled out "Oh Citizens, this system is a curse,
An English boss is a monster, an Irish one even worse;
They'll never lock us out again and here's the reason why,
My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die....."
And now we're in the GPO with the bullets whizzin' by,
With Pearse and Sean McDermott biddin' each other goodbye;
Up steps our citizen leader and roars out to the sky,
"My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die...
Oh Lily, I don't want to die, we've got so much to live for
And I know we're all goin' out to get slaughtered, but I just can't take any more;
Just the sight of one more child screamin' from hunger in a Dublin slum,
Or his mother slavin' 14 hours a day for the scum,
Who exploit her and take her youth and throw it on a factory floor.
Oh Lily, I just can't take any more,
They've locked us out, they've banned our unions,
they even treat their animals better than us;
No! It's far better to die like a man on your feet,
than to live forever like some slave on your knees, Lilly;
But don't let them wrap any green flag around me,
And for God's sake, don't let them bury me in some field full of harps and shamrocks;
And whatever you do, don't let them make a martyr out of me!
No! Rather raise the Starry Plough on high, sing a song of freedom;
Here's to you, Lily, the rights of man and international revolution!"
We fought them to a standstill while the flames lit up the sky
'Til a bullet pierced our leader and we gave up the fight
They shot him in Kilmainham jail but they'll never stop his cry
My name is James Connolly, I didn't come here to die...."