Introduction. The plan to send children of strikers to England was abandoned by the end of September 1913, because public opinion, including influential church leaders, was so strongly against it. Connolly addressed those who supported and those who condemned the plan, and tried to explain the motives of both groups. He defended the intentions and actions of English labour activists who proposed the idea, the strikers who were prepared to send their children to England, and the people who opposed them. He argued that they all, in different ways, wanted to help the children. Although he believed that those who denounced the scheme were misguided, Connolly urged them to act now to end the strike, and thereby, end the need for such measures.
Source. “The Children, the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union and the Archbishop”, Forward, 1 November 1913: cited in James Connolly, The Workers’ Republic, in Desmond Ryan (ed), Socialism and Nationalism: a selection from the writings of James Connolly (2 vols, Dublin 1987) ii, 305–9.
Our good friend the Daily Citizen, official organ of the British Labour movement, describes the scenes attendant upon the intended departure of some Dublin children to Great Britain, under the auspices of a committee organised there for the purpose of taking care of children of the locked out workers, as ‘the most extraordinary scene in this most extraordinary industrial conflict in this country’. We do not wonder at our British friends being surprised, nor at them being horrified, nor at them being scandalised and shocked at the treatment to which they have been subjected, and the vile aspersions cast upon their motives. For ourselves we anticipated it all, and have never been enthusiastic towards the scheme.
We realised that their children are about all the workers of Dublin have left to comfort them, that amidst the squalor and wretchedness of their surroundings the love of their little ones shines like a star of redemption, and that to part with their dear ones would be like wrenching their hearts asunder. We realised, further, what it is very difficult to make even the most friendly of the British realise, that Great Britain is still an alien country to Ireland, and that even the splendid comradeship and substantial aid of today can hardly expect to obliterate immediately the evil results upon our intercourse of long generations of oppression during the period when class rule stood in Ireland for Great Britain, and symbolised all Britain’s relations with Ireland. And we also knew that some of the darkest memories of Ireland were associated with British attempts to stab the heart of Ireland through systematic abduction of the bodies and corruption of the minds of Irish children.
Therefore we felt instinctively that the well-meant move of Mrs Montefiore and her colleagues would arouse in Ireland hostilities and suspicions they could not conceive of, and would not believe were we to attempt the task of making the matter clear. Hence, while placing no obstacle in the way of its fulfilment, and feeling deeply a sense of gratitude towards the noble British men and women of our class who have so unreservedly thrown open their homes for the purpose of sheltering our stricken little ones, we have nevertheless felt that the scheme was bound to be taken advantage of to our detriment by all the hostile elements who surround us, but usually fear to reveal their hostility. We know that people ‘willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike’, swarm everywhere on the flanks of the labour movement in Ireland, and we also know that the men and women in charge of that labour movement know how to keep these people disarmed and ineffective; but that the men and women in the British labour movement have none of that knowledge of our enemies nor of our methods for neutralising their hostility.
But when we have said this we have said all that our own position demands. Having said it, we must protest in the name of the whole labour movement of this country against the foul and libellous accusations brought against the noble–minded ladies who have been in charge of the scheme. One scoundrel in clerical garb is said to have stated on Wednesday that the children were being ‘brought to England by trickery, fraud and corruption for proselytising purposes’. Nothing more venomous and unfounded was ever spewed out of a lying mouth in Ireland since the seoinín clergy at the bidding of an English politician hounded Parnell to his grave. Mrs Montefiore had given His Grace Archbishop Walsh her assurance that wherever the children went, the local Roman Catholic clergy would be given their names and addresses, and requested to take charge of them, and see that they attended to their duties as Catholic children. His Grace felt that, despite that assurance, and without doubting it in the least, there would still be dangers. But not for one moment did he impugn the motives of the ladies in question. His instincts as a gentleman, and his own high sense of honour forbade. But what these instincts and that honour forbade His Grace to do was unblushingly done on Wednesday by a cleric destitute of both. We leave the gentleman in question to be dealt with by His Grace, who will assuredly see that in his diocese the garb of a priest is not made a shield for the acts and language of a scoundrel.
The utterances of His Grace the Archbishop on the question at issue deserve and no doubt will receive, the earnest consideration of every thoughtful man and woman in Ireland. Nobody wants to send the children away—the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union least of all desires such a sacrifice. But neither do we wish the children to starve. We love the children of Ireland, we are sacrificing our own ease and comfort in order that the future of these children may be sweeter and happier than the lot of their fathers and mothers. We know that progress cannot be made without sacrifice, and we do not shrink from the sacrifice involved in fighting for freedom now in order that future generations may build upon the results of our toil. But the master class of Dublin calmly and coldbloodedly calculate upon using the sufferings of the children to weaken the resistance of the parents. They wish to place us upon the horns of a dilemma. Either the parents should resist, and then the children will starve, or the parents will surrender, and the children will grow up in slavery, and live to despise the parents who bequeathed to them such an evil heritage.
Your Grace, we are resolved to fight Death itself—the death some of us have already suffered, the death your humble servant has in the same cause looked in the face without flinching—it would be preferable to surrendering the Dublin workers again to the hell of slavery out of which they are emerging. Your Grace, we will fight! But if Your Grace is as solicitous about the poor bodies of those children as we know you to be about their souls, or even if you are but one tenth part as solicitous, may we suggest to you or your laymen that your duty is plain. See to it that the force of public opinion, that the power of the press, that all the engines at your command are brought to bear upon the inhuman monsters who control the means of employment in Dublin to make them realise their duties to the rest of the community. We have done our part, we have told the Lord Mayor, we have told Sir George Askwith, we have told the Dublin Industrial Peace Committee, that we are ready to negotiate. All of these admit that our position is reasonable, all of them have been spat upon with scorn by the employers, and all of them shrink in cowardice from taking the next logical step and concentrating public feeling and public financial support in favour of the workers, the only party to the dispute that all along has declared its readiness to bow to public opinion.
These people, we repeat, have shrunk in cowardice from their manifest duty. Will you undertake it? It is your duty equally with theirs. To you we repeat our offer: we are willing to accept the mediation of any party whose functions will be strictly limited to bringing the two parties together in a conference to thrash out their differences. We are prepared to meet the representatives of all the employers, or meet any individual employer, as we have done satisfactorily in many cases already. This is our offer to you. And we repeat to you what we have said to the others:
‘If the employers reject your offer of mediation and still declare their contempt for any public opinion they cannot rig in advance, then it is your manifest duty to organise public support for the workers to defeat their soulless employers.’
We have read Your Grace’s character in vain if you shrink from that task, or fail in that duty. The plight of the children, and your concern for them should be your warrant for acting, if any warrant other than your high position was needed. Meanwhile, come weal or woe, in good repute or evil, we are prepared to fight, because we feel that this fight is a fight for the future, a brighter future for:—“The children who swarm and die, In loathsome dens where despair is king; Like blackened buds of a frosty spring that wither, sunless, remote they lie, From the hour that quickens each soul and whilst vice and hunger and pestilence—breastpoisoned nurses—the babes drain dry”.