Graham Walker

Graham Walker lectures in modern history at Birkbeck College, London University. He is the author of The Politics of Frustration: Harry Midgley and the Failure of Labour in Northern Ireland and of Thomas Johnston, a biography of the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland.

Gaelic Communist

Graham Walker, 12 October 1989

James Connolly is not a figure historians can confidently aspire to demythologise. His importance in Irish history lies as much in the images which have been fashioned of him as in his actual writings and actions. Images and myths, of course, are central to the creed of Irish nationalism, and it is hardly surprising, therefore, that many influential ones have been constructed around the only leader, and martyr, of the Easter Rising of 1916 with a socialist reputation. These myths have been further reinforced by the continuing topicality and intractability of issues which exercised Connolly and whose complexity is part of the problem in assessing him. I refer, primarily, to the sectarian and national divisions in Northern Ireland, but also to the extraordinary hold of the Roman Catholic Church over the mass of the people in Ireland, and the weakness of socialism – or, indeed, social democracy – in any part of Ireland.

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