On this page we welcome documents, views
and opinions on the Limerick Soviet.
Tel 087 285 3570
Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils...
To the organisation committee of the celebration of the Limerick Soviet,
and Limerick Council of Trade Unions
As this world contemplates the recession caused by the failure of
capitalism to live up to the myth it has created we look to history for
We as a working class should not tolerate the bosses determining who
should work, where we should work, when we should work and at what rate.
We as free people should determine our future and not tolerate the
imposition by the state, the church, or any group of owners any
restrictions on our free movement to work and trade.
The Limerick Soviet reminds us that solidarity of class and community can
defeat our oppressors, and greater solidarity will defeat a greater enemy
of working people.
Best wishes for your celebration in 2009
Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils
Castle Coach House, Castle Pitch, Stroud,
Comradely good wishes for the 90th anniversary commemoration.
As seen from London - 2009
and 19th April 2009, I attended the 90th Anniversary of the Limerick
Soviet. I sent fraternal greetings from the Greater London Association of
Trades Union Councils. This anniversary may seem to be one of the least
recognised events in Irish history but certainly could be viewed as an
important epoch in workers' struggles. It is a great example of a well
organised Strike by all local Trade Unions in this particular city and it
could have escalated to the rest of Ireland and Britain. The commemorative
events of the anniversary were launched on 6th April in City Hall by John
Gilligan, the Mayor of Limerick. Along with a two week exhibition, the
events continued with the launch of 4th edition of DR O'Connor
Lysaght's "Story of the Limerick Soviet" on 17th April. During the following day,
there was a seminar hosted by Liam Cahill, (historian and author of
"Forgotten Revolution"), Jack O'Connor (President of SIPTU, Ireland's
largest Trade Union) and Mary O'Donnell (Chair of the Limerick
Commemoration Committee). On the final day of 19th April, "The Workers'
Walk" was organised by Dominic Haugh, a postal workers' union shop steward
and local historian in which we visited the historic sites of the 1919
In order to
provide some background information, the Limerick Soviet was established
on 6th April 1919, a few months after the Dail (the newly elected Irish
national assembly) proclaimed independence from Britain in January. It was
during this time that many people in Ireland were joining the new emerging
nationalist movement, known as the Irish Republican Army. One of them, by
the name of Robert Byrne, was a postal worker and active Trade Unionist in
Limerick City. Like most Republicans in the county, he believed in an
independent Ireland that was free for all Irish working class people from
any capitalist exploitation. But one day, his employer found an excuse to
dismiss him and his house was later searched by the authorities. As a
pistol was found, which may have been planted there, he was arrested and
imprisoned. Byrne protested against this treatment by going on hunger
strike. After some time, he became unconscious and was moved St. Camillus'
Hospital. A rescue attempt was made by a number of his comrades resulting
in mortal casualties on both sides and the fatal wounding of Robert Byrne
despite his successful escape. He died the following evening. His death
was heavily mourned throughout the city as 20,000 people attended his
funeral in protest. The British Government reacted angrily by imposing
martial law on the city with the use of troops and tanks. Thus, the local
people had to reveal their permits to the British guards on duty before
going to work.
As a result,
the local Trade Unions resorted to Strike action and set up a Strike
Committee known by the Press as the Limerick Soviet. The Strike Committee
certainly lived up to this name as a "workers' council" according to its
Russian equivalent. The British forces attempted to prevent any movement
in or out of the city and military barricades were placed on Thomond and
what is now named Sarsfield Bridge. The city was under siege and food had
to be smuggled across the Shannon from County Clare. Hearses coming from
the 'City Home' did not always contain corpses! For two weeks Limerick
became 'self ruled.' The workers, through its organisations, ran the
city. Not only did they organise their own food rations but they were
later to print their own paper currency as finances were becoming short.
Soon, the Limerick Soviet became well known at international level. It is
interesting to know that a Scottish regiment was very sympathetic by
allowing many local workers to pass without showing their permits. The
British Government sent this regiment home in order to replace them with a
more repressive one.
the Strike was set to escalate at national level. Already, other Irish
Trade Union Councils were sending supplies to their comrades in Limerick
and even Irish labourers in Britain were Striking in support. But by the
end of mid April, the Church and the British led TUC waned in support. It
was difficult for the people of Limerick to sustain this struggle on their
own. After much heated negotiation with the Irish representatives of the
TUC, it was agreed that British Martial Law would be lifted in return for
ending the Strike. A few days after the people of Limerick returned to
work, the British troops were withdrawn. No doubt, this industrial
action was a great success at local level, but a great opportunity for an
international Strike within Britain and Ireland was lost.
Limerick Soviet was to be the first of many struggles in the county for
the next few years. More Strikes were to follow with the establishment of
other local Soviets by the farm labourers and dairy workers of Limerick
County. Also, there were many communists in the Limerick IRA that played a
prominent role in the War of Irish Independence (1919 to 1921) and the
Civil War (1922 to 1923). But such events in Limerick, sadly, play a less
recognised part in Irish history and communism did not become a
respectable ideology here, unlike certain countries in Europe.
I would like
to thank the Limerick Commemoration Committee and the Trades Union Council
for promoting this important anniversary. References can be made to the
two books, "Forgotten Revolution" and "The Story of the Limerick Soviet"
on the website:
In reference to the Seminar of 18th April, Jack O'Connor denounced the
employers for cutting jobs, wages and even allowing loss of pensions. Like
Britain, the Republic of Ireland is undergoing a deep recession with more
unemployment and rising crime. It should not be forgotten that a Council
of the Isles (or British - Irish Council) was established under the Good
Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet, there seems to be no sign of British and
Irish Trade Unions being provided with a major role on this council
in defending workers' rights. It is important that we build greater links
between the Trade Unions of these two nations in protecting our workers
against global capitalism.
Barnet Trades Union Council (April 2009)
Austin Harney addressing the Seminar at the Hunt Museum.