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Dublin remembers the Lockout

3 September 2013

Séamus Dooley

It was eerily fitting that the mournful silence which descended upon Dublin on Saturday should have been broken by the unexpected tooting of a tram as it crossed the track at O'Connell Street.

President Michael D Higgins laid a wreath at the Larkin monument, followed by David Begg, general secretary of the ICTU, Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the ITUC, Bernadette Ségol, general secretary of the ETUC and NUJ member Francis O'Grady, general secretary of the UK TUC. The capital city united as one in remembering those who had died or suffered in the 1913 Lockout.

Central to the epic battle between labour and capital was the dispute between Larkin’s Transport and General Workers Union and the leader of big business William Martin Murphy, proprietor of the Dublin United Tramways and owner of the Irish Independent.

On Saturday, thousands lined the streets as the Irish State and Dublin City Council joined with the ICTU in a formal civic commemoration of the 1913 centenary. Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisin Quinn and Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore joined ICTU president John Douglas and representatives of the Connolly and Larkin families under the shadow of Big Jim.

The real stars were those who had answered the call to take part in the pageant which followed the wreath laying ceremony – union and community activists dressed in period costume waiting to be baton charged by the Dublin Metropolitan Police, played with gusto by the members of the Irish Prison Officers Association.

There was plenty of drama – including readings from Strumpet city, re-enactments from the ANU theatre company's Tenement Experience atop of a tram, extracts from Larkin’s speeches, songs from Jimmy Kelly and Ciara Sidine as well as the usual melodrama featuring overzealous stewards and frustrated photographers struggling to capture the moment amid the chaos.

Delia Larkin, founder of the Irish Women Workers' Union, would surely have approved of the prominent role played by women in Saturday's ceremony and of the emphasis on cultural diversity. She might have been less approving of the VIP reception which delayed the "riot", even though those of us without invites enjoyed the music of St Agnes Youth Orchestra, under the direction of former RTÉ TUG activist Seamus Doyle. In any event, the re-enactment was worth the wait. Given the massive support given by the TUC to Irish workers the presence of the TUC general secretary was especially significant.

Afterwards Frances O'Grady joined Gerry Curran, NUJ Ireland's Cathaoirleach, the union's Irish Executive Council and myself in the Oval Bar, once the home from home of Independent newspaper journalists, for a celebratory pint with colleagues Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, and his union president Alan Donnelly who, more than most, appreciated the significance of a tram horn intruding on that sacred moment. Perhaps, suggested a customer, it was the ghost of William Martin Murphy whistling in the wind!

Tags: , dublin lock-out, jim larkin, tuc, ictu, rté