James Connolly and Edinburgh’s New Trade Union, Independent Labour and Socialist Movements(1890-96)


James Connolly’s role in Irish history is well known and celebrated. However, Connolly also played a prominent part in the ‘New Union’, independent Labour and Socialist movements in Edinburgh. Allan Armstrong, who conducts Radical Walks in the city, has written the first book looking at Connolly’s years in Edinburgh. It includes a Gazetteer of locations in the city linked with Connolly.


Thursday, March 13th, Blackwells Bookshop, Edinburgh

Allan Armstrong discussed his recent book, The Ghost of James Connolly, focusing on his life in Edinburgh’s ‘Little Ireland,’ his involvement with Hibernian FC and the overlooked contribution he made towards Scotland’s Labour and socialist movements. Armstrong considered why Connolly is ignored in the land of his birth despite being honoured in New York, Chicago and Dublin. He discussed the history of opposition to marking Connolly appropriately in Edinburgh. With the approaching centenary of his death, the Connolly Society is currently putting the wheels in motion for a statue to be erected in Edinburgh’s Meadows, the site where James Connolly gave some of his earliest public speeches.

from The Irish Voice, no. 8, March/April, 2014 first posted at:-


7.30pm, Tuesday, 4th March
Dundee Voluntary Action
10 Constitution Road


Allan Armstrong addressing meeting organised by the Irish Heritage Foundation
Isabel Gray introduces the work of the Irish Heritage Foundation
Isabel Gray introduces the work of the Irish Heritage Foundation
Jim Friel, past President of the GMBU, introduces the book launch

On Tuesday 21st January 2014 Allan Armstrong, a prominent member of the Republican Communist Network, held the Glasgow Book Launch for his latest work The Ghost of James Connolly which took place in the Govanhill Neighbourhood Centre.

The launch was organised by Stevie Coyle and Isobel Gray of the Irish Heritage Foundation and was chaired by Jim Friel (past President of the Graphical, Media and Print Union), who gave an introduction to the history of James Connolly. With few notes, Allan Armstrong then gave a remarkable talk on James Connolly’s Edinburgh connection (as well as the Irish one) showing a comprehensive knowledge of his subject which was well received by the audience. Allan’s book also has a handy gazetteer of places in Edinburgh that are connected to Connolly and this alone is a good reason to get a copy. Allan had also brought copies of his previous book from Connolly to Davitt for those interested in reading a more in depth period of Irish history.

Many in the hall that night were themselves knowledgeable on the subject of Connolly and his part in Irish history and it was good to see all age groups there, but the life of Connolly and his family in Scotland are less well known generally and Allan’s book goes a long way to filling in those gaps.

During the later question and discussion time, which itself was a lively and informed one, interested participants, and friends enhanced the contributions already made by Jim Friel and Allan Armstrong.

During this discussion it became clear to all that the State apparatus Connolly came up against is still oppressing us today. In our present day struggles against the State, the experiences and strategies used by James Connolly are still relevant and we can all look to the lessons therein.

James Connolly Heron, Connolly’s grandson sent the following message to the launch from Dublin.

“Congrats to Allan Armstrong and all behind this worthy publication.

It is said that my great grandfather served his apprenticeship to socialist politics in his native city. In that light this publication is important and is a reminder that as a hero of Irish history he is is also one of Edinburgh’s finest sons.”

Fraternally, James Connolly Heron

In 2014, the year of the Scottish Referendum, The Ghost of James Connolly has much to say to us.

John Lanigan, RCN
(photographs taken by John Lanigan)


Allan Armstrong beside the Edinburgh TGWU banner at the Wordpower book launch
Allan Armstrong beside the Edinburgh TGWU banner at the Wordpower book launch

Edinburgh’s Word Power bookshop has been the venue for a number of book launches but it was filled to capacity on Friday 29th November for the launch of Allan Armstrong’s latest book, The Ghost of James Connolly. It was encouraging to see the number of young people in the audience and a pleasure to see so many well kent faces.

And the gathering of family, friends, colleagues and the politically interested were not disappointed. Allan informed and entertained his audience with not only his knowledge of his subject but interwove his narrative with a personal history of his discovery of the life of Connolly and his involvement with the struggle over the years to have Connolly’s legacy recognised.

He outlined the main events that shaped Connolly’s life and his expanding political horizons; first his work as a trade union organiser during which he, unusually for that time, argued for the inclusion of women, of the unemployed and of immigrants. Allan contrasted this with the paucity of imagination of many of today’s trade union leaders whose narrow perspectives impede unity and moves toward greater emancipation.

Allan then described how Connolly’s growing awareness of the social, economic and political realities first led him toward socialism and then to a republican, break up of the UK, strategy.

The level of interest was evident at question time where, despite the allure of the pub across the road, there was an extended session of comment, discussion and questions.

The 2014 referendum and the capitalist crises of today show that many of the arguments over strategy and tactics that Connolly had to deal with continue to have important lessons for us all today and this makes Allan’s book all the more timely. If all you know about Connolly is that he was a leader in the Irish uprising in 1916, but don’t know how he got there via the USA from his roots in Edinburgh, then this book will fascinate and inform you.

Iain Robertson, RCN