Jeffrey Leddin’s latest book charts the rise and activities of Irish Labour’s first urban working-class militia. The Irish Citizen Army (ICA) came into being as a direct response to police brutality against strikers during the 1913 Dublin lock-out, and it grew as a powerful and well-trained workers’ defense corps. Organised by James Larkin, James Connolly and Jack White, the ICA volunteers presented a formidable force during those troubled years, protecting trade unionists and strikers against the violent attacks perpetrated by the notoriously partisan Dublin Metropolitan Police.
After the defeat of the strikers in early 1914, the ICA joined the struggle for Irish independence, and the fundamentally different goals of syndicalism and nationalism inevitably became indivisible. The involvement of the ICA in such defining moments of Ireland’s history as the Easter Rising, the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War is traced, and the value of its contribution to Dublin’s revolutionary movement is examined, as is the ICA’s relationship with the IRA.
Leddin’s book might well be described as a Herculean labour in itself, representing, as it does, commendably extensive research into a complex and pivotal era of Irish history. It draws on a very wide range of sources.
Though it begins with the tumultuous year of 1913, it makes reference to the events and movements that had gone before and that had led to the parlous state of social and industrial relations in Ireland just before the outbreak of World War I. This remarkably comprehensive work will prove invaluable to anyone studying 20th century Irish history or, indeed, the era of working-class revolution in a European context, yet it is no dry tome. It is well written and highly readable.
Personally, I might have preferred a less cumbersome title, maybe involving mention of the Starry Plough, but perhaps Seán O’Casey’s lyrical phrase has been overused in other contexts and would be inappropriate in what is a factual, rather than romantic or nostalgic view of the times. To be fair, the book’s title is an apt description of its remit. This volume would be a most-worthy addition to anyone’s bookshelf.