James Connolly, one of Ireland’s most revered men, is the focus of a new touring exhibition, “Labor and Dignity: James Connolly in America.” Connolly was born in 1868. He enlisted in the army at 14 and later, in the 1890s, immersed himself in socialism and labor rights, which he would remain passionate about for the rest of his life. An Irish Nationalist, Connolly fought during the Easter Rising of 1916, and was made de facto commander in chief of the Dublin Brigade. Upon surrendering to British troops Connolly was imprisoned and sentenced to execution. Badly wounded and unable to stand he was tied to a chair and shot.
As the anniversary of the 1916 Uprising reaches its 100th year, a plethora of new and forgotten information is being unearthed and reexamined to honor the occasion. This new exhibition focuses on Connolly’s fight for labor reform in America. Connolly took strength in the American cause for labor and social revolution, and insisted that Irish nationalism be entwined with the battle for workers in factories and fields. During his many visits to America he constantly championed the rights of the workers by attending rallies, giving speeches, and composing marches. As Daphne Wolf, one of the curators and designers of the exhibition, informs, Connolly’s time in America, “imbued his fierce Irish nationalism with the conviction that Ireland must create a society that revered justice over profits.”
Wolf, a Ph.D student at Drew University, and Professor Marion Casey of Glucksman Ireland House at New York University, curated the exhibition, which was designed by Hilary J. Sweeney. The exhibition launched in September at the Irish Consulate in New York, and was officially opened by Ireland’s Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore was on hand to open the exhibition in September.
The completed project is a true labor of love that reveals the intricacies of Connolly’s life and mind. I got to experience the exhibition first-hand with a special tour conducted by Wolf at the Irish Consulate. Her excitement for the exhibition and appreciation for Connolly were in evidence as she described him: “He was a remarkable man: a scholar, an incisive intellectual, a feminist, a social critic, a street wise organizer, a manual laborer, beloved family man, and fierce advocate for economic justice.” These aspects of Connolly are illuminated throughout the show. Newspaper articles of Connolly during his travels in America add context and depth to our understanding of him and the causes he fought for. Labor strikes and marches are juxtaposed with images of Connolly and his writings in the Harp newspaper. Family photographs of Connolly as well as biographical information of those who inspired Connolly adorn the walls. One such marvel is Mary “Mother Jones” Harris, a prominent labor and community organizer who fought tirelessly for the rights of industrial workers well into her old age.
As of November 2, the exhibition takes up residence at the Irish American Heritage Museum in Albany. It will continue on its tour in December to Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia and is not to be missed! Click here for further information.