James Larkin (21 January 1876 – 30 January 1947), sometimes known as Jim Larkin, was an Irish republican, socialist and trade union leader. He was one of the founders of the Irish Labour Party, Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, Workers’ Union of Ireland (the two unions later merged to become SIPTU, Ireland’s largest trade union) and the Irish Citizen Army (a paramilitary group which was integral to both the Dublin Lockout and the Easter Rising).
Larkin was born to Irish parents in Liverpool, England. He and his family later moved to a small cottage in Burren, southern County Down. Growing up in poverty, he received little formal education and began working in a variety of jobs while still a child. He became a full-time trade union organiser in 1905. Larkin moved to Belfast in 1907, but is perhaps best known for his role in the 1913 Dublin Lockout. Not long after the lockout, Larkin assumed direct command of the Irish Citizen Army (ICA), and would later travel to America to raise funds for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (ITGWU). During his time in America, Larkin became involved in the socialist movement there, becoming a member of the Socialist Party of America. After being jailed in 1920 in the US for ‘criminal anarchy’, he was pardoned in 1923 and later deported, and returned to Ireland where he again became involved in Irish socialism and politics both in the Labour Party and the Irish Worker League. Larkin served as a Teachta Dála on three occasions and died in 1947. The ICA escorted his funeral procession through Dublin in its last public appearance.
Larkin was respected by several commentators during and after his lifetime, with George Bernard Shaw describing him as the “greatest Irishman since Parnell”, and his friend and colleague in the labour movement James Connolly describing him as a “man of genius, of splendid vitality, great in his conceptions, magnificent in his courage”. Other commentators have noted that Larkin was “vilified as a wrecker by former comrades”, with anthologist Donal Nevin noting that some of Larkin’s actions, including his attacks on others in the labour movement, meant Larkin had “alienated practically all the leaders of the movement [and] the mass of trade union members” by the mid-1920s.”Big Jim” Larkin continues to occupy a position in Dublin’s collective memory and streetscape, with a statue of him unveiled on O’Connell Street in 1979.