A forgotten Lockout heroine

An Irishman’s Diary: Time for a new memorial

‘At his trial for Alice Brady’s murder, Patrick Traynor claimed the gun went off because of “a belt I got in the arm”.’ Above, crowds in Dublin’s O’Connell street attending a trades union meeting in September 1913. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

‘At his trial for Alice Brady’s murder, Patrick Traynor claimed the gun went off because of “a belt I got in the arm”.’ Above, crowds in Dublin’s O’Connell street attending a trades union meeting in September 1913. Photograph: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Thu, Jan 2, 2014, 01:00

As the centenary year of the Lockout has drawn to a close, everyone knows it wasn’t easy being poor in Dublin in 1913, with many tens of thousands of large families living in teeming, disease-ridden tenements without proper sanitation and with an infant mortality rate that was the scandal of Europe.

Life was harder again if you were a poor young woman and so it was for Alice Brady, a 16-year-old biscuit-factory worker who lived with her family in a tenement at 21 Luke Street, which leads from Townsend Street to below Butt Bridge on George’s Quay in Dublin.

Alice was locked out by Jacob’s – an otherwise decent employer – as part of the struggle by desperate workers trying to improve their conditions by combining in unions. It resulted in the city’s employers locking out more than 20,000 men and women, boys and girls, and a bitter conflict that would engulf the city for many months.

As part of this struggle Alice Brady became politicised, joined the Irish Women Workers’ Union (IWWU), and on the afternoon of December 18th, 1913, became involved in a confrontation when a cavalcade of dray carts attempted to deliver coal to St Mark’s Church, in a dock-working area which supported the strike.

Alice and other locals tried to prevent the delivery on Mark Street. In the ensuing commotion two shots were fired by Patrick Traynor, who was guarding the convoy. One of the bullets struck Alice on the hand and she was taken to hospital. Next day, the bullet was removed and she was brought home. But soon she contracted tetanus, which resulted in respiratory failure caused by the bullet wound. She died on Thursday, January 1st, in Sir Patrick Dun’s hospital.

At his trial for Alice Brady’s murder, Traynor claimed the gun went off because of “a belt I got in the arm”. Contradicting himself, he also said: “We were attacked. I fired two shots. I did not intend to kill anyone.” The trial split the city and there was outrage when he was found not guilty by a jury of property owners.

On Sunday, January 4th, several thousand people gathered outside the Brady home on Luke Street before moving off in “sombre funeral procession” past Liberty Hall, whose food handouts had been vital for families, and out to Glasnevin Cemetery. Some 500 members of the Irish Women Workers’ Union were in the cortege, which was headed by two bands.

Behind the horse-drawn coffin were parents Elizabeth and Michael, alongside James Larkin, Delia Larkin, James Connolly and Countess Markievicz. In his graveside oration, Larkin praised Brady’s “great strength of character”, adding “nothing could surpass the loyalty of the women workers”.

In a powerful eulogy, James Connolly said Alice was “as true a martyr for freedom as any who ever died in Ireland”.

A co-worker of Alice Brady at Jacob’s and fellow IWWU member, Rosanna Hackett, was chosen recently by the Dublin City Council bridge-naming committee as the name for the new bridge over the Liffey between Marlborough Street and Hawkins Street. While Hackett was an excellent candidate, the council might still honour her less-fortunate colleague, Alice Brady, who lived in sight the new bridge and lost her life in the struggle for better conditions on behalf of the wretched army of Dublin’s poor.

Only one old house is still standing on Luke Street today. Though not Alice’s home at number 21, it’s as close as you can otherwise get, 22. The last house on Luke Street looks directly across to the entrance of a leisure centre and pool named after Countess Markievicz and is a stone’s throw from The Irish Times newspaper which covered the story.

It is good to see the IWWU and Siptu will commemorate Alice Brady in Glasnevin Cemetery at 2pm on Saturday, January 4th, the centenary of her funeral. However, it is sad to note that she could become a forgotten footnote of 1913. She is honoured as one of the names on a small plaque inside Liberty Hall and on her gravestone in Glasnevin, but something more substantial would be appropriate.

While number 22 Luke Street – almost exactly from where her funeral cortege moved off – today has shutters on its doors and windows, it appears structurally sound. If restored (like the Tenement Museum in New York), it could become a social history museum in her name, featuring photographs from the period – and provide a lasting memorial as Alice Brady House.

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