Mr Bernard Shaw on the Strike

From the archive: This article, focusing on George Bernard Shaw and his role in a demonstration demanding the release of James Larkin, was published in The Irish Times on November 8, 1913

George Bernard Shaw, December 1928. Photograph: Getty Images

George Bernard Shaw, December 1928. Photograph: Getty Images


(First published November 8th, 1913)

People advised to arm themselves against the police.

Mr G Bernard Shaw was amongst the speakers at a demonstration held in the Royal Albert Hall last Saturday night, under the auspices of the Daily Herald League. On behalf of the Dublin strikers, and to demand the immediate release of James Larkin. During the evening the Chairman announced the receipt of the following telegram from Mr Larkin:

“Jim Larkin sends greetings. With you in spirit, though body in Mountjoy Prison.” (Cheers.)

Mr Bernard Shaw, rising to speak at a quarter to ten, received a great ovation. I am, he said, an old Dublin Home Ruler like Sir Edward Carson. (Laughter.) Being an intelligent Irishman, I left Ireland at the age of twenty. (More laughter.) I have not lived there since, and I do intend to live there again, but I am glad to hear from Mr Connolly, who knows Dublin, that these twenty thousand families of whom he speaks have a right to live. In my time there was no such luxury. (Laughter.) You very often had two families in one room, and both of the families took in lodgers. I am not quite sure that you would not find occasionally in Dublin at the present time a room which contained more than one family. It had been said that children were a great safeguard of morality in Dublin, and there were some dwellings in Dublin that if they took the children out of them the adults would misbehave themselves. (Laughter.) “Don’t laugh at that,” said Mr Shaw, “It is a most appalling thing, and I believe there are people who say that at the present day. I believe that within the last few days there have been people who have given that as a reason for not allowing the children to leave Dublin. Ponder over it a little and you will realise the situation.”

The Deportation of Children

He referred to the desire to take the children away from Dublin, and said he was there as a Dublin man to apologise for the priests of Dublin. The honest truth about it was that those men, although they were pious and were doing a good deal of good work, were very ignorant and simple men in the affairs of the country, and especially in industrial affairs. If by any means these words reached them he hoped they would be obliged to him for the apology he had made for them. If these words reached them he hoped these further words would reach them also and that was that there was something even more terrible than the horror of their individual action, and that was the terror of the great Church to which they belonged being made the catspaw of a gentleman like Mr Murphy. (Laughter.)

The Employers

As to the employers of Dublin, he was utterly ashamed of them. He did not, however, apologise for them. Why, even an Englishman could employ people at decent trade union wages occasionally – (laughter) – and make his business pay, and there were Irishmen like Mr Murphy and the biscuit gentlemen who told them they were so destitute of business capacity that they were unable to make their business pay under the conditions in which business was made to pay in England. If they were made to pay decent wages they would find they were just as well able to do it as the English found they could when the Factory Acts made them do it. They would have to make all the English employers do it, and it would be a very good thing to take the opportunity while Irish people were making their employers do it.

Advice to Arm.

“If you put a policeman on the footing of a mad dog,” said Mr Shaw, “it can only end in one way, and that is that all respectable men will have to arm themselves. (Cheers.) I suggest you should arm yourselves with something which should put a decisive stop to the proceedings of the police. I hope that observation of mine will be carefully reported. I should rather like to be prosecuted for sedition, and to have an opportunity of explaining publicly what exactly I mean by it.” (Laughter.)

Mr G Russell and the Dublin Slums

Mr George Russell said in Dublin they no longer recognised people by the old differences. People there were either on the side of labour, trying to get humane conditions, or on the side of those who were trying to defeat labour.

There had arisen a third party, consisting of super-human beings who cared so little for the body as to say that it would be better for children to starve rather than leave the Christian atmosphere of Dublin. (Groans.) Dublin, they might not know, was the most Christian city in these islands. (Laughter.) The religious spirit with which they are charged is supposed to be ample compensation for the people for the diseases which are there, and the food and comfort which are not there.

If any poor parents thought otherwise and tried to get their children away from that little earthly paradise – (laughter) – they were met at the ports and railway stations by an array of these super-human beings, and they are flung headlong out of the stations and their children snatched from them.

The poor working man in Dublin has no right to his own children. (Groans.) If these children were taken away from the atmosphere of the Dublin slums they might get discontented – so a very holy man said. They might get full meals for a little, and become so inconsiderate as to ask for them all their lives long. Those present had no idea what the Dublin slums were like. They were so overrun with vermin that doctors who were friends of his told him that the only condition in which men could get sleep in them was when they were drugged with sleep. It made him mad to think that man, immortal man the divine, should live in this wretchedness.

Larkin may have been indiscreet – (cries of “No”) – but he (Mr Russell) believed in the sight of Heaven that crimes were all on the other side. If Courts of Justice were courts of humanity the masters of Dublin would be in the dock charged with criminal conspiracy. Their crime was that they tried to starve out one-third of the people of Dublin.

Mrs Dèspard and Miss Sylvia Pankhurst were amongst the later speakers.

It was announced that the collection, with promises, amounted to over £400.

A resolution demanding Larkin’s release was carried amidst cheers.


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