Plot to poison Jim Larkin in 1919 unearthed in US

 

The FBI knew of a bizarre plot to poison the Irish labour leader Jim Larkin in New York in 1919 but did nothing to stop it, according to files newly unearthed by an American scholar.

The conspirators planned to poison "Big Jim" with potassium cyanide "for the good of the Irish Republic" and then send an impersonator back to Ireland who would influence socialists to "line up" in favour of Sinn Fein.

"The only thing that saved Larkin was that he was thrown in jail," says Prof Claire Culleton, an English scholar at Kent State University in Ohio, who was given access to the 490-page file under US Freedom of Information legislation after four years of trying.

She points out that Eamon de Valera was also in New York at this time, but believes there is nothing to link him to the plot.

The suggestion to seek Larkin's file came from the poet Eavan Boland, who was giving a reading in Ohio in 1995 when Prof Culleton told her she had obtained the FBI file on James Joyce.

Joyce came to the attention of the FBI through his contact with people the bureau considered suspect, such as the poet Ezra Pound. Even before parts of Finnegans Wake were published illegally in the US in 1925, he was attracting the attentions of J. Edgar Hoover. His file, categorised "C" for communist, runs to 20 pages.

Hoover, who was later head of the FBI, worked on the Larkin case as a special assistant to the US attorney general.

The four men who plotted Larkin's assassination at a meeting in November 1919 are referred to as the "committee of disposal" in a special report prepared by a New York-based agent. They feared he might win the criminal anarchy case he was then facing, or that he would jump bail.

"They feared that his presence in Ireland would mean that he would do all possible to arouse the socialist vote against Sinn Fein, whose policies, according to the agent reporting on Larkin, were capitalistic and not in accord with good socialist doctrine," says Prof Culleton.

"Every means" would be taken to prevent Larkin's presence in Ireland. The plotters were "men of the type who will not hesitate at violence of any sort to attain their ends", the agent reported.

A stoker, who bore a "striking resemblance" to Larkin, was being kept under cover until such time as the labour leader was "disposed of". The impersonator would then travel to Ireland to urge socialists to support Sinn Fein.

The names of the plotters have been blacked out in the file copy sent to Prof Culleton.

Larkin went to the US in 1914, shortly after the Great Lockout in Dublin. He was eventually convicted of criminal anarchy in 1920 for his involvement in publishing a revolutionary manifesto. Prof Culleton says Hoover was angered when Larkin was pardoned in 1923, and immediately orchestrated a campaign to deport him using as evidence a series of manufactured statements.