Glasgow May Day 1919

An article from the April 2019 edition of 'The Irish Voice'

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Below we reproduce an article, written by Stephen Coyle, Secretary of the 1916 Rising Centenary Committee (Scotland), which was first published in the April 2019 edition of The Irish Voice. Stephen is a member of SLHS and also the Scottish representative of the Irish Labour History Society.

The year 1919 was a seminal one in the growth of the Scottish Labour movement’s support for Irish aspirations, and marks the centenary of the largest ever International Labour Day celebration in Glasgow. Despite being a work day and cold and showery weather, May Day saw over a hundred thousand people wind their way through the city with floats and banners led by an Irish pipe band. Irish tricolours were displayed among the many thousands of red flags. Not just workers marched, but their families with bands playing and streamers billowing, and it took over an hour to pass as it made its way from George Square to Glasgow Green. The Forward and Glasgow Herald newspaper reports detailed over 250 organisations involved, and there were no fewer than 22 platforms and upwards of 100 speakers.

At the Green an array of socialist speakers addressed the crowds. Countess Markievicz, a heroine of the Easter Rising, and newly appointed Minister for Labour in the Irish Republican government was one of the principal stars. Very large crowds gathered at the platforms addressed by the Countess as she described what was going on in revolutionary Ireland. Another large crowd was drawn for Neil Maclean, the newly elected Govan MP; John Maclean, the Clydeside revolutionary, also spoke and was warmly received. A resolution was passed in favour of the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist commonwealth. Fraternal greetings were sent to the Soviet Republic, and all workers’ organisations worldwide. The day was hailed a success and spirits remained undaunted.

In the evening a musical festival, which was held in St. Andrew’s Halls, proved to be an unqualified success. Countess Markievicz, John Maclean, Harry Hopkins and Neil Maclean MP addressed the large audience. Speaking in spirited fashion the Countess said she was pleased to see that the children were being brought along in the movement with their elders. It had been said that the Battle of Waterloo had been won on the fields of Eton and Harrow, but what was more important was that the capitalist system was being maintained by what was taught at Eton and Harrow. There was only one thing worth fighting for on God’s earth, and that was freedom. She believed in the idea that those who worked should have a share in the government of the country. To loud applause she stated that they had won experience from the lessons learned during the recent world war, and one thing which they ought to know was that the next fight ought to be for the establishment of the socialist republic. After the Countess had finished the audience rose en masse and “The Soldier’s Song” was enthusiastically sung by a large party of Sinn Feiners, whose flags and party colours were conspicuously displayed along with numerous red flags.

Neil Maclean who met with quite an ovation, said he had a rather strange experience that evening. Two discharged soldiers travelled along in the same car as himself when he was coming to the meeting, and one of them, who was wearing a red badge, evidently knew him, for he spoke and said he would like to see the Countess. He said he had a particular reason for wishing to see her, and it was because he had been one of the men who arrested her. Now, said Mr Maclean, if that man is present and goes around the side door at the end of the meeting, I am sure the Countess will be pleased to shake him by the hand now that he is in the right army.

In his speech John Maclean expressed his excitement about the plan for a James Connolly Memorial College in Dublin to mirror the Scottish Labour College, at which he continued to lecture, with classes now numbering thousands of students. In an appeal for funding and support for the Scottish Labour College He stated “It is apparent that the priests of capitalism (British and Irish alike) fear the spread of real education amongst the workers, since they understand that an educated working class will fight capitalism with its robbery and ‘continuing reign of terror’ to the death … our College will be the envy of the workers of the world … And once we have enough in Scotland we shall send help to Ireland to establish her Connolly College, bedad we will!” From this point on Maclean’s interest in Irish Republicanism increased dramatically.

The festival was brought to a close with the singing of the “Red Flag”, led by the joint choir of the Clarion and William Morris Junior Choirs.