Thursday, May 31, 2007

Great Irish Women part 5 - Delia Larkin

NORMAL service must be resuming here because here's the next in my Great Irish Women series. I will draw up a straw poll for a future post and give you the choice for the next one, the most mentions in the post comments (ha if indeed there'll be any) is the next one.

Delia Larkin

But for now the next is Delia Larkin for two reasons, one being that her name has been thrown in the ring by some of the commentators here and the second being that a pal bought me a pack of Irish women post cards from SIPTU/ICTU for this series. Thanks a million for that, people have been great with suggestions, research, all sorts, thanks:)

Delia was born in February 27, 1878 in Toxeth Park, Liverpool. The fifth child and eldest surviving daughter of Mary Ann McNulty and James Larkin, Delia lost her father to TB when she was nine and her two eldest brothers, Hugh and James had to work to support the family. Delia herself started work early to help out the family.

She is first recorded as living in Ireland in 1911's census when she lived in Broadstone, Dublin 7 with her brother James. The census records her as being a teacher though she was known to be a nurse in Liverpool.

At one stage it is thought she ran a hotel in Rostrevor when her brother was strike leader with the National Union of dock labourers in Belfast in 1907.

She felt passionate about women's involvement in trade unions and how their voices should be held in the same regard as men's. So in the summer of 1911 she established a trade union for women called the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU) within the ITGWU which was founded by her brother James.

The new union was advertised with a column in the Irish Worker where Delia wrote about housing, social conditions, and votes for women. She said: "all we ask for is just shorter hours, better pay than the scandalous limit now existing and conditions of labour befitting a human being".

In a short period of time the union has fundraised enough monies to help the families of victimisation.

By 1912 the union had 1,000 members and was seeking independent affiliation from the ITGWU to the ITCU and was represented by Delia at three annual conferences from 1912 to 1914. Delia also represented women on Ireland's first trades board which was formed to regulate pay within the poorly paid manufacturing sectors where women worked.

While she was doing all this, Delia was also organising a drama section of the union, the Irish Workers Dramatic Class, a choir as well as campaigning on votes for women.

In 1913 the Dublin tram strike took place and was spreading throughout the city. Dublin was paralysed by the lock-out and thousands were unemployed.

The dispute hit Jacob's in September following workers wearing the IWWU badge, 310 women were locked out within a week.

James Larkin went to England while Delia took charge of Liberty Hall where she organised feeding the thousands of workers locked out and their families. This involved daily breakfasts for 3,000 children, lunches as well as distributing other necessities such as clothing.

A plan to send workers' children to England was opposed by Archbishop Walsh who thought the Catholic children would be sent to the homes of 'atheists and Socialists'. Delia ended up in a stand-off after another plan to send the workers' children to Belfast by train before she was eventually compelled to retrace her steps to Liberty Hall with the children.

The lock out continued until February 1914 and with 400 of her union members not reinstated, the union drama group began to tour with the troop consisting of the locked-out members.

That June she stood unsuccessfully for the Poor Law elections in Dublin and was the only woman in 13 candidates nominated by trade unions.

A row over payment for Liberty Hall saw her in June looking for new premises for the union and then her rejection as a proposed member of the Ladies' Advisory Committee which was formed to provide relief work in Ireland.

When her brother Big Jim went to the States in 1915 Delia went to Liverpool where she is believed to have worked as a nurse. She returned to Ireland to work on the anti-conscription campaign of Irish men into the British army and was also refused membership of the reorganised IWWU who told her she should join the Irish Clerical Workers' Union who in turn also refused her membership.

After 1916 Delia began to write for the Red Hand, something her brother disagreed with as he believed it could cause disunity within the union.

In 1918 she campaigned on behalf of the Sydney 12 continuing her lifelong passion for workers' rights and eventually went back to work in Liberty Hall.

At the age of 43 she married former Irish Citizens' Army member Pat Colgan and ill-health forced her out of the passions that drove her in her younger years. She said: "I was forced into this life against all inclinations".

Delia died at home in October 26, 1949 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. She remains an inspirational union women who was driven by her belief in equality.

Sources here, here and here and you can read more here. And you can get the postcards I was talking about here.


Boliath said...

For the YW:

I know you have your exams coming up, wishing you the best of luck sweetheart.

After it's all over, have a read of this:
especially the last paragraph.

Will be thinking of you pet.

Boliath & the boys xx

Glinda the good witch said...

Fabulous stuff - why have I never heard of any of these people? Well done you.

Emma in Canada said...

Haha I don't know how to feel about being used an example for teens who don't want to study, but it's all true. Study hard Young Wan, you don't want to end up with a crappy job and/or dependant on a man.

Red Mum, Great post. I had never heard of James Larkin's sister. Funny, when I have quite a bit about him.