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Last updated:23 April 2015

The James Connolly Songbook

"No revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression. If such a movement has caught hold of the imagination of the masses, they will seek a vent in song for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle. Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement; it is a dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude".

James Connolly introducing his "Songs of Freedom", New York, 1907

Introduction to the James Connolly songbook

James Connolly Songbook cover

James Connolly Songbook cover

This little songbook is based on a selection of songs and recitation which were performed at a concert, given by James Connolly's comrades of the Socialist Party of Ireland and the Irish Citizen Army to commemorate the anniversary of his birth.

The concert was due to be held in the Mansion House, Dublin, on the 5th June, 1919 with members of the Citizen Army, described in the Souvenir Programme as the "Red Guard of the workers," acting as stewards.

However, British Imperialism, which had executed Connolly only three years previously, was intent on coercing those who would "seek a vent in song, for the aspirations, the fears and hopes, the loves and hatreds engendered by the struggle" and accordingly, the concert was proclaimed under the Defence of the Realm Act (D.O.R.A.).

When the people arrived for the concert, they found the Mansion House guarded by armed police and many more police positioned in the nearby streets.

Immediately, fully armed groups of the Citizen Army were mobilized. A Citizen Army officer who was trying to resist arrest, fired on the police; his men followed his example and Dublin had its first shooting since Dan Breen and his comrades raised the standard at Soloheadbeg. Several policemen and one civilian were wounded.

Later that night, the proclaimed concert was held in the Trades Hall. While the police and the "Red Guard of the workers" faced one another in the street outside, "the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs" could be heard coming from the building.

Among the songs that appeared on the programme were Connolly's rousing Watchword of Labour and A Rebel Song, Meathman Jim Connell's Red Flag, and the worker's anthem The Internationale.

Many versions of several of these songs have been sung over the years. We are republishing them as they appeared on the Souvenir Programme.

In addition to the songs on that memorable programme, we have included some of Connolly's lesser known recitations and "songs of freedom." The airs of his more popular songs are still well known among workers in Ireland. Many of Connolly's songs, like many working-class songs of the time, were sung to the air of popular songs, but, as many of these airs have long passed on in public memory, we suggest that where possible, workers should adapt his songs to the airs of to-day's popular songs and ballads. The music for Watchword of Labour was written by J.J. Hughes, a member of the S.P.I. and the music for A Rebel Song was by G.W. Crawford, of the Edinburgh Branch of the Socialist Labour Party.

The Cork Workers Club,
October, 1972


(all songs written by James Connolly unless otherwise stated)

A Rebel Song
O Slaves of Toil
For Labour's Right
When Labour Calls
The Red Flag (by Jim Connell)
The Flag
A Festive Song
The International (by Eugene Pottier)
"Be Moderate"
Saoirse a Ruin
Watchword of Labour
The Blackleg (by Jim Connell)
Hymn of Freedom
Human Freedom
Freedom's Sun
The Message
Shake Out Your Banners
Freedom's Pioneers
A Father in Exile
The Call of Erin.
The Legacy: A dying socialist to his son.
Connolly and Marxism (extract from 'The New Evangel)

Cork Workers Club was a publisher/bookshop set up by Marxist republicans of a Maoist inclination. It existed from the late 1960s to the early 1980s

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