James Connolly: An Spailpin Fanach

Submitted by Anon on 17 July, 2004 - 10:23 Author: Sean Matgamna

An Spailpin Fanach

(Phrases in italics are James Connolly's)

Young nightsoil man who shovels human shit
Left in the streets for such as you to lift,
Half-starved Hiberno-Scot untouchable
Who sign yourself in print 'R. Ascal',
Here in the crumbling 'Labour Chronicle'
Of Edinburgh and Leith, I find your tracks:
A young man's anger stains the page like blood;
A thoughtful, humorous, loving, bitter man,
In hasty, driven, sometimes muddled work,
Still rages, jokes, is fervent: - Hope, and fight!
A full free happy life for all, or none!

Rage, for a father's useless, broken bones,
For childhood in a noxious Scottish slum,
For children robbed of life and bred to serve,
For women, 'slaves of slaves', wage-slave or whore:
Rebellion, deep, relentless, righteous, stern,
Not personal alone, but broader, deeper
Sharper, and so unsatisfyable:
You will not thrive, abandoning your own!
The taste and feel of slavery in your mouth,
The need and hope of socialism in your mind:
'A full, free, happy life for all, or none!'
War to the knife, the knife up to the hilt!
You nerve yourself to fight our servile wars.

You say: We only want the earth! Freedom
For every rascal who must root for hire,
In service with the slave lords of our age;
You seek a different world, another Age:
A full free happy life, for all, or none!

Implacable, you carve to shape the future,
Knowing The only true prophets are those
Who carve out the future they announce:

Snatch schooling, books, a starveling child with food,
By reason learn to bind unlettered men,
With complex, probing talk unbind raw minds,
Teach slaves to contemplate their slavery,
To see their world, remake themselves, to grow;
In action seek to find out how we win;
Help Larkin rouse the helots of the town,
Fight Martin Murphy, the gombeen's* master soul;
Write much and well; help build two mighty unions;*
With Larkin, drill a workers' army; then try
The odds against the old: and, losing, die
Still blazing clean defiance at our foes:
War to the knife, the knife up to the hilt!

But me, I know what happened after the soldiers
Blew you, wounded, half healed, out of the chair,
For an officer to shoot you through the head:
Confronting our descedndants of your foes,
I see the things you saw and fought still rampant;
We face Murphy's progeny now, though better tooled
For your example, Spailpin Fanach*, wage-slaves still,
Still driven by the slave lords of our age,
As far from your red goal as you: unfree.
A full free happy life for all, or none!

And what did you achieve? You told the court
The will of even your poor few to rise
Proved England's rule a transient usurpation:
A rising, crushed, proved Ireland would be free!
What you said for Keir Hardie fits you too:
Grown up out of the mud in stony cracks
You proved by growing we will rule ourselves,
That bourgeois rule is now and must be ever
The robber's rule, uneasy and usurped!
War to the knife, the knife up to the hilt!

Down through a hundred years your war goes on!
Across a hundred years, I know your voice
Across a hundred years I feel your rage
Across a hundred years, I take your hope
Across a century, I hear your cry
Echo down the years:-Hope and Fight!
A full free happy life for all, or for none!

SM

* James Connolly was an organiser for the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW, in the USA. And then for the Irish Transport and General Workers union, founded by Jim Larkin in 1908.
*A gombeen is a huxtering, money-lending petit-bourgeois on the make.
*'Spailpin Fanach': an itinerant agricultural labourer; a disreputable fellow, a ne'er-do-well.
James Connolly signed some of his articles in The Workers' Republic 'Spailpin Fanach'