Nov 11

Sean O’Casey, East Wall and the Irish Citizen Army in 1913



This month marks the centenary of the founding of the Irish Citizen Army during the 1913 Lockout. Since August the Dublin workers had been at war with the Dublin Employers Federation which had set out to destroy the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). They had locked out thousands of men and were trying to starve them and their families into submission. The employers had the full use of the military and the police against the workers, and violence and brutality were common place – two men had already been battened to death and many more injured. Also, many strike breakers, including ‘free labourers’ brought in from England, were permitted to carry revolvers. In response, the Irish Citizen Army was founded as a defence force for the workers. James Larkin, James Connolly, Francis Sheehy Skeffington (the well known pacifist) and Captain Jack White (who abandoned his staunch Unionist family background) were amongst the well known figures that would play leading roles.


Many workers from East Wall and the North Docks were to join the new formed Irish Citizen Army (ICA). The most prominent of these was Sean O’Casey, who would later become one of Irelands leading playwrights. O’Casey had previously lived at number 25 Hawthorn Terrace and during the Lockout lived at 18 Abercorn Road. He was already involved with the ITGWU, working alongside Patrick Lennon (of Irvine Crescent) as assistant secretary to the “Women and children’s (of Locked out workers) Relief fund”.


Sean O’Casey (Sean O’ Cathasaigh) was to become secretary of the Irish Citizen Army. In 1914, after the Lockout ended, he would draft up a constitution for a re-organised ICA, but would soon leave after a disagreement over the role of Countess Markievicz and links with the Irish Volunteers.


During his time as secretary he would pen reports on ICA activities – recruitment, rallies, drilling etc. These were published under the title ‘Citizen Army Notes’ in the union newspaper ‘The Irish Worker’ (edited by Jim Larkin). In 1919 O’Caseys first book ‘The story of the Irish Citizen Army’ was published. In the introduction he states: “The author ventures to hope that this humble attempt to reveal some of the hidden things correlative with the origin and development of the Irish Citizen Army will prove interesting to all who participated actually or sympathetically in the motives which inspired its creation, and, indeed, even to those who viewed its activities with suspicion and mistrust.”


While the book has its flaws, it is historically important as the first contemporary account of the ICA and also as the first of many O’Casey publications. It traces the development of the ICA from its origin during the industrial struggle through to its role in the 1916 rising. Particularly strong is the opening Chapter, where the excitement as plans for a workers army is declared is powerfully and atmospherically captured (See extracts below).



Sean O’Casey was our most prominent resident associated with the Irish Citizen Army but he was not the only local involved. From its formation through to the Easter Rising and the revolutionary period afterwards many recruits would have come from the North Docks area. We know there was a number who worked in the Dublin Dockyards, and James Connolly referred to the important role Dock workers played in preparations for the rising. Easter Rising participant Captain Christy Poole had been a full time labourer for Dublin Port and Docks until he struck during the Lockout and did not get his job back. We have already covered some of these individuals in earlier articles, and next week we will be publishing a major feature on Daniel Courtney, the ‘Grandfather of the Irish Citizen Army’. His role during the Lockout (ITGWU activist evicted from Merchants Road) and during the 1916 Rising (Annesley Bridge, G.P.O. and Moore Street) will all be covered.

Walter and Peter Carpenter: http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=324

Willie Halpin: http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=972

Revolutionary Dockers in Dublin: http://eastwallforall.ie/?p=468


The Citizen Army initially drilled and paraded with sticks and Hurleys, though they would later acquire weaponry by various means. At first turning out in their civilian or work clothes, a uniform was later designed (and purchased from Arnotts) and the Starry Plough flag adopted as their banner. The Fintan Lalor Pipe band would come to be recognised as the ‘Citizen Army Band’ and take part in marches and processions. In this, the Lockout centenary year a group of local women created a Fintan Lalor / Croydon Park panel for the Commemorative tapestry displayed at the National Museum.



Below is a selection of images from a newspaper photo spread featuring the ICA drilling in Croydon Park, Fairview. While the quality is unfortunately poor, these are amongst the first ever photos of the earliest Citizen Army recruits and are worth reproducing.








Men, full of the fire of battle, thronged in dense masses the wide, expansive area facing Liberty Hall. The city was surging with a passion full, daring, and fiercely expectant; a passion strange, enjoyable, which it had never felt before with such intensity and emotion. It was felt, unconsciously, that this struggle would be the Irish Armageddon between Capital and Labour….

Suddenly the window is raised, and the tense, anxious feelings of the men crowded together burst out into an enthusiastic and full-throated cheer that shatters the surrounding air, and sends up into the skies a screaming flock of gulls that had been peacefully drifting along the sombre surface of the River Liffey. Louder still swells the resonant shout as Jim Larkin appears at the window, with an animated flush of human pride on his strong and rugged face, as he brushes back from his broad forehead the waving tufts of dark hair that are here and there silvered by the mellowing influence of time and the inexorable force of issuing energy from the human structure. Again the cheers ring out, and Larkin quietly waits till the effort to demonstrate their confidence and affection will give place to the lustful desire to hear what he has to say to them, while hidden under the heavy shadows of the towering Custom House a darker column of massive constables instinctively finger their belts, and silently caress the ever-ready club that swings jauntily over each man’s broad, expansive hip…

And then, with a sweeping gesture of his arm, that seemed to pass around that tremendous gathering and make them one with himself in thought and hope and action, Jim Larkin began to speak.

In rugged, passionate, vitalising phrases he told them "that they were engaged in the fight of their lives; that every conceivable combination had united its forces against the workers; that it would be a long and bitter fight between the Titans of Capital and the Titans of Labour.

"Therefore the workers must become disciplined, organised, made of the one stuff in thought and action, so that in all that they would essay to do for themselves there would be a spontaneous unity of pressure and a hardened and impenetrable unity of resistance. The men must get to know each other. They must no longer be content to assemble in hopeless, haphazard crowds, in which a man does not know and cannot trust the man that stands next to him, but in all their future assemblies they must be so organised that there will be a special place for every man, and a particular duty for each man to do….

"They were going to give the members of their Union a military training. Captain White would speak to them now and tell them the plans he had to create from among the members of the Labour Unions a great Citizen Army. Captain White would take charge of the movement, and hr trusted that the various Trades Unions would see to it that all their members joined this new army of the people, so that Labour might no longer be defenceless, but might be able to utilise that great physical power which it possessed to prevent their elemental rights from being taken from them, and to evolve such a system of unified action, self-control and ordered discipline that Labour in Ireland might march at the forefront of all movements for the betterment of the whole people of Ireland."

Like he loud rolling of a multitude of drums the cheers broke out again. This was what was long wanted – a Citizen Army! What could not Labour accomplish with an army trained and disciplined by officers who held the affection and confidence of the workers! Now they would get some of their own back; and vivid visions of "Red-coats and Black-coats flying before them" floated before the imaginative eyes of the Dublin workers filled with and almost intoxicated by the wine of enthusiasm….

Captain White told them that the work would commence immediately. He told them to attend the very next day at Croydon Park, Fairview, where they would be marshalled, divided into battalions, sub-divided into companies, and put through the elementary stages of military training. "This was a day of Hope for the workers," continued Captain White, "the definite result of their plans depended now on the efforts and sincerity of the workers themselves. The Irish Citizen Army would fight for Labour and for Ireland. He asked all those who intended to second their efforts by joining the army, and training themselves for the fight for Social liberty, to hold up their hands."

Almost every hand was silhouetted out against the darkening sky, and a last long deafening cheer proclaimed the birth of the Irish Citizen Army.

(From ‘The Story of the Irish Citizen Army’ Sean O’Casey 1919)


Any comments, corrections or clarifications to eastwallhistory@gmail.com

If you have any stories, photos or other memorabilia please get in touch.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: