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1923 docs reveal Britain’s fears over James Larkin’s return to Ireland

Newly released documents from foundation of State show that Britain felt that “agitator” Larkin’s return would be “undesirable”.

The statue of Irish trade union leader and socialist activist James Larkin on Dubiln's O'Connell Street.
The statue of Irish trade union leader and socialist activist James Larkin on Dubiln's O'Connell Street.
Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

NEWLY RELEASED FILES from the Department of Justice and Equality have revealed the correspondence that took place between the British Consulate General in the US, Downing Street, and the “Irish Free State” in the run-up to the release and subsequent deportation of James Larkin from the US in 1923.

Petition

Imprisoned in New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility for “criminal anarchism”, news of his impending release was transmitted back to Ireland by Gloster Armstrong, the British Consulate General.

Efforts by “Irish organisations and Dr Herman Thomas” were believed to be making headway, with Governor Smith set to allow the release.

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Release

Governor Smith did allow the release, stating that there was “no evidence that Larkin ever endeavoured to incite any specific set of violence or lawlessness.”

Stripped of its legalistic aspects, this, to my mind, is a political case where a man has been punished for the statements of his beliefs.

He finishes by saying:

The State of New York does not ask vengeance and the ends of justice have already been amply met. For those reasons I grant the application.

Larkin was free; the recipient of the first unconditional pardon from Sing Sing that had been granted in five years.

To view larger image, please click here.

To view larger image, please click here.

Tracking

Having been released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York, his movements were tracked, before being transmitted back to Ireland by Armstrong.

Dated 18 January 1923, it reported that Larkin had “disappeared with friends” and that no information was known as to his address. This was described as being “characteristic of Larkin, who likes to surround himself with mystery.”

Believing him to be “very anxious” to return to Ireland, his perceived desire to rejoin his family was viewed as an “excuse”.

From certain sources I learn that his chief anxiety to get to Ireland is in order to associate himself with the Republican Party. I venture to suggest to Your Excellency that Larkin’s presence in Ireland would be undesirable, from the standpoint of the Free State Government, and consequently I would appreciate instructions as to what action should be taken should this man apply for a passport.

It was felt, however, that Larkin may bypass this option altogether, instead deciding, “as he has done before”, to “work his way across the ocean as a sailor.” One way to combat this, Armstrong suggested, was to approach the Commissioner of Immigration at Ellis Island and instead have him brought to an English port.

To view larger image, please click here.

To view larger image, please click here.

Less than two weeks later, further correspondence from Armstrong was received, relating to an “Irish meeting” in Boston. Rumoured to have been attended by Eamon de Velera, the report said that “Jim” Larkin had received an “enthusiastic reception”.

Having condemned the attitude of the the church in Rome, the Knights of Columbus and the “fickleness of the majority of Irish in this country,” he closed his address be appealing for volunteers to fight against the present Irish government, along with money which would be used to buy supplies for “relief work”.

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Deportation

On 24 April, correspondance from Timothy Michael Healy, the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State, confirmed that Larkin had been deported, having boarded the SS Majestic which was bound for Southhampton.

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(All images taken from file 2011/25/958, available from the National Archives)

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