Jim Connell & The Red Flag
Connell was born in Kilskyre in County Meath in 1852. As a teenager,
he became involved in land agitation and joined the Irish Republican
18 he moved to Dublin, where he worked as a casual docker, but was
for his attempts to unionise the docks
workers. Failing to find
any other work, he left for London in 1875, where he spent most
of the rest of his life.
He worked at
a variety of jobs. He was a staff journalist on Kier Hardie's newspaper The
Labour Leader and was secretary
of the Workingmen's Legal Aid Society during the last 20
years of his life.
He wrote The
Red Flag in 1889 on the train from Charing
Cross to New Cross after attending a lecture on socialism
at a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation. It was inspired
by the London
dock strike happening at that time, as well as activities
of the Irish Land League, the Paris Commune, the Russian nihilists
The song quickly
became an anthem of the international labour movement. Although
he wrote it to the tune of The White Cockade,
it has come more often to be sung to the tune of Tannenbaum.
It has echoed
around the world, sung with fire and fervour, for over a century.
Although a competition was held in 1925 to
as the Labour Party anthem in Britain and over 300
entries were received, it has not been displaced. Newly
entered the House
of Commons in 1945 singing it. The Rand Miners of
South Africa went to the gallows singing it.
It has appeared
in virtually every collection of international labour songs published
and will live
on in the future
on world wide web and
new multimedia productions. In How
I wrote The Red Flag written in 1920, Jim Connell
'Did I think
that the song would live ? Yes, the last line shows I did: "This
song shall be our parting hymn".
I hesitated a considerable time over this last
line. I asked myself whether I was not assuming
too much. I reflected, however, that in writing
I gave expression
only my own best
thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts
and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew
. I decided
When he addressed
the crowd in Crossakiel, it was his last visit to Ireland. Jim
Connell died in 1929 in London. At his funeral in Golders Green,
The Red Flag was sung to both airs. It
was his parting hymn.
It has been that
for many who came after and, as long as there continue to be those
in the world,
it will be for
many yet to come.
The song will
live. All together now:
The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts blood dyed its every fold.
the scarlet standard high. (chorus)
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns are
Chicago swells the surging throng.
It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night;
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.
It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last;
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.
It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and
To cringe before the rich man's frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.
With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.
The only pity is that the song is sung by such wretches as the British
Labour Party and its followers. There are at leat two 'cynical'
versions of the song that we would like to add to the site. One starts
workers flag is deepest pink, we're not as red as you might
think' and the other ends 'degenerated it may be, its still the workers'
property' (in homage to the Healyites). If anyone has the full
to these, we would be most grateful, and might even be persuaded
to join them in the chorus.
to Early Irish Workers' Movement