Jim Connell & The Red Flag
Jim Connell was born in Kilskyre in County Meath in 1852. As a teenager, he became involved in land agitation and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Aged 18 he moved to Dublin, where he worked as a casual docker, but was blacklisted 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 and Chicago anarchists.

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 replace it as the Labour Party anthem in Britain and over 300 entries were received, it has not been displaced. Newly elected Labour MPs 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 wrote:

'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 the song I gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew . . . I decided that the last line should stand.'

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 who seek truth and justice 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.

Then raise the scarlet standard high. (chorus)
Within its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow's vaults its hymns are sung
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 place
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 'The 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 text to these, we would be most grateful, and might even be persuaded to join them in the chorus.

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Any constructive comments/suggestions regarding this site? Please direct them to: Matt Kelly