Long-Lost James Connolly
Play May Be Found
By Maggie Holland, Editorial Assistant
March / April 2019
In Nora Connolly’s 1935 memoir of her father, James Connolly, she mentions a play of his entitled The Agitator’s Wife, which scholars have never been able to find. A short story of the same name was recently discovered in an obscure journal in Warwick University’s library, leading University of Glasgow academics to believe it could be the long-lost work.
The short story, which was found in an 1894 issue of the Labour Prophet, a Christian socialist journal, tells of the struggles of Scottish dockworkers against the Shipping Federation on the Leith waterfront. The workers’ leader, Tom Arnold, overwhelmed with despair from leading the strike in the face of police brutality with a sick child at home, is brought to contemplate suicide. His wife Mary comes to the rescue, leading the strikers when they were about to give up.
Besides the identical name, the story was written in the same period and, as Professor Willy Maley, Dr. Maria-Daniella Dick, and Kirsty Lusk wrote in the Irish Study Review, “It reminds us very strongly of Connolly’s other writing in its politics, its themes, and in its socialist feminist viewpoint, which was rare for that time.”
The fact that it is a short story and not a play has not discouraged the scholars, who say that it could be a different version of the lost work or that Nora misinterpreted the genre when her mother spoke to her of the work.
Born in Edinburgh, James Connolly was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and the founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. A leader of the Irish Citizen Army, he was shot for his part in the 1916 Easter Rising. Connolly was a radical thinker more celebrated for his journalism and political theory than his creative works, which makes the possible discovery of this story all the more intriguing. Another play of his, Under Which Flag? was long considered lost as well until it resurfaced 50 years ago. ♦ Maggie Holland