Limerick Soviet
A workers rebellion in the Treaty city


Soviet plaque taken down!

As part of the inner city renewal, Thomond Bridge was recently adorned with a series of new street lighting.  It represents a marked improvement on the 'old' ESB poles which proved to be really useful for an assortment of posters in the recent elections. 

However, one of the casualties of this welcome exercise was the plaque denoting the site of Thomond Bridge as a major British Army barricade during the Limerick Soviet.  Indeed the iconic picture of the barricade is a symbol of the 1919 struggle against British Militarism!  The plaque was unveiled by the then Socialist Mayor Joe Harrington as part of the Limerick Soviet Commemoration Committee's 'eighty years' celebration in April 1999.

 No doubt, the Limerick Civic Project has securely stored the plaque in a warehouse somewhere in the city.  The LSCC is confident that the plaque will be again displayed in the environs of Thomond Bridge where it has acted as a landmark for tourists and citizens alike for the past decade?

Possible alternative sites for the plaque.  Beside the Treaty Stone above or in Robert Byrne Park below

Grave of Robert Byrne revealed

Mike McNamara, President of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, carried out some research and tracked down the grave of Robert Byrnes, the man whose death sparked the Limerick Soviet in 1919.  In the sketch below of Mount St Laurence Graveyard the location of the grave is shown.  More later.

 Robert Byrne Park is officially opened.

Limerick City Manger, Mr Mackey, Mayor John Gilligan and Mike McNamara, President of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions at the unveiling of the plaque commemorating the Limerick Soviet.  The plaque stands on the new Riverside Park which was officially opened as Robert Byrne Park by the Mayor.   It was the death of Robert Byrne in April 1919 that sparked the events known as the Limerick Soviet.  The opening was attended by relatives of Robert Byrne, Trade Union leaders and local and national politicians (some of whom looked rather uncomfortable but there are elections on!!!)

Mayor John Gilligan is to be congratulated on ensuring that the memory of the Limerick Soviet is preserved in the shape of this lovely park which will be used by the people of Limerick for many years to come.

Click here for more photos of the official opening

Report on the Limerick Soviet 90th. Anniversary

The Limerick Soviet Commemoration Committee organised a series of activities with prominent speakers over the weekend April 17 - April 19.

The activities commenced with the launch by Mike Mc Namara, President of the Limerick Trades Council of the fourth edition of D.R. O’Connor, Lysaght’s The Story of the Limerick Soviet. O’Connor Lysaght, a Dublin historian, compared the two week’s of the self government and resistance to British militarism as similar to the early days of the 1871 Paris Commune.

In his foreword to the 4th. edition, Mayor Gilligan announced his intention to open the Robert Byrne Curragower Park in Clancy Strand in May. Robert Byrne’s attempted rescue from the City Home and fatal shooting led to the imposition of martial law in Limerick in April 1919.

On Saturday April 18th. the Hunt Museum played host to a seminar on the theme , ‘The Limerick Soviet 90 years on’. Liam Cahill, broadcaster and author of Forgotten Revolution, reminded the audience that on April 18th. 1919, Good Friday, the Limerick Soviet was at its peak. The workers of Limerick governed the city through its democratic organisations. Nothing could move in or out without the permission of the Limerick Council of Trade Unions, flagrantly resisting the attempts by the British Military to impose their Local Pass on the citizens.

Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU used the forum to call for a Social Dividend from the Government and Employers in the talks that were due to resume on Wednesday 22nd. April. He also cited the case of an employee of SR Technics, who after 45 years service with the company was told that his pension was worthless. He went on to call on the Government to offer a multi billion Euro plan to protect private worker pensions, if the talks were not to collapse.

Liam Cahill and Jack O'Connor

Austin Harney, a fulltime public sector union official travelled from London especially to present fraternal greetings to the Limerick Soviet Committee. Jan O’Sullivan, Labour TD and Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Féin local election candidate and Alan Kelly Munster candidate candidate for Labour in the European elections also attended the meeting.

The weekend’s activities concluded on Sunday April 19th. with a Workers’ Walk through the city scenes of the Soviet. Local historian, Dominic Haugh who has chosen the subject for his PhD, conducted the highly informative tour. His detailed account of the rescue of Robert Byrne from St. Camillus’ was a revelation, even to long time students of the Soviet. Present on the walk was Jack Hennessy, grandson of James Casey who acted as treasurer to the Limerick Soviet. James Casey, a Labour councillor, served as Deputy Mayor in 1921 after the murder of Mayor Clancy. He was to serve as Mayor of Limerick from 1934 to 1936.

James Casey

At its conclusion, the City Museum was opened especially for the participants, who then adjourned to nearby Katy Daly’s for Ceol agus Craic!

Pat O’Connor


Reading the proclamation on the Workers Walk

Mayday Reception at City Hall marks 90th. Anniversary

On Friday May 1st., Mayor Gilligan hosted a reception for the Limerick Council of Trade Unions to mark the 90th. anniversary of the Limerick Soviet.

Trades Council members, old and new, attended the evening reception. The President of the Trades Council, Mike Mc Namara of BATU, addressed the gathering. He complimented the mayor on his role in celebrating the Soviet as well as the Soviet Commemoration Committee on its series of activities. The mayor also addressed the attendance on the importance of May Day.

Pádraig Malone as director of the Resource Centre spoke of its role in the present economic climate as well as remembering the work of the late Mary Kehilly in both the Trades Council and the Unemployed Centre.

Former mayor and TD Frank Prendergast was also in attendance and spoke of the importance of commemorating historical events in the Labour Movement.

Jack Hennessy, grandson of former mayor and Limerick Soviet treasurer brought along old newspaper articles on his grandfather’s succession to the murdered Mayor Clancy.

It was a memorable evening of celebration, which fittingly commemorated Mayday in City Hall. As the celebrations drew to a conclusion the melodic strains of ballads remembering past struggles and icons such as Joe Hill, James Connolly and James Larkin rang out through the halls of the Mayoral Suite!

The following is Mayor John Gilligan foreword to "The Story of the Limerick Soviet" by D.R. O'Connor Lysaght.

Left: Mayor John Gilligan and right Mike McNamara LCTU with D.R. O'Connor Lysaght

It is a great honour for me, as the 812th. Mayor of Limerick to be in the mayoralty on this the 90th. Anniversary of what became known as the Limerick Soviet.

"The Story of the Limerick Soviet" by D.R. O'Connor Lysaght, since its first publication in 1979 has been an ideal reference book for students and activists. The author, a frequent visitor to Limerick, has painstakingly recounted the day-by-day activities of this tumultuous fourteen-day period.

The attempted rescue of IRA prisoner and Post Office worker Robert Byrne in early April 1919 and his subsequent fatal shooting sparked off a series of events that could conceivably have changed the whole face of European history.

Indeed the presence in Limerick of the world press to cover the weather hit trans Atlantic crossing brought these historic events to a global audience. For two weeks the workers organisations in Limerick ran the city as the British found that its writ did not run in this corner of what was then the United Kingdom!

These stirring events occurred while Europe was coming out of the Great War and the Soviet Union was barely in its infancy.

In my generation’s history education we were told very little of the role that workers played. I am very pleased to note that the inspiring past of the workers’ struggles in our city has been faithfully recounted over the last three decades in the pages of this excellent booklet, the fourth edition of which I am proud to be associated.

I look forward to commemorating the Limerick Soviet in various events throughout the year. I am indeed proud that my mayoralty will mark the occasion with the unveiling of the Robert Byrne Curragower Park on Clancy Strand.

This is the 4th edition of The Story of the Limerick Soviet which carries the above foreword by Mayor John Gilligan.  It can be ordered from the Limerick Soviet Commemoration Committee by sending €9/£9 to Pat O'Connor, 8 Rosroe Ave, Caherdavin, Limerick.  For more information you can also click here to e-mail Pat.

As seen from London

Between 16th and 19th April 2009, I attended the 90th Anniversary of the Limerick Soviet. I sent fraternal greetings from the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils. This anniversary may seem to be one of the least recognised events in Irish history but certainly could be viewed as an important epoch in workers' struggles. It is a great example of a well organised Strike by all local Trade Unions in this particular city and it could have escalated to the rest of Ireland and Britain. The commemorative events of the anniversary were launched on 6th April in City Hall by John Gilligan, the Mayor of Limerick. Along with a two week exhibition, the events continued with the launch of 4th edition of  DR O’Connor Lysaght’s "Story of the Limerick Soviet" on 17th April. During the following day, there was a seminar hosted by Liam Cahill, (historian and author of "Forgotten Revolution"), Jack O'Connor (President of SIPTU, Ireland's largest Trade Union) and Mary O'Donnell (Chair of the Limerick Commemoration Committee). On the final day of 19th April, "The Workers' Walk" was organised by Dominic Haugh, a postal workers' union shop steward and local historian in which we visited the historic sites of the 1919 Strike.

In order to provide some background information, the Limerick Soviet was established on 6th April 1919, a few months after the Dail (the newly elected Irish national assembly) proclaimed independence from Britain in January. It was during this time that many people in Ireland were joining the new emerging nationalist movement, known as the Irish Republican Army. One of them, by the name of Robert Byrne, was a postal worker and active Trade Unionist in Limerick City. Like most Republicans in the county, he believed in an independent Ireland that was free for all Irish working class people from any capitalist exploitation. But one day, his employer found an excuse to dismiss him and his house was later searched by the authorities. As a pistol was found, which may have been planted there, he was arrested and imprisoned. Byrne protested against this treatment by going on hunger strike. After some time, he became unconscious and was moved St. Camilus' Hospital. A rescue attempt was made by a number of his comrades resulting in mortal casualties on both sides and the fatal wounding of Robert Byrne despite his successful escape. He died the following evening. His death was heavily mourned throughout the city as 20,000 people attended his funeral in protest. The British Government reacted angrily by imposing martial law on the city with the use of troops and tanks. Thus, the local people had to reveal their permits to the British guards on duty before going to work.


As a result, the local Trade Unions resorted to Strike action and set up a Strike Committee known by the Press as the Limerick Soviet. The Strike Committee certainly lived up to this name as a "workers' council" according to its Russian equivalent. The British forces attempted to prevent any movement in or out of the city and military barricades were placed on Thomond and what is now named Sarsfield Bridge.  The city was under siege and food had to be smuggled across the Shannon from County Clare.  Hearses coming from the 'City Home' did not always contain corpses!  For two weeks Limerick became 'self ruled.'  The workers, through its organisations, ran the city. Not only did they organise their own food rations but they were later to print their own paper currency as finances were becoming short. Soon, the Limerick Soviet became well known at international level. It is interesting to know that a Scottish regiment was very sympathetic by allowing many local workers to pass without showing their permits. The British Government sent this regiment home in order to replace them with a more repressive one.


But the Strike was set to escalate at national level. Already, other Irish Trade Union Councils were sending supplies to their comrades in Limerick and even Irish labourers in Britain were Striking in support. But by the end of mid April, the Church and the British led TUC waned in support. It was difficult for the people of Limerick to sustain this struggle on their own. After much heated negotiation with the Irish representatives of the TUC, it was agreed that British Martial Law would be lifted in return for ending the Strike. A few days after the people of Limerick returned to work, the British troops were withdrawn. No doubt, this industrial action was a great success at local level, but a great opportunity for an international Strike within Britain and Ireland was lost.


However, the Limerick Soviet was to be the first of many struggles in the county for the next few years. More Strikes were to follow with the establishment of other local Soviets by the farm labourers and dairy workers of Limerick County. Also, there were many communists in the Limerick IRA that played a prominent role in the War of Irish Independence (1919 to 1921) and the Civil War (1922 to 1923). But such events in Limerick, sadly, play a less recognised part in Irish history and communism did not become a respectable ideology here, unlike certain countries in Europe.


I would like to thank the Limerick Commemoration Committee and the Trades Union Council for promoting this important anniversary. References can be made to the two books, "Forgotten Revolution" and "The Story of the Limerick Soviet" on the website: In reference to the Seminar of 18th April, Jack O'Connor denounced the employers for cutting jobs, wages and even allowing loss of pensions. Like Britain, the Republic of Ireland is undergoing a deep recession with more unemployment and rising crime. It should not be forgotten that a Council of the Isles (or British - Irish Council) was established under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet, there seems to be no sign of British and Irish Trade Unions being provided with a major role on this council in defending workers' rights. It is important that we build greater links between the Trade Unions of these two nations in protecting our workers against global capitalism.


Austin Harney,
Secretary of Barnet Trades Union Council.


Austin Harney addressing the Seminar at the Hunt Museum.