From Ahawadda to Dáil Éireann… The Amazing Story of Labour Organiser, Sean Dunne.

The Revolutionary period and the subsequent creation of the Irish Free State and later the Republic has given rise to some amazing family stories. Very few can surpass the story of Sean Dunne, a Trade Union organiser, mentored by Jim Larkin and later Labour Party TD.


Filmed in West Cork, this discussion with local historian and author Diarmuid Kingston reveals the account of the Ahawadda Ambush (located on the road to Ring outside Timoleague) on 10th May1920, in which three Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) lost their lives in an ambush. This was the greatest loss of life of old RIC members in a single ambush in West Cork during the War of Independence.


Among them was Constable Edward Dunne from Co Laois. He was 32 years old, married to Bridget Coppinger, a school teacher with two children. Their young son Sean, was born in December 1918 in Timoleague. Constable Edward Dunne was buried quietly in Raheen in Co Laois.


Sean grew up in Waterford and Wicklow and in the late 30s was arrested and served time in the Curragh Internment Camp for Republican activities. He came under the influence of Jim Larkin and the Workers’ Union of Ireland and became one of the most effective union organisers in rural Ireland in the 1940s, founding the Federation of Rural Workers (FRW), which had up to 20,000 members at its height.


As its General Secretary, he organised countless strikes among rural workers and was instrumental in campaigning for and obtaining the weekly half day for his members in the early 1950s.


Later he was elected a TD for the Labour Party, when he was just 28 years old, and became one of the most colourful elected public representatives in the Dail. He had the record of being ejected from two parliaments, Dail Eireann and Stormont, as well as British Labour Party conferences.. Once labelled “an extreme communist” by Sean MacEntee,


Sean Dunne was described by one political correspondent as being “in daily conflict with Authority on cases of social justice, on the side of the lost nobodies of the world”.


His famous Leabhar Ballyfermot which he always carried contained the details of his constituents’ problems. Trade union organiser, writer, playwright, orator, Irish speaker and campaigner for social justice, this west Cork born politician died suddenly following the General Election in 1969.


His funeral at the Pro-Cathedral was attended by President Eamonn De Valera, Taoiseach Jack Lynch, Fine Gael Leader Liam Cosgrave and the Cabinet and thousands of workers.


He had travelled a very long road in life and his virtual State funeral was in stark contrast to that of his father who was buried quietly in a graveyard in Co Laois almost 50 years earlier.


In this film documentary discussion with Diarmuid Kingston, we look at the Ahawadda Ambush and we examine the subsequent life of Sean Dunne T.D, a remarkable trade union organiser.


Diarmuid is the author of Beleaguered (A History of the RIC in West Cork during the War of Independence) and has written extensively on the period.


The film will be shown during the forthcoming Spirit of Mother Jones festival and forms part of our contribution to Cork Commemoration 1920-23.


Visit www.motherjonescork.com and festival Facebook from November 23rd for the full programme as well as the links to join in the festival from Thursday 27th November to Monday 30th November.

Dublin 1913 Lock-out Centenary

Padraig Yeates

Padraig Yeates

Padraig Yeates is an acknowledged authority on the history of the 1913 Dublin Lockout, a major industrial dispute which pitted Dublin’s employers led by William Martin Murphy against more than 20,000 workers, led by Big Jim Larkin, who were sacked for their membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITG&WU).

1913 can be seen as the beginning of the struggle for Irish independence in the twentieth century, or the swansong of the British labour movement in what became the Irish Free State. It reflected the militant syndicalist movement in Britain and across the industrialised world, exposing the growing divisions within nationalist Ireland in the process. 

It was a naked class conflict, pitting Irish workers against Irish capitalists with both sides receiving support from their counterparts in Britain. But above all it was a dispute about the nature of Irish society. The victory of the employers in alliance with the established churches, and especially the Catholic Church, provided a foretaste of the conservative consensus that would prevail after independence.

Padraig Yeates

police baton workers

Police baton-charge on striking workers in Sackville (O’Connell) Street, Dublin, August 1913

Padraig will be delivering a keynote lecture on the Lockout at the Spirit of Mother Jones at the Firkin Crane theatre, Shandon, Cork at 7.00pm on Wednesday, 31st July 2013.  All are welcome and there is no admittance charge.

William Martin "Murder" Murphy, notorious employer's leader

William Martin “Murder” Murphy, notorious employer’s leader

Big Jim Larkin, ITGWU leader and nemesis of the employers of Dublin

Big Jim Larkin, ITGWU leader and nemesis of the employers of Dublin

Women and children with food parcels sent by British trade unionists

Women and children with food parcels sent by British trade unionists

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