Turtle Bunbury

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HISTORY

HEROES AND VILLAINS

ROSIE HACKETT (1893-1976)

By Turtle Bunbury

In September 2013, Dublin City Council voted to name the newest bridge across the Liffey after trade union activist and 1916 veteran Rosie Hackett.

Liberty Hall, March 1916. Rosie Hackett held her nerve, as she always did. The policemen were here to raid the union shop. That was obvious. They’d been raiding shops and printers all across Dublin since early morning, seizing type and dismantling machinery. They were specifically looking for copies of an inflammatory St. Patrick’s Day issue of ‘The Gael’.

But Liberty Hall had a lot more than seditious journals to worry about. For several weeks, Rosie and her colleagues had been busy manufacturing ammunition, as well as new shirts, for the soldiers of the Irish Citizens Army.

‘Wait till I get the head’, she said, dashing next door where she told them to fetch James Connolly urgently.

As Rosie later wrote, the Scottish-born socialist leader was ‘down in a jiffy’. The first person he saw was a policeman behind the shop counter, his arms full of newspapers.

‘Drop them, or I will drop you’, growled Connolly.

Helena Molony, Rosie’s boss, was standing by the fireplace, her gun cocked and ready to shoot if things turned nasty. ‘She always had a gun, and was always prepared’, said Rosie.

The policeman put the papers down and they left, vowing to come back later.

‘They came back later with a warrant,’ wrote Rosie, ‘but they got nothing. I had hidden the stuff.’

Rosie Hackett’s calm but unbending resolve is one of the main reasons why this diminutive trade union activist has just had a bridge named in her honour, 120 years after her birth. The bridge, which will carry the Luas across the Liffey between Marlborough Street and Hawkins Street, is the first on the river to be named after a woman.[i]

Rosanna Hacektt was born in Dublin on 25th July 1893. John Hackett, her father, is believed to have been a barber but died when she was a child. By 1901, she was living in a two-room tenement at 27 Bolton Street, which she shared with her widowed mother, sister, two uncles, an aunt and a lodger.[ii] There were 24 people living in the house at the time.[iii]

Two years later, her mother was married again to a Cork-born caretaker called Patrick ‘Padser’ Gray, with whom she had four sons.

By 1911, the family were living at Old Abbey Street, behind Eden Quay, and Rosie was earning vital money working as a packer in a paper store.[iv]

Like many working class women of her generation, she had already become politicized.[v] In January 1909, Jim Larkin founded the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU).

She was working as a messenger at the Jacob’s Biscuit Factory on Bishop Street when she had her first experience of agitation Although the Quaker-owned business offered its employees some of the best working conditions in Dublin at this time, the men in the bakehouse went on strike, prompted by Jim Larkin’s assertion that the conditions were ‘sending them from this earth 20 years before their time’.

Jacob’s was the largest employer of women in Dublin in 1911. On 22 August, 18-year-old Rosie was amongst 3000 of these female employees who embarked on a sympathy strike in support of the men.

Two weeks later, on September 5th 1911, Rosie attended a public meeting in the Antient Concert Hall on Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) at which the Irish Women Workers Union was founded.[vi] The speakers included Larkin’s sister, Delia, the IWWU’s first Secretary, who told those gathered that the women of Ireland were ‘weary of being white slaves who pass their lives away toiling to fill the pockets of unscrupulous employers’.[vii]

Jacob’s was still in the firing line by 1913 when Larkin described it as ‘the worst sweating den in Europe’. Jacob’s duly – and successfully - sued him for libel.[viii]

On Sunday 30th August 1913, just days after the tram strike began, Rosie was amongst a crowd of 10,000 people who gathered on Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street) to hear Larkin speak. The Dublin Metropolitan Police baton-charged the crowd; two workers were killed and over 300 injured in what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’.

Two days later, three Jacob’s women were sacked when they refused to remove their union badges. All hell broke loose for Jacob’s when a further 250 women likewise refused to remove their badges and went on strike. By the close of day, Jacob’s had dismissed some 300 women- including Rosie. As word spread, Dublin’s dockworkers initiated a boycott and refused to handle Jacob’s goods.

During the Strike and Lock-Out, Rosie became one of the stalwarts of the soup kitchens at Liberty Hall. She also played a key role in organising a fund to help striking families and to help those suffering from the demoralizing effects of unemployment.

It was presumably at this time that she first met James Connolly, Larkin’s deputy, who had formed the Irish Citizen Army (ICA) to train workers to defend themselves against police attacks, as well as boosting their morale. During this time, the ITGWU purchased the old Northumberland Hotel and made it their headquarters, Liberty Hall.

When the strike finished, Rosie was unable to regain her job at Jacob’s but instead trained as a printer. She helped run the co-op shop at Liberty Hall, which printed numerous nationalist papers and pamphlets, as well as organizing cultural events to entertain IWWU members.[ix] In the autumn of 1915, she also began a six-month stint of studying first aid with Dr. Kathleen Lynn.

The Easter Rising erupted three weeks after the police raided her shop in pursuit of ‘The Gael’. During those weeks, Rosie wrote, 'we spent all our time practically at Liberty Hall … because we had to double-up on the work.' They knew they were in danger. The raid not only necessitated a continuous guard on the shop, but also prompted a mobilization of the Citizen Army. Rosie took part in numerous night marches with the ICA, once venturing as far south as Dublin Castle.

The Rising itself came as little if any surprise to Rosie who was on first name terms with Pearse and all the other leaders; whenever they came to Liberty Hall, she personally greeted them and escorted them up to see Connolly.[x]

In the weeks before the Rising, Rosie was busy stitching together first aid kits and knap-sacks for the soldiers of the ICA. By Holy Thursday, she was slicing ham and making sandwiches for them.

On Easter Sunday, Rosie took part in a long parade around the city – across the river at Butt Bridge, past Trinity College, up Grafton Street, across York Street and down by her old workplace at Jacob's Factory – after which Connolly told them all that they were now ‘soldiers of Ireland’ and that the moment had come.

That night, Rosie was flat out ‘going back and forth with messages’. As she later explained, 'I was small, and would get to places, unnoticed; and I was always successful.'.[xi] It is said that she carried the original Proclamation from the printing press up to Connolly, the paper still damp with the ink.

The following morning, she was sent as a nurse to St. Stephen’s Green alongside Dr French Mullen. They were to serve under Connolly’s deputy, Michael Mallin, and Constance Markievicz, whom Rosie called ‘Madame’. Before she left, Dr. Lynn gave her a white coat that went down to her toes. 'I remember Plunkett and some other men were laughing at the coat touching the ground', wrote Rosie later. She spent the day running a first-aid post in the park. They were frequently under heavy fire and she recalled one shot whizzing through Mallon's hat and another taking a chunk out of the heel of Markievicz's boot.

On Easter Tuesday, she was part of the ICA force that occupied the Royal College of Surgeons. They created a ward of stretcher beds, mattresses and other things brought in from the Turkish Baths on Leinster Street. After a brief sleep on a mattress, Rosie got up for a cup of tea. A man named Murray lay down on the mattress in her place. Moments later he was shot in the face; he died in St. Vincent's Hospital later that week.

Rosie vividly recalled the despair that seeped into everyone when they received Pearse’s command to surrender. Markievicz crumpled on a stairwell, her head in her hands. Mallin looking 'terribly pale' and haggard, 'shaking hands with all of us'; he was executed days later.

Rosie was duly arrested, held to Dublin Castle and then imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail for ten days.

After her release, she teamed up with the Irish suffragettes Louie Bennett and Helen Chenevix to reorganize the IWWU, with whom she remained an active member for the rest of her life.[xii] She co-founded the Fianna Saoirse and befriended the likes of Mrs Pearse, the Gifford sisters (who married Tom McDonagh and Joseph Mary Plunkett) and the O'Rahilky's widow and daughter. Helena Molony restarted the Liberty Hall soup kitchen which, as Rosie out it, was 'a great cover up' enabling them to continue with their activities. The soup kitchen was to become a perfect meeting spot for men like Dan Breen.

On the first anniversary of the Rising, Rosie again displayed her gusto when she and Helen Molony hung a banner from Liberty Hall inscribed “James Connolly Murdered, May 12th, 1916″. Dublin Castle panicked and a force of 400 policemen marched on Liberty Hall to take it down. ‘I always felt that it was worth it,’ wrote Rosie later, ‘to see all the trouble the police had in getting it down. No one was arrested. Of course, if it took four hundred policemen to take four women - what would the newspapers say?’[xiii]

She took the pro-treaty side during the Civil War, and was an ardent supporter of both Collins and Griffith.

She subsequently ran the ITGWU tobacco and sweet shop at Eden Quay, adjacent to Liberty Hall, until its closure in 1957. She never married and lived with her bachelor brother Tommy at 115 Brian Road in Fairview until her death in 1976 at the age of 84. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, with full military honours.

One of the happiest moments of her life came in 1970 when she was awarded the gold medal for devoting 60 years of her life to the Trade Union Movement. One can only imagine how proud Rosie would be to now have a bridge across the heart of Dublin City named after her.

With thanks to Mary Muldowney, Ros Dee, Ida Milne and John Gray.


[i] From 85 names put forward for the bridge, the council’s Commemorative Naming Committee whittled it down to five. Hackett received 192 points in a weighted ballot by councillors. Dublin camogie player Kay Mills was second 176 points, ahead of Alone founder Willie Bermingham (167), Dracula creator Bram Stoker (92) and Legion of Mary founder Frank Duff (80). A campaign by the Abbey Theatre raised 2,500 online votes but the theatre was excluded. While the $16 million bridge is due to open in February, the Luas Cross City line is not due to open until 2017.

[ii] The house was later home to the sculptor Peter Grant.

[iii] As such, Rosie must have been all too familiar with the squalour, the cold and the high mortality of tenement life; her mother Rosanna (nee Dunn) is believed to have lost several children at this time. See http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1901/Dublin/Rotunda/Bolton_Street/1281618/

[iv] By the time of the 1911 Census she lived at 3 Old Abbey Street with her mother (remarried), sister, stepfather, half-brothers and a lodger. She was by then working as a packer in a paper stores. See http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/pages/1911/Dublin/North_Dock/Abbey_Street__Old/29111/

[v] Women had been agitating at least since the Ladies Land League began their battled for tenants rights in 1880s. In 1890s and early 20th century, many Irish women became involved in nationalism.

[vi] The Antient Concert Hall later became the Academy cinema.

One of the founders of the IWWU was Lily Kempson, who started work in Jacob’s in 1911 when she was 14 year-old. She was subsequently jailed for two weeks in connection with her trade union activity.

Within weeks off its establishment, the IWWU, which was initially effectively a semi autonomous branch of the ITGWU, was involved in a successful dispute over pay with Jacob’s, then the largest employer of women in Dublin.

[vii] Constance Markievicz, who also addressed the meeting, stated that the union would not only give women a greater voice in the workplace but would also help them to win the right to vote. It would be another seven years before women were allowed to vote.

[viii] See http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=CHP19140105.2.22&l=mi&e=--1914---1920--10--11-DA---0aviation-- for details of Jacob’s working conditions at this time, scroll to end of article.

[ix] The manager of the co-op was Jinny Shanahan and the secretary of the group was Helena Moloney, an Abbey actor and nationalist who played a prominent role in the lockout, helping Markievicz run organise soup kitchens at Liberty Hall that were run by the union’s members.

[x] As Rosie herself later said: ‘Historically, Liberty Hall is the most important building that we have in the city. Yet, it is not thought of at all by most people. More things happened there, in connection with the Rising, than in any other place. It really started from there.’

[xi] Christopher Brady recalled how Rosie ‘worked as a canvasser and a traveller and was called on to carry out many confidential jobs’, underlining the confidence the Rising leaders placed in her dependable nature and trustworthiness. It is sometimes said that Rose brought the copies of the Proclamation, still damp with ink, direct from the printer to James Connolly but evidence for this is lacking.

[xii] By 1917, the IWWU had 2500 members, mainly from the textile, box making, printing and laundry trades. The Dublin Master Printers (Rosie’s profession) refused to recognise them, leading to another lock-out, this one 6 weeks long … but victory helped the IWWU with its organization and, by 1918, they had 5,500 members and was largely responsible for organizing this huge, general, unskilled workforce. An effort to organise domestic house staff was largely unsuccessful but it was also closely associated with the Irish Nurses and Midwives

Organisation while psychiatric nurses were organised by the IWWU. The IWWU worked for women’s right to apply to the same jobs as men and be accorded the same status. The ICA was not revived after the Rising. The ITGWU thereafter focused its energies on increasing union membership, protecting members’ wages, and improving working conditions, as well as campaigning for women workers through into the 1980s.

In 1984, the IWWU merged with the Federated Workers Union of Ireland and its longtime base at 48 Fleet Street was eventually sold. The FWUI was, in turn, subsumed into SIPTU and the union’s name and identity finally passed into Irish labour history.

[xiii]

As Rosie herself later declared, ‘It was no length of time up on the Hall, when it was taken down by the police, including Johnny Barton and Dunne. We were very vexed over it, as we thought it should have been defended. It was barely an hour or so up, and we wanted everybody to know it was Connolly’s anniversary. Miss Molony called us together- Jinny Shanahan, Brigid Davis and myself. Miss Molony printed another script. Getting up on the roof, she put it high up, across the top parapet. We were on top of the roof for the rest of the time it was there. We barricaded the windows. I remember there was a ton of coal in one place, and it was shoved against the door in cause they would get in. Nails were put in.’

‘Police were mobilised from everywhere, and more than four hundred of them marched across from the Store Street direction and made a square outside Liberty Hall. Thousands of people were watching from the Quay on the far side of the river. It took the police a good hour or more before they got in, and the script was there until six in the evening, before they got it down.

I always felt that it was worth it, to see all the trouble the police had in getting it down. No one was arrested.

Of course, if it took four hundred policemen to take four women, what would the newspapers say? We enjoyed it at the time- all the trouble they were put to. They just took the script away and we never heard any more. It was Miss Molony’s doings.’



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