Jim Larkin Came To America To Escape The Heat, But Found Trouble Again

It was a spring day in New York in the year 1914 when a knock sounded at the door of a certain Mrs. Flynn. She answered, and there standing on her step was a tall man, easily 6’ 4”, with a gaunt face, large “fleshy nose” and piercing blue eyes. Learn more about Jim Larkin:

He was clearly not a well-to-do man judging by his somewhat shabby clothing and well-worn shoes.

When the man spoke, he evinced a peculiar accent that sounded Irish tinged with a Northern-England flavor. The man was none other than Jim “Big Jim” Larkin — one of the most admired but also notorious, high profile and fiery union leaders of Ireland.

Jim Larkin had come to visit Mrs. Flynn in an appeal to her Irish roots and for a donation. Larkin was raising money for the Irish Citizen Army. He was also gathering funds for the union activities he was already planning in the United States.

Larkin had just fled Ireland to escape the heat of a major societal upheaval he had helped foment – the great Dublin Lockout of 1913. It was a massive strike of some 20,000 workers against 300 business owners.

After months of turmoil, violence, marching in the streets and work stoppages, the Dublin Lockout was finally crushed by Big Business.

Now in New York, Larkin planned to pick up right where he left off. An ardent follower of Karl Marx and socialist, Larkin was already on the radar of American federal agents, including J. Egdar Hoover, future director of the FBI. British agents had also followed him the U.K. to spy on his activities in America. Read more: Jim Larkin | Biography and James Larkin | Ireland Calling

Those agents would get enough material on Larkin to arrest him, try him and convict him of social anarchy. He was sent to Sing Sing prison in 1920, served three years, was pardoned and deported back to Ireland.

The nine years Larkin spent in the United States is the stuff of spy novels and international thrillers. He would never return. Larkin died in his native Ireland in 1947 at a time when he had ceased to be a relevant figure in an Irish labor movement, but remains a giant in the eyes of history.