James Gralton – Man from the Future
James Gralton was born in 1886 in Effernagh in Co.Leitrim and grew up on a poor farm of just 25 acres. He left school at 14 and found local conditions of employment too poor and intolerable to him so he went to Dublin and joined the British army. There he refused to shine the leggings and buttons of officers and received 84 days bread and water. He then refused to serve in India in protest of British polices in Ireland and for this was imprisoned for a year and then deserted. He next experienced the hard life on the Liverpool docks and Welsh coalfields but in 1909 moved to New York where he settled. He had by now seen and been affected by the modern world and had become a socialist. In New York he established the James Connolly Club and became active in the trade union movement there.
In 1922 he made his first visit home and built the Pearse-Connolly Hall in his native Effernagh to replace the previous parish hall which had been burnt down by the British army in reprisal for a shooting of an officer. The hall quickly became an integral part of the community and was used for classes including Irish, English, music, civics and agricultural science. It was also used as a venue to settle land disputes and teach tenants rights. Dances were also held there. He was seen as a major threat to the status quo of the region and the Free State army made a failed attempt to arrest him there in August 1922. Knowing he was ahead of his time and experiencing such opposition he left again for New York. He returned in 1932 to look after his parents and hoped that the time might at last be ripe for some progressive politics. He founded and led the Revolutionary Workers Party and reopened the hall and began again holding meetings and dances there. He also spoke at many evictions of tenants and joined the local IRA. The establishment of the time felt very threatened by his ideas and ways and the local parish priest called the hall a “den of iniquity” from the pulpit and said that it should be closed. This all resulted in a shot being fired into the hall and an attempt being made to blow it up. It was eventually burnt to the ground on Christmas Eve 1932. Gralton had been home less than a year.
Under mounting pressure from the Catholic Church the De Valera led Fianna Fail government ordered Gralton to be deported as an “undesireable alien”. He went on the run and found many willing to protect him but was ultimately found and deported in August 1933, making him the only Irish person to have ever been deported from their own country and the source of a deep national shame. Back in New York he became a trade union organiser and member of the Irish Workers’ Club. He reprinted James Connolly’s pamphlets, raised funds for the International Brigades in Spain, and for the remainder of his life was an active member of the Communist Party of the USA. He died there in 1945 aged 56.
At time of writing a film by Ken Loach is in pre-production about Gralton’s life and his experiences in the Ireland of that time. A musical play called Jimmy Gralton’s Dancehall was performed in 2012. A plaque to him has also been erected in Carrick-on-Shannon in more recent years. The site of the hall, opposite the Swan Lake bar in Effernagh, which is marked by a plaque, has become something of a point of pilgrimage for many in the socialist movement and otherwise who would today share his progressive ideas.
James (Jimmy) Gralton:
Excerpts from Jimmy Gralton's Dancehall:
The Jimmy Gralton Film Club:
Loach to make film about Irish deportee Jim Gralton:
Most societies have more or less coercive means of encouraging conformity and discouraging unwelcome attitudes or behaviours...
A brief write-up on the great Irish republican socialist, Jim Gralton, who was deported from Ireland in 1933
On August 13, 1933 Jim Gralton was forced to board a Trans-Atlantic Liner in Cork which was to set sail for the USA. Jim had been arrested on August 10 at a friend’s house in Gorvagh, County Leitrim and brought to Ballinamore Barracks where he was detained before being brought to Cork for his deportation. He had been living on the run since February of that year following the issuing of a deportation order by the courts who ruled that he had to leave Ireland by March 5. His deportation 77 years ago makes him the only native Irishman to be deported from this state.
He was born in Effernagh close to Carrick on Shannon in County Leitrim on April 17 1886. His education, such as it was, was received in nearby Kiltoghert school. Like most young people at the time, he left school early, aged just 14. After working for a number of employers in the local area, fed up with the harsh treatment he and others suffered at their hands, Jim headed for Dublin where he enlisted in the British army.
His rebellious behaviour was not long coming through and he endured punishment of 84 days on “bread and water” for his refusal to shine the leggings and buttons of one of his officers. He was then posted to India, but refused to go in protest at British policies in Ireland. For his defiance and protest, Jim was jailed for a year and subsequently deserted the army, going to work for a time in the coal mines of Wales and in Liverpool docks.
He then got employment as a ship’s stoker and eventually settled in New York where he became a US citizen in 1909. In the midst of the great wealth in the USA, Jim was appalled at the harsh, slave-like conditions that workers endured, which led him to become a firm believer in supporting the rights of workers and in socialism.
From the time he arrived in the US, Jim was active in supporting and raising much needed funds for both the Irish republican struggle and for fellow workers in New York. He became a member of the US Communist Party and became heavily involved in trade union activity. In the wake of the 1916 Rising, and after studying of the writings of James Connolly, Jim became a founding member of the James Connolly Club in New York.
Almost a decade and a half after arriving in the US, Jim decided to return home to Ireland in June 1921, just a month before the truce in the Tan War commenced on the 11th of July. During the war, the notorious Black and Tans had burnt the local Temperance Hall beside Gowel Church to the ground. On his return, Jim promised local people he would replace it and set about, with his own money and with local support, building a new hall on his father’s land near Effernagh crossroads.
The new hall, named the Pearse-Connolly Hall, was eventually opened on December 31 1921 and became an integral part of the everyday lives of the local community. Amongst its many uses was the holding in classes of a wide range of subjects including Irish, English, music, dancing, civics and agricultural science. This was also a time of many land disputes and the Hall was also used to hold Land Courts to settle many of these disputes. Despite the good work Jim was doing for his community and despite the valuable educational service that was been provided, not everyone was happy.
The Catholic Church in particular were extremely unhappy. They denounced him at every opportunity, at the pulpit during mass and in letters, going as far as to describe him as an extremely dangerous socialist and even an “Anti-Christ”. They accused him of “leading a campaign of Land agitation”, of trying to take the youth of the area away from the Catholic Church and of teaching communism to them in his classes.
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