inch of her heart
Angi Dixon continues her series on the women who have made
an outstanding contribution to British and Irish life with
a profile of Delia Larkin. A founder of the womens
trade union movement in Ireland, Larkin was a tireless campaigner
for womens suffrage and for equal rights with men.
DELIA LARKIN 1878 - 1949
Delia Larkin came into this world on February 27, 1878.
She was born into an Irish working-class family in the Toxeth
Park area of Liverpool. Her mother Mary Ann McNulty was
widowed in 1887 when Delias father James Larkin died
Delia assumed her equal position in the house and left her
education to aid her family in the ever-increasing economic
and social decline that was about to grip the Irish nation.
Things were going to get tough, but Delia was ready and
prepared to work conscientiously and diligently alongside
her brothers and other male counterparts. This hardy attitude
would prove to be her driving force when facing future hardships.
Delia developed a deep interest in and understanding of
social politics. As she grew older this interest would turn
into a burning passion that would fuel and re-educate many
minds. Her passion was to be the driving force in the re-structuring
of the corrupt morals of the government and all the influential
social classes, who were responsible for exploiting Irelands
It was her dream to promote women so that they might be
held in the same regard as their male counterparts. She
wished to obtain the same recognition that her brother James
Larkin was receiving as a trade union activist. She was
determined that women would be listened to and that their
voices would be considered just as important as those of
men. Delia Larkin first became involved with the Irish trade
union movement in the summer of 1911. It was decided to
start a trade union for women writing the ITGWU (the union
formed by James Larkin) called the Irish Women Workers Union
The union first advertised for members in the Irish Worker,
the weekly paper for the ITGWU, on the August 12, 1911 and
was launched a month later on September 5.
Delia Larkin wrote a column in the Irish Worker summing
up the aspirations of the new union she was about to revolutionise.
Her column dealt with many different issues, such as housing,
social conditions and votes for women. The aim of the union
was to provide women with a union that widened opportunities
and broke down barriers to allow different backgrounds to
mix on equal terms. The union programme included discussion
groups and weekly socials, annual outings, yearly concerts
and New Year dances. Within the first six months the union
had collated enough financial relief to help support the
families of victimisation, which had occurred as a result
of wages loss and other work related issues.
In 1912 the union branched out independently from the ITGWU
to the ITCU with its secured 1,000 members. Delia Larkin
represented her union at three annual conferences of the
ITUC from 1912 to 1914. She also represented women on Irelands
first tradesboard, the joint industrial council formed to
regulate pay within the poorly-paid manufacturing sectors
in which the women worked.
Alongside this, the multi-skilled and multi-talented Delia
Larkin personally engineered various plays, and went on
to form The Irish Workers Dramatic class (all trained personally
by Delia Larkin herself). regularly travelling and earning
much-needed funds for the party, the group inspired quite
Delia Larkin also represented the union members within the
suffrage movement and was personally asked to attend the
celebrations of Sarah Harrison, Dublin's first woman councillor
in February, 1912.
Delia also went on to represent the union at the mass rally
in Dublin to demand womens suffrage be included in
the Home Rule Bill. In 1913 the union membership fell to
around 600 or 700, which led Delia LArkin to organise a
tour for the theatre group of Britain to raise funds. As
a result of this fundraising effort, Delia opened a recreational
facility for members of Liberty Hall and their families.
But unfortunately the festive mood would soon turn sour.
Within weeks the Dublin tram strike had taken place and
was spreading throughout the city. The lock-out brought
complete anarchy and disarray to the city. Thousands were
out of work, and thousands were going hungry. The dispute
began on September 1 with the wearing of the IWWU badge.
Within a week 310 women were locked out of their work places.
When James Larkin went to England in order to rally support
for the workers, Delia took sole charge at Liberty Hall.
She ran the entire programme to feed the union members and
their dependents throughout the lock out. Consistently staying
by the peoples side was paramount to Delia. She provided
daily breakfasts for 3,000 children, lunches for working
mothers and distribution of necessaries such as clothing.
The lock-out continued until February, 1914, although this
would prove to be a temporary relief from the pressure of
Delias commitments. Some 400 of her union members
were not reinstated after the lockout, and in March she
went on a tour with the dramatic group that was formed by
the locked out workers.
In June of the same year Delia stood for the Poor Law elections
in Dublin, the only woman of 13 candidates nominated by
the trade unions. She fell a few hundred votes short of
being elected as a Poor Law Guardian.
In September of that year Delia was ordered to find other
suitable premises for the womens union after an argument
over payment for Liberty Hall. The Chief Secretary for Ireland
Augustine Birrell met suffrage women to discuss the newly-appointed
ladies advisory committee to assist with relief work.
The women proposed Delia Larkin as a member. She was rejected,
and this was viewed as a deliberate insult to Dublins
only womens union.
In 1915, James Larkin left for America - James Connolly
had taken charge at Liberty Hall as acting secretary of
ITGWU. At the same time Connolly and Delia Larkin were reported
to have engaged in verbal conflict on a number of occasions.
Apparently, they disagreed on how to run the union.
Delia returned to her native Liverpool for a short while,working
in various positions in the nursing sector. However, upon
hearing about the compulsory drafting of Irish men into
the British Army, she immediately moved back to Dublin to
rally support for the anti-conscription lobby.
After the war, Delia continued fighting, lending her support
to various post war independence rallies. She began writing
for the opposition newspaper, Red Hand, much to James Larkins
dismay. He stated that her activities would create disunity
within the union.
So Delia ceased to write for the paper and shifted her efforts
to supporting the Sydney 12, and even started working back
at Liberty Hall in the insurance section.
Delia also went on to marry Pat Colgan, an ex-member of
the Irish Citizen Army, at the age of 43.
In her later years Delia concentrated on her theatrical
activities. It was in her and Pat Colgans flat in
Dublin that James Larkin would also live out his last years.
In Delias final years she suffered from ill health
and was quoted as saying: I was forced into this
quiet life against all inclinations.
Delia Larkin died at her home in Dublin on the October 26,
1949. She was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Finally, the moving spirit was she was infamously dubbed
through her campaigning years was reunited with her former
friends and colleagues who had contributed every inch of
their heart and soul for Ireland.
Courtesy of the Irish Post