From his birth in County Cork to standing his ground in London and working alongside Jim Larkin in New York city. On New Year's Eve 1919 Con Lehand passed away.
Con Lehane, who also went by the name Con O'Lyhane, was born in Coachford, County Cork, in 1877. He proved to be a gifted student and went on to study chemistry and Irish at the Cork Technical School but, his future lay with the fight for social justice.
Lehane took up work as a clerk with a butter merchant in Cork city. He was one of the founders of the Cork branch of James Connolly's Irish Socialist Republican Party and wrote under the pen name 'Proletarian' for The Workers Republic newspaper.
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In 1897, Britain celebrated the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria and it was also deemed to be a celebratory affair for Ireland but, many did not see it that way including Lehane who led anti-jubilee protests in Cork which saw the Coachford man storm into a fire station which was displaying the union jack and tearing it down! A year later he established the Wolfe Tone Literary Society to coincide with the centenary of the 1798 United Irishmen Rebellion. It was this same club that would go on to remold itself as The Fintan Lalor Club - the Cork branch of Connolly's ISRP.
Con Lehane was a force to be reckoned with in the Cork socialist movement at the turn of the 19th century. His staunch atheism resulted in his parish priest denouncing him from the pulpit. His hard-line stance against the Catholic Church even blighted his often testy relationship with James Connolly. The two men would eventually fall out. Lehane would nickname Connolly "Catholic Connolly" for what he saw as his soft approach to the church's iron rule in Irish society while Connolly would deride Lehane as a deserter for leaving Ireland for England in 1901 after being denounced from the pulpit.
Lehane settled in Finsbury Park, London, and became a big player in the labor movement there. In 1903 James Connolly wrote to John Carstairs Mathewson "I did not expect that a man who ran away from Cork would stand his ground in London!"
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In 1904, Lehane joined the Social Democratic Federation but would later leave that organization to become a founding member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and he became its first general secretary and editor of the Socialist Standard.
In 1906, Lehane and the majority of the Islington branch were expelled from the party following its annual conference. The Bexley branch tabled a motion for the party to adopt a policy of socialist industrial unionism. It was voted down and the Bexley branch was expelled. Lehane, who led the Islington branch, became vocal against the expulsion of the Bexley branch and he, along with members of his own branch, also got expelled.
In 1913, Lehane went to America where he worked alongside Jim Larkin in the labor movement there. He became a lead vocalist against World War One and one famous photo of the Corkman shows him speaking at an anti-war rally in Union Square New York City, in 1914.
In the September 4th edition of the Pittsburg Gazette of 1914, a headline piece declared "a noted socialist is here."
The piece informed the reader that Lehane was to speak at Lyceum Theatre and it mentioned his achievements, including one in Cork:
"Lehane was given chief command of the great gas strike in Cork by the trades council. In fighting for the gas workers Lehane cut off the entire gas supply of the city which was in a state of total darkness for several weeks."
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The strike in question began in early 1901 due to great animosity between workers and managers in the Cork Gas Works. With safety issues and increased workload, workers downed tools and went on strike with Lehane leading them. The strike ended in September.
In May 1916, Lehane was addressing a meeting of delegates to the Connecticut Socialist Party in Bridgeport where he spoke of the Easter Rising. He described it as the only bright spot in the World War and the shooting of the leaders of the Rising would inspire others to work and die for the cause. Among those who died in front of the firing squad in Easter 1916 was Lehane's former frosty comrade James Connolly.
Lehane's anti-war protests would see him meet the end of many a policeman's baton and feel the weight of heavy handcuffs around his wrists. In 1917, he was imprisoned and his time behind bars saw his health decline. He was released in late 1919 a shadow of the man he used to be.
Con Lehane died from pneumonia in Bellevue Hospital New York 100 years ago on New Years' Eve 1919 at the age of 42.
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