“The Red Flag” is a well-known anthem of left-wing politics and it came from the pen of an Irishman man who died 90 years ago.
Jim Connell was born on March 27, 1852, at Ratheniska, Kilskyre, in County Meath. As a youth, he was involved in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was active in campaigns against evictions.
When Connell moved to Dublin to work on the docks, he became influenced by John Landyre who was a member of the International Workingman's League. Connell soon found himself blacklisted for trying to organize a union of dockers, so he left Ireland and went to London where his left-wing ideals flourished.
As well as becoming a journalist with the Labour Leader newspaper, in London, Connell was also secretary of the Workingmen's Legal Aid Society. His homeland was never far from his mind and he became a member of the Social Democratic Federation which supported the cause of land reform in Ireland.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Connell left the Social Democratic Federation to join the Independent Labour Party. When World War I broke out it was condemned by Connell who proclaimed himself a pacifist.
Throughout his life, Connell's left-wing politics never waned and in 1922 he was awarded the Red Star medal by Lenin, in Russia.
“The Red Flag” was written by Connell in 1889 as he was making his way home from a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation during the London dock strike of that year. He was on a train from Charing Cross going to his home in south London and was inspired when he saw the station master raise and lower his red signal flag, this and the striking dockers helped Connell create an anthem for the left.
The song was first published in a political journal called Justice and its popularity soon spread. Connell originally set the air of the song to “The White Cockade”.
Jim Connell died 90 years ago on February 8, 1929, at his London home. His ashes were scattered in the Garden of Rest while his famous song was sung at his funeral as a parting hymn. Today there is a plaque in his honor on his Edwardian house at 22 Stondon Park, in southeast London.
In 1998, Connell's home county of Meath remembered him when an impressive monument was unveiled at the spot in Crossakiel where, in 1918, Connell had addressed a crowd of over 600.
Jim Connell's song is now regarded as the anthem of the international labor movement and to this day it still sounds out far and wide.
The Red Flag
The people’s flag is deeper red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts blood dyed its very fold.
Chorus: Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we'll live and die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
Look round the Frenchman loves its blaze
The sturdy German chants its praise
In Moscow vaults its hymns are sung
Chicago swells the surging throng.
It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night,
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its color now.
It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last,
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.
It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place,
To cringe before the rich man’s frown
And haul the sacred emblem down.
With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall,
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.
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