Conference Exploring the Interwoven Dynamics of Labour, Gender and Class in the Struggle for Independence

The Bruree Soviet of 1921, one of the episodes that will be discussed at the weekend conference.
Nov 06 2019 Posted: 15:57 GMT

From 7-9 November, a major labour history conference will be hosted by the Discipline of History at NUI Galway, exploring ‘Labour, Gender and Class in the Struggle for Irish Independence, 1918-1924’. 

This free conference is one of the highlights of the Decade of Centenaries programme for 2019. It is co-organised by the Irish Congress for Trade Unions and the Irish Centre for the Histories of Labour and Class at NUI Galway and is supported by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. The programme includes an address by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht on Saturday, 9 November.  

Over two-and-a-half days, sixty scholars will scrutinise the interplay between labour, gender, and class during the revolutionary period in Ireland. At the core of the conference, a series of five expert panels will discuss contentious questions: the role of trade unionists (including Irish immigrant trade unionists) in the revolutionary events; the impact of the struggle on the lives of women; the existential challenges presented by sectarian polarisation in the North-East; and the several competing ideologies in the labour milieu.

The conference will also feature original research from established and emerging scholars, which will illuminate the regional experience of the revolution, with particular attention to the West of Ireland and to the Belfast region.

On Friday, 8 November a special resource will be launched by Noel Ward of the Irish National Teachers Organisation to assist teachers in engaging with themes relating to labour, gender and class when teaching the Struggle for Independence. This teachers’ handbook will be a freely available resource for schools, published on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions website.

The programme also includes an innovative theatre workshop, theatrical presentations, a walking tour, musical performances and a History Ireland hedge-school, in venues on the NUI Galway campus and in Galway City.

Minister Josepha Madigan, said: “I am very pleased to support this timely and important conference. I commend all involved at NUI Galway and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions for their collaborative and imaginative approach which has created a really interesting and engaging programme of events. I am delighted to support events such as this, which encourage respectful and meaningful debate. 

“One hundred years on, we have the freedom and the maturity to really delve into and consider the various narratives surrounding the complex events of this formative period in our shared history. We have learned that the exploration of our past can be an empowering, enriching and healing process, which encourages us to look to the future and the values that we wish to preserve for the generations to come.” 

Dr John Cunningham, co-organiser of the event, Discipline of History, NUI Galway, said: “The period between 1918 and 1924 was when Labour and the trade unions became an important factor in Irish social and political life, when socialist and republican ideologies and organisations interacted with one another, as reflected in the Democratic Programme of the first Dáil, and in relatively well-known episodes such as the Limerick Soviet and the general strike against conscription. By examining these and lesser known incidents of the period, and by interrogating the character of the various social in Ireland, the conference will add to the historical understanding of the struggle for Irish independence in all its complexity.”

Patricia King, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said: “The crucial role played by the Labour Movement in the Struggle for Independence has been largely forgotten. The first general strike in Irish history was in 1918 to oppose conscription. Three more followed, concluding with that against militarism and the drift to Civil War in 1922. Other major contributions were the drafting of the Democratic Programme of the First Dáil, the role union organisers played in creating the Dáil Courts, collecting the Dáil loan and creating alternative state structures to challenge British rule. While many trade unionists played prominent roles in the Irish Volunteers and Citizen Army, often at the cost of their own lives.” 

All events are free, and light lunches and a catered meal will be served in the Mechanics Institute, Middle Street, Galway, on Friday, 8 November.  Events at NUI Galway will take place in the O’ Donoghue Centre.

For further information visit,, register at or logon to and search for ‘Labour, Gender and Class in the Struggle for Irish Independence’.


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