Could Mystery Behind the Lost Play of Irish Rebel Leader James Connolly be solved?

Could Mystery Behind the Lost Play of Irish Rebel Leader James Connolly be solved?

A recently uncovered short story could, in fact, be linked to Irish freedom fighter James Connolly.

The story, which was found by university academics last year was coincidentally uncovered on the 150th anniversary of the late rebel’s birth.

Entitled The Agitator’s Wife, the anonymously-penned story is now believed by experts to be of the hand of Connolly.

The Man

James Connolly was an Irish republican and socialist. He played a pivotal role in fighting for Ireland’s independence and is immortalised today in poetry and prose which regale his tenacity and devotion to the Irish people.

Born in Edinburgh on 5 June 1868, Connolly went on to fight for the British Army before deserting to become a member of the socialist party.

As his political stance developed, he became an instrumental figure in Ireland, fighting for Irish rights. He was also one of the first political figures to link the Irish people’s struggle for independence to gender inequality as well as classism.

Connolly was a leading contributor to the momentous 1916 rising in Ireland – a moment in history which earned Ireland its independence.

The Story

The Agitator’s Wife is the story that was unearthed by academics at Warwick University Library, last year. The narrative tells of dockworkers’ strike, centring on the life and experiences of the protagonist, Tom Arnold.

Arnold is the leading figure spearheading the strike. He is worn-down and at wits-end. The constant, gruelling pressures of his scenario teemed with the law’s corruption pushes Arnold to the break. In his darkest moments, he contemplates suicide.

In an attempt to relieve her weary husband, Mary Arnold takes the helm of the strike. She is the catalyst for change in this story, convincing a recognised doctor to advocate for the rights of the workers and their suffering families.

It is Mary Arnold, the agitator’s wife, who causes the tides to change and achieve victory at the end of their momentous moral battle.

The Reception


University of Glasgow

The link between Connolly and this short story is explained in the Irish Studies Review by Glaswegian academics, Professor Willy Maley, Dr Maria-Daniella Dick and Kirsty Lusk, who uncovered the piece.

They elaborate on the connection, “The Agitator’s Wife was ‘first alluded to in his (Connolly’s) daughter Nora’s 1935 memoir entitled Portrait of a Rebel Father’”.

“We believe we may have unearthed, if not the play itself, then at least a version of the missing play.

“An anonymously published short story in the February 1894 issue of an obscure and short-lived Christian Socialist journal, The Labour Prophet, bears the title ‘The Agitator’s Wife.’”

“This is of course a short story and not a play, but in every other sense it fits the bill for Connolly’s missing piece of writing.”

“It was written in the appropriate period, it has the same title, it is rich in dialogue and it reminds us strongly of Connolly’s other writing in its politics, its themes and in its socialist feminist viewpoint, which was rare for that time.”