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The Dublin Lockout in 1913 And Working Conditions in Ireland

L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

Crowds wait on Dublin dock for the food ships coming from England for the hungry Irish people on strike.

Crowds wait on Dublin dock for the food ships coming from England for the hungry Irish people on strike.

The Dublin Lockout 1913

Employment in the early 1900’s in Ireland was hard, dangerous and very badly paid. That is if the lower class could even get a job. They had very little or no rights at all.

So Unions were set up and the Irish workers joined them. The employers did not like this at all so threatened them with the sack unless they left the union. They refused. When the workers went out on strike they were sacked and locked out of their jobs.

Getting a job and the opportunities for single women were even worse, so there were many Irish women who went on strike during the Dublin Lockout

James Connolly and Jim Larkin -  The Dublin Lockout in 1913.

James Connolly and Jim Larkin - The Dublin Lockout in 1913.

Working Conditions in Ireland before 1913

In Ulster the Linen Factories were the main employer of women and children. They were only paid twelve shillings a week compared to the men who received double that amount. In Dublin over 3,000 Women Worked at Jacobs Biscuit Factory. There had been strikes in the north of the country which had improved wages but this did not apply to most of Ireland and Dublin. Most men in Dublin had to work a seventy hour week for only fourteen shillings a week.

The women had to work on average ninety hours a week for around six or seven shillings a week. These were the very poor conditions that the workers in Dublin were suffering every day. Those who did have permanent jobs in the factories all over Ireland had to endure very bad working conditions with strict rules designed to exploit the workers. The bosses used any excuse to fine them for breaking the rules, therefore reducing their already low wages even more.

James Connolly in Belfast

In 1910 in Belfast the working conditions were becoming unbearable. The owners of the factories believed that as employers they had the right to dictate the conditions their workers had to endure.

They posted a list of new rules which if not adhered to, would result in fines or dismissal. These included, talking, singing, laughing or adjusting their hair during working hours. James Connolly told the Women to stick Together. So they went to work singing songs and breaking the rules en masse. The employers gave in and relaxed the rules.

James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army

James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army

Permanent Jobs

Dublin had very few permanent jobs available. Dublin was a large manufacturing city, and had few permanent jobs on offer. Cheap casual labour was used. Getting work was hard enough but keeping that job was even harder.

Dock Workers

Those wanting work on the docks were at the employers’ mercy. They had to turn up everyday hoping to be picked for work. Most of them were paid in the pubs. If they were not seen to spend some of their money on drink they were not rehired the next day. They had to get work to feed their families so they were trapped in the system.

James Larkin and the I.T.G.W.U

On January 4th 1909 James Larkin formed the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Liberty Hall became the headquarters of the I.T.G.W.U. in 1911. James Larkin edited the paper, The Irish Worker every week. He had gained 17 shillings for a sixty six hour week for agricultural workers. Larkin had led them out on strike during harvest time and the farmers had given in rather than see their crops rot.

Jacobs Biscuit Factory Strike

He had also been successful with a strike at Jacobs Biscuit Factory. On 22nd August 1911 over three thousand women packers walked out in support of the four hundred and seventy bakers who had went on strike the day before. The strike was settled with James Larkin gaining better conditions and wages for the workers. Rosie Hackett, eighteen years old and Lily Kempson, fourteen years old were two of those workers.

James Larkin in Dublin in 1923

James Larkin in Dublin in 1923

Irish Transport and General Workers Union

James Connolly ran the Belfast branch of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. He was born in 1868 into a very poor family of Irish immigrants in Cowgate, Edinburgh in Scotland.

At fourteen years old he worked fourteen hours a day at a bakery. He hated it that much that he often wished it would burn down. To escape the poverty he joined the First Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment. He was transferred to Dublin in October 1885. This is where he met Lillie, his future wife

In 1896 after leaving the army he got a job in Dublin organising the Socialist Club of Dublin. Four years later in 1902 he immigrated to America but later returned to Ireland in 1910 to work as Organiser in Belfast for the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

The Tenement Houses

The workers lived in the tenement houses of the Dublin Slums. There were over four hundred thousand people living in Dublin in 1913. Approximately eighty seven thousand lived in the tenement houses in the centre of Dublin city.

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Most of these tenements had one water tap located in the back yard which had to be used by all in the house, the single toilet was also in the yard for all to use. 80% of those living in the city tenements lived with their families in one room

Condition of Tenements in Dublin

There was often adults and up to eight to ten children in each room with the rents as high as two to three shilling a week. It was usual for around seventy to eighty people to be living in one tenement house. Even those who were lucky enough to have permanent work were struggling to provide for their families because of the low wages and working conditions.

James Larkin was a powerful speaker and when he stood on a platform waving his outstretched arms about, people listened to him. He was gradually increasing the membership of the I.T.G.W.U. which grew from four thousand in 1911 to ten thousand in 1913.

William Martin Murphy

William Martin Murphy was owner of Clery's department store and the Imperial Hotel. He also controlled the Irish Independent, Evening Herald and Irish Catholic newspapers. He told his workers on 19th July 1913 that if they continued to be members of the union they would be fired.

He was ignored so on 21stAugust he wrote this letter to just under two hundred workers in the parcels office of the Tramway Company. "As the directors understand that you are a member of the Irish Transport Union, whose methods are disorganising the trade and business of the city, they do not further require your services.

The parcels traffic will be temporarily suspended. If you are not a member of the Union when traffic is resumed your application for re-employment will be favourably considered”. So even those who were not in the Union were sacked. Five days later a strike began.

Tram Drivers Strike

In Dublin seven hundred tram drivers stopped work and walked off the job. It was the first day of the Dublin Horse Show on August 26th, a very busy time in Dublin. That morning at ten o'clock nearly seven hundred of the tram drivers took out their union badges and pinned them onto their jackets.

Then they left the trams including the bemused passengers where they stood and walked off the job. The Union wanted the reinstatement of all parcels staff and the same hours and wages for the Dublin workers that those in Belfast received.

James Larkin is Arrested

James Larkin and three others were charged with libel and conspiracy, then released on bail. Larkin organised a meeting for 31st August. It was banned. He hid at Surrey House, the home of Countess Markievicz during this time.

Dublin Lockout

Thousands of locked out workers on strike turned up for the meeting. Thousands of locked out workers turned up for the meeting in Sackville Street, (now O’Connell Street.) So did the police armed with batons. Rosie Hackett was there with the men and women from Jacobs Biscuit to support those locked out. At the Imperial Hotel a room was booked in the name of Reverend Donnelly and his niece. The hotel is now part of Clery's in O’Connell Street.

Larkin was heavily disguised in a long black robe and beard when he appeared on the balcony, but he only spoke a few words before the police grabbed him and he was arrested. Fighting broke out between the crowds and the police.

Two Police Forces

At that time in Dublin there were two police forces. The Dublin Metropolitan Police and the Royal Irish Constabulary. The R.I.C wore different uniforms than the D.M.P and were all armed with guns. Both were in attendance in great numbers at the meeting.

Forty five police and four hundred and thirty three men women and children were injured. James Nolan died from a fractured scull caused by a police Baton. Larkin was later released on bail.

Dublin Metropolitan Police Station

42 Manor Street, Dublin 7. Dublin Metropolitan Police Station. 1913. The station is just a few minutes walk from the city of Dublin. In 1913 there were thirty one members of the DMP stationed there.

Royal Irish Constabulary

The other police force in Ireland at the time was the Royal Irish Constabulary. This were an armed force and both groups were out in force on 31st August 1913 in Dublin. In 1913 James. Larkin could not understand why the DMP helped to attack the people of Dublin on strike. During one of his speech he said, “If I was doing dirty work I would expect dirty pay. The men who are keeping the peace are getting bad hours and meager pay.

A Dublin Metropolitan Policeman had to work eight hour shifts seven days a week and also had to work night duty every second month. They received thirty shillings a week as constables, rising to thirty six shillings a week for a sergeant. In the same year a skilled artisan in the building trade received thirty six shillings a week for working only six days.

DMP Station Stoneybatter Ireland

DMP Station Stoneybatter Ireland

Tenement Houses in Dublin

A few days later on Tuesday 2nd September at about 8-45 pm two houses in Church Street, Dublin 7 collapsed without warning. The two tenement houses were four stories high with shops on the ground floor.

There were ten families living in the sixteen rooms, over forty people at the time of the disaster. Because of the cramped conditions it was normal at the time for the people to sit outside the hall doors and chat to the neighbours. When the houses fell down the rubble buried them.

Seven People were Killed and Many Injured. Rescuers spent all night getting them out. Mrs Maguire, who lived in one of the rooms, described what she saw. 'I was standing in the hallway of the house, looking at the children playing in the streets.

Other women were sitting on the kerb so as to be out in the fresh air. Suddenly I heard a terrible crash and shrieking. I ran, not knowing why, but hearing as I did a terrible noise of falling bricks. When I looked back, I saw that two houses had tumbled down.'

Workers Locked Out

By September there were twenty four thousand workers who were locked out of their jobs. The next day on the 3rd September Murphy and four hundred and four other employers issued a statement.

It said that no worker who belonged to the union could return to work and those who were still in their employment but members of the union would be sacked. The workers would only be allowed to keep their jobs if they signed this document.

"I hereby undertake to carry out all instructions given to me by or on behalf of my employers and further I agree to immediately resign my membership of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (if a member) and I further undertake that I will not join or in any way support this union."

ITGWU Badges

Three workers at Jacobs’s factory wore their ITGWU badges a few days later at work. They were sacked when they refused to remove them and denounce their membership of the Union. Rosie Hackett was one of the leaders and organisers of this strike.

Jacobs Locked out all their Workers

This was to be the pattern all over Dublin, with workers refusing to leave their Union, going on strike and the employers locking everyone out. Tens of thousands of men and women and their families were now without a job and any money to feed and look after their families. By September there were twenty four thousand workers who were locked out. They were finding it hard to survive.

Unions in England

The workers and their families of Dublin received sympathy and help from the Unions in England. The people of Dublin received sympathy and help from the Unions in England. On Saturday 27th September 1913, a ship The Hare, arrived in Dublin.

The first of many shipments of food sent to help the starving workers and their families. There were sixty thousand boxes of food delivered. Money was also collected in England and Belfast. The headquarters of the Union at Liberty hall was now the centre for distribution of food and clothing for the strikers and their families.

Irish Women’s Workers Union

James Larkin’s sister Delia had co founded the Irish Women’s Workers Union in 1911 and she now set about organising this task. Also part of this volunteer workforce was Hanna Sheehy Skeffington and the women from the Irish Women's Franchise League.

Also there were Helena Moloney, Madeline ffrench Mullen, Fiona Plunkett, Margaret Skinnider, Charlotte Despard, Grace Neal and Dr Kathleen Lynn. Rosie Hackett and other women from Jacobs’s factory spent hours every day at Liberty Hall.

Constance Markievicz who was already well known to the poorer people in the slums of Dublin was appointed administrator of the kitchen supplies. She could always be found at one of the large cauldrons stirring the soup with a wooden stick.

Irish Boy Scouts

She had formed Na Fianna Eireann, the Irish Boy Scouts in 1909. They had been taught how to drill and march at her large grounds in Surrey House. She organised them during the Lockout into working parties and they helped the men who collected wood and water for the cooking pots.

Funeral of James Nolan in Dublin

Two other young girls also very much involved in the relief work at Liberty Hall were sixteen year-old Lily Kempson and eleven year old Molly O’Reilly. Molly had been attending Irish dancing classes at Liberty Hall for the previous two years.

She had become part of the group of children and young adults who attended social gatherings and meetings at Liberty Hall before this more serious event of the Lockout occurred. Now they were willing and enthusiastic to help in any way they could.

The funeral took place on 3rd September of James Nolan in Dublin. He had been attacked and killed on 31st August during the Baton charge by the DMP and R.I.C. Over 30,000 people attended the service and James Connolly organised the men of the I.T.G.W.U.

They made a show of force, lining the streets in columns with pick axe handles, hurleys and other sticks as a show of defiance and strength. It worked. The police did not attempt to interfere with the service or any of the people who attended.

Scab Labour

Just over twenty five thousand workers were locked out. Scab labour was brought in from England. By the first week in October another six thousand had been locked out of their jobs.

Even the big Farming Employers sided with Murphy and instructed their workers to sign the document or be sacked. There were protests and violence all over Dublin. By this stage there were thirty two different unions involved in the strike.

25,000 Workers Locked Out

Scab labour was brought in from England and this caused more anger and violence. The police were reported to be baton charging the protests and meetings and raiding the homes of those who dared challenge them. More people were injured and a further two people were killed on the streets of Dublin.

John Byrne was Beaten to Death by the R.I.C

A fourteen-year-old girl Alice Brady on the way home from Liberty Hall with a food parcel for her family was shot dead by a scab worker. James Larkin was sentenced to seven months imprisonment on 28th October but released on 13th November.

There was a regular meeting outside Liberty Hall and other protests around the city where ‘scab’ workers were carrying out the jobs of the strikers. Many of the strikers were also arrested and imprisoned during the months of the Lockout including fourteen-year-old Lily Kempson. She received a sentence of two weeks for ‘trade union activities.’

The Employers

The employers did not want James Larkin to gain any power and refused to meet. Just before James Larkin was imprisoned at the end of October he told the people at the meeting outside Liberty Hall in Beresford Place that he and others were discussing a plan to organise a Citizen Army in order to protect them from the violence.

Just over two weeks later on 13th November, the day of Larkin’s release from prison, James Connolly announced at another meeting outside Liberty Hall that the plans had been finalised.

Irish Citizens’ Army

He told the people that Captain Jack White was to take charge of the military organisation of the new Irish Citizens’ Army and asked for volunteers. In Croydon Park, Dublin on November 23rd 1913, the Irish Citizen Army had its first official meeting and over fifty men and women turned up to join.

Both James Connolly and James Larkin agreed that women would be welcome to join and would be treated equally. This was very unusual at the time when women did not have the right to vote. So it was that in the Irish Citizen Army, men and women drilled and trained together.

Dr Kathleen Lynn

It was Dr Kathleen Lynn who organised and gave the First Aid classes to the men and women. Some of the other women who joined that first day were Nellie Gifford, Madeleine Ffrench-Mullen, Constance Markievicz and Rosie Hackett.

As the strike continued for months the food ships from England were getting scarcer and the workers and the Leadership knew they could not hold out much longer. They were willing to compromise, but the employers did not want James Larkin to gain any power and refused to meet.

The Strike is Over

The workers had to sign the Employers Document in order to be allowed to return to work. The government in Britain asked George Askwith to report on the situation in Dublin. He concluded that both sides were being unreasonable.

He said the sympathy strikes which Larkin had encouraged were unfair to the employers who treated their workers decently. But the document that the employers wanted the strikers to sign before they were allowed back to work was also unfair.

They concluded that if they signed, they would give up all their rights and dignity, and he stated that no worker should have to do this. The money and food stopped coming from Britain as the strike continued into the New Year.

So on 18th January 1914, the leaders of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union met in secret. They knew they could not win the battle and decided to advice their members to return to work.

Some of the workers were able to go back to work without signing the Employers Document. Unfortunately a lot more had to sign. Three thousand men from the Builders Labourers Union had to sign the Employers Document, and promise not to join the Union again.

After that, the strike was over, most of the other workers drifted back to work. James Larkin made a speech on 30th January saying 'We are beaten, we make no bones about it; but we are not too badly beaten still to fight.'

James Connolly was devastated by the defeat. In February there were still over five thousand workers on strike but eventually they all gave in. The workers of Jacobs Biscuit Factory were the last to return to work in March. Jacobs had identified the ringleaders and did not allow them to return.

One of these was Rosie Hacket. She got a job as a clerk with the Irish Women’s’ Workers Union which was situated at Liberty Hall. She retrained as a printer while there.

Lieutenant Markievicz

Lieutenant Markievicz

The Irish Citizen Army

James Connolly took charge and became Secretary of the I.T.G.W.U. when James Larkin left for America a few months later. And the Union survived. The workers, even those who were told never to join a Union again, slowly drifted back. The employers did not want any more trouble, so they did not sack the employees. So most of workers got their jobs back but at a very high price.

The Dublin Lockout in 1913

It caused chaos and death. For nine months there were strikes, starvation and death on the streets of Dublin. The bosses had won and getting a well paid job was now nearly impossible for the working classes.

Out of the 1913 Lockout struggle came The Irish Citizen Army. James Connolly became the leader of the Irish Citizen Army which had also kept its members once the strike was broken.

On 22nd March 1914 at a meeting in Liberty Hall it was decided to reorganise the Army on a more military basis. A Citizen Army uniform was created. This was to consist of the distinctive hat with the badge of the ITGWU pinned to it.

Three battalions were formed, the City Battalion, the North County Battalion and the South County Battalion. Companies were set up in areas around Dublin with training was held twice a week in Croydon Park.

Dr Kathleen Lynn received the rank of captain and appointed the Chief Medical Officer. Countess Markievicz was given the rank of Lieutenant. On 6th April 1914 the Dublin Trades Council officially recognized The Irish Citizen Army. Two years later the Irish Citizen Army was to play a very significant part in Irish history.


  • The Dublin Lockout 1913: New Perspectives on Class War and Its Legacy. Conor McNamara
  • Jim Larkin and the Great Dublin Lockout of 1913. John Newsinger
  • James Connolly, A Full Life. Donal Nevin
  • Dublin 1913, A Divided City. Curriculum Development Unit. 1989
  • 113 Great Irishwomen and Irishmen. Art Byrne & Sean McMahon. 1990
  • Dublin Slums. 1800 - 1925. A Study in Urban Geography. Jacinta Prunty.
  • Directory 1848. An Oifig Taifead Poibli BB1
  • A Terrible Beauty is Born. Ulick O'Connor. 1975
  • Kilmainham. Kilmainham Jail Restoration Society. 1982
  • The History of Kilmainham Gaol. Government of Ireland 1995.
  • Markievicz, The Rebel Countess. Moriarty & Sweeney. 1991
  • Countess Markievicz. An Independent Life. Anne Haverty. 1988
  • Ireland Since The Famine. F S L Lyons. 1973
  • Ten Dublin Women. Women's commemoration and celebration committee. 1991
  • Unmanageable Revolutionaries. Women and Irish Nationalism. Margaret Ward. 1983
  • Women in Ireland. A documentary history. 1800 - 1918. Maria Luddy. 1995
  • Women of Ireland, A biographic dictionary. Kit and Cyril O Ceirin. 1996
  • Stoneybatter. Dublins Inner Urban Village. Kevin C Kearns. 1989.
  • Dublin 7 A Local History. Bernard Neary. 1992.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Kuntal Ch on April 21, 2020:

Informative article.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on October 26, 2019:

Thanks Eddie, I have changed the date to 1923.

Eddie Soye on October 14, 2019:

the image of Larkin at the top of the article. is from the time of his return from the US to Ireland in 1923 and not as dated in 1913

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 07, 2013:

It is amazing the way history repeats itself. The job situation is bad again and working conditions for those in a job are slowly becoming worse.

Thank you D7 for taking the time to leave a comment. Your great grandparents would have lived through this part of our Irish history so.

D7 on March 22, 2013:

Thank you for your good work in putting together this article. My Great Grandparents worked in Jacobs during this time.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on June 09, 2012:

Yes Declan I agree with you. The EU has taken over our wonderful country because the Irish Governments, past and present have successfully conned the People with referendums.

Those lucky to have a job now are working to pay off loans and negative equity mortgages. Those who have lost their jobs have no hope!

My grandparents lived in a tenement house in North King Street too and I now live only across the road from there now

declan cooke on January 04, 2012:

Thank you for a wonderful article. I was born in a tenement house around the corner from Church St. (Nth.King St.)in 1952. The elites were enslaving the people back then, and they are doing exactly the same right now! They just don't get it...

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on November 05, 2011:

Hello Rachel, thanks for reading and your comment. Yes you may use the information if you wish. Good luck with your writing!

Rachel O'Connor on November 05, 2011:

Darkest Dublin: The story of the Church Street disaster and a pictorial account of the slums of Dublin in 1913

ISBN : ISBN 978-1-905569-21-2

Author : Christiaan Corlett

For Noel Kavanagh, if still looking or interested.

Rachel O'Connor on November 05, 2011:

Wonderful work, thorough and extremely informative. May I use your material as source material in a work of fiction I am currently engaged in? Happy to make appropriate aknowledgements.

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on September 24, 2011:

Thanks for reading and your comments. Yes Dublin in 1913 was a bad place to be Irish, working class and poor. Nothing has changed really in 2011.

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on December 10, 2010:


hAodha on October 04, 2010:

Fascinating account. It brings home the oppression that the Dublin working class were subjected to at that time, and their heroic struggle

Anesidora from Pandora's Box on September 08, 2010:

Awesome work here Viking!

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on May 31, 2010:

Thanks for reading and your comment iskra1916. And thank you for posting a link to the article on

That is grand, I appreciate it.

iskra1916 from Belfast, Ireland. on May 31, 2010:

A chara,

i linked & posted your article in the history section of

I of course posted links to your hub & posted your authorship.

i hope thats ok a chara?

iskra1916 from Belfast, Ireland. on May 30, 2010:

Brilliant hub!

First class work!

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 27, 2010:

Thanks for reading the article and your comment Noel. I have never come across a book specifically about the Church Street collapse. It is mentioned in many other books and articles though.

noel kavanagh on April 27, 2010:

Most interesting,is there a book on the tenement house disaster in church street

L M Reid (author) from Ireland on April 23, 2010:

Thanks for your comments BJBenson and HealthyHanna, much appreciated.

HealthyHanna from Utah on April 21, 2010:

Isn't history interesting. It should be encouraging to us as we are looking at a bleak economical future. We can overcome.

BJBenson from USA on April 19, 2010:

I really enjoy reading this history,thanks.

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