Jim “Big Jim” Larkin is well known to be among Ireland’s most legendary social malcontents. He was one of the primary architects of the modern labor union in his country and promoter of socialism.
He was born in 1875 mired in the utter obscurity of deep poverty, but removed from the soil of his beloved Ireland. Larkin’s parents had immigrated to Liverpool, England, where they struggled to eke out a bare-bones existence in the slums of that British port city.
But fewer people know that Jim Larkin had a famous uncle who also made history for his rebellious acts against the ruling elite of his time. Jim Larkin was the nephew of Michael Larkin. He was one of the “Manchester Martyrs,” three Irishmen who were fighting to free Ireland from British rule.
The two men who completed the Manchester Martyr trio were Michael O’Brien and William Philip Allen. They belonged to the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a group called the Fenians.
In 1867, about 40 Fenians staged a bold attempt to free two of their compatriots who had been captured by the British. The captives were being transported in a cage via a horse-drawn police van. The Fenians ambushed the van and killed one of the police officers guarding the prisoners. The rebels retrieved a key from the pocket of the slain officer and freed the captives. They escaped and were never recaptured. Read more: The Definite Biography of Big Jim Larkin – Irish Examiner and James Larkin | Wikipedia
But Jim Larkin’s uncle, Michael Larkin, and his two compatriots suffered a different fate. They were apprehended, tried and found guilty of murder. All three were publicly hanged before a crowd estimated at 8,000 to 10,000 people.
At the time, Irish people made up 10% of the population of Manchester. The Irish folk viewed Larkin and the two other men as national heroes fighting the oppression of the British government. The Manchester Martyrs were considered soldiers in a war of independence, not murderers.
Jim Larkin was well aware of the famous incident involving his uncle. He once remarked that “every generation of the British ruling elite hangs at least one Larkin.” Jim Larkin himself was never hanged, of course, although did spend his share of time in prison.