James Connolly Festival, 2022

In 2022 the James Connolly Festival returned to in-person meetings following disruptions forced upon us through covid restrictions over the past two years. Nearly all events attracted a full house, and this year the festival consolidated itself as an important cultural and political event in the Irish political calendar.

The festival was soft-launched on Saturday 7 May with an address from the general secretary of Unite, Sharon Graham. Sharon outlined the need, now more than ever, for a strong, organised working class in the face of struggles the labour movement will face in the months and years ahead. The virtual address set the tone for the series of events that followed throughout the week, culminating with the James Connolly Commemoration at Arbour Hill on Sunday 15 May, 106 years after the death of our greatest martyr.

Owing to high demand for tickets, Monday’s discussion on public housing was moved to a larger-capacity venue, the Project Arts Centre. Opening speeches from the invited guests were followed by a healthy Q&A session that took in debate on grass-roots activism, “cost-rental model” housing, and the ownership of private property, among other topics.

Thursday’s event on Irish neutrality had another full house on the topical issue. The mainstream media, the US military’s use of Shannon Airport and Ireland’s un-utilised seat on the UN Security Council all made for a lively debate.

As talk of a united Ireland continues, a timely discussion on “Overcoming sectarianism” took place in which speakers, all of them from the north of the country, took in topics that included the National Health Service, the Belfast Agreement, and a Workers’ Republic. The left-wing Irish-language advocates Misneach hosted an event in Connolly Books, where activists recited poetry and rapped in Irish.

This year’s theme included “Culture as a form of resistance” in its title. Nothing more fitting than to invite the Palestinian oud performers Gazelleband. The intimate event in the New Theatre included a fifty-minute musical performance followed by a discussion. The night included beautiful renditions of such songs as “The Foggy Dew” and “James Connolly”; and in the talk afterwards Reem Anbar and Louis Brehony spoke of the historical links of oppression and bonds of solidarity between the people of Ireland and Palestine, much of which has inspired their music.

Similarly, a panel of activists from the Travelling community took part in a discussion on the history and culture of Irish Travellers. The historical context of the division between Travellers and the settled community and its roots in British colonialism were discussed. Lively accounts of the obstacles faced by Travellers in mainstream education and the prejudice inherent in these structures were outlined, drawing on both historical knowledge and personal experience. The severe mental health issues faced by Travellers as a result of the racism prevalent in Irish society were discussed. It was also emphasised that the middle classes claim to oppose racism but at best turn a blind eye towards the racism faced by Travellers. The importance of culture within the Travelling community was noted. Difficulties of working within an NGO sector dependent on state funding, which seeks to mould NGOs in the image of a state that remains hostile to Travellers at its core, was emphasised as a crucial challenge faced by the speakers and many of their colleagues.

Saturday afternoon had a sixty-minute lecture on the environmental crisis caused by the relentless greed and overproduction of capitalism. Invoking the memory and writings of James Connolly on numerous occasions, John Bellamy Foster, editor of Monthly Review, analysed the crisis facing humanity and called for revolutionary change in dealing with it.

Later that evening we had the screening of Keyboard Fantasies, a spirit-lifting documentary on the mystical tale of the electronic music pioneer and cult musician Beverly Glenn Copeland.

The festival closed on Sunday with the annual James Connolly Commemoration at Arbour Hill. Frankie Quinn of the 1916 Societies and Barry Murray of the CPI addressed a large crowd, describing the continued interference of British colonialism and imperialism in Ireland and the need to build revolutionary forces for socialist change. Comrade Murray closed the festival with a quotation from Connolly: “The Irish Republic might be made a word to conjure with—a rallying point for the disaffected, a haven for the oppressed, a point of departure for the Socialist, enthusiastic in the cause of human freedom.”

The festival organisers wish to thank the labour movement and solidarity organisations for their continued support in donating towards the running of the festival. We would also like to thank all the speakers and performers and those who attended any of the events.

For those who couldn’t make it in person, recorded events will become available over the coming weeks on the Youtube channel of Socialist Voice, as well as the social media platforms of the James Connolly Festival.