Review – James Connolly Festival 2024

In a departure from the usual week-long run of events, this year’s James Connolly Festival ran from Thursday to Sunday, culminating on 12th May: 107 years to the day that Ireland lost its greatest martyr and Marxist theoretician, James Connolly. 

It was at the outbreak of war in Europe during the Summer of 1914 that Connolly famously remarked “[T]his war appears to me as the most fearful crime of the centuries. In it the working class are to be sacrificed so that a small clique of rulers and armament makers may sate their lust for power and their greed for wealth. Nations are to be obliterated, progress stopped, and international hatreds erected into deities to be worshipped”. During a period of heightened militarism, threats to our neutrality and the prospect of another world war, this year’s Connolly memorial lecture was titled: “The National Question and Anti-Militarism”. Presented by Dr Fearghal Mac Bhloscaidh, the 1.5 hour lecture was followed by a vibrant and informative discussion. His lecture can be read online via his blog1

The spirit of Connolly loomed large on Saturday morning as Conor McCabe welcomed a sizeable group to a sold-out walking tour. McCabe, who is just about to publish a new text containing unearthed Connolly works and a breadth of fresh research, visited some of the lesser known or “hidden” places associated with Connolly’s life in the city. The beautiful morning saw the walk extend itself to almost three hours. It won’t be the last one! 

The festival opened with a panel discussion, “The Land And The People”. It included the late addition of Shifana Niyas from the victorious Trinity BDS encampment. Only a day after the encampment ended triumphantly, the buoyant mood in the room was contagious: academics involved in supporting the students across Irish universities were on the panel as well. The conversations linked urban and rural struggles against capitalist capture, issues of protests, amplifying contradictions and making its way through the perpetual crises of climate, health, housing, and the financialisation of institutions. 

The connections between this struggle and the struggle against the settler-colonial project in Palestine kept springing up; the spirit of solidarity never left the room. No film more fitting to screen afterwards, then, but Blood Fruit (dir. Sinead O’Brien, 2014) on the 40th anniversary of the powerful Dunnes Stores workers’ anti-apartheid strike. At a time of Palestinian solidarity actions taking place in supermarkets across the country, it was fantastic to hear from former Dunnes striker Mary Mannion in a Q&A after. 

Saturday saw a beautiful evening of Palestinian solidarity as we welcomed Gazelleband to The New Theatre. Gazelleband is made up of duo Reem Anbar and Louis Brehony, who perform the Palestinian oud and tell the Palestinian story through music. The evening’s programme also saw the addition Irish-Palestinian singer Rosin El-Cherif, while poets Anna D & Emmet Kirwan completed the line up with specially prepared pieces that brought the house down. 

The festival culminated as always at Arbour Hill for Connolly Sunday. We were glad to welcome members of the Communist Party of Britain, Young Communist League of Britain and CPI Youth to lay wreaths alongside members and supporters of the Communist Party of Ireland. The afternoon heard from General Secretary of the CPI, Jimmy Corcoran, and Cuban ambassador to Ireland, Bernardo Guanche Hernandez, as the shared links of history and bonds of solidarity between Ireland and Cuba were given special focus. 

Almost every event attracted a full house, and this year the festival once again consolidated itself as an important cultural and political event in the Irish political calendar. We look forward to marking our 10th anniversary in 2025! 

Stay tuned to our social media (@ConnollyFest) for links to recordings of the talks which will be available soon!