Limerick Soviet

Near the start of the Irish War of Independence and the more general wave of revolutions of 1917-23, the Limerick Soviet (Irish: Sóivéid Luimnigh) was a self-declared soviet that existed from April 15 to April 27 1919. It was a general strike organised by the Limerick Trades and Labour Council, as a protest against the British army's declaration of a "Special Military Area" under the Defence of the Realm Act, which covered of most of Limerick city and a part of the county.

Creation:

From January 1919 the Irish War for Independence developed as a guerilla conflict, between the Irish Republican Army (IRA) (backed by the Sinn Féin political party), and the British government. On 6 April 1919 the IRA tried to liberate Robert Byrne, who was under arrest by the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) police in a hospital, being treated for the effects of a hunger strike. In the rescue attempt Constable Martin O'Brien was fatally wounded and another policeman was seriously injured. Byrne was also wounded and died later on the same day. In response, on 9 April British army Brigadier Griffin declared the city to be a Special Military Area, with RIC permits required for all wanting to enter and leave the city as of Monday 14 April.

On Sunday 13 April the general strike was called by the city's United Trades and Labour Council, to which Byrne had been a delegate. Running the strike was devolved to a committee that described itself as a Soviet as of 14 April. The committee had the example of the Dublin general strike of 1913 and "soviet" (meaning a self-governing committee) had become a popular term after 1917 from the soviets that had led to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

Media attention:

A transatlantic air race was being organised from Bawnmore in County Limerick at the same time, but was cancelled. The assembled journalists from England and America took up the story of an Irish soviet and interviewed the organisers. The Trades Council chairman John Cronin was described as the "father of the baby Soviet". Ruth Russell of the Chicago Tribune remarked on the religiosity of the strike committee, observing that: "... the bells of the nearby St. Munchin's Church tolled the Angelus and all the red-badged guards rose and blessed themselves."

Effectiveness:

The response was a general strike and boycott of the troops. A special strike committee was set up to print their own money and control food prices and published newspapers. The businesses of the city accepted the strike currency over the short period of the strike, but could not have done so if it had lasted for months. Outside Limerick there was some sympathy in Dublin, but not in the main Irish industrial area around Belfast. Notably the National Union of Railwaymen did not help.

Liam Cahill's book on the strike argues that: "The soviet attitude to private property was essentially pragmatic. So long as shopkeepers were willing to act under the soviet dictates, there was no practical reason to commandeer their premises." While the strike was described by some as a revolution, Cahill adds that: "In the end the soviet was basically an emotional and spontaneous protest on essentially nationalist and humanitarian grounds, rather than anything based on socialist or even trade union aims."

After two weeks the Sinn Féin Lord Mayor of Limerick, Alphonsus O'Mara, and the Catholic bishop Denis Hallinan called for the strike to end, and the Strike Committee issued a proclamation on April 27 1919 stating that the strike was over.