Delia Larkin 1878 1949

Delia Larkin was born on 27th of February 1878 at home in 2 Court Fermie St. in the Toxeth park district of Liverpool. She attended the Chipping St. elementary school and was confirmed in the local Catholic Church, our lady of Mount Carmel where she had been baptised. Her given name Bridget and her conformation name was Mary.
She was the 5th child and eldest surviving daughter of Mary Ann McNulty and James Larkin. An older sister, Agnes, had died in infancy. Father James died in 1887 when she was 9. Her oldest brothers Hugh and James had to support their widowed mother. Delia Larkin started work early to help her brothers so any learning (schooling) was cut short. Delia had an interest in literature and social politics from an early age (possible fuelled by James Larkins interests).

Delia Larkins first official record in Ireland is the census of April 1911 when she is listed as living with her older brother James and his family at 27 auburn St. near Broadstone in Dublin. She is remembered to have a nursing career in Liverpool before her trade union appointment but her occupation as given (in Irish) on the census form is teacher. Not much is known of her life expect it is thought she ran a hotel in Rostrevor Co. Down, about the time James Larkin was for the national union of dock labourers and strike leader in Belfast in 1907.

Delia Larkin first became involved with the Irish trade union movement in the summer of 1911. It was decided to start a trade union for women within the ITGWU (the union formed by James Larkin) called the Irish Women Workers Union (IWWU). The union first advertised for members in the Irish worker on the 12th of august 1911 and was launched formally a month later on the 5th of September. Delia Larkin wrote a column in the Irish worker the weekly paper for the itgwu summing up the aspirations of the new union. "all we ask for is just shorter hours, better pay that the scandalous limit now existing and conditions of labour befitting a human being".

Her column dealt with many different issues such as housing, social conditions and votes for women. The aim of the union was to provide women a union, which widened opportunities and broke down barriers to allow from different backgrounds to mix on equal terms. The union programme included discussion groups and weekly socials, annual outings, yearly concerts and New Year dances. Within the first six months of the union 172 had been paid out in strike pay and idle money for victimisation. As well as recovering 40 in wages and won 70 a week increases in wages. The union was largely Dublin based, although branches were also set up in Belfast, Dundalk, Wexford and Cork.

In 1912 the union affiliated independently from the ITGWU to the ITCU with its 1,000 members. Delia Larkin represented her union at three annual conferences of the ITUC from 1912 to 1914. She also represented women on Ireland's first trades board, the joint industrial council formed to regulate pay within the poorly paid manufacturing sectors were women worked.

Along with her industrial activity Delia Larkin also formed the union choir in February 1912, its first public performance at the St Patrick's Night concert. That led to the formation of a drama group four months later. The Irish Workers' Dramatic Class (trained by Delia Larkin) made its debut on St Stephen's Night 1912 with four one-act plays, three of which featured Delia Larkin.

Delia Larkin also represented the union's members within the suffrage movement and was an invited guest to Anna Haslam's celebrations at the election of Sarah Harrison, Dublin's first woman councillor, in February 1912. And also represented the union at the mass rally in Dublin to demand women's suffrage in the Home Rule Bill, held in the Anient Concert Rooms on 1 June 1912.

In 1913 the union membership fell to around six or seven hundred. And this led Delia Larkin to organise a tour for the theatre group of Britain in order to raise funds. In August 1913 Croydon Park opened as recreation centre for members of Liberty Hall and their families with a great festival. But the festive optimism soon evaporated.
Within weeks of the Dublin Tram strike starting at the end of August 1913, it had spread throughout the city. The lock-out paralysed the city and threw thousands out of work. At Jacob's the dispute began on 1 September over the wearing of the IWWU badge. Within a week 310 women were locked out there. Paterson's match factory locked out their women workers. When James Larkin went to England to seek support Delia Larkin took effective charge in Liberty Hall. She formed and ran the entire undertaking to feed the union members and their dependants throughout the lock-out. This huge effort provided daily breakfasts for three thousands children, lunches for nursing mothers, and the distribution of clothing, continued until February 1914. When the Daily Herald League planned to bring Dublin strikers' children to homes in Britain for care during the lock-out, the London organisers turned to Delia Larkin for support with the arrangements.

The lock-out ended in the early months of 1914, although this provided little relief from the pressure of Delia Larkin's commitments in the coming year. Four hundred of her unions members were not reinstated after the lock-out and in March went on a tour with the dramatic group formed from the locked-out workers.
In June she stood in the Poor Law elections in the North Dock ward of Dublin, the only women of thirteen candidates nominated by the Dublin trade unions. She fell 561 votes short of being elected to a Poor Law guardian.
In September she was ordered to find other premises for the women's union after an argument over the payment for the large room in Liberty Hall, taken over during the lock-out. When the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Augustine Birrell, met suffrage women to discuss the newly appointed Ladies' Advisory Committee to help relief work in Ireland, the women proposed Delia Larkin as a member. She was rejected as a member and this was viewed as a deliberate insult to Dublin's only women's union.

In 1915 with James Larkin away in America, James Connolly had taken charge at Liberty Hall as acting secretary of the ITGWU. Recollections by observers of that period say that relations between the two were poor. There is little known about her activities from the summer of 1915 to 1918, some reports say she worked as a nurse in military hospitals in London on humanitarian grounds rather than that of military service. She was back in Dublin in 1918 signing the anti-conscription pledge, supporting the anti-war campaigning of her two brothers. She had returned to a very different political climate. The aftermath of the rising had created a different ITGWU, reordered priorities and given new opportunities to old faces.

She started work in the insurance section of Liberty Hall under the sponsorship of the Larkin loyalist P.T. Daly. The reorganised IWWU would not readmit her as a member, saying she should seek membership of the Irish Clerical Workers' Union, who also turned her down.

She expressed an interest in going to Australia as reported in a letter she wrote to Peter Larkin's wife in July 1918. Delia Larkin had also written a letter of encouragement to a leading Australian syndicalist, a member of the "Wobblies" (Industrial Workers of the World). Delia Larkin also organised a Dublin meeting calling for the release of the Sydney Twelve. The meeting called for the release of Peter Larkin and his eleven comrades. The meeting was addressed by Jock Wilson, the Liverpool organiser of the labour party. P.T. Daly chaired the meeting and Delia read out letters of support, including one from Éamon de Valera.

The following month the ITGWU did not reappoint P.T. Daly to his position in the insurance section. On 11 June Delia Larkin, Michael Mullen and a temporary clerk Norberry, went on strike against Daly's victimisation. The ITGWU refused to reinstate them and protest meetings were organised for Langrishe Place and on 15 June the Mansion House. From July to September Delia edited and wrote for the Red Hand, an opposition newspaper to the ITGWU leadership. Shortly after its publication it was halted by Jim Larkin.

In 1920 Peter Larkin and his comrades were released from prison and Delia Larkin became the moving spirit of the Release James Larkin campaign.

On 8 February 1921, Delia Larkin married Patrick Colgan, a member of the Citizen Army and they lived in a flat at 17 Gardiner St.

After 1924 Delia renewed her theatrical activities with members of the Workers Union of Ireland. In 1930 and 1931 she wrote occasional pieces for the relaunched Irish Worker. When Delia Larkin and Patrick Colgan moved to Ballsbridge, James Larkin joined them and lived out his last years in their flat at 41 Wellington Road. In the final years of her life she suffered from ill health which caused "a very quiet life, quite against my inclination", as she said in a letter to R.M. Fox shortly after her brothers death.

Delia Larkin died at her home in 41 Wellington Road, Dublin, on 26 October 1949 and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery

Source: Irish Labour History Museum