Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

24 July 2008 Edition

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Remembering the Past: William Partridge


The most prominent leader of the Dublin workers after Jim Larkin and James Connolly during the Great Lockout of 1913 was William Patrick Partridge. A staunch trade unionist and a skilful orator, Partridge served as a Dublin City Councillor and was a leader of the Irish Citizen Army.
Born in Sligo in 1874, Partridge was the son of an English train driver and an Irish mother. He was reared in County Mayo. At the age of 22 he came to Dublin where he took up employment at the Inchicore Railway Works. Here Partridge’s trade union activism began and he became a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.
Inchicore was then one of the few truly industrialised districts outside North-East Ulster. Hundreds were employed in the railway works and ancillary industries. Partridge quickly took on a leadership position and was prominent in ASE-led strikes in 1887 and 1902.
These were the early years of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League) and Partridge was treasurer of the Inchicore branch. He campaigned for improved housing, education and civic amenities for the working people of Inchicore and he was elected to Dublin City Council where he served as a Sinn Féin councillor.
Partridge’s trade union and political activities were frowned on by his employers, the Great Southern and Western Railway (GS&WR), and he was forced to resign his council seat in 1906. He continued as an active trade unionist and in 1912 and when he highlighted discrimination in the appointment of supervisors at the Inchicore Works, he was dismissed from his job.
Already though, Partridge had become an organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union which had been founded in 1909. He worked closely with Jim Larkin in setting up branches of the union outside Dublin. He was based at the union’s Emmet Hall in Inchicore. In January 1913 he was re-elected to Dublin City Council as a Labour councillor.

1913 Lockout & Easter Rising
When the Great Lockout of 1913 came, Partridge was one of the main leaders of the struggle. He toured Britain seeking support for the Dublin workers and addressed the British Trade Union Congress. A devout Catholic himself, he had no qualms about publicly attacking the hypocrisy of Catholic clergy in Dublin who sided with the bosses and condemned the ITGWU while doing nothing themselves to combat the causes of dire poverty in the city.
Partridge took a leading role in the Irish Citizen Army from its foundation in November 1913. He was close to Connolly in the preparations for the 1916 Rising. Connolly sent Partridge to Kerry to supervise the landing of the expected German arms shipment at Fenit. Returning to Dublin with the news that Roger Casement had been arrested and no arms had been landed, Partridge met a young Volunteer officer, Fred Murray. He told Murray of Casement’s arrest but said: “It will make no difference to us in Dublin. We are going on in Dublin.”
Partridge fought in the College of Surgeons during Easter Week. Already ill  before the Rising, after the surrender he was imprisoned in Dartmoor and Lewes prisons in England where his health deteriorated. He was released on health grounds in April 1917. He went to stay with his family in Ballaghadereen, County Roscommon where he died three months after his release. Constance Markievicz delivered his funeral oration in Ballaghadereen in which she described Partridge as “the purest-souled and noblest patriot Ireland ever had.” She then fired a salute over the grave with her own pistol.
William Partridge died on 26 July, 1917, 91 years ago this week.
• Further reading: Hugh Geraghty, William Patrick Partridge, Curlew Books (2003).

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