Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

2 November 2014 Edition

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The public school Citizen Army anarchist


Captain Jack White was born into an an archetypal Ulster unionist family – his father was a winner of the Victoria Cross, a knighted field marshal and Governor of Gibraltar

Captain Jack White – Imperialism, Anarchism and the Irish Citizen Army

By Leo Keohane. Merrion Press. Price (Paperback) €19.75; (Hardback) €49.95

IT IS a sad commentary on modern life that mention of Jack White to many people conjures up images of either a landmark pub on the main Dublin to Wicklow road or the lead singer of The White Stripes. 

Only a small minority would think of a pivotal figure in Irish nationalist politics.

Captain Jack White was born in 1879 in Antrim into an archetypal Ulster unionist family. His father was a winner of the Victoria Cross, a knighted field marshal and Governor of Gibraltar. He was educated expensively at the Winchester College public school, followed by Sandhurst Military Academy and destined for a long and illustrious British Army career. He won the Distinguished Service Order (the medal immediately below the Victoria Cross) in the Boer War but became disenchanted with the British Army and British ruling class and resigned his commission in 1907.  

Having left the army he returned to Antrim and was outraged at the behaviour of Edward Carson and the Ulster unionists towards Home Rule. Despite his background of extreme privilege, his beliefs became increasingly socialist and, ultimately anarchist, in outlook. 

When he witnessed the formation of the Ulster Volunteer Force with the connivance of some parts of the British Establishment, he was appalled and tried to organise influential Establishment figures from the Protestant community (including Roger Casement) to rebut the sectarian agenda.

The Lockout of 1913, accompanied by the police and scab attacks on strikers, caused White to meet with Larkin and Connolly to propose the formation of an Irish Citizen Army to protect strikers and demonstrators, which he was to train and become its first Commandant. 

Just as he had left the British Army some years earlier, White left the Irish Citizen Army and joined the Irish Volunteers, which he in turn left in 1914.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Jack White resisted pressure to rejoin the British Army and, instead, volunteered as an ambulance driver in France, but he again left this activity after a period of several months. 

From this point onwards, White appears to have been involved in a long list of radical groups, with the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War attracting his strongest allegiance

Captain Jack White deserves to be much more widely known. A dining companion of both King Edward and the Kaiser, and an associate of Seán O’Casey, D. H, Lawrence, Tolstoy, H. G. Wells, T. E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’), and H. G. Wells, he was a comrade of Larkin, Connolly and Markievicz.

His enigmatic and mercurial personality made him both friends and enemies (and quite often the same people).  

This is a truly wonderful book on a figure too long neglected in Irish history.  


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