John Connolly (b. 1947)
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John Connolly (b. 1947)


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The fact that James Connolly was his grandfather, and the effects of this on John, are matters he considers initially. John’s father was Roderick James Connolly. The only son of James Connelly, he was known as Roddy and was a Labour TD, a member of Seánad Éireann and Chairman of the Labour Party. John mentions the biography of his father, Roddy Connolly and the struggle for socialism in Ireland. Roddy Connolly was born in 1901 in Dublin and was with his father during the Rising in 1916. The family lived in various parts of Dublin and Ireland, and they also spent some time in America. John understands that there was very little money in the family and that they were kept afloat financially by the diligence of his grandmother, Lillie Reynolds from Co. Wicklow. She died in the late 1930s, and as far as her grandson is aware she was afforded a State funeral. John explains that his aunt, Nora Connolly O’Brien, was also a member of Seánad Éireann and he remembers her as a firebrand who kept the flame alive. She told him about her father, and her memories are documented in her book Portrait of a rebel father. Lillie Reynolds and James Connolly met at a bus-stop in Dublin during his service in the British Army. John recalls what he learned about 1916 while at school and remarks that owing to the commemoration ceremonies in 1966, the people discovered the true history of the Rising. He credits RTÉ with raising public awareness by showing various documentaries and films at that time. He recalls going with his father to meet John de Courcy Ireland on O’Connell Bridge, where they were interviewed about the Rising. This was his own first inkling about his father’s participation at the GPO, and from that day onwards his interest in his family history developed. His sons did ask Roddy about his activities in 1916, but he never told them what really happened. It must have been a truly traumatic experience for a 15 year old boy to discover that his father was to be executed, John explains. The discussion which took place between Lillie and James Connolly about whether their son Roddy should be allowed to take part in the fighting in 1916 is considered. John explains that his father, who acted as a runner for his father James Connolly and for Patrick Pearse in the GPO, was known as a Staff-Lieutenant. At 15 years of age, he was apparently “armed with a pistol and running around the streets of Dublin!” After the surrender, he was arrested but gave a false name. He was released the next day and taken to a safe house, possibly in Grangecon. John explains that the British authorities had a photograph of someone they thought was Roddy but it was, in fact, a photograph of his sister Nora wearing a Cumann na mBan uniform and trousers. John remembers being told by his father that when he was imprisoned in 1935, he and his fellow inmates would dry out the tea leaves from the kettle of tea given to them at mealtimes. The tea leaves were then rolled up in toilet paper and smoked. Roddy Connolly’s belief in fighting for the oppressed working class is discussed. He and John de Courcy Ireland founded the Communist Party of Ireland, and later he became very much involved in the Labour Party. John explains that he has no interest in politics or in playing bridge, the two main interests in the Connolly household. He remembers driving his father to canvass in Dundalk for candidate Mr Bell, and his role in collecting voters on polling day. John is not aware that Roddy Connolly ever used his father’s name to his advantage politically, though he is certain that the other politicians would have known the connection and would have used it to add a ‘shine’ to candidates, who would introduce him to voters. No. 16 Moore Street, its historical importance and John’s involvement in saving the house are discussed. He explains the reason for the split in the Save Moore Street movement. The words of the surrender document in 1916, as amended by James Connolly, are recalled. John’s elder brother Séamus has his father’s and grandfather’s medals. In later years, Roddy received a small pension of about £32, his son explains. He describes the circumstances in which Lillie Connolly and her children lived after the Rising, and he explains that a fund was set up to aid all the participants in the Rising. Roddy Connolly had married twice. His first wife, Jessie Maidment, died in the 1920s. The couple had two sons, Ross and Séamus. Roddy’s second wife and John’s mother, Margaret Stafford, was born in Scotland in 1910 and she and Roddy met there when he was attending a socialist meeting. John was born in Bray where the family had settled. The 1966 commemorations are recalled when a plaque was erected on the wall of No. 16 Moore Street. President de Valera’s speech on the day is discussed. The military parade on O’Connell Street, the reception at Dublin Castle and the lack of inclusiveness of younger people on that occasion are considered. Ina Connolly, daughter of James Connolly, is recalled. She and her sister Nora had been active in nationalist movements leading up to the Rising. She lived in the USA in later life and John met her in San Francisco in 1969. He does not recall her as being as fervent or as involved as her sister Nora, who was passionate about poverty in Ireland. Nora had accompanied her mother to James Connolly’s bedside on the night before his execution, and John considers the effect this event must have had on her and on her future life. James Connolly’s part in the Rising is discussed, and John considers that his grandfather was essentially a pacifist whose main concern was social justice. He explains the probable reason why his grandfather did not support Home Rule and he talks about his early life in Edinburgh where he was surrounded by poverty. He and his wife Lily spent some time in Edinburgh after their marriage, and John explains that James was offered work in Dublin in the Labour movement. He was an opponent of WWI, though over time he did come to believe in the necessity of physical force in order to remove British rule. John discusses the British Empire which stretched around the globe and the issues which he feels led to its demise. Roddy Connolly served as a TD for one term, and his son feels that for a time he lived in the shadow of James Connolly. During the war in the 1940s, he and some others formed a co-operative to cut turf in Wicklow to donate to the less fortunate in the county. To John, his father’s achievements are just as important as those of his grandfather. He feels that Roddy should have become a greater leader than he did, though he did achieve much during his lifetime. Roddy Connolly opposed the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty and he fought in the Civil War on the side of the republican forces. John discusses his bravery in setting up the Communist Party of Ireland in the Catholic Ireland of 1933. He reflects on the centenary commemorations during 2016, and says that he would like the efforts of the ordinary people to be commemorated, and the Rising seen as a precursor to revolutionary activity around Europe.

Additional information



Audio series:

The 1916 Rising Oral History Collections


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

45.34 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



James Connolly (Interviewee’s grandfather), Roddy Connolly (Interviewee’s father)

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore