Short story discovered in 1894 journal may solve mystery of lost play by James Connolly

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Short story discovered in 1894 journal may solve mystery of lost play by James Connolly


James Connolly
James Connolly

An anonymous short story discovered in a journal in the UK may be a lost play by Irish republican James Connolly.

No script has ever been found of the lost play, but academics at the University of Glasgow believe the story, The Agitator’s Wife, could solve the mystery of the play, which was first alluded to in a 1935 memoir by Connolly’s daughter Nora.

The story, The Agitator’s Wife, was discovered in a journal archived in Warwick University Library last year, on the 150th anniversary of the birth of Connolly in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1868.

While Connolly is renowned for his journalism and political theory, he is less well known for his creative writing.

He was one of the first to link the struggle for independence to gender, as well as class, equality and was one of the contributors to, and signatories of, the Irish Proclamation of Independence at the Easter Rising in 1916 which positioned men and women as equals.

Academics believe The Agitator’s Wife exhibits several of the hallmarks of Connolly’s beliefs and writings in this regard.

The story revolves around a dockworkers’ strike, and dockers’ leader Tom Arnold, who is driven to exhaustion by the pressures of leading a strike in the face of police provocation and brutality.

His child is dying and he contemplates suicide, but his wife Mary takes over leadership of the strike and persuades a local doctor to back the strike and write a letter in the newspaper supporting the raising of funds for the strikers’ families.

Writing in the Irish Studies Review about their discovery, Glasgow academics Professor Willy Maley, Dr Maria-Daniella Dick and Kirsty Lusk, said, “We believe we may have unearthed, if not the play itself, then at least a version of the missing play. An anonymously published short story in the February 1894 issue of an obscure and short-lived Christian Socialist journal, The Labour Prophet, bears the title “The Agitator’s Wife”.

“This is of course a short story and not a play, but in every other sense it fits the bill for Connolly’s missing piece of writing. It was written in the appropriate period, it has the same title, it is rich in dialogue and it reminds us strongly of Connolly’s other writing in its politics, its themes and in its socialist feminist viewpoint, which was rare for that time.

“In terms of characters, dialogues and narrative, The Agitator’s Wife certainly has the potential to be adapted for the stage. Perhaps Connolly wrote the story, saw this potential and then developed it in this way. More work obviously needs to be done to confirm whether the story is in fact the basis of Connolly’s lost script, but circumstantial, textual and contextual evidence strongly suggests that it may be.”

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Professor Maley believes it is possible that the ‘play’ that Nora Connolly heard her mother speaking about may in fact have been a short story, and that she may have “simply misheard or misinterpreted” her mother’s words.

He also believes that the story’s structure lends itself to being adapted to the stage and hopes that they can work with a theatre company to bring it to a wider audience.

Online Editors


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