Special Collections


William O’Brien Election leaflet, 1922

William O’Brien was a leading figure in the Irish trade union movement in the first half of the twentieth century. He was heavily involved in the socialist takeover of the Dublin Trades Council and played a leading role in the campaigns to create the Irish Labour Party and the 1913 Lockout. He served as President and Treasurer of the Irish Trade Union Congress, but his most important work was in rebuilding the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union with its president, Tom Foran, after Connolly’s execution in 1916. By the early 1920’s, it was the largest union in Ireland with half of the entire ITUC membership. O’Brien was elected to Dublin Corporation on a ‘Republican Labour’ candidate and as one of the first Labour Party TDs in the Treaty election of 1922. However, his cold bureaucratic persona was not a vote catcher and his political career was brief. It was severely damaged, as were the political prospects of Labour generally, by the split with his former ally, Jim Larkin over control of the ITGWU on the latter’s return from America in 1923. (Ephemera, Dublin City Archive)