Books

The progress of a man who wanted change
Walter Carpenter: A Revolutionary Life by Ellen Galvin RSC (East Wall History Group, €5, or a donation to Cycle for Suicide charity; contact East Wall History Group at eastwallhistory@gmail.com)

J. Anthony Gaughan

This little biography of Walter Carpenter is an authentic expression of Pietas. Written by a granddaughter, a retired nun based in Dublin, it was published in connection with the unveiling of a plaque honouring him by the East Wall History Group.

Walter Carpenter was born in Lewisham, Kent, England on April 3, 1871. He married Ellen Walsh in 1894. According to the 1901 census they were residing in Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), where he conducted his trade as a chimney sweep.

Carpenter was a life-long campaigner against inequality and social injustice. He co-founded the Socialist Party of Ireland in 1904 and became its Secretary in 1911. The Party was a merger of a remnant of the Irish Socialist Republican Party founded by James Connolly in the US and a dissident faction calling itself the Socialist Labour Party. 

One of the leading orators in the Irish Labour Movement in the first quarter of the 20th Century, Carpenter was jailed in 1911 after addressing a rally protesting against the proposed visit of King George V to Ireland. As a representative of the Independent Labour Party he stood for election to Dublin City Council in 1914 and 1920. 

He was not successful on either occasion but he was not unduly disappointed, as it had given him an opportunity to highlight the appalling living conditions in the Dublin slums, responsibility for which he laid at the doors of the landlords and some members of the Council.

Carpenter was first and foremost a trade unionist. He was an organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union from 1911 onwards and served as secretary of the Tailors, Machinists and Pressers Trade Union, also known as the ‘Jewish Union’, from 1913 to 1925. 

Propagandist

He stood shoulder to shoulder with James Larkin and James Connolly during the 1913 Lock Out. Described at that time by Connolly as “an excellent propagandist”, Carpenter in 1914 undertook a lecture tour of England to inform the British Labour Movement of the situation in Dublin.

Donal Nevin, the Labour historian, described Carpenter as “a most self-sacrificing man”. He did not exaggerate. Apart from his socialist and trade-union activity, Carpenter championed many other causes. He served as secretary to the Irish Anti-Vaccination League from 1905 onwards. 

A life-long teetotaller, he was an active and vocal committee member of the Irish Association for the Prevention of Intemperance. He led a campaign to better the conditions and treatment of domestic servants. Typically, he was a strong and effective supporter of the Garden City Movement, which promoted the establishment of garden allotments.

The Socialist Party of Ireland morphed into the Communist Party of Ireland in 1911 with Roderick Connolly as president and Carpenter as secretary and editor of its paper The Workers Republic. 

However, in 1922 he resigned as secretary of the Party stating “the CP is my first love, but my union claims all my time and I cannot under present circumstances neglect my union”.

Ill-health caused Carpenter to retire from his public activities in 1925. His wife had predeceased him and until he died in the manner of a pious Catholic on February 25, 1926 he was mostly in the care of the Irish Sisters of Charity. 

He left two sons, Walter and Peter. Both were members of the Irish Citizen Army, both were in the GPO during Easter week 1916 and both were active in the War of Independence.

This is an admirable publication bringing into focus a true hero of the Labour Movement during the revolutionary years who for too long has been overshadowed by James Connolly, Jim Larkin and Countess Markievicz.