Captain Jack White in Donegal

This extract is from an article in Labour History News, a magazine of the Irish labour History Society, No. 8, Autumn 1992, by Anton McCabe.

Captain Jack White, the Boer War hero who helped found the Irish Citizen Army, had a varied career, both in left wing politics and personally. One brief episode was as a Labour candidate in Donegal.

In the June 1922 general election labour had not fought the constituency. But for the 1923 elections, local labour decided early in the year to contest.

White was seen as being on labour's left wing. He would have been known personally to some in the area because, in the summer of 1914 he had drilled Irish Volunteers in Derry City, Inishowen and Tyrone.

The sympathies of the meeting in Raphoe that adopted him are clear. He was invited to stand "as a candidate in the interests of the 'Workers' Republic'. "

Within two weeks of this a Tirconnaill Workers' Council was set up at a meeting in Letterkenny. It took a more revolutionary name, Workers Council, rather than Trades Council. Six union branches were represented on the platform, one being a National Union of Railwaymen branch that included Strabane, Co. Tyrone.

After the meeting, a "large number of the workers of Letterkenny enrolled and formed a branch" of the Labour league set up that evening.

Within a week a public meeting for White was organised in Letterkenny. He called for a "combination of the farmer and the labourer to change the system at the root, and introduce communal ownership". But "without the help of the Churches in remoulding human nature to believe and apply Christianity, what he sought could not be achieved."

While personally a dedicated socialist, White the man was erratic in the extreme. After about a week, he resigned as candidate. Writing to the Derry Journal, he described himself as a Christian communist, declared he was "not prepared to go forward as the representative of any class or party, but only of a principle…the voluntary change to communal ownership of the land" and the "gradual withering of the poisoned branches of standing armies, prisons and the workhouse system".

Dismissively, he found "that my invitation to contest Tirconaill in the workers' interest issued only from a small group with no claim to represent the district as a whole". Proclaiming his refusal to take the oath which was required to sit in the Dail, he still appealed for co-operation from the churches in implementing communism.

Editors note, June 16th 1999

The article then goes onto explain the steps taken to get a replacement candidate and a brief history of the struggles of farm labourers, trade unionists and socialists in this mainly rural area.

    Documents by or about Jack White

  1. A rebel in Barcelona - Jack White's first Spanish impressions (1936
  2. Where Casement would have stood To-day (1936)
  3. The Significance of Sinn Fein (1919)
  4. Jack White in Donegal
  5. Jack White of Ballymena - By T.J. McElligott, Ballymena Guardian, 3 August 1989, p. 8