Born in Edinburgh to Irish immigrant parents, Connolly was one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation and one of three to sign the surrender. Raised in poverty, his interest in Irish nationalism is said to have stemmed from a Fenian uncle; his socialism from an impoverished working-class childhood combined with his readings of Karl Marx and others.
He first came to Ireland as a member of the British Army. Age 14, he forged documents to enlist to escape poverty and was posted to Cork, Dublin and later the Curragh in Kildare. In Dublin he met Lillie Reynolds and they married in 1890. Despite returning to Scotland, the Irish diaspora in Edinburgh stimulated Connolly’s growing interest in Irish politics in the mid 1890s, leading to his emigration to Dublin in 1896. Here, he founded the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He spent much of the first decade of the 20th century in America, he returned to Ireland to campaign for worker’s rights with James Larkin.
Co-founder of the Labour Party in 1912, Connolly would unite Catholic and Protestant colleagues against employers as the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union battled for workers’ rights in class struggles — strikes which were countered by the employers in the notorious Dublin Lock-out of 1913. Connolly was instrumental in establishing of the Citizen Army in 1913 and publicly criticised the Irish Volunteers for inactivity. He opposed conscription, and flew the banner, ‘We serve neither King nor Kaiser, but Ireland’ at Liberty Hall.
On Easter Monday he led his Citizen Army alongside the Volunteers under Pearse for the Rising and the wording of the Proclamation is said to be heavily influenced by Connolly’s rhetoric. He served as Commandant-General Dublin Division in the GPO and was badly wounded before the evacuation to Moore Street. James Connolly was executed by a firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol at dawn on May 12, 1916 while strapped to a chair. His final resting place is at Arbour Hill cemetery, Dublin.