Emmet O'Connor lectures in Ulster University and has published widely on labour history including, with Barry McLoughlin, In Spanish Trenches: The Mind and Deeds of the Irish Who Fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War (UCD Press, 2020)
James 'Dongaree' Baird, a boilermaker in Harland and Wolff's shipyard, was one of hundreds of 'rotten Prods', and thousands of Catholics, driven from their place of work by loyalists in 1920. The expulsions marked the end of Belfast's 'two red years', distinguished by the massive engineering strike in 1919 and the municipal elections in 1920, in which Baird was elected to Belfast Corporation.
Baird's case offers a rare insight into the city's brief radicalisation, the mentality of Protestant workers who opposed the partition of Ireland, and the reasons why loyalists targeted Labour as their most insidious enemy. As a leader of the expelled workers, Baird spoke to the Irish and British TUCs, but Irish Labour had no practical policy on the North and British trade unions feared that confronting loyalists would lose them members. Subsequently, Baird worked for the National Sailors' and Firemen's Union and the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, when he led the farm labourers of Waterford in an epic strike against wage cuts and was nearly elected to Dáil Éireann. In 1927 he and his family emigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, where his daughters Nora and Helene were decorated by the Australian government for services to music in schools. A compelling account of a rotten Prod and a Labour hero.
‘His is a rare story, not just of a man too radical for Belfast but of one of the subalterns of the failed and forgotten social revolution of 1917–23.’ - Belfast Telegraph, December 2022. Read the full review here.
‘An eloquent memorial to the man Jim Larkin described as “a sober, intelligent and strangely honest and courageous spokesman for his class”.’ - Henry Patterson, Dublin Review of Books, December 2022. Read the full review here.
‘Recounts the history of an exceptional man who was also typical of many Ulster Protestant trade unionists in becoming radicalised & in concluding that partition was not in the interest of the working class.’ - Martin Doyle, The Irish Times, December 2022. Read the full review here.
‘O’Connor’s study offers a detailed account of the turbulent years surrounding the emergence of a partitioned Ireland, and an insight into a marginalised group of labour activists who paid a heavy price for their commitment.’ - Dr Mike Mecham, Society for the Study of Labour History, January 2023. Read the full review here.
'Emmet O’Connor has successfully retrieved a remarkable leader and his times from history’s dustbin. Baird deserves to be remembered; this book should be read.' - Niall Meehan, History Ireland, March 2023. Read the full review here.