Despite the adverse weather conditions trade union members, socialists, republicans and members of the local community gathered in Newry to pay tribute to James Fearon, an early pioneer of trade unionism and socialism, with the erection of a permanent tribute on Merchants Quay on Monday [March 30].
Welcoming the unveiling of the memorial plaque éirígí’s Newry spokesperson Stephen Murney commended those involved in erecting the tribute “It’s fantastic that such important local history is being remembered and commemorated. Newry Trades Council, trade unionists and local people must be commended for financing this tribute which was initiated by the Newry Maritime Association.
“Born in Newry in 1874 he was one of the 'three James' who were the early champions of the socialist cause and defenders of worker’s rights:- James Connolly, James Larkin and Newry's James Fearon. Both Larkin and Fearon have close links to the Newry area with Fearon being born in Castle Street whilst James Larkin and his family lived just outside the town for a period of time.
“James Fearon has been variously described as Larkin's right hand man and his lieutenant. He was instrumental in fighting for workers rights and defending the working class. James Fearon also led the Newry Dock Strike and Lockout in 1907. That was an extremely difficult time for the striking workers with many families starving and facing a harsh winter.
Continuing, Stephen said “A founding member of both the ITGWU and the ICA. It's also believed that James Fearon’s militant stance was the inspiration behind the formation of the Irish Citizen Army set up to defend the working class. In fact James Larkin actually confirmed that Fearon's idea to set up a workers militia in Cork led to the ICA being formed. Following James Fearon’s death James Larkin described him as ‘one of the unsung heroes of our struggle’.
“As a socialist and union organiser, Fearon organised direct actions against evictions in the Newry area and stood firm against the RIC, bailiffs and landlords thus preventing local people from being forcibly evicted.”
Concluding Murney stated, “James Fearon’s beliefs and ideals remain as relevant today as they did almost 100 years ago when he led the Dock strike and lockout in Newry in 1907. Over 100 years later in Ireland, families are still being evicted. Working class families in the Twenty-Six Counties are being penalised by the unjust imposition of taxes on drinking water . Here in the North, health services are being slashed and the local Stroke Unit in Newry is facing closure. We don’t even have to ask where James Fearon would have stood on these issues.”