The People’s flag is deepest red;
It waved above our infant might,
It well recalls the triumphs past,
With heads uncovered swear we all,
As a teenager, he became involved in land agitation and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
Failing to find any other work, he left for London in 1875, where he spent most of the rest of his life.
He wrote The Red Flag in 1889 on the train from Charing Cross to New Cross after attending a lecture on socialism at a meeting of the Social Democratic Federation. It was inspired by the London dock strike happening at that time, as well as activities of the Irish Land League, the Paris Commune, the Russian nihilists and Chicago anarchists.
The song quickly became an anthem of the international labour movement. Although he wrote it to the tune of The White Cockade, it has come more often to be sung to the tune of Tannenbaum.
It has echoed around the world, sung with fire and fervour, for over a century. Although a competition was held in 1925 to replace it as the Labour Party anthem in Britain and over 300 entries were received, it has not been displaced. Newly elected Labour MPs entered the House of Commons in 1945 singing it. The Rand Miners of South Africa went to the gallows singing it.
Irish trade unionists and political activists proudly sang it in 1998 in Crossakiel.
In "How I wrote The Red Flag" written in 1920, Jim Connell wrote:
"Did I think that the song would live ? Yes, the last line shows I did: "This song shall be our parting hymn". I hesitated a considerable time over this last line. I asked myself whether I was not assuming too much. I reflected, however, that in writing the song I gave expression to not only my own best thoughts and feelings, but the best thoughts and feelings of every genuine socialist I knew . . . I decided that the last line should stand."
When he addressed the crowd in Crossakiel, it was his last visit to Ireland. Jim Connell died in 1929 in London. At his funeral in Golders Green, The Red Flag was sung to both airs. It was his parting hymn.
It has been that for many who came after and, as long as there continue to be those who seek truth and justice in the world, it will be for many yet to come.