The Red Flag

The People’s flag is deepest red;
It shrouded oft our martyred dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts blood dyed its every fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high
Within its shade we’ll live or die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

It waved above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night,
It witnessed many a dead and vow;
We must not changes its colour now.


It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last,
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right, and human gain.


With heads uncovered swear we all,
To bear it onward till we fall,
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim
This song shall be our parting hymn.

Jim Connell was born in Kilskyre in County Meath in 1852.

As a teenager, he became involved in land agitation and joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
At 18 he moved to Dublin, where he worked as a casual docker, but was blacklisted for his attempts to unionise the docks.

Failing to find any other work, he left for London in 1875, where he spent most of the rest of his life.
He worked at a variety of jobs. He was a staff journalist on Keir Hardie's newspaper "The Labour Leader" and was secretary of the Workingmen's Legal Aid Society during the last 20 years 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.
It has appeared in virtually every collection of international labour songs published and will live on in the future on world wide web and new multimedia productions.

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.

The song will live.

The Red Flag