Byrne, James (c.1875–1913), trade unionist, was born at 5 Clarence St., Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, and lived at the address all his life. A large, strapping giant of a man, he worked locally on the docks, and eventually in Heiton's coal depot. About 1910 he became Kingstown branch secretary of the ITGWU; he was also secretary of Bray and Kingstown Trades Council. On the first day of the 1913 lockout (26 August), he was arrested and charged with intimidating employees of the tramway company and jostling a tramway inspector. On arraignment before Kingstown police court, he denied the charges, asserting that he may have brushed the inspector as he passed him in the street: ‘If my coat struck against him, it was as much as it did’ (Yeates, 36). Remanded in custody for one week, he was the first trade-union official arrested and imprisoned during the lockout, after which he was acquitted on the intimidation charge, but convicted and fined £1 for jostling the inspector. Two months later (20 October), he was arrested for alleged intimidation of a labourer at Heiton's depot, where many employees had recently returned to work. Offered bail of £10, he refused to be bound over, regarding it as an implicit admission of guilt. Protesting both the fact of his imprisonment and the damp and mouldy conditions of his prison cell, Byrne immediately went on hunger and thirst strike in Mountjoy jail, thereby emulating the response to imprisonment made earlier in the lockout by James Connolly (qv). His protest received scant notice in the press, partly because he lacked the prominence of Connolly (who had been quickly released), partly because newspaper headlines were dominated by the furore over the scheme to send workers' children on respite stays with families in Britain. Falling seriously ill with a respiratory complaint, Byrne was released after five days, but continued to decline, and died of pneumonia in Monkstown hospital on 1 November 1913, survived by his wife and six children. He was thus the first Irish person in the twentieth century to die as a consequence of a politically motivated hunger strike. His funeral on 4 November from his home to Dean's Grange cemetery was the occasion for a mass trade-union demonstration of sympathy and solidarity, attended by some 3,000 people, of whom 1,000 had arrived by special train from Dublin accompanied by two brass bands. In the funeral oration, Connolly described Byrne as a martyr ‘murdered . . . for the sacred cause of liberty’ (Ir. Worker). The episode went largely forgotten till, ninety years later, on foot of research by local historians and trade unionists, a monument over the grave was unveiled by SIPTU president Jack O'Connor (November 2003).
Ir. Times, 3–5 Nov. 1913; Ir. Worker, 8 Nov. 1913; South News (Nov. 1995); Pádraig Yeates, Lockout: Dublin 1913 (2000); Ir. Times, 1 Nov. 2003; Liberty (Dec. 2003); information from Séamus Fitzpatrick, IMPACT