McLoughlin, Sean (1895–1960), revolutionary socialist and republican, was born 2 June 1895 in North King Street, Dublin, the second of six children born to Patrick McLoughlin, coal carter and latterly ITGWU activist, and Christina McLoughlin (née Shea), republican. The other children were Daniel (b. 1893, joined the British army and was blinded at Passchendaele in 1917); Patrick (b. 1897, joined the IRA); Mary (b. 1900, joined Clann na Gael and took part in the Easter rising); Christina (b. 1903); and Christopher (b. 1905). Sean attended schools at North Brunswick Street and North Richmond Street, before leaving in his early teens. He became involved in republican politics at the age of 15, and over the next few years was active in the Gaelic League, Na Fianna Éireann, the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood. After the 1914 split in the Volunteers, McLoughlin became a Lieutenant in G Coy of the new anti-Redmond Irish Volunteers and was a close friend of Seán Heuston (qv), the company captain. At this time he was employed as a mattress maker at O'Dea's factory in Dublin.
Just weeks before his twenty-first birthday in 1916, McLoughlin took part in the Easter rising. He was part of a unit led by Heuston which took over the Mendicity Institute at Usher's Island to prevent the movement of British troops from the Royal Barracks into the city centre. James Connolly (qv) had expected the position would be held for just a few hours, but in the event the unit remained in the Mendicity for over two days and showed much resilience in doing so. After the fall of the Mendicity, McLoughlin escaped to the GPO. There, his leadership qualities and ability to think strategically under heavy fire were evidenced during the evacuation from the GPO to Moore Street. James Connolly, by this stage seriously injured, was so impressed by McLoughlin that he proposed the young man take his rank of commandant general and be given the important task of planning an escape from Moore Street. At a meeting in Moore Street attended by Connolly, Seán MacDiarmada (qv), Tom Clarke (qv) and Patrick Pearse (qv), this suggestion was accepted and McLoughlin was elevated to the top of the republican military command. He soon devised a plan for continuing the fight, involving a diversionary assault on the British troops in Moore Street by a small detachment, dubbed the 'death or glory squad' by McLoughlin, and the evacuation of the remainder of the republican forces to the Four Courts, where they would link up with Edward Daly (qv) and fight on. But McLoughlin was overruled by Pearse, who decided instead to surrender.
McLoughlin avoided a firing squad after the rising. This was possibly as a result of the actions of a British soldier who, struck by his youthful appearance, removed his commandant tabs before he was inspected by officers of the DMP's G division who were singling out republican leaders to the British military authorities. After release from prison in December 1916, McLoughlin became an organiser of the Volunteer movement in Tipperary. In March 1919 he was convicted of conducting an illegal assembly and making a seditious speech a year previously in Tipperary and sentenced to two months in prison. Whilst in jail, he took part in a hunger strike and was in poor health upon release.
McLoughlin was also increasingly influenced by socialist politics. In 1918 he joined the Socialist Party of Ireland and two years later formed a short-lived Irish Communist Labour Party in Dublin. In between times, McLoughlin was for a short period a member of the Irish Citizen Army. During 1920–22, he also embarked upon two long speaking tours in Scotland and England, organised principally by the Socialist Labour Party of Great Britain (SLP), a Marxist party that had been set up in 1903 by Connolly. McLoughlin's first spell of activity in Britain lasted from January to July 1920.
There were also important landmarks in his personal life during this period. In Glasgow, on 7 January 1920, McLoughlin married Isa Barr, a 21-year-old worker in Ferguslie Mills. Barr came from a relatively wealthy family but her father may also have been involved in socialist politics. McLoughlin and his new bride lived for a few months in Downs Street, in Glasgow's Springburn district, but returned to Dublin in the summer, setting up home in Ballybough. In November 1920 they had a son, Terence MacSwiney McLoughlin. Shortly after Terence's birth, McLoughlin returned to Britain, again as a guest of the SLP. His public meetings throughout these two periods of activity in Britain were usually on the subject of Ireland and were designed to win support for Irish independence among British and Irish workers. McLoughlin quickly built himself a reputation as a talented public speaker with an engaging style. His meetings were often attended by thousands of workers and were usually described by local SLP branches as the best they had ever organised. Indeed, such was his impact that one ex-SLP member, interviewed over fifty years later, described him as 'the greatest propaganda speaker I have ever heard' (Challinor, 267).
McLoughlin was also an innovative socialist theorist. He argued that the Irish revolutionary struggle was linked to the struggle for socialism in Britain, through being directed against the same ruling class. Unlike many socialists of that era, McLoughlin felt that socialism would be established in Ireland before Britain. He believed that this would detonate uprisings throughout the British empire, which would in turn precipitate the destruction of capitalism in Britain itself. Taking an internationalist position, McLoughlin felt that the triumph of socialism in Britain would be the only way that an Irish socialist republic could be sure of long-term survival. As a result of this analysis, he urged Irish and British workers to support both Irish independence, and the socialist movements in both countries.
After eighteen months of political activity in Scotland and England, where he had been an SLP member, an activist in the unemployed workers movement, and also involved in gun-running to republicans in Ireland, McLoughlin returned home after the outbreak of civil war in June 1922. Like all Irish communists, he had opposed the Anglo–Irish treaty of December 1921 and was determined to take up arms against the new Free State administration. He joined the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI), which was led by his friend and political associate Roddy Connolly (qv), the 21-year old son of James. The CPI strategy was to fight alongside the IRA, against what it saw as the neo-colonialist Free State administration, whilst encouraging the republicans to adopt a socialist programme, which would hopefully win the support of workers and small farmers. In pursuit of this strategy, McLoughlin joined the IRA and commanded a flying column in Co. Limerick, spreading socialist ideas within the republican movement in the process. In December 1922 he was captured by Free State troops in Limerick and was later sentenced to death by a court martial. However, possibly as a result of his being held in Limerick jail – where there were only two executions during the entire civil war – the sentence was not enacted. He was eventually released in October 1923, after the IRA had been defeated.
During his last few months in jail, McLoughlin made a permanent break with the IRA. He regarded the organisation to be militarily incompetent and headed by a leadership that was reactionary on social issues. Initially McLoughlin viewed the CPI as the ideal vehicle for attracting discontented republicans, and reinvolved himself in the work of that party. He was soon elected to the CPI executive, and in November 1923 became the last editor of the party journal, the Workers' Republic. But the Comintern in Moscow disbanded the CPI soon thereafter and instructed all Irish communists to work instead with Jim Larkin (qv), who had returned to Ireland a few months previously. McLoughlin did so, and soon became branch secretary of Larkin's new union, the Workers' Union of Ireland, at Inchicore railway works. However, an acrimonious split between the two in October 1924, following Larkin's intervention in a strike at the plant, precipitated his final departure from Irish socialist politics. McLoughlin and his brothers and sisters were suffering from intense harassment from the Free State authorities at this time. In order to protect his family members – some of whom had never been involved in political activity – he took the decision to leave Ireland permanently, and moved to Hartlepool in late 1924. He was sentenced to one month in Durham jail shortly after the general strike in 1926, following a court hearing at which a Free State dossier on his past political activity was read as prosecution evidence. Thereafter his health was a concern, and he slowly faded from revolutionary political activity.
During his earlier period of activity in Britain in 1921–2, McLoughlin's first marriage had broken up. His wife, Isa, had remained in Dublin but, tired of waiting for him to come back, had eventually returned to live with her parents in Glasgow. Sometime later, McLoughlin's older brother, Danny, visited the Barr family in order to check how Isa and Terence were keeping. When he reached the Barr home, he was given short shrift and told that both were buried in the family graveyard. As to the causes of the deaths, Danny McLoughlin was simply told that Isa had died of a 'broken heart' following the death of her infant son. How or when Sean McLoughlin received this news is unknown; as far as can be established, it was a loss to which he never referred at any point in his life.
In Middlesbrough in August 1927, he married secondly Blanche Burnup, aged 19, who was the sister of a Hartlepool SLP activist, Bill Burnup. They later settled at 47 Lees Hall Road, Sheffield, and had two children, Jack (b. 1928) and June (b. 1935). McLoughlin worked for many years as chief clerk in Sheffield city council's engineering depot. His interests included reading and classical music. He struggled with ill health and depression for much of his later life and had a nervous breakdown in the mid 1950s. Sean McLoughlin died aged 64 from a heart attack in Sheffield on 13 February 1960.