Partridge, William Patrick (‘Bill’) (1874–1917), trade unionist and revolutionary nationalist, was born 8 March 1874 in Sligo county hospital, fourth child and second son among three sons and two daughters of Benjamin Partridge (d. 1892), railway engine driver, of 6 Chapel Street, Sligo town, and Ellen Partridge (née Hall) (d. 1897). His father, an English protestant of liberal and pro-labour opinion, was sympathetic to Irish constitutional nationalism, while his mother was an Irish catholic. In Bill's infancy the family moved on his father's transfer to Ballaghaderreen, Co. Mayo (later Roscommon), where he was educated in national school and at St Nathy's College. Baptised at birth in the Church of Ireland, under the influence of a teaching nun he was baptised a catholic at age eleven. After serving an engineering apprenticeship in Sligo town (1891–3) and in Dublin at the Broadstone railway workshops (1893–6), he worked with several firms before being employed in 1899 as an engine fitter in the Inchicore works of the Great Southern and Western Railway (GSWR). Active in Dublin No. 2 branch of the British-based Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE), which he represented on Dublin trades council, he came to prominence during an unsuccessful strike in Dublin railway workshops (1902) – ironically, as he had initially opposed strike action. He was a founding member and treasurer of the Inchicore branch of the Gaelic League, and was active locally in the temperance movement. Nominated by tenants’ and labour bodies, he was defeated by six votes in the January 1904 municipal elections, but was returned in a by-election to Dublin city council, representing New Kilmainham ward (1904–6). Influenced by the pamphlet The resurrection of Hungary (1904) by Arthur Griffith (qv), he was among the first city councillors to affiliate with the National Council (a precursor of Sinn Féin), for which he was attacked by some labour activists for betraying trade-union objectives. Owing to his energetic advocacy of corporation housing for local railway workers, he was allowed time off work by the GSWR to attend council meetings; when he took up more radical pro-labour issues the permission was withdrawn, forcing his resignation from the council (March 1906).
Initially sceptical of the militant methods and syndicalist strategy of trade-union leader James Larkin (qv), he soon became one of Larkin's staunchest supporters and ablest lieutenants, and broke with Sinn Féin in 1909 owing to Griffith's hostility to Larkin. In August 1912 he was dismissed from employment by the GSWR for protesting against preferential promotion of protestants over catholics in the Inchicore works. Becoming a full-time paid official of Larkin's Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (October 1912), he managed the new ITGWU branch office in Emmet hall, Inchicore, and organised for the union in Cork city, and among farm labourers in rural Co. Dublin. Remaining an ASE official – during 1913 he was Dublin district president – he represented that union at the Irish Trade Union Congress (1913). Defeated by twenty-three votes as candidate of the newly launched Labour Party in an October 1912 municipal by-election, despite vicious campaign vilification in the January 1913 elections he won a city-council seat (1913–17), the fruit of a strong New Kilmainham local organisation centred on the Inchicore works. A prolific contributor to the ITGWU organ, the Irish Worker, he was acclaimed as the best public speaker in Dublin apart from Larkin, noted for his strong, clear, resonant voice.
One of the foremost figures of the 1913–14 lockout, Partridge claimed to have stopped the first tramcar on the morning of 26 August 1913, but was unsuccessful in efforts to persuade a significant number of workers in the Ringsend power station to walk out in support of the striking tram men. Matching Larkin for oratorical fire at the nightly lockout rallies in Beresford Place, twice during the first week of the dispute he was arrested and released on bail. Dispatched to address the British Trade Union Congress in Manchester (2 September), he graphically described the violence of Dublin police on the previous ‘Bloody Sunday’; his provocative charge that the police had been fuelled by drink was reported widely throughout Europe. He deputised as strike leader for several weeks during the imprisonment of both Larkin and James Connolly (qv). Frequently representing the trade unions’ position in bellicose exchanges in the city council chambers, he was accused by the lord mayor, Lorcan Sherlock, of making ‘truculent and stupid speeches’ that frustrated conciliation. His efforts to secure sympathetic strike action by ASE members in Dublin were vetoed by the union's British leadership. Sensitive to clerical criticism, he publicly expressed reservations about the controversial plan to evacuate Dublin children to host families in Britain. He was largely responsible for the financial assistance raised in Britain, where he spoke about the lockout in numerous cities, and jolted the Liberal government by campaigning successfully on behalf of a British Labour candidate in a Reading by-election (November).
Enlisting in the Irish Citizen Army at its formation, in the post-lockout reorganisation he was elected to the first army council as one of five vice-chairmen (March 1914); by the time of the 1916 Easter rising he held the rank of captain. It is possible that he was also a member of the IRB. Appointed ITGWU travelling organiser (April 1915) in an effort to rebuild strength in provincial branches, over the winter of 1915–16 he was particularly active in Tralee and elsewhere in Kerry. In the week before the rising he was sent by Connolly to Tralee to supervise local ITGWU members in handling the expected arms shipment from Germany in coordination with the local Irish Volunteers under Austin Stack (qv); on his return to Dublin he briefed the rising leaders on details of the abortive landing. During Easter Week he served in the Irish Citizen Army's St Stephen's Green command under Michael Mallin (qv) and Countess Markievicz (qv). Praised for his efforts to maintain morale, he led the garrison in nightly recitations of the rosary in the Royal College of Surgeons. Markievicz later said that it was owing to the example of Partridge and Mallin that she converted to Roman catholicism. Mallin, in his last letter before execution, described Partridge as having been ‘more than a brother’, providing ‘comfort and warmth’ during their incarceration in Richmond barracks after the surrender (Mac Lochalinn, 122). Court-martialled and sentenced to ten years’ penal servitude, Partridge was imprisoned in Dartmoor and Lewes prisons, England. During his imprisonment he was disqualified for membership of Dublin city council owing to lengthy absence from meetings, but was then co-opted to fill the ensuing vacancy (January 1917). Severely ill with kidney disease, he was released from Lewes prison (April 1917), and entered a Brighton nursing home. Returning to Ireland in May, he died 26 July 1917 in his brother's home at Tower House, Ballaghaderreen. His funeral to Kilcolman cemetery, where Markievicz delivered the oration beside the Partridge family grave, was one of the first post-Easter-Week demonstrations of renewed strength by radical nationalism.
Partridge married first (1898) Kathleen Bennett, a carpenter's daughter from Mountrath, Co. Laois, who died of enteric fever fifteen months after the marriage; their daughter, reared by her maternal grandparents, became a doctor, May Tonge, in Templeogue, Co. Dublin. He married secondly (1909) Mary Hamilton (d. 1959), daughter of a Kilmainham locksmith; she was detained in Kilmainham jail for several weeks after the rising. They had three daughters (the youngest of whom was born six months after Partridge's death), and one son. Resident at several addresses in Kilmainham and Inchicore, after his second marriage Partridge lived at 3 Patriotic Terrace, Brookfield Road. Eulogised for his honesty and incorruptible integrity, he was a man of vivid contrasts, his fervent catholic belief co-existing with radical syndicalist convictions, his capacity for humane empathy with a vituperative tongue given to highly personalised invective. His well-known piety was widely exploited after his death in the effort to rehabilitate the image of both the labour and radical nationalist movements.