Socialist Party Labour History - At 84, still a young socialist

Militant Irish Monthly, No. 107, Nov-Dec. 1982

At 84, still a young socialist

'We need a mass youth organisation campaigning around the country on a socialist programme'. So said Jack Coughlan, resident of Tuam Labour Party, East Galway, at a meeting of the Tuam Labour Youth last year. At 84 years of age Jack Coughlan has been campaigning for Labour since the 1920s and is still an active socialist.

In the east Galway Bye-Election earlier this year he reminded the Labour Final Rally of the socialist traditions of the area going back to those early [years] and urged votes for the candidate Kevin Dwyer of Labour.

Jack Coughlan recalls canvassing for the former Labour Party leader, TJ O'Connell, in the Galway area in the election of 1923. O'Connell was elected and alter won a seat for Labour in Mao. The 1927 election, in which Jack Coughlan was also involved, saw the election of Gilbert Lynch, the last Labour TD for Galway until the election of Michael D Higgins in 1981. The end of the '20s and early '30s saw a growth in Labour activity in the region. Jack recalls chairing a public meeting held in the square of Tuam where all those present were asked to vote with a clenched fist!

The 1930's saw the emergence of Bobby Burke as the Labour candidate in Galway, coming close to winning a seat in the early 1940's. Bobby Burke, who now lives in retirement in Belfast, was regarded by friend and foe as a committed socialist. During those years Labour branches were built in many of the small towns and villages I the area, such as Loughrea, Athenry, Dunmore, Ballygar, etc.

Jack Coughlan himself was a Labour member on Tuam Town Commissioners during most of the years from 1934 to 1967. In 1934 the local shopkeepers and businessmen suggested that 'the town can't afford the expense of an election'. So much for democracy! Labour insisted on an election and got a number of members elected. As Jack Coughlan says: "A terrible cry went up' from the business people at the prospect of Labour people on the local council - people whom they said 'Had no stake in the town'!"

Among the issues taken up by Labour in the area over they area were housing and unemployment. While holding the position of Chairman of Tuam Town Commissioners at one period, Jack Coughlan was also at that time Chairman of Tuam Labour Party, Chairman of Tuam Trades Council and Chairman of his union branch - national Association of Transport Employees.

Tuam Trades Council was organised around the late 1930s and had most of the unions in the area affiliated to it including the National Union of Railway workers (NUR) which organised a large number of rail workers in the area at that time. Jack himself held the position of Chairman of the Trades Council from 1949 to 1963.

Labour was not really seen as a socialist party in the 1940s and '50s recalls Jack. Though Labour polled well in the 1943 election during the war years, it declined from then during periods of coalition until the 1960s. With Labour facing again the crucial decision on Coalition it is worth reporting Jack Coughlan's comments on that issue:

'The day is gone when Labour should go into Coalition. If we don't stand independently we'll never build the Party.'
An active socialist still at 84, Jack Coughlan stands proudly in the best traditions of Labour.

Niall Kelly Chairman Galway West Labour Party Constituency Council

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