Captain Jack White (1879-1946)

I saw red; and when I see red I have got to get into the fight. I offered to speak for the strikers in Beresford Place, the open space outside the Transport Union Headquarters, Liberty Hall, and my offer was welcomed. The sands of my gentility had run out.
Debut in Dublin, Misfit, 1930

Our job is to gnaw through the shark, to make no terms with British Imperialism, not to gain our unity and a deceptive pretence of freedom by lying down quietly in-side the shark's belly.
Where Casement Would Stand Today, Aug. 1936

It is a fact, that the Barcelona churches were burnt, and many of them, where roof and walls are still standing, are used to house medical or commissariat stores instead of, as previously, being used by the fascists as fortresses. I suspect their present function is nearer the purpose of a religion based by its founder on the love of God and the Neighbour.
First Spanish Impressions, Nov. 1936

"We can do it without you and your laws," reply the Anarchists. "We know how to strip the bourgeoisie by direct action… We feel no need of voting to impose masters on ourselves. We are anti-parliamentarian, abstentionists. In one thing we are faithful Marxists: Did not Marx say, 'The emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves?'"
The Meaning of Anarchism, 1937

Jack white

Jack White was born in 1879 in Broughshane in County Antrim. An only son he initially followed in the footsteps of his father, the British war hero Sir George Stuart White, being educated at Winchester Public School in England and later at the Sandhurst Military Academy (1). At the age of eighteen, White saw service with the 1st Gordon Highlanders in the Boer War in South Africa and was decorated with a DSO for his role. Between 1901 and 1905, he served as aide-de-camp to his father who was then Governor of Gibraltar, and it was here that he met Mercedes 'Dollie' Mosley, the daughter of a Gibraltar business family and a Catholic. Despite family objections (on both sides), the couple married and after further military service in India and Scotland, White resigned his commission in 1907 citing disaffection with the army and its role. During the next number of years White travelled to Bohemia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire), lived in a 'Tolstoyan' commune in England and then travelled and worked in Canada.

The death of White's father in 1912 prompted an end to the errant son's journeying and shortly after he began to take an active and public interest in Irish affairs (2). He wrote a number of letters to the Ulster Guardian newspaper opposing Carson's anti-Home Rule movement and after this he spoke at a meeting in London (alongside George Bernard Shaw) on the subjection of Irish nationalism. Although White's pedigree (he was of privileged Ulster Protestant stock) made him an unusual supporter of Irish Home Rule, he was by no means unique (3). In October of the following year (1913), he played a key role in organising a protest meeting in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim that was addressed by a number of liberal-minded local Protestants including Roger Casement. This meeting received wide coverage in the press and as a direct result of this, White was invited to speak in Dublin on Home Rule.

White arrived in Dublin at a key period in Irish history. The Dublin Employer's Federation had locked workers out of their jobs in an attempt by employers to break the power of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union. Starvation and deprivation was rife and the employers abetted by the police had the upper hand. White quickly identified with the workers' cause, his outrage galvanised by his intense dislike for the Catholic Church (4). White is generally credited with the proposal to set up workers' militia, the Irish Citizens Army (ICA), and he played a key role in its early development and organisation. The purpose of the ICA was 'to defend the interest of workers from the violence of the employers', and White was associated with it until early in 1914 when he left following a disagreement with Connolly and Larkin (primarily over White's role in the ICA) (5). Shortly after he went to Derry and later Tyrone where he commanded detachments of the Irish National Volunteers. However, the increasingly sectarian politics of the Volunteers was not to his liking and he left in acrimonious circumstances at the outbreak of WW1 (6).

White was in France as part of an ambulance crew when he heard of the ill-fated 1916 Easter Rising. He returned to Ireland and was active in the campaign to oppose the execution of the 1916 leaders. In April 1916 he was arrested in south Wales for attempting to organise a strike of miners in support of James Connolly. He was charged under the Defence of the Realm and jailed for sedition, being transferred to Pentoville prison in London on the eve of Casement's execution. White wrote The Significance of Sinn Féin in 1918, a short pamphlet that attempted to explain the political and parliamentary success of Sinn Féin in the aftermath of the execution of the Rising leaders. However, increasingly influenced (like many of his contemporaries) by the news of the successful Russian Revolution, his politics moved sharply leftward. After a series of arrests and prison terms for agitating (Dublin 1920, Edinburgh 1921) he was proposed as a candidate 'in the interests of the Workers' Republic' for Donegal in 1922 Free State elections. Although at the time Donegal was a hotbed of worker militancy and political struggle, White soon withdrew his candidature, declaring himself to be a 'Christian Communist'. He declared that 'he was not prepared to go forward as the representative of any class or party, but only of a principle… the voluntary change to communal ownership of the land…and… the gradual withering of the poisoned branches of standing armies, prisons and the workhouse system.'

The 1920s were a period of war, civil war and partition in Ireland and the left struggled to find a voice and direction. White now clearly identified himself with left republican politics and throughout the 1920s was active in a host of organisations including The Irish Workers League and The Workers Party of Ireland, moving between Dublin, London and Belfast. A regular public speaker, he also wrote for many publications including An Phoblacht. In 1930, his autobiography (to 1916), Misfit was published in London &endash; much to the dismay of the wider White family, it seems.

White was active in the Revolutionary Workers Party in Belfast in the early 30s and in 1931 was involved in a bitter street battle between unemployed workers and the RUC on the Newtownards Road in Belfast (7). After being found guilty and imprisoned, he was served with an exclusion order under the 1922 Special Powers Act (Northern Ireland) prohibiting him from residing in any part of Northern Ireland other than in the district of Limavady. The exclusion order caused considerable distress to White not least because his daughter Avé was then at school in Belfast. The Order remained in force until 1935.

In the mid-30s White gravitated to the Republican Congress and was associated with the ex-Serviceman's section in Dublin. Here he was a familiar figure to many contemporary activists including Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan. 1n 1934 he took part in the now famous march to the Wolfe Tone monument in Bodenstown as a part of contingent from the Protestant Shankill Road in Belfast. Holding a banner that proclaimed 'Break The Connection with Capitalism' the contingent was prevented from attending the commemoration by the IRA.

White wrote Where Casement Would Stand Today in 1936 and shortly after, at the age of 57, travelled to Spain (as part of a Red Cross ambulance crew) to help fight fascism. Here he made contact with the anarchist CNT-FAI. Impressed by the social revolution that had unfolded in Spain, White was further attracted to the anarchist cause due to his own latent anti-Stalinism. Never at home with the Communist dominated left in Ireland, he wrote the short pamphlet The Meaning of Anarchy that explained the background to the May '37 street battle and struggle in Barcelona between the anarchists and Communists. Returning to London from Spain, he worked with Spain and the World, a pro-libertarian propaganda group active in Britain in support of the Spanish anarchists. While in London, he met his second wife, Noreen Shanahan, the daughter of an Irish government official (8).

White inherited the family home and lands of White Hall by his father's will in 1912, but the inheritance was deferred as long as his mother lived; she died in 1935. In the interval, White had received a regular income from the rent and sale of the lands attached to the estate; this had been supplemented by occasional income from journalistic efforts. Although he had spent short periods at White Hall (and nearby Cushendun) in the intervening years, it wasn't until1938 that he lived at the family home in Broughshane for any prolonged period. His return was undoubtedly prompted by the practicalities of having to provide for his new family. Despite the relative isolation of Broughshane, he appears to have remained in regular contact with his political associates, although the outbreak of World War 2 paralysed any real work.

White made a final and brief reappearance in public life during the 1945 General Election campaign. Proposing himself as a 'republican socialist' candidate for the Antrim constituency, he convened a meeting at the local Orange Hall in Broughshane to outline his view. A witness to the proceeding, recorded that White 'commanded a rich vocabulary of language' directed at a plethora of targets that included Hitler, the Pope, Lord Brookborough and deValera (9). However, noted the reporter, White reserved particular contempt for the 'Orange Order and the Unionist Party for the control they exercised over coercion through the Special Powers Act.'

Six months later Jack White died from cancer in a Belfast nursing home. After a private ceremony, he was buried in the White family plot in the First Presbyterian Church in Broughshane.

Kevin Doyle
(July 2001)


(1) George Stuart White met his wife in India where he served for a considerable part of his military career. Amelia Baly was the daughter of the Archdeacon of Bombay. They had five children together &endash; Jack, Rose, Constance, Gladys (later Lady Napier) and Georgina.

(2) A career officer in the British Army, George Stuart White was propelled to prominence for his role in the Boer War. Despite near starvation conditions, White's troops withstood a long siege at Ladysmith &endash; an episode that was to achieve iconic status within British Empire lore, earning for George White a permanent and hallowed place in the annals of British Military history. White's prestige in his native Antrim was legendary. He returned to Ballymena and Broughshane shortly after the Siege of Ladysmith to rapturous public acclaim. His funeral in 1912, attended by Jack, was one of the largest ever seen in the area.

(3) According to White in Misfit 'some of the spirit of '98' survived in Ulster around the area of Ballymoney, a town in north Co. Antrim. White had in mind such long-standing figures as J.B. Armour, a Presbyterian minister and liberal from the town. Armour and others were undoubtedly an echo of the famous 1798 rebellion in which Catholics and Presbyterians had united again British rule in Ireland, but by the early years of the 20th century, they hardly represented anyone other than themselves. They were to be swept into oblivion by the rise of Carson's anti-Home Rule movement in the pre-WW1 era.

(4) Jack White had a particular distaste for the Catholic Church and its teachings, a stand that was further exacerbated by two acrimonious marriages to Catholic women. In Misfit he identifies the moment of his decision to enter the conflict of the Dublin Lockout as being when his ire was raised with respect to the way Catholic priests had aided and abetted Dublin employers during the bitter conflict. With starvation and deprivation rife among the strikers' family, English trade unionist had come to the aid of the Irish brothers and sisters by offering to feed and keep some of the strikers' children for the duration of the conflict. This meant sending the strikers' children across the water to Liverpool where they would be cared for. While this offer was being availed of, Catholic priests in Dublin objected saying that Irish children were being sent to England into 'heathen' homes and consequently there were in danger of losing their faith. A number of widely publicised confrontations between priests and strikers ensued with the eventual outcome that the strikers were forced into a demoralising withdrawal from the offer of assistance. White arrived in Dublin during the climax of this particular episode on the Dublin docks. He was incensed at the role of the priests and made the decision to get actively involved with the strikers' movement.

(5) White's departure from the Irish Citizen Army has been attributed to a number of reasons. Not only was his establishment pedigree an irritant to the likes of Larkin, but his style of operation could often be unilateral and impulsive &endash; tendencies that were increasingly frowned upon and challenged as the ICA developed. However, the single most important reason for his departure would seem to be his isolation on the question of the ICA's relationship to the newly formed Irish Volunteers. At the early stages of his political experience and not yet a convinced socialist, White argued for (and acted upon) his own desire and wish to see the ICA and Volunteers join forces (to form a larger and more effective physical force). However, the Volunteers were by common reckoning a body that represented an alliance of all classes; while the ICA was not. Sean O'Casey, the playwright who was active in the ICA alongside White, was more direct about the Volunteers declaring them to be a home for employers who had set out to crush the Dublin working class. White was to lose the debate within the ICA and subsequently left.

(6) If the struggle within the ICA had indicated White's inexperience and naiveté with regard to politics, there followed an even stranger episode before his departure to France. In 1914 White met and corresponded with some of the major figures within the British establishment in Ireland with a view to having the Irish Volunteers adopted as a territorial army for the duration of the war. Although the matter came to nothing it did give an indication of White's lack of political direction at this time &endash; a deficit that was to be shattered by the radicalising events of Easter 1916 and the execution of its leaders.

(7) White's appearacne in court following these riots received considerable coverage. The police alleged that White led the disturbance with cries of 'Come on. Rush the police. We are citizens of a free nation.' The also alleged that White struck a police officer with a stick to cries of 'Up the Reds. Up Moscow.' In his defence, White claimed he had been set upon and battened by six policemen. He paraded his wounds to the court and audience as proof.

(8) White married Noreen Shanahan in London in 1937. They appear to have met while attending the same language school. Most likely White was improving his Spanish at the time. Noreen Shanahan came from a well off south county Dublin family and was a practising Catholic. They had three children &endash; Anthony, Derrick and Alan.

(9) T.G. McElligott was working in the Ballymena Academy at the time. He appears to have seen literature about Jack White proposals and notice of the meeting in Broughshane. His contacted White, visited him at his home and later attended the unusual meeting in the local Orange Hall. The meeting itself appears to have been well attended (although it included a number of on-duty RUC officers). White's candidature in this election &endash; presumably to Stormont and not to the British House of Commons &endash; appears to have been only a flyer; there is no record of his name on any ballot paper of the time.


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