James ‘Dongaree’ Baird, a boilermaker in Harland and Wolff’s shipyard, was one of hundreds of ‘rotten Prods’, and thousands of Catholics, driven from their place of work by loyalists in 1920. The expulsions marked the end of Belfast’s ‘two red years’, distinguished by the massive engineering strike in 1919 and the municipal elections in 1920, in which Baird was elected to Belfast Corporation.
Baird’s case offers a rare insight into the city’s brief radicalisation, the mentality of Protestant workers who opposed the partition of Ireland, and the reasons why loyalists targeted Labour as their most insidious enemy. As a leader of the expelled workers, Baird spoke to the Irish and British TUCs, but Irish Labour had no practical policy on the North and British trade unions feared that confronting loyalists would lose them members. Subsequently, Baird worked for the National Sailors’ and Firemen’s Union and the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, when he led the farm labourers of Waterford in an epic strike against wage cuts and was nearly elected to Dail Eireann. In 1927 he and his family emigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, where his daughters Nora and Helene were decorated by the Australian government for services to music in schools.
A compelling account of a rotten Prod and a Labour hero.