When Irish firebrand and legendary union leader Jim Larkin was 18 years old, he opted to undergo a bold adventure. While performing hard labor on the docks, he took an opportunity to stow away on an American cargo ship.
He was off to America in typical Jim Larkin fashion — with a certain contempt for what might be strictly legal, but always with a greater good and a higher goal in mind. Learn more about James Larkin: http://spartacus-educational.com/IRElarkin.htm and http://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/artsfilmtv/books/the-definitive-biography-of-big-jim-larkin-372254.html
The year was 1894. The young Larkin arrived in New York City, only to be promptly thrown in jail. He had already made most of the trip across the Atlantic in irons because his stowaway ploy was discovered shortly after the ship left England.
At the time, the United States had no deportation laws or procedures. They were uncertain about what to do with this 6-foot-4-inch, muscular, raw-boned illegal immigrant still in his teens — but a man who had been working since childhood to support his family. Read more: James Larkin – Wikipedia and James Larkin | Biography
Larkin’s time cooling off in a tough New York jail gave him an opportunity to read, and “Big Jim” was a voracious reader. That, despite the fact he had only a received a few years of grammar school education before poverty forced him into early hard labor.
He loved American writers. Mark Twain was a favorite, as was Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. But he also read Irish and Scottish writer. As his case was processed, Larkin told a judge of his time spent in jail, “These are the men I lived with, Twain, Thoreau and Emerson — the real Americans — not the men of the Mart or the Exchange.”
Of course, one writer that would influence him perhaps more than any other was Karl Marx. Larkin absorbed the central ideas of the Communist Manifesto. The precepts set down by Marx would inform the rest of his life and his unstoppable social agitation on behalf of the urban working poor.
Larkin was eventually sent back to his native Ireland. But a month in a New York cell reading the words of America’s most gifted writers changed the course of his life — and Irish history.