The history of Labour Day - May 1

30 Apr 2020

labour  day

Peter Rigney writes, May Day was first celebrated in Dublin in 1890 when a demonstration was organised by the Dublin council of trade unions on the first Sunday in May.  One of the key demands of the platform speakers was an eight hour day. After a few years the demonstrations lapsed and were revived in 1908. 

May day demonstrations assumed a great importance in the 1918 to 1921 period ( which incidentally witnessed the achievement of an eight hour day in many industries). 

From the mid-twenties  Connolly day, May 12 – the anniversary of Connolly’s execution -eclipsed May Day as the principal demonstration of the Labour movement.  This situation continued until the late sixties when a May Day demonstration was revived by a number of left groupings.  

The folklore has it that a proposal was made during the 1973 to 1977 coalition government that May Day be made a public holiday but that this was politically unacceptable and the October bank holiday was instituted instead.  May Day became a public holiday in 1994 on the occasion of the centenary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

An article "May Day in Dublin 1890 To The Present" is reprinted with permission of the ILHS and you can read it here