Matthew Paul (‘Matt’) Merrigan

(25/06/1921 - 15/06/2000)

Matthew Paul Merrigan, affectionately known as “Matt,” was a stalwart figure in Irish trade unionism and socialism, renowned for his unwavering dedication to the rights and welfare of workers. Born on June 25, 1921, in the humble surroundings of 5 Thomas Place(now demolished off Crumlin Road), Merrigan’s upbringing was marked by the harsh realities of poverty. As the eighth child in a family of nine, he experienced the early loss of his father, Matthew Merrigan, a committed member of the ITGWU, who succumbed to tuberculosis when Merrigan was just six years old. Raised by his mother Anne, known as “Nanny” Merrigan, he learned the value of hard work and solidarity from a young age.

Educated at Rialto National School, Merrigan’s formal schooling ended at thirteen when he entered the workforce as a laundry van boy, contributing to the family’s meagre income. His journey into the labour force led him to various jobs, including a stint as a porter in a textile factory, before finding employment as a general operative at the Rowntree-Mackintosh chocolate plant in Kilmainham, where he would spend the next two decades of his life.

Merrigan’s early activism emerged during the tumultuous 1930s, as he became involved in raising support for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and protested against Seán Lemass’s Wages Standstill Order during the Emergency. His commitment to socialist ideals led him to join the Irish Labour Party in 1942, where he swiftly rose through the ranks, earning a seat on the Dublin Corporation in the local elections of the same year.

However, Merrigan’s ideological journey took a turn towards Trotskyism in the mid-1940s, as he became associated with the Revolutionary Socialist Party, advocating for a united, secular, and republican Ireland. Inspired by the ideas of American Trotskyite Max Shachtman, Merrigan delved deep into socialist theory, attending classes and correspondence courses to expand his understanding of the movement’s principles.

His political career saw him contesting the 1954 general election as a Labour candidate in Dublin South-West, though unsuccessful, it marked the beginning of his tenure within the Labour Party. Despite facing expulsion in 1957 for supporting an independent candidate, Noel Browne, Merrigan’s commitment to socialist values remained steadfast, leading to his eventual readmission in 1964.

Merrigan’s impact on Irish trade unionism was profound, serving as the Dublin branch secretary for the ATGWU, where he represented approximately 4,000 members. His militant leadership and unwavering dedication to workers’ rights earned him widespread popularity within the union, despite frequent clashes with moderate leaders.

Throughout his career, Merrigan remained a vocal critic of Labour’s participation in coalition governments, advocating for radical policies and fiercely opposing national wage agreements that he believed only served to perpetuate workers’ exploitation. His staunch anti-militarism, support for Irish neutrality, and vocal opposition to oppressive regimes both at home and abroad underscored his commitment to social justice and human rights.

Outside of his trade union duties, Merrigan remained politically active in the Crumlin branch of the Labour Party and later was Chairperson and co-founding the Socialist Labour Party in 1977, in a bid to unite the fragmented left-wing forces in Ireland. Despite his tireless efforts, the party ultimately disbanded due to internal strife and ideological differences.

His family lived at 24 Crotty Avenue,. Walkinstown his latter years.

Matthew Merrigan’s legacy as a champion of workers’ rights and a tireless advocate for socialism endures, inspiring generations of activists to continue the fight for a fairer and more just society. His passing on June 15, 2000, marked the end of an era, but his spirit lives on in the ongoing struggle for social and economic equality.

Person Photo
Connection with area: Trade unionist and socialist who lived in 5 Thomas Place off Parnell Road. Member of Labour party, Crumlin branch.