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Biographical: Captain Jack White (1879-1946)

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JWI 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)

Full version here.  First published (July 2001)

Note: A biographical sketch of Captain Jack White.  Picture shows the gravestone of the White family in Broughshane, Co Antrim. Jack White was the son of Sir George Stuart White, the Hero of Ladysmith.  Unlike his father, Jack White was a revolutionary and was a founder member of the Irish Citizen Army along with James Connolly.

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‘Misfit’, a new play about Captain Jack White

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co-founder of the Irish Citizen ArmyReview of ‘Misfit’, a new play about the life of Captain Jack White.  Written and performed by Myles Horgan.  At the Cork Arts Theatre, 16th -18th June 2010

I’ve had an interest in Captain Jack White since reading an article about him by Alan McSimoin in Workers Solidarity many years ago.  Alan’s article pointed out how White had been ‘left out’ of the official narrative of Irish history despite his role as co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army.  Later on White gravitated towards anarchism – an allegiance that also appears to have done him no favours. (In official circles that is.)

In this context, Myles Horgan’s new one man show about White entitled ‘Misfit’ was a must see, although I almost missed it but for a late tip-off from a comrade over in Solidarity Books.  Still I got to the Cork Arts Theatre last Friday just in time for the final lunch time show.  It was well worth seeing.  At €10 entry price though – pricey.

‘Misfit’ is a short one act, one man show – a biopic that for the most part is faithful to the account that White gives about his life in his autobiography of the same name.  It begins with White telling of his arrival in Barcelona in late 1936.  From there the action moves back in time with White retelling the story of his life.  The material used here is well written, well presented and well acted.  We hear of White’s experiences in the Boer War, about his troubled relationship with Mercedes Moseley, and then of his involvement in the fight for Home Rule. From his political baptism of fire in Antrim, White went to Dublin where he became involved in the 1913 Lockout and, from then on, with the Irish radical left.  We hear about White’s role in the Irish Citizen Army and then about White’s arrest and incarceration in Pentonville prison just at the time that Casement was hanged.  The play finally returns to Spain and to White’s brief but interesting comments about the situation there.  It ends with a declaration by White that any true revolution must involve the inner transformation of the human person above all else.

Myles Horgan makes a fine hand of playing White.  Dressed in a light grey suit and wearing the signature  wide-brimmed hat that White was photographed in, he cuts the sort of swaggering figure that White may well have been.  He also makes a good hand of White’s upper crust accent and this alone is enough to make one wonder what his contemporaries made of him.  In a conversation with White’s son, Derek, a number of years back, it was pointed out to me that Jack White had a pampered and spoiled upbringing and that this facet was an aspect of this life until the day he died.  Whether this is true or not, there is no denying that White was of privileged stock and in the movement of the day this undoubtedly raised more than a few eyebrows and hackles.  Indeed if memory serves me right Larkin fell out with White about such matters since Larkin was not reticent in giving his opinions about White privileged background.

However while very welcomed, this play has shortcomings too, not least its focus on White as an the individualist and as an eccentric.  It is true that this is how White’s portrayed himself in Misfit , which was published in early 1920.  However Misfit only accounts for a part of White’s life.  It was also written in the context of White trying to explain himself to the Anglo-Irish and British establishment that he had rejected.  In other words those parts of White’s life that are most noteworthy now: his prominent role in opposing Loyalism and British imperialism; his work to help the Spanish Revolution and  his important opposition to Stalinism don’t really figure in this biopic.  This is a real pity as White’s views on the need to get rid of capitalism and replace it with a society more befitting human needs have real contemporary resonance and relevance.

That said this play is to be welcomed.  It was also enjoyable and interesting to see.  Hopefully it will see further on stage exposure and make a return visit at some stage.

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