McLoughlin was born in Dublin in June 1895. He became involved in republican politics at the age of 15, and five years later, shortly before his twenty-first birthday, took part in the Easter 1916 Rising of the Army of the IrishRepublic, the combined force of Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizens Army.
In this he was part of a unit that took over the Mendicity Institute, with the aim of preventing the movement of British troops from the adjacent Royal Barracks into the city centre. After the fall of the Mendicity, he escaped to the GPO. There, his leadership qualities and ability to think and act decisively under heavy fire were so outstanding, that James Connolly, as Commandant General, with the support of Pearse, had promoted the 19 year old Lieutenant to the top of military command, after he himself sustained severe injuries on the previous day. (Peter de Rossa’s book ‘Rebels’ says "Thus the rising ended with a fifteen-year-old as Commandant of the Dublin Division…") As the last Commandant General, McLoughlin was the highest ranking of the rebels to survive. McLoughlin was instrumental in ensuring that as many volunteers as possible got away from the bombed-out GPO, as Pearse presided over a surrender.
McLoughlin was then interned in Wales and England and, after release from prison in December 1916, became an organiser of the Irish Volunteers in Tipperary. He became increasingly involved in socialist politics, joining the Socialist Party of Ireland and was very prominent in both British and Irish Communist circles. McLoughlin embarked upon two long speaking tours in Scotland and Northern England, organised by the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) during 1920-21. These meetings were often attended by thousands of workers and were usually described by local SLP branches as the best they had ever organised since he had become by now a mass orator of exceptional ability.
“McLoughlin was also an innovative theoretician …Unlike most socialists of that era McLoughlin felt that socialism would be established in Ireland before Britain. He believed that this would detonate uprisings throughout the British Empire, which would in turn precipitate the destruction of capitalism in Britain itself. Taking an internationalist position, McLoughlin felt that the triumph of socialism in Britain would be the only way that an Irish socialist republic could survive in the long term. As a result of this analysis, he urged Irish and British workers to support both Irish independence, and the socialist movements in both countries.” (McGuire)
McLoughlin returned to Ireland in July 1922, following the outbreak of Civil War as an opponent of the Treaty, he joined the Communist Party of Ireland, (CPI), which was led by 21-year old Roddy Connolly, the son of James. The CPI strategy was to fight alongside the IRA, against the neo-colonialist Free State administration, whilst encouraging the republicans to adopt a socialist programme that would win the support of workers and small farmers.
McLoughlin now commanded an IRA flying column in Limerick, spreading socialist ideas within the local republican movement in the process. In December 1922, he was captured and sentenced to death by the Free State. The sentence was not executed and he was eventually released in October 1923, after the IRA had been crushed.
The CPI was disbanded in January 1924, so McLoughlin decided to work with Jim Larkin, who had returned to Ireland some months previously. An acrimonious split between the two, following Larkin’s disastrous handling of a rail workers strike, precipitated his departure from Irish socialist politics nine months later, when McLoughlin moved permanently to England.
Initially, he moved to Hartlepool and then to Sheffield sometime in the 1920s. Jailed yet again around the time of the General Strike, Sean McLoughlin was active in Sheffield with Jack Murphy. McLoughlin slowly faded from revolutionary activity. He struggled badly with ill-health in his later years. His last known address was 77 Lees Hall Road, Sheffield in the late 1940s-early 1950s. McLoughlin died largely unknown in Sheffield, aged just 64, in February 1960.
`Hidden heroes: Going from the green to the red” by Charlie McGuire, April 2006, in: