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Jimmy Stewart was born in Ballymena to a Unionist-minded family but found himself particularly interested in Irish history at school. It was through his reading of T.A. Jackson's 'Ireland Her Own' that things began to make sense to him. He went on to read Lenin and Marx, amongst many other things.
Later on, as a student, he met his future wife who came from a Communist family and became politically active himself. He joined the youth organisation of the Communist Party in Northern Ireland in 1955 and became General Secretary of the Youth Organisation in 1957.
It was though contact with Communist trades unionists that he received training in working class politics. Stewart was a teacher for 15 years, in schools on the Shankill Road and the Upper Shankill. He left teaching to go full-time for the Party in 1970. In 1964, he had became Deputy General Secretary of the Irish Party and remained in that position up until 1984, when he became General Secretary. In 2001, he stepped aside from that role and became National Chairman of the Party.
Source: The Vacuum - Issue 10 `Communism Is Brilliant’ - Ruth Graham interview with James Stewart