A funeral tribute by Eugene McCartan

General secretary, CPI

Dear comrades and friends,

On behalf of the Communist Party of Ireland I would like to express my sincere sympathy with the family of Michael O’Riordan: to Manus and Brenda, to their partners, Annette and Tony, to Michael’s grandchildren, Jessica, Neil, Dara, Caitríona, and Luke.

We know that you all have lost someone who was very dear and very special in your lives. Our hearts go out to you.

We would like to thank everyone for coming here this morning to pay their respects to Michael O’Riordan. In particular, we would like to thank the Cuban ambassador, Noel Carrillo, for joining us today. Your solidarity is welcome.

To members of our party and supporters who have travelled from all parts of Ireland to be here: thank you. To those who have travelled from further afield, from Britain and Germany: thank you for joining us.

The large gathering here this morning is testimony to the standing Michael O’Riordan had within the Irish left, republican and progressive people in our country.

Michael —or, as he was known among friends, Mick —was a man of principle, a man of extreme courage, a man of integrity. Mick was no fair-weather socialist. He stood strong and sure, despite the gales of reaction. He withstood their attacks on himself and on our party. He was for many years the public face of our party, in good times and bad. Not alone was Michael the face of the Communist Party, he was also at times the only face of the Irish left—sometimes a lone critical voice as others took cover, fearing the belt of a crosier or afraid of taking a stand in case it might damage their career prospects.

Michael never stepped back from what needed to be done—he was far too principled for that, whether as a volunteer in the IRA in his native Cork, as a volunteer on the battlefield in Spain, standing firm against anti-Semitism in his native city, facing down the bosses or the forces of reaction who wished to marginalise him personally, his party, or the Irish left.

Mick always fought for the right to hold left-wing views, to be able to celebrate May Day or even to celebrate his greatest hero, James Connolly, without sustaining verbal and physical attacks.

Michael never faltered in his commitment to the Irish working class. His concern and commitment to working people was not just confined to Ireland: he embraced and understood and gave solidarity to workers and oppressed people across the world in their struggle against imperialism. This he carried with him to Spain, fighting fascism, actively supporting the struggle of the peoples of Viet Nam, Nicaragua, and Cuba. This commitment was recently recognised by the Cuban government when they awarded him their highest medal for friendship as a recognition of his long solidarity.

Michael was deeply committed to the struggle for world peace. He had seen and experienced the violence of war at first hand fighting fascism in Spain. He worked hard to end the nightmare of the threat from nuclear weapons and to promote friendship and understanding among people.

He never wavered in his support for the cause of socialism and the Soviet Union. He believed that what was being constructed in the Soviet Union, shortcomings and all, was worth defending. He would never speak out publicly against the Soviet Union. He would not allow his words or statements to be used by the forces opposed to socialism, to be used against socialism. He was no idealist.

He never sought comfort in the glow of respectability but rather the solidarity of his fellow-workers.

Michael lived long enough to see once again the new shoots of freedom spring up, the risen people of Latin America rising up to take back what the rich would not give, to reclaim the wealth of their countries stolen from them by the greed and gasping claws of a rich and parasitic few. They are fighting so that their children will no longer die on the side of mountains, or deep underground in the mines, or in the gutters of their barrios. They are claiming their birthright to a place in the sun. Yes, the soothsayers of the end of history have been proved wrong. The risen people want to write their own story now.

Michael O’Riordan’s metal was forged on the battlefields of Spain, fighting fascism. It was tempered in the heat of the struggle here in Ireland, in the teeth of Cold War propaganda and clerical reaction.

Michael embodied all the best anti-imperialist traditions of our people. Michael was a very learned and cultured man, having a very wide knowledge of Irish literature and music and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish history. He was rarely without a book or paper in his hand.

Michael spent seventy years of his life fighting for the cause of socialism, for national unity, for the unity of the Catholic and Protestant sections of our working class. He stood for the unity of the trade union movement, both locally and nationally. He opposed splits within the trade union movement. v He worked for peace in Ireland and across the world. He was unwavering in his opposition to imperialism here in Ireland as well as globally.

Michael believed in and struggled for the unity of the labour and republican tradition, the two most progressive currents of political thought in Ireland. He was firmly of the belief that it was only within that unity that a new political dynamic would open up in Ireland, to radicalise our people, to open up the road to fulfilling James Connolly’s legacy of establishing an independent, sovereign, socialist republic.

Michael O’Riordan could have lived his life many different ways. He had the talent and the intellect to have succeeded in any walk of life, but he chose not to. Instead he chose the path of struggle and self-sacrifice. He placed his formidable intellect, his principled and dogged determination at the service of the Communist Party and the Irish working class.

A couple of weeks ago I went to visit Michael in St Mary’s Nursing Home. I brought him up some leaflets about our planned “Ripples of Freedom” conference, to mark and celebrate the life and times of James Connolly. He read the materials and asked me who some of the speakers were. He then said, “Eugene, I can neither go forward with you nor can I go back. My boat is about to sail.”

Well, Comrade O’Riordan, your boat has sailed. You have left our company with your honour intact. For over seventy years you stood firm and fought hard. Your honesty and your integrity remain unbroken and uncompromised. You are legend.

It is now time for a new generation of the Irish working class to take up the banner of socialism, to carry forward the struggle against imperialism. v Comrade O’Riordan, you have written your own pages in the history of the Irish working class.

Farewell, comrade! Goodbye, Red O’Riordan.

More reports and obituaries for Mick O'Riordan