O’Riordan admirers

Tommy McKearney writing in Daily Ireland, 23/05/2006

Seventy years after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Cork-born veteran of the International Brigades, Mick O’Riordan, was laid to rest last Saturday. As sometimes happens with those who live long, O’Riordan’s passing was marked not only by his admirers but somewhat more questionably, with words of regret from the Establishment that had often excoriated him during his active years. Bertie Ahern, for example, lauded the old communist’s commitment to social justice but didn’t say that a previous FF administration had interned him for years.

While some of the eulogies may be just good manners, it is, nevertheless, best looking beyond them and reflecting on the life of a man who sought to encapsulate all that is best in the Irish radical tradition.

Crucial to an understanding of that tradition and the man who struggled to uphold it, was his decision in 1936 to volunteer for service on the republican side in the Spanish Civil War. Contrary to what some say, O’Riordan and his comrades did not go there to fight for communism but to defend an elected democracy against fascism. Nor was his enrolment in the International Brigade a romantic whim. His stance was, instead, in keeping with a significant constituency within radical Irish political life that eschews nationalism and in its place espouses democracy, republicanism and socialism.

The young O’Riordan understood that the essential dynamic of republicanism is democracy and that, in turn, only socialism can prevent a wealthy elite holding disproportionate influence in a formal parliamentary environment. He recognised, therefore, that Franco’s attack on the Spanish republic undermined the cause of republican democracy everywhere. When the International Brigades were disbanded, O’Riordan returned to Ireland and thereafter campaigned tirelessly on behalf of working people as a member of the trade union movement, in various pressure groups and as leader of the Communist Party of Ireland.

Not all republicans in Ireland are as clear about the need to actively promote republican democracy along with socialism while simultaneously rejecting nationalism. Not so Michael O’Riordan. Whatever his faults, he always fought to fuse democracy with republicanism and socialism.

More articles/obituaries for Mick O'Riordan.