Richard O'Neill - An Appreciation

By Covenanter in Irish Democrat 4th September 1937

[Below we publish an appreciation by 'Covenanter' of Richard O'Neill, Belfast, whose death was reported in last week's Irish Democrat. He was killed in action at Jarama on February 14, fighting with the Spanish Government forces - ID Editor.]

I first knew of the death of Dickie O'Neill when I saw the Democrat last Friday. I was alone in the house at midnight when I read the list and it certainly came as a great shock to me, Dick was an old Christian Brother pupil and I knew him since boyhood. We swam together often in the Falls Baths and time and again we tramped the roads around Tornaroy. We used to exchange schoolboy literature, on which we were both authorities, and many a discussion we had on the merits of the 'boys of Greyfriars.'

When he was about sixteen Dick became more reserved and studious, and had, what we in our ignorance thought to be, odd ideas. He read a great deal and in his own quiet way became a shrewd and able debater.

Years after our schoolboy gang had broken up I met him again at Communist Party meetings. It was strange that we should meet again under the banner of Marx seeing that we were so different in many ways. Dick impressed everyone with his quiet determination and his hatred of the present system.

When the International Brigade was first formed, right from the start he was anxious to enlist. Party comrades tried to dissuade him as it was thought sufficient of the group had already left Belfast, but Dick would brook no refusal. He insisted on being sent, otherwise he said he would travel alone to Spain.

Before this determined stand our courageous young comrade could not be thwarted and so last year he sailed - to die for his beliefs inside three months. It is hard to think that we shall never see him again. I find it almost impossible to believe that we will ever meet again on the morning tram or to discuss the movement on our way home at night.

O'Neill was a great lad, and he died in a great cause. His example is an inspiration to us to work harder and be unflinching in the face of all danger. I have not yet heard the details of his death, but I know that he died as an Irish Communist would - fighting to the bitter end. In his life and death he kept up the traditions of the Communist Party. Along with so many other heroic comrades his sacrifice in Spain has shown that Proletarian steel is not a mere phrase but a grim reality.