Stephen Morris in the Daily Mail, May 19, 2006 Friday

The last Communist
Spanish Civil War hero O'Riordan dies at 88

HIS LIFE was spent fighting for a cause that, long before his death yesterday at the ripe old age of 88, had been abandoned by all but a handful of his fellow comrades.

But, right to the end, Michael O'Riordan remained as committed to his communist beliefs and as unconcerned by their unpopularity as he was in 1936, when at the age of 18 he signed up to fight Franco's fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.

He was one of a band of 200 Irish men fighting fascism; some 750 of his countrymen had rallied to the calls of the Catholic Church and Blueshirt leader General Eoin O'Duffy to fight on the other side.

Today, just one of the young men who fought alongside Mick O'Riordan is left, 88-year-old Bob Doyle.

Despite being castigated by society for taking part in the conflict, Mick's life in the wake of the conflict was marked by social action and loyal Marxism.

In the Sixties he became a pivotal figure in the push to clear Dublin's tenement slums, and in the Eighties he was a leading campaigner to free the Birmingham Six.

From a tiny office in Dublin's Temple Bar, he ran the Communist Party of Ireland for many years even after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the inefficiencies, brutality and sheer futility of the Communist system were exposed to the world.

Born in the Cork Gaeltacht of Ballinderry, Gouganbarra, O'Riordan grew up in Cork city and as a teenager joined the Fianna (the IRA's youth wing) and the IRA.

His early friends were the socialist Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan, the IRA man who was later to make an abortive attempt during World War II to enlist Nazi support for the Irish republican cause.

O'Riordan joined the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and worked on communist newspaper the Socialist Voice before enrolling in the Connolly Column of the International Brigade.

Wounded at the Ebro, O'Riordan was offered an Army commission by the Irish Free State on his return to Ireland in 1938 but chose instead to train IRA units.

At the end of 1946 O'Riordan and his wife Kay Keohane, also a member of the CPI, spent their honeymoon visiting Irish republican prisoners in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.

He worked as a bus driver in Cork and was active in the ITGWU. In 1947 he stood as a Socialist Party candidate and afterwards moved to Dublin.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he was one of many men from the International Brigades who had been honoured for joining the fight for democracy.

'[Mr O'Riordan was] one of those who were willing to make an enormous sacrifice in the fight for democracy in Spain in the Thirties,' he said.

'He was a fearless fighter for the Labour movement throughout his life.' The Taoiseach also conveyed his sympathies to Mr O'Riordan's son Manus and daughter Brenda.

Former Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn described him as a hero. He said Mr O'Riordan had always worked for a prosperous Ireland that was 'free and fair, compassionate and tolerant'.

'The fact that such sentiments are now taken as normal is a measure of the change brought about by the courage of the likes of O'Riordan,' he added.

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