A KEY figure in the Irish Communist Party, Michael O'Riordan, has died in Dublin following an illness.

Mr O'Riordan, who was one of just two surviving Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War, passed away yesterday morning, aged 88.

The Cork-born leader is survived by his son Manus and daughter Brenda.

His wife Kay Keohane died in December 1991.

A key figure in Irish Labour history, Mr O'Riordan was famously shot in Spain while with the 'Connolly Column', named after socialist leader James Connolly, which fought against General Franco's fascists from 1936-39.

During his later years, he was a well-known face in the historic Connolly Books on Lower Ormond Quay.

He was the longest serving general secretary of the Communist Party here. Towering

Announcing his death, the Communist Party said he was a towering figure in the Irish labour movement.

"He died peacefully in his sleep," a spokesperson said. He had suffered a minor heart attack recently.

Labour's Ruairi Quinn said he heard of Mr O'Riordan's death "with profound regret" and described him as a hero. "Michael O'Riordan was a leader of the struggle against fascism in Europe and a heroic veteran of the International Brigade that fought on the side of republicanism and democracy in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939," he said.

"As leader of the Labour Party I had the honour of ensuring he received a special citation at our 2001 national conference.

"Michael O'Riordan stood out against the tide of Irish conservatism and clerical domination that kept Ireland backward and isolated in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s." Mr O'Riordan was born in the West Cork Gaeltacht of Ballinderry, Gouganbarra in 1917.

He grew up in Cork city, where he joined the Fianna and the IRA. He also joined the Gaelic League and was a close friend of the founders of the 'Connolly Column', Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan. He joined the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and worked on the communist newspaper 'Socialist Voice'.

Following his service with the International Brigade in Spain, he was offered an army commission by the Irish Free State. Instead, he chose to train IRA units in Cork and was held in the Curragh Internment Camp from 1939 until 1943 by the de Valera government. At the end of 1946, O'Riordan and his wife spent their honeymoon visiting Irish republican prisoners in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. He also worked as a bus driver in Cork and was active in the IT&GWU.

In 1947 he stood as a Socialist Party candidate and later moved to Dublin where he was pivotal in the Dublin Housing Action Committee in the 1960s. He stood in five general elections as an independent.

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Mr O'Riordan was an inspiration to all those who knew him and will be sadly missed.

Labour councillor Dermot Lacey said Mr O'Riordan's "likes will seldom be seen again".

Anne-Marie Walsh

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