Funeral service of, and tributes to, the Irish brigadista Michael O'Riordan (1917-2006)
Firstly, I want to especially thank Ciaran Crossey for immediately informing all of you - who are on the correspondence list of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archives Digest - of the death of my father Michael O'Riordan on May 18. Resulting messages of condolence from Spain, the USA, Britain, Germany and elsewhere - not to mention Ireland itself - were indeed most heartwarming. My father passed on, inspired as ever by the guiding star of his life's work, as facing him on the wall of his hospital cubicle was a copy of the Harry Kernoff woodcut of James Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army that had consecutively graced each of his Dublin homes 1947-1999 and 1999-2006, side by side with a copy of the portrait of James Connolly, against a background of red, that only six days previously - on May 12, the 90th anniversary of Connolly's execution by the British Government - had covered every groundfloor window of my own place of work - Liberty Hall, headquarters of the Union of which Connolly himself had been leader and my father subsequently a busworker member, the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union - nowadays SIPTU ( the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union).
Just as the funeral of my late mother Kay Keohane O'Riordan in 1991 had honoured and respected her convictions as both a convinced Christian and a convinced Communist, so the form taken by my father's funeral was that of one who remained a convinced atheist and a convinced Communist to the very end of his life. On May 19 he received a traditional Irish wake in our home - a mixture of the sorrows of parting and the uproarious and joyful laughter of recall, and all combined with music and song - a true celebration of life! My father was laid out with the flag of Connolly's Plough and the Stars at his head, while draped across his remains were both the green, white and orange tricolour flag of the Irish Republic and the memorial banner of the Connolly Column, 15th Brigada Internacional, in the red, yellow and purple colours of the Spanish Republic.
It is a measure of the respect in which my father was held by a diversity of Irish traditions that present at his wake were three clergymen who were good personal friends as well as for over four decades working alongside him on social campaigns both in respect of Ireland itself and on internationalist solidarity campaigns - such as those with the peoples of South Africa and Cuba. These were two Catholic priests - the Dominican Father Austin Flannery and the Jesuit Father Michael O'Sullivan - and the Presbyterian minister, the Reverend Terence McCaughey. Also present were prominent members of the Jewish community, led by Mervyn Taylor, former Vice-Chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, former Chairman of the Irish Labour Party and a former member of the Irish Government as Minister of Equality and Law Reform. Asher Benson, founding archivist of the Irish Jewish Museum - located in the former synagogue just one block from where my father had spent 52 years of his life - also added his own appropriately-coloured personal tribute: "Two Red Bricks to provide facilities and comforts for the benefit of the residents of the Jewish Home of Ireland ... sharing the sadness at the passing of Michael - the Grand Old Man".
My father had been founding General Secretary of the Irish Workers' League / Irish Workers' Party (1947-1970). founding General Secretary of the reunified Communist Party of Ireland (1970-1983) and subsequently its National Chairman. It was, accordingly, most appropriate that at his funeral on May 20 the most colourful and spectacular tribute was provided by the CPI's Red Flag guard of honour. Since our own home is situated on the same road as the cemetery itself, a sizable proportion of the 500 people participating in the funeral tribute were able to process on foot along the full route covered by the cortege, immediately behind the coffin itself, which in turn was carried shoulder-high for most of the way. At the overflow service in Glasnevin Crematorium CPI General Secretary Eugene McCartan led that party's tribute, while Pauline Fraser spoke on behalf of the International Brigade Memorial Trust. Traditional musician Noel Pocock played the same funeral march on the Irish uileann pipes that he had played during the International Brigade Memorial Trust commemoration at the Glasnevin Cemetery grave of Irish International Brigade leader Frank Ryan last October 16, the very last public ceremony to be attended by my father before his hospitalisation on November 24 for the remaining six months of his life. [ See the reports here. ]
Central to my father's funeral service - in the form of harp music and song, mandolin music, poetry and fond reminiscences - were the personal contributions from each and every member of his family : my sister Brenda and myself, my wife Annette and my brother-in-law Tony, together with all five of Michael's grandchildren - Jessica, Neil, Dara, Caitriona and Luke. Since my father had been wounded on August 1, 1938 on Hill 481 outside Gandesa, during the Spanish Republic's final Ebro offensive, it was particularly appropriate - given that its opening verse translates as: "If you wish to write to me, you already know my address, on the Gandesa front, in the first line of fire" - that the first song sung was:
Si me quieres escribir
My father's funeral service concluded with the singing of Connolly's "Rebel Song", which had been an anthem of the 15th International Brigade's British Battalion in Spain, and of "The Internationale", anthem of all of the International Brigades who defended the Spanish Republic against fascism. The numerous wreaths and other floral tributes to my father were in turn distributed between three neighbouring Glasnevin graves - that of Major Frank Ryan of the 15th Intetrnational Brigade; that of Father Michael O'Flanagan (radical Republican priest, chaplain to the first elected Parliament of the Irish Republic in 1919 during our War of Independence, Vice-President of Sinn Fein, friend and loyal supporter of the Spanish Republc 1936-1939); and that of Big Jim Larkin (founder of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union, of the Irish Labour Party and of the Communist Workers' Party of America).
The internationalist character of tributes paid was also underscored by the presence at the funeral of Noel Carrillo, Cuba's ambassador to Ireland; and that hotfooting it straight from the airport to offer his condolences was a former South African Government Minister and family friend of 40 years - Kader Asmal, founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement, Minister for Water Supply in President Nelson Mandela's first post-apartheid Government of South Africa, and subsequently South Africa's Minister for Education.
Thanks once again to Ciaran Crossey, correspondents can access the pdf version of my father's Memorial Booklet on his "Ireland and the Spanish Civil War" website via here:. Also click on the "Gallery" section of this site for some photos.
More photos from the funeral can be accessed at:
The funeral tribute by CPI General Secretary Eugene McCartan can be found here.
Particularly moving were the tributes that came from my father's fellow International Brigaders who - like him - had fought in the Spanish Anti-fascist War. Indeed, his Death Notice also entailed the announcement of the winner of a revolutionary slow bicycle race! For the past few years, conscious that they were the last two surviving Irish brigadistas, Bob Doyle and my father frequently joked about having a competition with each other as to which of them would actually go down in history as the very last one. When he came to terms with the fact thar his own lifetime's struggle was now approaching its end - and as he bade farewell to family members - my father added: "Good luck to Bob Doyle! He's the last man standing! " Indeed, this coming June 27 will see the launch here in Liberty Hall of Bob's own autobiography, Memoirs of a Rebel without a Pause (of which my father thought and spoke of so enthusiastically last summer, as he painstakingly read each page of the proofs from cover to cover), just as Liberty Hall had previously been the venue on March 16 of last year for the launch of the second edition of my father's own history of the Irish International Brigaders, "Connolly Column". And so it was Bob Doyle himself who had occasion to write:
Wounded along with my father on Hill 481 had been the International Brigade Memorial Trust's founding and current President, Jack James Larkin Jones, who went on to become the outstanding leader of Britain's Transport and General Workers' Union during the 1970s. Jack wrote:
"Dear Friends and Comrades,
From the USA came the following message:
"We send our deeply felt condolences to the family, comrades and friends on the death of Micheal O'Riordan. Joining in mourning the passing of our comrade are thousands in the U.S. who understand and appreciate the importance of the fight of the legally-elected government of Spain (1936-1939). It was a fight to change the policy of appeasement to one of anti-fascism. Had we succeeded, World War II could have been averted. Tens of thousands around the world recognize this unique effort. Mick O'Riordan was well-known as an internationalist who fought for peace and justice. We bow our heads in mourning! And we pledge that his fight, which is our fight, will go on.
Also in the USA, my father was remembered at a memorial service being held - on the same day as his funeral - in Poughkeepsie, New York, in honour of the International Brigade Lincoln vet Lou Gordon who had died on March 25.
From Spain itself came a message which, translated, reads as follows:
"I have just finished reading the news of Michael on the ALBA list and I wish to express to you and to all your family our condolences on this loss. We will always remember Mick as an honorable man full of humanity, a tireless fighter who came to Spain to defend liberty and justice. For that we will be eternally grateful and we will do everything possible to keep alive his memory for future generations. A strong embrace for all of you.
It was the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who had led the tributes in his native land:
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of your father Michael. I will long remember meeting with him, as one of the survivors of the Spanish Civil War, when he visited Aras an Uachtarain (the Presidential residence) last October. Throughout his life Michael O'Riordan was renowned as courageous and unflagging in his commitment to the rights of working people. He will be sadly missed by his many friends and admirers, and I wish to extend to you, and to your sister Brenda, my deepest sympathy on your sad loss. Yours sincerely, President Mary McAleese."
[For a photograph and account of the President of Ireland's reception last October 15 of International Brigaders Michael O'Riordan, Bob Doyle, Jack Edwards and Jack Edwards, see here. ]
The following statement was issued by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister of Ireland), Bertie Ahern, on May 18 itself:
"The Taoiseach has expressed regret at the death today of Michael O'Riordan. Mr Ahern said he had conveyed his good wishes to survivors of the International Brigades when they held their annual general meeting in Dublin just last October. Among those survivors was Michael O'Riordan to whom the Taoiseach paid tribute as one of those who was willing to make an enormous sacrifice in the fight for democracy in Spain in the 1930s. Michael O'Riordan was subsequently honoured by the Spanish Government for that commitment. The Taoiseach described the late Mr O'Riordan as a fearless fighter for the labour movement throughout his life and conveyed his sympathy to Mr O'Riordan's son Manus, who continues in his father's footsteps, and to Michael's daughter Brenda."
Most gratifying of all to Michael would, of course, have been the tributes that came from his own working class movement. See the tribute paid by Jack O'Connor, General President of Michael's own and Ireland's largest union SIPTU, and the tribute paid by David Begg, General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. Indeed, the leaders of the Irish trade union movement insisted on adjourning crucial national negotiations - that they were engaged in with both Government and employers - so that they might attend Michael's funeral.
See a personal tribute from the former Labour Party leader Ruairi Quinn and the address which he had invited my father to deliver to the Labour Party Conference in 2001.
Last October 15, on the occasion of the annual general meeting of the the International Brigade Memorial Trust being held in Liberty Hall, Cuba's charge d'affaires in Ireland, Teresita Trujillo, presented Michael O'Riordan with the Cuban Medal of Friendship that had been awarded to him by President Fidel Castro. On the occasion of Michael's funeral on May 20, Cuba's Ambassador to Ireland, Noel Carrillo, bought the following message:
"The Communist Party of Cuba conveys to the Communist Party of Ireland and to the O'Riordan family, its condolences on Michael's death. Michael was a true example of communist and internationalist. From a very young age, he linked his life with the noblest causes in the world, and the unforgettable experience of his participation in the Spanish Civil War, alongside fighters from many other countries, including Cuba, left an everlasting imprint that guided his entire life. His contribution to the Irish and international workers movement and his selfless and tireless activity will always be remembered and acknowledged. In Cuba Michael will always be remembered as a very special friend, who devoted his time and efforts to defend and support the struggle of our people and our Revolution, who led the European Contingent of Pastors for Peace to spread solidarity with Cuba within the U.S., who was always there when it was needed and who, with the strength of his presence and his example gave encouragement to those around him to continue fighting for the better world that mankind deserves."
Michael O'Riordan had been aged 80 when, in 1998, he undertook arduous journeys to Germany and from Spain to Cuba via Mexico, as the leader of the European Contingent travelling in support of U.S. Pastors for Peace and the transhipment of medical equipment and pharmaceuticals which these clergymen had organised in violation of the U.S. Government's blockade of Cuba. Accompanied by his eldest grandchild Jess, he stopped off en route in Mexico City in order to lay a wreath at the memorial to the San Patricio Battalion - those Irish volunteers who had fought and died defending Mexico against the U.S. invasion of 1846-48 - on behalf of the surviving Irish volunteers of the International Brigades Connolly Column who had fought in defence of the Spanish Republic.
Six decades previously, Michael O'Riordan had been aged 20 when he set foot for the very first time outside his native Ireland in order to clandestinely cross the Pyrenees mountains from France into Spain and commence service as an International Brigade volunteer in the Catalonian city of Figueres. This past Easter weekend I participated in the International Brigade Memorial Trust's 70th anniversary commemorative walk across the Pyrenees, accompanied by my wife Annette, daughter Jess, son Neil and his partner Sara. See for the text of my commemorative address - in both English and Spanish - in the Castell de Sant Ferran, Figueres, on Easter Sunday, April 16. (Aqui teneis tambien una version de mi discurso en espanol). This was just a month before my father's death, and in my address I conveyed from his hospital sick-bed in Dublin his greetings to that commemoration - los ultimos saludos de mi padre a las brigadas internacionales en Espana.
Manus O'Riordan firstname.lastname@example.org
An extensive compilation of obituaries and articles, etc. about Mick O'Riordan can be read here....
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