Michael O'Riordan

Michael O'Riordan
Michael O'Riordan
Personal details
Born 12 November 1917(1917-11-12)
Cork, Ireland
Died 18 May 2006(2006-05-18) (aged 88)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Communist Party of Ireland
Spouse(s) Kay Keohane
Children 3
Religion none (atheist) (baptised as a Roman Catholic)

Michael O'Riordan (Irish: Mícheál Ó Ríordáin, 12 November 1917 – 18 May 2006) was the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland (3rd) and also fought with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.


Early life

O'Riordan was born at 37 Pope's Quay, Cork City, on 11 November 1917. He was the youngest of five children. His parents came from the West Cork Gaeltacht of Ballingeary-Gougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it was not until O'Riordan was interned in the Curragh camp during the Second World War that he learnt Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain who went on to lecture in Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, he joined the republican youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army. The IRA at the time was inclined towards left wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity at the time concerned street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and O'Riordan fought Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork City in 1933-34. O'Riordan was friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he followed them into the Republican Congress - a short-lived socialist republican party.

Spanish Civil War and Second World War

O'Riordan joined the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and worked on the communist newspaper Socialist Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O'Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, went to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They were motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O'Duffy who went to Spain to fight on the "nationalist" side in the Irish Brigade. O'Riordan accompanied a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic's final offensive of July 25, 1938, O'Riordan carried the flag of Catalunya across the River Ebro. On August 1, he was severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He was repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades were disbanded.

In 1938 O'Riordan was offered an Irish Army Commission by the Irish Free State but chose instead to train IRA units in Cork. As a result of his IRA activities, during the Second World War, or the Emergency as it was known in neutral Ireland, he was interned in the Curragh internment camp from 1939 until 1943 where he was Officer Commanding of the Cork Hut and partook in Máirtín Ó Cadhain's Gaelic League classes as well as publishing Splannc (Irish for "Spark," named after Lenin's newspaper).

Political activism

In 1944 he was founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 was a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party,[1] whose other notable members included Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.[2] [3]

O'Riordan subsequently worked as a bus conductor in Cork and was active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1947 he stood as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in Cork [1] and afterwards moved to Dublin where he lived in Victoria St with his wife Kay, continued to work as a bus conductor and remained active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union.

In 1947, O'Riordan was a founding secretary of the Irish Workers' League and General Secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers' Party from 1962-1970.

In the 1960s, he was a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitated for clearances of Dublin's slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriended Fr Austin Flannery, leading the then Finance Minister and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as "a gullible cleric" [4] while the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Kevin Boland, described him as a "so-called cleric" [5] for sharing a platform with O'Riordan.

In all he ran for election five times, campaigning throughout for the establishment of a socialist republic in Ireland but given Ireland's Catholic conservatism and fear of communism, he did so without success. He did, however, receive playwright Sean O'Casey's endorsement in 1951.

O'Casey wrote: "Mr O'Riordan is his own message. He has nothing to sell but his soul. But he hasn't done that, though he will be told he'll lose it by holding on to it."[6]

O'Riordan's participation in the Spanish Civil War was always an important part of his political identity. In 1966 he attended the International Brigades' Reunion in Berlin and was instrumental in having Frank Ryan's remains repatriated from Germany to Ireland in 1979.

He was a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attended the 1st Party Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 1984. He also campaigned on behalf of the Birmingham 6 and attended their Appeal trial in 1990. O'Riordan served between 1970-1983 he served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland and from 1983-1988 he served as National Chairman of the party and published many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

His last major public outing came in 2005 at the re-dedication of the memorial outside Dublin's Liberty Hall to the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. He and other veterans were received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese.[7] He was also presented with Cuba's Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.[8]

Operation Splash

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O'Riordan was approached by IRA leaders Cathal Goulding and Seamus Costello with a view to obtaining guns from the Soviet KGB to defend Irish republican areas of Belfast during the communal violence that marked the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O'Riordan then contacted the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms did not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation was known as Operation Splash.[9]

O'Riordan allegedly wrote: "Dear Comrades, I would like to outline in written form a request for assistance in acquiring the following types of arms: 2,000 assault rifles (7.62mm) and 500 rounds of ammunition for each; 150 hand-held machine-guns (9mm) and 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each."[6]

The IRA had split in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it was the latter faction who received the Soviet arms.[10] Mitrokhin's allegations were repeated in Boris Yeltsin's autobiography but are dismissed by some close to O'Riordan who claim he was consistently opposed the use of "armed struggle" in Northern Ireland.

Connolly Column

His book Connolly Column - The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939, published in 1979, dealt with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book was reprinted in 2005 and was launched by the Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book was the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore's famous song Viva la Quinta Brigada.[11]

Moore said: “Without Michael O’Riordan I’d never have been able to write Viva la Quince Brigada. I must have performed the song over a thousand times and every single time I sing it I think of Mick and wonder how can I ever thank him enough. In Spain in 1983 I was reading his book, Connolly Column – the story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic, and I began this song as I read on. The song was lifted entirely from his book.”

Later life and death in 2006

In 1991, O'Riordan's wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, County Cork died at their home aged 81. He continued to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lived nearby. He lived there until falling ill in November 2005 and was taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorated and he quickly developed Alzheimer's disease. Soon afterwards he was moved to St. Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spent the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88.

O'Riordan's funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium was attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Rd, hundreds turned up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic ground to a halt as family, friends and comrades - many of whom were waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland - escorted O'Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony took place led by Manus O'Riordan (Head of Research at SIPTU) with contributions from O'Riordan's family, Communist Party General Secretary Eugene McCartan and IBMT representative Pauline Frasier.

The funeral congregation included politicians such as Labour Party leader Pat Rabbitte, his predecessor Ruairi Quinn, party front-bencher Joan Burton; Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe and councillor Larry O'Toole; ex-Workers' Party leader Tomás Mac Giolla and former Fianna Fáil MEP Niall Andrews. Also in attendance were union leaders Jack O'Connor (SIPTU), Mick O'Reilly (ITGWU) and David Begg (ICTU). Actors Patrick Bergin, Jer O'Leary; singer Ronnie Drew; artist Robert Ballagh; newsreader Anne Doyle were also among the mourners. Tributes and were paid by President of Ireland Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Labour Party TDs Ruairi Quinn and Michael D. Higgins.


  1. ^ a b Political Parties in the Republic of Ireland by Michael Gallagher. Manchester University Press,1985 (pg. 97-8).
  2. ^ Buried Alive in Ireland by Derry Kelleher. Justice Books, 2001 (pgs. vi,36, 76).
  3. ^ Máire Keohane-Sheehan was the sister of O'Riordan's wife Kay Keohane-O'Riordan [1].
  4. ^ http://www.independent.ie/obituaries/fr-austin-flannery-1517410.html
  5. ^ http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/obituaries/2008/1025/1224838823088.html
  6. ^ a b "Michael O'Riordan". The Daily Telegraph (London). 27 May 2006. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1519535/Michael-ORiordan.html. Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  7. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20091028150416/http://geocities.com/irelandscw/org-IBMTPres.htm
  8. ^ http://www.solidnet.org/cgi-bin/agent?parties/0160=britain,_new_communist_party_of_britain/209ncpb11nov05.doc
  9. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20091028092141/http://www.geocities.com/irelandSCW/obit-MoRDTelegraph.htm
  10. ^ (Mitrokhin archives p492-493 and p501)
  11. ^ http://www.siptu.ie/Resources/SIPTUPublications/ArchivedSIPTUpublications/Name,4047,en.html

External links

Party political offices
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the Irish Workers' League
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the Irish Workers' Party
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Preceded by
New position
General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland
Succeeded by
James Stewart
Preceded by
Andy Barr
Chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland
Succeeded by
Andy Barr

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