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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Michael O’Riordan, Founder of the Communist Party of Ireland

Michael O’Riordan, the founder of the Communist Party of Ireland who also fights with the Connolly Column in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, is born at 37 Pope’s Quay, Cork, County Cork, on November 12, 1917.

O’Riordan is the youngest of five children. His parents come from the West Cork Gaeltacht of BallingearyGougane Barra. Despite his parents being native speakers of the Irish language, it is not until he is interned in the Curragh Camp during World War II that he learns Irish, being taught by fellow internee Máirtín Ó Cadhain, who goes on to lecture at Trinity College, Dublin.

As a teenager, O’Riordan joins the Irish nationalist youth movement, Fianna Éireann, and then the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The IRA at the time is inclined toward left-wing politics and socialism. Much of its activity concerns street fighting with the quasi-fascist Blueshirt movement and he fights Blueshirt fascism on the streets of Cork in 1933–34. He is friends with left-wing inclined republicans such as Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, and in 1934, he follows them into the Republican Congress, a short-lived socialist republican party.

O’Riordan joins the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and works on the communist newspaper The Irish Workers’ Voice. In 1937, following the urgings of Peadar O’Donnell, several hundred Irishmen, mostly IRA or ex-IRA men, go to fight for the Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War with the XVth International Brigade. They are motivated in part by enmity towards the 800 or so Blueshirts, led by Eoin O’Duffy who go to Spain to fight on the “nationalist” side in the Irish Brigade. He accompanies a party led by Frank Ryan. In the Republic’s final offensive of July 25, 1938, he carries the flag of Catalonia across the River Ebro. On August 1, he is severely injured by shrapnel on the Ebro front. He is repatriated to Ireland the following month, after the International Brigades are disbanded.

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

In 1944 O’Riordan is founding secretary of the Liam Mellows Branch of the Labour Party and in 1945 is a founding secretary of the Cork Socialist Party, whose other notable members include Derry Kelleher, Kevin Neville and Máire Keohane-Sheehan.

O’Riordan subsequently works as a bus conductor in Cork and is active in the Irish Transport and General Workers Union (ITGWU). In 1946 he stands as a Cork Socialist Party candidate in the Cork Borough by-election and afterwards moves to Dublin where he lives in Victoria Street with his wife Kay Keohane of Clonakilty, continues to work as a bus conductor and remains active in the ITGWU.

In 1947, O’Riordan is a founding secretary of the Irish Workers’ League and general secretary thereafter, and of its successor organisation the Irish Workers’ Party from 1962–70.

In the 1960s, O’Riordan is a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee which agitates for clearances of Dublin’s slums and for the building of social housing. There, he befriends Fr. Austin Flannery, leading Minister for Finance and future Taoiseach Charles Haughey to dismiss Flannery as “a gullible cleric” while the Minister for Local Government, Kevin Boland, describes him as a “so-called cleric” for sharing a platform with O’Riordan.

In all O’Riordan runs 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 does so without success. He does, however, receive playwright Sean O’Casey‘s endorsement in 1951.

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

O’Riordan is a member of the Irish Chile Solidarity Committee and attends the 1st Party Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba in 1984. He also campaigns on behalf of the Birmingham Six and attends their Appeal trial in 1990. He serves as General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland (1970–83) and as National Chairman of the party (1983–88). He publishes many articles under the auspices of the CPI.

O’Riordan’s last major public outing comes 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 are received by President of Ireland Mary McAleese. He is also presented with Cuba’s Medal of Friendship by the Cuban Consul Teresita Trujillo to Ireland on behalf of Cuban President Fidel Castro.

In 1969, according to Soviet dissident Vasili Mitrokhin, O’Riordan is 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 marks the outbreak of the Troubles. Mitrokhin alleges that O’Riordan then contacts the Kremlin, but the consignment of arms does not reach Ireland until 1972. The operation is known as Operation Splash. The IRA splits in the meantime between the Provisional IRA and the Official IRA and it is the latter faction who receives the Soviet arms. Mitrokhin’s allegations are repeated in Boris Yeltsin‘s autobiography.

O’Riordan’s book, Connolly Column – The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936–1939, is published in 1979 and deals with the Irish volunteers of the International Brigade who fought in support of the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). An updated version of the book is reprinted in 2005 and is launched by the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr. Michael Conaghan at a book launch at SIPTU headquarters, Liberty Hall. The book is the inspiration for Irish singer-songwriter Christy Moore‘s famous song “Viva la Quinta Brigada.”

In 1991, O’Riordan’s wife dies at the age of 81 at their home. He continues to live in their family home before moving to Glasnevin in 2000 to be close to his son Manus who lives nearby. He lives there until falling ill in November 2005 and is taken to the Mater Hospital. His health rapidly deteriorates and he quickly develops Alzheimer’s disease. Soon afterwards he is moved to St. Mary’s Hospital in the Phoenix Park where he spends the final few months of his life, before his death at the age of 88 on May 18, 2006.

O’Riordan’s funeral at Glasnevin Crematorium is attended by over a thousand mourners. Following a wake the previous night at Finglas Road, hundreds turn up outside the house of his son Manus and traffic grounds to a halt as family, friends and comrades – many of whom are waving the red flag of the Communist Party of Ireland – escort O’Riordan to Glasnevin Cemetery. A secular ceremony takes 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 includes 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 are 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, and newsreader Anne Doyle are also among the mourners. Tributes are 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.


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Birth of Luis de Lacy, Spanish Soldier of Irish Descent

Luis Roberto de Lacy, a Spanish professional soldier of Irish descent who serves in the Spanish and French Imperial armies, is born on January 11, 1775 in San Roque, Cádiz, Spain.

De Lacy is born to Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick de Lacy, an officer in the Ultonia or Ulster Regiment, a foreign unit or Infantería de línea extranjera of the Spanish army. Patrick dies sometime before 1785 and his wife, Antonia, remarries Jean Gautier, another Ultonia officer. His grandfather, General Patrick de Lacy y Gould, came from Limerick. Along with many relatives, he was part of the post-1691 Irish diaspora known as the Flight of the Wild Geese.

De Lacy is commissioned into the Ultonia regiment when he is ten, although his age is recorded as thirteen to satisfy minimum requirements. Issuing commissions to children is not unusual, as they are considered private investments and often used to provide pensions for orphans. Although by now the Ultonia is no longer “Irish,” many of the officers are Spanish-born descendants of the original Irish emigrants, including his uncle Francis and various cousins.

In 1789, de Lacy joins an expedition to Puerto Rico, accompanied by his stepfather. They apparently quarrel and on their return, de Lacy walks to Porto, in Portugal, intending to take ship to the Maluku Islands, before his stepfather brings him home.

Promoted captain, de Lacy takes part in the War of the Pyrenees against France, which ends with the April 1795 Peace of Basel. He is posted to the Canary Islands in 1799, where he fights a duel with the local Capitán-General. Despite being transferred to El Hierro, he continues their feud. He is court-martialed as a result and sentenced to one year in the Royal Prison at the Concepción Arsenal at Cádiz.

De Lacy’s jailers allegedly consider him mentally unbalanced. As a result, he is stripped of his commission and barred from re-enlisting in the Spanish army. He moves to France in order to continue his career and is appointed captain in the Irish Legion, a French army unit formed in Brittany and intended to support an Irish rising. Although many of its officers are Irish exiles or of Irish descent, the rank and file are mostly Polish.

When the proposed rebellion fails to materialise, the Legion is posted to the Netherlands, where it remains until the War of the Third Coalition ends in 1806. De Lacy is appointed commandant of the second battalion, which participates in the 1807 Invasion of Portugal. In March 1808, Charles IV of Spain abdicates in favour of his son, Ferdinand, who is replaced in May by Joseph Bonaparte and held in France.

De Lacy arrives in Madrid shortly before the May 1808 revolt known as the Dos de Mayo. He deserts and is reinstated in the Spanish army as colonel of the Burgos regiment.

In July 1809, de Lacy is given command of the Isla de León, an important defensive position in Cádiz, home of the Regency Council that rules Spain in Ferdinand’s absence. He leads the 1st Division at the Battle of Ocaña on November 19, 1809. The collapse of the Spanish cavalry under Manuel Freire de Andrade exposes him to a flank attack that practically annihilates his division. A second defeat at Alba de Tormes on November 29 leaves the Spanish unable to confront the French in open battle and they resort to guerrilla tactics.

Although Cádiz is besieged by the French from February 1810 to August 1812, support from the Royal Navy allows the Council to send small amphibious expeditions intended to bolster resistance elsewhere. De Lacy leads landings in Algeciras, Ronda, Marbella and Huelva and although unable to hold them, this absorbs French resources. In March 1811, his troops support an Anglo-Spanish attempt to break the siege of Cádiz. The resulting Battle of Barrosa is a significant victory, although command failures mean the siege continues.

After the loss of Tarragona in June 1811, de Lacy replaces the Marquess of Campoverde as Capitán-General of Catalonia, a position held by his uncle Francis from 1789 to 1792. French efforts to capture Valencia weaken them elsewhere and provide the Spanish opportunities for partisan warfare. He leads a series of incursions into the French departments of Haute-Garonne and Ariège. These restore local morale and force the French to send reinforcements.

Most major towns, including Barcelona, Tarragona and Lleida, remain in French hands and in early 1812, Napoleon makes Catalonia part of France. The focus on guerrilla tactics lead to an increasingly bitter war of reprisals and executions by both sides, which severely impact the civilian population. Many of the partisan bands are beyond central control and their operations often indistinguishable from simple brigandage. This leads to conflict between de Lacy and local Catalan leaders and in January 1813, he moves to Santiago de Compostela as Captain General of the Kingdom of Galicia. He assumes command of the Reserva de Galicia, which he focuses on disciplining and reorganising. Following Allied victory at Vitoria in June 1813, the French withdraw from Spain and Ferdinand returns to Madrid in April 1814.

Ferdinand rejects a previous commitment to accept the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and establishes an absolutist regime. Spain also faces colonial wars in the Americas, which begin in 1810 and continue until 1833. This destabilises the regime and leads to a series of attempted coups, by military officers like de Lacy backed by progressive civilian elements, often linked by Freemasonry.

Following failed attempts in 1815 and 1816, de Lacy returns to Barcelona and assisted by a former subordinate, Francisco Milans del Bosch, plan another. This begins on April 5, 1817 but quickly collapses. De Lacy is captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to death. Following public protests against the sentence, he is secretly taken to Palma de Mallorca, held at Bellver Castle and executed there by firing squad on July 5, 1817.

In 1820, a revolt led by Colonel Rafael del Riego forces Ferdinand to restore the 1812 Constitution. This begins the Trienio Liberal, a period of liberalisation that ends in 1823, when a French army allows Ferdinand to re-assert control. However, in 1820 the reconstituted Cortes Generales declares de Lacy a martyr. Along with others including Riego, he is commemorated on a plaque in the Palacio de las Cortes, Madrid, which can still be seen today. De Lacy is buried at the Cementiri de Sant Andreu, in Barcelona.


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The Battle of Landen

CREATOR: gd-jpeg v1.0 (using IJG JPEG v62), quality = 85During the Nine Years’ War, units of the Irish Brigade of France fight at the Battle of Landen, also known as Neerwinden, on July 29, 1693 against the forces of William III of England, their nemesis from the Battle of the Boyne. It is fought around the village of Neerwinden in the Spanish Netherlands, now part of the municipality of Landen, Belgium.

After four years, all combatants are struggling to cope with the financial and material costs of the war. Hoping to end the war through a negotiated peace, Louis XIV of France decides to first improve his position by taking the offensive in the Rhineland, Catalonia and Flanders.

William has some 50,000 English, Dutch, German, and Spanish troops against about 80,000 French troops under Marshal Luxembourg, French commander in Flanders. William’s army has a strong defensive position to compensate for its numerical inferiority.

Luxembourg outmaneuvers the Allies. By doing so, he achieves local superiority and traps William’s army in an extremely dangerous position, with a river to their rear. Most of the fighting takes place on the Allied right, which protects the only bridge over the river, which is strongly fortified and holds the bulk of their artillery. On the French left flank, James FitzJames, 1st Duke of Berwick, and Patrick Sarsfield command in the assault on the village of Neerwinden, which they capture and lose twice before finally holding it.

The French assault the Allied position three times before the Gardes Françaises and the french cavalry under Antoine de Pas de Feuquières finally penetrate the Allied defences and drive William’s army from the field in a rout. The battle is, however, quite costly for both sides. The Irish win a measure of revenge against the victor of the Boyne, but it comes at a heavy price. Sarsfield, the defender of Limerick two years earlier, beloved by the Irish soldiers, is wounded and dies of his wounds three days later at Huy in Belgium, where he is buried in the grounds of St. Martin’s Church.

The French fail to follow up on their victory. The bulk of the Allied army escapes, although most of their artillery is abandoned. Like Steenkerque the previous year, Landen is yet another French victory that fails to achieve the decisive result needed to end the war. The Allies quickly replace their losses, leaving the overall position unchanged.

It is during this battle that, seeing the French determination to gain the high ground in spite of the murderous Allied volleys, William exclaims “Oh! That insolent nation!”