Boland is the son of Irish Republican Brotherhood member James Boland and Kate Woods. He was active in GAA circles in early life, and referees the 1914 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final. He joins the IRB at the same time as his older brother Gerald in 1904, following in the footsteps of his father, uncle and probably grandfather. He is educated at the Synge Street CBS, but hads a personality clash with one of the brothers so he refuses to carry on his attendance at the school. He then goes to De la Salle College, County Laois, as a novice.
In the 1922 Irish general election, Boland is re-elected to the Dáil representing Mayo South–Roscommon South. Six weeks later, on July 31, he is shot by soldiers of the National Army when they attempt to arrest him at the Skerries Grand Hotel. Two officers enter his room and, although unarmed, he is shot and mortally wounded during a struggle.
Boland’s death affects Collins and possibly spurs him toward peace negotiations with Éamon de Valera.
Boland’s brother, Gerald Boland, is a prominent member of Fianna Fáil and later serves as Minister for Justice. His nephew, Kevin Boland, serves as a Minister until he resigns in solidarity with the two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, who are sacked from the government in May 1970 during the Arms Crisis. Kevin Boland’s resignation from Fianna Fáil and the subsequent loss of his seat marks the end of an era for the Boland political dynasty.
In the 1991 TV movie The Treaty, Boland is portrayed by Malcolm Douglas. In the 1996 film Michael Collins, he is portrayed by American actor Aidan Quinn. The film is criticised for fictionalising both Boland’s death and Collins’ life.
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.
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 IrelandMary 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 Defence portfolio is largely considered a safe and uncontroversial position, so Boland makes only a small impact. As a Minister, he proudly displays a fáinne (gold ring) on the lapel of his jacket, which indicates that he is able and willing to speak the Irish language. He frequently conducts his governmental business in Irish. In 1961, he is moved from Defence to become the Minister for Social Welfare. He remains there until the retirement in 1966 of the Taoiseach, Seán Lemass, when Fianna Fáil faces the first leadership contest in its history. He is then appointed Minister for Local Government which post he holds until he leaves government in 1970.
The leadership race immediately erupts as a two-horse battle between Charles Haughey and George Colley. Both of these men epitomise the new kind of professional politician of the 1960s. Things change when Neil Blaney indicates his interest in running. Boland supports him in his campaign, as both men hail from the republican and left wing of the party. There is talk at one point of Boland himself entering the leadership race. In the end Jack Lynch is chosen as a compromise, and he becomes the new Taoiseach. Boland is made Minister for Local Government in the new cabinet.
In 1969, events in Northern Ireland cause political chaos over the border in Ireland. It is the start of The Troubles in Northern Ireland and Fianna Fáil’s policy with regard to the North is coming into question. One crisis meeting is held after another, in which the possibility of decisive action is discussed. The “hawks” in the cabinet urge a symbolic invasion of Northern Ireland to protect nationalists near the border, and to draw international attention, while the “doves”, who ultimately prevail, urged caution. These cabinet meetings are heated events. On one occasion Boland is alleged to have been so angry that he resigns not only his cabinet position but also his Dáil seat and goes home to his farm in County Dublin to make hay. The resignations are rejected by Taoiseach Jack Lynch after a calming-down period. In what becomes known as the Arms Crisis, two ministers, Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney, are sacked from the government in May 1970, for allegedly being involved in a plot to import arms for Republicans in the North. Boland resigns in solidarity with them and in protest about the government’s position on the North. Later that year his criticism of the Taoiseach (whom Boland and many others within the Party maintain had authorized the arms importation) leads to his expulsion from the Fianna Fáil party.
One of Boland’s most famous incidents takes place at the Fianna Fáil Ardfheis in 1971. Just before Jack Lynch’s speech Boland storms a nearby podium, interrupting Patrick Hillery in the middle of his speech. He openly defies the party leadership and his opponents, holding his arms wide open and shouting to the crowd, “Come on up and put me down.” While there is a lot of booing and clapping in an effort to drown him out, many of his supporters start cheering and chanting “We want Boland.” An enraged Patrick Hillery grabs his microphone and famously replies, “If you want a fight you can have it…You can have Boland, but you can’t have Fianna Fáil.” At this point the government supporters are ecstatic with cheering and Boland is carried out of the hall.
After this episode Boland founds his own political party, Aontacht Éireann (Irish Unity). It wins very little support and he fails to be elected to the Dáil in 1973, which effectively ends his political career. He and his colleagues resign from the party in 1976 after it is taken over by a number of far-right individuals. He remains an outspoken critic of the Republic’s Northern Ireland policy, particularly the Sunningdale Agreement. He makes one last attempt to reclaim a Dáil seat, standing unsuccessfully in the Dublin South-West constituency at the 1981 Irish general election. He then retires from public life completely.
In 1996, Boland sues the Irish Independent for libel after a January 20, 1993 article incorrectly states that he had appeared before the court in the Arms Trial in 1970 and had been dismissed as a Minister by Taoiseach Jack Lynch. He is awarded £75,000 in damages.
Kevin Boland dies at the age of 83 in Dublin on September 23, 2001 following a short illness.
Blaney is first elected to Dáil Éireann for the Donegal East constituency in a by-election in December 1948, following the death of his father from cancer. He also becomes a member of the Donegal County Council. He remains on the backbenches for a number of years before he is one of a group of young party members handpicked by Seán Lemass to begin a re-organisation drive for the party following the defeat at the 1954 general election. Within the party he gains fame by running the party’s by-election campaigns throughout the 1950s and 1960s. His dedicated bands of supporters earn the sobriquet “the Donegal Mafia,” and succeed in getting Desmond O’Malley and Gerry Collins elected to the Dáil.
Following Fianna Fáil’s victory at the 1957 general election, Éamon de Valera, as Taoiseach, brings new blood into the Cabinet in the shape of Blaney, Jack Lynch, Kevin Boland and Mícheál Ó Móráin. Blaney is appointed Minister for Posts and Telegraphs however he moves to the position of Minister for Local Government at the end of 1957 following the death of Seán Moylan. He retains the post when Lemass succeeds de Valera as Taoiseach in 1959. During his tenure it becomes possible to pay rates by installment and he also introduces legislation which entitles non-nationals to vote in local elections.
In 1966 Lemass resigns as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. The subsequent leadership election sees Cork politician Jack Lynch become party leader and Taoiseach. In the subsequent cabinet reshuffle Blaney is appointed Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries.
In 1969, when conflict breaks out in Northern Ireland, Blaney is one of the first to express strong Irish republican views, views which contradict the policy of the Irish Government, in support of Northern nationalists. From around late 1968 onwards, he forms and presides over an unofficial Nationalist group in Leinster House popularly known as “the Letterkenny Table.” The group is dominated by Blaney up until his death.
There is general surprise when, in an incident known as the Arms Crisis, Blaney, along with Charles Haughey, is sacked from Lynch’s cabinet amid allegations of the use of the funds to import arms for use by the IRA. Lynch asked for their resignations but both men refuse, saying they did nothing illegal. Lynch then advises President de Valera to sack Haughey and Blaney from the government. Haughey and Blaney are subsequently tried in court but are acquitted. However, many of their critics refuse to recognise the verdict of the courts. Although Blaney is cleared of wrongdoing, his ministerial career is brought to an end.
Lynch subsequently moves against Blaney so as to isolate him in the party. When Blaney and his supporters try to organise the party’s national collection independently, Lynch acts and in 1972 Blaney is expelled from Fianna Fáil for “conduct unbecoming.”
Following his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, Kevin Boland tries to persuade Blaney to join the Aontacht Éireann party he is creating but Blaney declines. Instead, he contests all subsequent elections for Independent Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party, an organisation that he built up. Throughout the 1970s there are frequent calls for his re-admittance to Fianna Fáil but the most vocal opponents of this move are Fianna Fáil delegates from County Donegal.