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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 Neil Hannon, Northern Irish Singer & Songwriter

Edward Neil Anthony Hannon, Northern Irish singer and songwriter, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, on November 7, 1970. He is the creator and front man of the chamber pop group The Divine Comedy, and is the band’s sole constant member. He is the writer of the theme tunes for the television sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd.

Hannon is the son of Brian Hannon, a Church of Ireland minister in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and later Bishop of Clogher. He spends some of his youth in Fivemiletown, County Tyrone, before moving with his family to Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, in 1982. While there he attends Portora Royal School.

Hannon enjoys synthesizer-based music as a youngster. He identifies The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) as “the first music that really excited [him].” In the late 1980s he develops a fondness of the electric guitar, becoming an “indie kid.”

Hannon is founder and mainstay of The Divine Comedy, a band which achieves their biggest commercial success in the last half of the 1990s with the albums Casanova (1996), A Short Album About Love (1997), and Fin de Siècle (1998). He continues to release albums under The Divine Comedy name, the most recent being Office Politics (2019). In 2000 he and Joby Talbot contribute four tracks for Ute Lemper‘s collaboration album, Punishing Kiss.

In 2004 Hannon plays alongside the Ulster Orchestra for the opening event of the Belfast Festival at Queen’s University Belfast. In 2005, he contributes vocals to his long-time collaborator Joby Talbot’s soundtrack for the movie version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

In 2006 it is announced that Hannon is to lend his vocal ability to the Doctor Who soundtrack CD release, recording two songs – “Love Don’t Roam” for the 2006 Christmas special, “The Runaway Bride“, and a new version of “Song For Ten”, originally used in 2005’s “The Christmas Invasion.” On January 12, 2007, The Guardian website’s “Media Monkey” diary column reports that Doctor Who fans from the discussion forum on the fan website Outpost Gallifrey are attempting to organise mass downloads of the Hannon-sung “Love Don’t Roam,” which is available as a single release on the UK iTunes Store. This is in order to attempt to exploit the new UK Singles Chart download rules, and get the song featured in the Top 40 releases.

The same year Hannon adds his writing and vocal talents to the Air album Pocket Symphony, released in the United States on March 6, 2007. He is featured on the track “Somewhere Between Waking and Sleeping,” for which he writes the lyrics. This song had been originally written for and sung by Charlotte Gainsbourg on her album, 5:55. Though it is not included in its 2006 European release, it is added as a bonus track for its American release on April 24, 2007.

Hannon wins the 2007 Choice Music Prize for his 2006 album, Victory for the Comic Muse. He wins the 2015 Legend Award from the Oh Yeah organisation in Belfast.

Hannon is credited with composing the theme music for the sitcoms Father Ted and The IT Crowd, the former theme composed for the show and later reworked into “Songs of Love,” a track on The Divine Comedy’s breakthrough album Casanova. Both shows are created or co-created by Graham Linehan. A new Divine Comedy album, Bang Goes the Knighthood, is released in May 2010.

Hannon has collaborated with Thomas Walsh, from the Irish band Pugwash, to create a cricket-themed pop album under the name The Duckworth Lewis Method. The first single, “The Age of Revolution,” is released in June 2009, and a full-length album is released the following week. The group’s second album, Sticky Wickets, comes out in 2013.

Hannon contributes to a musical version of Swallows and Amazons, writing the music while Helen Edmundson writes the book and lyrics, which premiers in December 2010 at the Bristol Old Vic.

In April 2012 Hannon’s first opera commission, Sevastopol, is performed by the Royal Opera House. It is part of a program called OperaShots, which invites musicians not typically working within the opera medium to create an opera. Sevastopol is based upon Leo Tolstoy‘s Sevastopol Sketches. Hannon’s second opera for which he writes music, In May, premiers in May 2013 in Lancaster and is shown in 2014 with overwhelming success.

The world premiere of “To Our Fathers in Distress,” a piece for organ, is performed on March 22, 2014, in London, at the Royal Festival Hall. It is inspired by Hannon’s father, Rt. Revz. Brian Hannon, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Hannon’s partner is Irish musician Cathy Davey. The couple live in the Dublin area. He is previously married to Orla Little, with whom he has a daughter, Willow Hannon. With Davey, Hannon is a patron of the Irish animal charity My Lovely Horse Rescue, named after the Father Ted Eurovision song for which he wrote the music.

Politically, Hannon describes himself as being “a thoroughly leftie, Guardian-reading chap, but of the champagne socialist variety.”