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                                             20th Century Ireland - Michael O'Riordan (1917-2006)


Michael O'Riordan was born in the West Cork Gaeltacht of Ballinderry, Gouganbarra. He grew up in Cork City where he joined the Fianna and the IRA. O'Riordan was a member of Republican Congress and the Gaelic League and was friends with Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan. He joined the Communist Party of Ireland in 1935 while still in the IRA and worked on the communist newspaper Socialist Voice.
In 1936 O'Riordan went to fight fascism in Spain with the 'Connolly Column' which was absorbed into the XVth International Brigade. He saw action on all Fronts and was wounded at Ebro.
O'Riordan was offered an Army Commission by the Irish Free State in 1938 but choose instead to train IRA units in Cork. He was interned in the Curragh Internment Camp from 1939 until 1943 where he was OC of the Cork Hut and partook in Mairtín O'Cadhain's Gaelic League classes as well as publishing 'Splannc' [Irish for Spark, named after Lenin's newspaper]. At the end of 1946 O'Riordan and his wife Kay Keohane, also a member of the CPI, spent their honeymoon visiting Irish republican prisoners in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight.
O'Riordan worked as a bus driver in Cork and was active in the IT&GWU. In 1947 he stood as a Socialist Party candidate and afterwards moved to Dublin where, in the 1960's he was a pivotal figure in the Dublin Housing Action Committee. O'Riordan attended the 1966 International Brigades' Reunion in Berlin and was instrumental in organising the removal of Frank Ryan's remains from Germany to Ireland in 1979.
O'Riordan 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 was long time Chairperson of the Communist Party of Ireland and published many articles under the auspices of the CPI.
This extract is from O'Riordan's Connolly's Column: The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939 (1979).©
Michael O'Riordan (1917-2006)

Michael O'Riordan (1917-2006)

After the rout on the Aragon Front in March 1938 in which [Frank] Ryan was captured, the remnants of the XV Brigade, tattered and exhausted hugged the far banks of the River Ebro as a haven. Along with the other Republican units they had received a terrible hammering. Despite that, they were determined to carry on the fight, making full use of the natural defenses offered by the river.
After a period there, the Brigade was withdrawn from the Ebro for a well earned rest, to return later for a further spell of duty there. On May 22nd, it was moved to the Balaguer area where a limited diversionary offensive had been launched by the Republican forces in an effort to recapture the hydro-electric station which supplied Barcelona with current. The XV Brigade was placed in a reserve position but was not called upon to help in the operation which was a limited success. It returned to the Ebro, to remain there until it was moved to a valley near Falset. This became known as 'Chabola Valley' because the volunteers, tipped off that their stay there would not be a short one, constructed somewhat comfortable shelters (chabolas) out of tree trunks, branches and foliage. The period there extended until July. It was utilised for the incorporation of new arrivals; the reorganisation of units; the development of an 'Activist' movement in the ranks which laid emphasis on setting emulative standards of discipline, training, better handling and care of weapons, and leadership and involvement in political discussions and classes....
It wasn't all military training and study in the valley. The various national groups took every opportunity to celebrate their appropiate anniversaries, the Americans had their 'Fourth of July' and the Canadians feasted their 'Dominion Day'. In late June the Irish had their celebration to coincide with the Annual Parade in Ireland to the grave of Wolfe Tone at Bodenstown.
To make it a worthy occasion a special committee was set up. It included four volunteers from Dublin, Liam McGregor, Alec Digges, Tome O'Brien and Eugene Dowling; Jimmy Straney and Hugh Hunter from the 'green' and 'orange' districts of Belfast; the Kerryman, Mick Lehane, and three from Cork, Michael O'Riordan [the author] and two O'Regans, not related, Jim and James F. They were helped in their task by two other Dubliners, Jack Nalty and Paddy Duff from the heavy Machine Gun Company.
Food was very scarce, but the Irish did not draw any rations for two days in order to provide the invited guests from other units with a 'banquet' of black rice-bread and mule meat. These were washed down with copious draughts of 'vine rojo' which had been collected earlier in the evening in a well scrubbed ash-bin from the nearby vinery at Marsa. Concern was expressed at the overdue arrival of the wine but eventually the two deliverers arrived, none too steady, with the explanation that the bin was found too heavy when full, so they had to lighten the load!
The celebration was opened with a speech from Bob Cooney (Scotland), the Battalion Political Commissar. He emphasised the national and internationalist aspects of Tone's life and teachings, and proposed the toast to 'The Father of Irish republicanism'. Thereafter many toast were drunk, and a combination of Spanish fiesta, Irish ceildhe and International folk song night soon developed. Jimmy Straney sang a favourite song of Belfast's Falls Road, 'The Four Flags of Ireland', another sang about the 'Boys of the County Cork' who 'Beat the Black and Tans, there were a number of flamencos, and a noteworthy Cuban song by Domingo Morales who was to be killed the following month.
Tone was honoured well into the night. For the Irish in 'Chabola Valley' it was a night of nostalgic memories… the annual march from the little village of Sallins to Bodenstown Churchyard where lay the remains of a great Irishman and Internationalist… the wine at this commemoration was both good and plentiful; but, at the same time, many a pair of Irish lips smacked in the hot night… there were memories of the pint-glasses of draught stout - their national drink - that the little pubs by the canal served… which friends and comrades were marching this year to Tone's tomb? Did they really understand the reason why the Irish in the International Brigade, instead of marching to Bodenstown were instead marching in 'Chabola Valley'? That instead of chatting and squatting on the banks of the Royal canal that flows through Kildare, as they would have wished to, they were instead only a few kilometres from the Ebro River, which they would have to re-cross under Fascist fire? Did they grasp the fact that here in Catalonia, the banner of Tone and Connolly, of all those who had died for Irish freedom in its internationalist context, was being held aloft by Irish hands; many of which in the short period were to be bloodstained, with not a few of them rigid with death? It was a typical warm Spanish summer's night and as the men got tired, drowsy with wine and nostalgic with memories all they had to do was to dig a 'hip-hole' with their bayonets, lie on the hard Spanish earth and snatch a few hours of sleep before 'Reveille' sounded for another day of intense training and rehearsal for the fight across the Ebro that everybody knew was coming. © Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008

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