The Guardian 24 May, 2006


Vale Michael O’Riordan 1917–2006

Michael O’Riordan, veteran of the International Brigades and anti-fascist, former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland and a current member of the National Executive Committee, passed away on May 19 in Dublin.

Michael O’Riordan was born in Cork, in November 1917. He attended North Monastery Christian Brothers’ School and in 1932 became a member of the scouting movement associated with the IRA. He subsequently joined the IRA.

When the Spanish fascist revolt broke out in 1936, Michael O’Riordan, then nineteen, volunteered for the International Brigades. He enlisted at the Spanish Republic’s secret recruiting office, using the identity of an older IRA man who had failed the medical test, as O’Riordan was under age.

He took part in all the battles of the 15th International Brigade, including the Battle of the Ebro where he was wounded. In a citation for bravery, the commanding officer said of Michael O’Riordan:

"He carried his light machine-gun into every action, and when he was ordered to withdraw he waited until the whole company had done so. He said that his weapon was worth a dozen men. When he was wounded, he refused to leave his position until others had to leave it. Even then he did not leave until he was ordered."

As part of an international agreement the republican government called upon the International Brigades to withdraw in 1938. Returning to Cork, O’Riordan continued to be active in the IRA and in 1940 took part in the attempted rescue of Tomás MacCurtain from Cork Courthouse.

The same year he was arrested and interned in the Curragh camp, where he joined the "Connolly Group". Michael O’Riordan and a number of other internees joined the Communist Party while in the Curragh. On the flirtation by some elements in the IRA with Nazi Germany, O’Riordan quoted Terence MacSwiney: "If Ireland were to obtain its liberty at the expense of other peoples it would deserve all the execration she herself poured on tyranny throughout the ages." He was released in December 1943.

On returning to Cork he obtained work as a bus conductor and joined the Transport Union, remaining a member for the rest of his life. In 1945 he joined the Labour Party and with other friends and former fellow-internees established the Liam Mellows Branch and contested the city council election.

He moved to Dublin in 1947, continuing in his employment as a bus conductor, and the following year became a member of the Irish Workers’ League (as the CPI in the South was then called). He contributed to bringing many Irish delegations to congresses of the World Peace Council in the party’s efforts to foster greater understanding among peoples and nations and opposition to nuclear weapons.

During the years of the Cold War, Michael O’Riordan and his family bore the brunt of the attacks on the Communist Party, suffering abuse and even physical attacks. In 1967 he became the full-time General Secretary of the party, and was instrumental in uniting Irish communists under one leadership in a unity Congress in 1970. He retained the position of General Secretary until 1984 when he was elected National Chairman of the Party, an office he retained until ill-health caused him to retire in 2001.

Michael O’Riordan was a defender of the Soviet Union throughout his life and always argued for closer political, economic and diplomatic ties between the Soviet Union and Ireland. On the same night that the Red Flag was dragged down from the Kremlin by the betrayers of socialism, Michael O’Riordan and his comrades raised the Red Flag over Connolly House, Dublin, declaring: "Our flag stays red!"

In 1998 (at the age of eighty) he travelled to Cuba as part of the Pastors for Peace caravan in their efforts to break the blockade and isolation of Cuba imposed by the United States. In 2005 the Cuban government presented him with its highest award for friendship among the people.

He remained as committed to the cause of socialism in his final years as he did as a young man. He spent the last years of his life travelling around Ireland to speak about the Spanish Anti-Fascist War to the younger generation, to make them aware of those who fought and died fighting against fascism and for democracy in Spain.

Michael O’Riordan personified the best anti-imperialist traditions of the Irish people. The Communist Party of Ireland is saddened by his passing, but is proud of the huge contribution he made to our party, to the Irish working class and to the cause of socialism in Ireland and of his legacy of unselfish sacrifice in the cause of the Irish and international working class. The struggle against imperialism continues.

Back to index page