Oration by Des Dalton, President, Republican Sinn Féin at the grave of Patron Ruairí O Brádaigh, St Coman’s Cemetery, Roscommon.
Speaking at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa, Pearse restated the principles which had fired the soul and intellect of O’Donovan Rossa and restated the determination of his generation to take up the torch of freedom from Rossa and his generation: “I propose to you then that, here by the grave of this unrepentant Fenian, we renew our baptismal vows; that, here by the grave of this unconquered and unconquerable man, we ask of God, each one for himself, such unshakable purpose, such high and gallant courage, such unbreakable strength of soul as belonged to O’Donovan Rossa. Deliberately here we avow ourselves, as he avowed himself in the dock, Irishmen of one allegiance only. We of the Irish Volunteers, and you others who are associated with us in to-day’s task and duty, are bound together and must stand together henceforth in brotherly union for the achievement of the freedom of Ireland. And we know only one definition of freedom: it is Tone’s definition, it is Mitchel’s definition, it is Rossa’s definition. Let no man blaspheme the cause that the dead generations of Ireland served by giving it any other name and definition than their name and their definition.”
For Ruairí Ó Brádaigh there too was but one definition of Irish freedom. For him there was but one straight and true path leading to the All-Ireland Republic of Easter Week. We come here to mourn the loss of Ruairí but we also come to celebrate his long and rich life. It was a life marked by unselfish devotion to the cause of Irish freedom. It was a life set apart by his sense of duty, honour and the intellectual rigour that he brought to the Republican Movement. Indeed often would Ruairí quote these lines from Louisa May Alcott, which are inscribed on the headstone of the tireless champion of Republican prisoners and the working class Charlotte Despard: “I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty; I woke, and found that life was duty.” Coupled with all of this was Ruairí’s deep humanity. He was a man whose empathy and compassion for the downtrodden and oppressed knew no boundaries of race or creed.
In his biography of Ruairí, Professor Robert W. White of Indiana University, described Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s life as: “ a window for understanding his generation of Irish Republicans and how they received the values of a previous generation and are transmitting those values to the next generation.” In his introduction to the same book, the journalist Ed Maloney described Ruairí as the “last, or one of the last Irish Republicans”. Whilst the tribute was well intentioned the case is quite different. It is because of the life’s work of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh that he is not the last Republican but has rather ensured the continuity of Irish Republicanism, passing on the torch to succeeding generations.
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was a towering figure of Irish Republicanism in the latter half of the 20th Century. He came to embody the very essence of the Republican tradition, setting the very highest standards of commitment, duty, honour and loyalty to the cause of Irish freedom. Of a prod Republican heritage inherited from both his father Matt and his mother May, since 1950 he served at every level of the Republican Movement, and from 1956 took on the onerous responsibilities of national leadership with only a short intervals, up to the present day. Ruairí was a man of immense capability both as a politician and as a soldier. He holds the unique distinction of serving as President of Sinn Féin, Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and from 1957 to 1961 as a TD, representing Longford/Westmeath.
At critical junctures in the history of the Republican Movement, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, along with his close friend and comrade the late Dáithí Ó Conaill, manned the gap against the forces of reformism who sought to convert a revolutionary movement of national liberation into a mere constitutional political party, first in 1969/70 and once again in 1986. For Ruairí the essential principles of Irish freedom were clear and marked the political course to be followed. He dismissed any cult of the personality warning always of the inherent dangers of following merely the man or woman over the cause of Irish national independence. At a time when our sense of identity is being steadily eroded, when our people are discouraged from taking pride in their history or culture Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was a tireless champion of the Irish language viewing it as the cornerstone of our unique identity as a nation. Like Pádraig Mac Piarais he believed in an Ireland that was: not only free but Gaelic as well; not only Gaelic but free as well’.
Gael go smior ab ea Ruairí. Óna chuid ama i gColáiste Mel is i gConamara, d’éirigh leis an teanga a thabhairt leis go han-líofa. Ar feadh a shaoil sheas sé go daingean le cúis na Gaeilge agus d’fhéach chuige go raibh Gaeilge ag an gclann ar fad.
Faraoir, le caoga bliain anuas d’aithin an meath a tháinig ar an teanga go háirithe an cúngú sna Gaeltachtaí is sa chóras oideachais. Tá an Ghaeilge i mbaol go mór mura dtugtar áit lárnach di in Éirinn. Mar atá faoi láthair níl áit do theangacha agus do chultúir ar nós na Gaeilge agus ár gcultúr Gaelach atá ag tachtadh ár muintire. Daoibhse atá in eagraíochtaí Gaeilge is gá daoibh an pictiúr mór seo, mar a deirtear, a aithint. Tá an Ghaeilge i mbaol, tá sí á ceil tar pháistí na tire, tá imeallú mór déanta uirthi.
The Irish Language has always been dear to Ruairí’s heart. He spoke it on every possible occasion and he saw to it that his children were all immersed in it. Unfortunately during the last 50 years the Irish language has been marginalized, neglected and downgraded in every possible way. The people of the Gaeltacht have been bullied by the politically-powerful and by international consumerism. This bullying has undermined their way of life. The neglect in the Education system now means that Irish is being denied to and hidden from 100’s of 1000’s of Irish children.
Who then is responsible for this obliteration of people’s languages and cultures worldwide, including our own Irish? There is no place for own heritage in this neo-liberal agenda, the EU won’t allow it, the two states, even the 26 counties’ Dept of Education, work against the Irish language. Death by a 1000 cuts’ is the effective state policy on Irish whatever niceties may be uttered. To the Irish Language Organisations we say: Be very careful in your dealings with the Northern and Southern states. Stop cosying up to these false promises. They’re only trying to buy you off. 90% plus of the Irish people dearly love our language. They want it passed on propery to our children, they want it central to Irish life not neglected and marginalized. The Irish people need leadership, the Irish language agencies need to give sustained, determined leadership and we as Irish Republicans need to centrally retain our commitment to the Irish language and culture at all times.
As an Irish Republican he believed passionately in Theobald Wolfe Tone’s vision of substituting the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name of Irish man and Irish woman. He played a leading role in formulating the Éire Nua proposals for a Four Province Federal Ireland, which was based on the principles of true decentralisation of decision making with full particatpory democracy involving all sections of the Irish people as trust founders of a New Ireland. Such a democratic template would provide the Unionist minority with a New Ireland with real political power and decision-making. He was among the Republican leaders who met representatives of loyalism and unionism as Feakle, Co Clare in 1974 and later strongly supported the MacBride/Boal talks, which were eventually sabotaged by a 26-County Government Minister. Such was Ruairí’s commitment to the principles of a non-sectarian and pluralist Ireland that he and Dáithí Ó Conaill stepped down from the positions of President and Vice President respectively of Sinn Féin when Éire Nua was dropped as a policy document to further the narrow political agenda of a reformist clique operating within the Republican Movement in the early 1980s.
For Ruairí Ó Brádaigh there could be no temporising on the issue of British Rule in Ireland. Drawing on the lessons of Irish history he recognised that it constituted the root cause of conflict and injustice for the Irish people. In opposing the 1998 Stormont Agreement he rightly viewed it as a flawed document serving only to copper-fasten British Rule while also institutionalising sectarianism, thereby further deepening the sectarian divide. Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s analysis has since been bourne out by a number of independent studies which have shown an increase in sectarianism in the Six Counties in the years since 1998. The economically and politically oppressed and partitioned Ireland of today is far removed from the vision of a New Ireland, which inspired Irish Republicans such as Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.
Standing by Ruairí’s graveside we can only truly honour him by turning our eyes to the future, by pledging ourselves to once more take up the fight for a New Ireland. Today our country is being assailed by the twin imperialisms of British military and political occupation and the economic and social oppression of the EU/ECB and IMF. These represent the old and new imperialisms, representing a threat to the very existence of the historic Irish Nation. In the Six Counties political repression remains the norm and the very fact that there remain political prisoners in Maghaberry, the internment without trial of veteran Republican Martin Corey and until recently of Marian Price, the presence of an armed Colonial police force using the same methods of repression, drawing on the same draconian laws to enforce the writ of the British Government all point to the abnormality of the Six County State. British Rule in Ireland will never be wither normal or acceptable and the lesson of Irish history remains as Ruairí continually pointed out: as along as there is a British military and political presence in Ireland there will always be a section of the Irish people determined to resist it. In the 26-County State our people are being robbed of the very markers of a civilised society, the ability to care for our sick and old, to educate our young and to provide for those on the economic margins of society. All of this is being imposed on our people in order to prop up the undemocratic EU superstate and its baking system.
The Irish people it seems are merely fodder to be sacrificed on the high alter of EU finance capitalism. But not only are our people plundered financially but also culturally. It seems that the denizens of Leinster House, Stormont, Westminster and Brussels are intent on robbing us of our identity as a separate people and nation. Writing recently in the Sunday Business Post, Tom McGurk wrote that because the Irish people are being thought that it is wrong to take pride in our history, of resistance, our distinct culture and identity, today they are being denied the very tools of a strong sense of national identity required to stand up to EU Troika in contrast to people’s across Europe who have heroically defended themselves and their societies from the grip of the financial and banking elites. With Thomas Davis we believe: “This country of ours is no sand bank, thrown up by some recent caprice of earth. It is an ancient land, honoured in the archives of civilisation.” The Irish nation is not bound by the artificial borders of the two partition states, The philosopher Dr Mathew O’Donnell writes that nations rather than states, which are simply units of political organisation, bring people together: “For people are not brought together by a state; the state is the subsequent organisation of people who already posses some kind of unity It is with the nation that one’s loyalty lies. There is no disowning it, no alternative to it. There should be a feeling for the nation, for it is one’s own people. This is the origin for the effective element in patriotism.”
In the early 1890s the Irish Revolution began in earnest, speaking in 1892 the founder of Conradh na Gaelige Dubhghlas de Híde spoke of the need to reverse the process of anglicising Ireland: “When we speak of ‘The Necessity for De-Anglicising the Irish Nation’, we mean it, not as a protest against imitating what is best in the English people, for that would be absurd, but rather to show the folly of neglecting what is Irish, and hastening to adopt, pell-mell, and indiscriminately, everything that is English, simply because it is English.”
He went to set out why we as a people needed to reconnect with our own distinct cultural identity if we were to prosper: “I would earnestly appeal to every one, whether Unionist or Nationalist, who wishes to see the Irish nation produce its best -- surely whatever our politics are we all wish that -- to set his face against this constant running to England for our books, literature, music, games, fashions, and ideas. I appeal to every one whatever his politics -- for this is no political matter -- to do his best to help the Irish race to develop in future upon Irish lines, even at the risk of encouraging national aspirations, because upon Irish lines alone can the Irish race once more become what it was of yore -- one of the most original, artistic, literary, and charming peoples of Europe.” As the centenary of the 1916 Rising draws near we have the opportunity once again to awaken the national consciousness to our possibilities as a people and the high ideals which have in the past inspired us to greater things and a vision of a New and better Ireland. As we approach the centenary of the 1916 Rising a battle has commenced for the hearts and minds of the Irish people.
The legacy as well as the essential message of 1916 is at stake for this and future generations. The resources of both partitionist states are being employed in order to sanitise our history to the point that it has been robbed of any meaning. Equivalence is being made between the forces of occupation and the independence movement that no self-respecting nation would contemplate. Does France commemorate the Vichy policemen or Norway its Quislings who collaborated with German occupation forces? The 1916 Rising for Irish Republicans is not only an important moment in our history but a beacon to light our way forward. It is an event that not only continues to occupy a central place in our history but also remains relevant due to the simple fact that it remains unfinished business.
The 1916 Proclamation sets out clearly the principles upon which the All-Ireland Republic should rest. It takes no great examination to see that both the Six and 26-County states fall far short of the definition of freedom and democracy set by the men and women of 1916. This would be and remains the abiding message of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh.
In carrying on the work to which Ruairí dedicated his adult life we must bring to it the same high standards, the same commitment to truth and honour which guided him. We must never lose sight of the high idealism of 1916 because it will always speak to us of a New and better Ireland and with it the possibility of revolutionary social, political and economic change. and should note well the words of Brian Ó hUiginn: “Keep close to them on the road they walked without flinching, the road whose signposts, as Liam Mellows said, are unmistakable, the road of truth and honour and earnestness and courage, the road of no wavering, of no compromise with wrong, of no surrender the only road that leads to the freedom and happiness of the indivisible Republic of Ireland.”
As we turn from this place we remember with pride our fallen chieftain, our Fenian Chief (as Desmond Ryan described James Stephens) I think it is appropriate to conclude with some words penned by John Fisher Murray To the Memory of Thomas Davis:
“A spark of his celestial fire, The God of freemen struck from thee; Made thee to spurn each low desire, Nor bend the uncompromising knee; Made thee to vow thy live to rive with ceaseless tug, th’ oppressor’s chain with lyre, with pen, with pen, with sword, to strive for thy dear land nor strive in vain.
How hapless is our country’s fate If heaven in pity to us send, Like thee, one glorious, good and great to guide, instruct us, and amend: How soon thy honoured life is o’er Soon Heaven demandeth thee again; We grope on darkling as before, And fear lest thou hast died in vain.
In vain no never! O’er thy grave, Thy spirit dwelleth in the air; Thy passionate love, thy prupose brave, Thy hope assured, thy promise fair. Generous and wise, farerwell! Forego tears for the glorious dead and gone; His tears if his, still flow for slaves and cowards living on.
To Patsy, Mait, Ruairí Óg, Conor, Deirdre, Ethne and Colm,his grandchildren and great-grandchild we extend our deepest sympathies and our gratitute to you and the extended Ó Brádaigh family for the life of Ruairí and his unparalled contribution to the cause of a free Ireland. Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam dílis.