Ruairi O Bradaigh was “a towering figure” of Irish republicanism who came to embody the “very essence” of the Republican tradition, his successor as leader of Republican Sinn Fein, Des Dalton, has said.
The former leader of Sinn Fein, and later of Republican Sinn Fein, died on Wednesday following an illness. He held a number of senior posts within republicanism over the years, including IRA chief of staff.
In 1986, Mr O Bradaigh led a walk out of Sinn Fein when it voted to drop a policy of abstentionism if elected to the Dail. He set up Republican Sinn Fein and led the Continuity IRA-linked party until his retirement in 2009.
He was a vehement opponent of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and Sinn Fein’s involvement in the Six-County executive at Stormont.
The father-of-six joined the IRA while still at university in 1951 and rose quickly through the ranks. Within five years he was on the army council and soon afterwards had two spells as chief of staff of the organisation.
He was elected to the Dail in 1957 and represented Longford/Westmeath until 1961. He was interned in the Curragh prison camp in 1958 but escaped alongside another IRA legend, Daithi O Conaill.
He led Sinn Fein between 1970 and 1983 and was president of Republican Sinn Fein from 1987 until 2009, when he was succeeded by Des Dalton.
As leader of the IRA, O Bradaigh was also a key figure in secret Derry-based talks with the British government, which continued for almost a decade.
He had been married to Patsy for more than 50 years and was most recently seen in January at the funeral of former hunger striker Dolours Price.
The 32 County Sovereignty Movement described him as “a lifelong unbowed, unbroken and unapologetic Republican” who “commanded wholehearted respect and admiration following a lifetime of principled Republicanism.” His death was “a massive loss to Ireland”, they said.
Republican Sinn Fein president Des Dalton said his predecessor as RSF leader had set the “very highest standards of commitment, duty, honour and loyalty to the cause of Irish freedom”.
The republican legend will be buried in St Colman’s Cemetery in Roscommon after the 11.30am Mass on Saturday.
It is expected he will be accorded military honours which will see his coffin draped in the tricolour and accompanied by a republican guard of honour.
The following obituary was penned by RSF President Des Dalton.
Ruairi O Bradaigh 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.
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 interval, up to the present day. Ruairi 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 Fein, 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, Ruairi O Bradaigh, along with his close friend and comrade, the late Daithi O 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 Ruairi 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 Ruairi O Bradaigh was a tireless champion of the Irish language viewing it as the cornerstone of our unique identity as a nation.
Like Padraig Mac Piarais he believed in an Ireland that was: not only free but Gaelic as well; not only Gaelic but free as well.
As an Irish Republican he believed passionately in Theobald Wolfe Tones 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 EIRE 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 at 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 Ruairi’s commitment to the principles of a non-sectarian and pluralist Ireland that he and Daithi O Conaill stepped down from the positions of President and Vice President respectively of Sinn Fein when EIRE NUA was dropped as a policy document to further the agenda of a reformist clique operating within the Republican Movement in the early 1980s.
For Ruairi O Bradaigh 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. Ruairi O Bradaigh’s analysis has since been borne 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 is far removed from the vision of a New Ireland, which inspired Irish Republicans such as Ruairi O Bradaigh.
In an introduction to the biography of Ruairi O Bradaigh written by Professor Robert White, the journalist Ed Moloney described Ruairi 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 Ruairi O Bradaigh that he is not the last Republican but has rather ensured the continuity of Irish Republicanism, passing on the torch to succeeding generations.
We in Republican Sinn Fein are proud to remember him as our President and later our Patron, as a man of great intellect, coupled with great humanity and empathy for the oppressed both in Ireland and internationally. We salute his memory and pledge our resolve to honour him by continuing his work, guided by the same principles and maintaining the same high standards of integrity, truth and that marked Ruairi O Bradaigh as man and patriot. We extend our profound sympathies to his wife Patsy, and the O Bradaigh family. Ar dheis de go raibh a anam dilis.