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The Making Of An Irish Communist Leader - The Life And Times Of Michael O'Riordan 1938-1947

Michael O'Riordan, former IRA member, International Brigader and Irish Communist Party leader for over four decades, stands out as one of the towering figures of progressive Irish politics of the last 100 years.

Quinn's book, covering the years 1938-11947, spans O'Riordan's return from Spain – where he had continued the fight against fascism begun in his home city – through to his departure from Cork to take up residence in Dublin.

The Connolly Column, O'Riordan's own account of the Irish who fought with the 15th International Brigade to defend Spain against Franco's fascist insurgency, remains the definitive account of their participation and a classic of Spanish civil war literature.

Yet as Quinn explains, having rejoined the IRA on his return from Spain, “on the party's instruction,” it wasn't long before O'Riordan found himself interned in the Curragh camp with other prominent IRA activists as part of the De Valera government's efforts to curb continued IRA militarism.

The Irish government's policy of neutrality and the republicans' bombing campaign in England provided the pretext for the crackdown.

During his imprisonment O'Riordan took the opportunity to learn both Irish and Russian but it was the political debates, particularly among the Connolly group of which O'Riordan was a leading figure, which led him and a number of left-wing republicans to leave the IRA on their release and to pursue openly communist politics.

At the time, the Communist Party was urging its members to join the Labour Party, in an attempt to radicalise the latter and to form alliances in preparation for the resumption of independent communist activity.

But for O'Riordan and those communist and left-wing republicans who joined him in attempting to revive the Liam Mellows branch of the Irish Labour Party in Cork, it was to be a bruising political experience.

It wasn't long before the progressives fell foul of the party's reformist, anti-communist leadership and one particularly reactionary, anti-semitic figure from within the branch's “old guard.”

The end result was O'Riordan's expulsion from the party and the closure of the branch on the orders of the national party leadership.

What followed was the establishment in May 1945 of the short-lived but highly active – and in electoral terms, relatively successful – Cork Socialist Party. The branch was, in all but name, the Cork branch of the CPI.

It's a fascinating account and the book also includes a number of noteworthy documents, such as O'Riordan's 1939 letter to the US communist and fellow International Brigader Bill Gandall in which he sets out the background to the continued conflict over the partition of Ireland and accesses the various parties and movements of the day.

Tackling subjects worthy of more detailed study, Quinn's excellent but short contribution provides a fascinating snapshot of important developments in the life of one of Ireland's best known and most respected communists and, as importantly, the relationship between the struggles for socialism and national independence in Ireland.

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This document was last modified by Mick Carty on 2011-10-11 09:32:27.
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