Peadar O'Donnell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Peadar O'Donnell
Born (1893-02-22)22 February 1893
Dungloe, Ireland
Died 13 May 1986(1986-05-13) (aged 93)
Nationality Irish

Peadar O'Donnell (Irish: Peadar Ó Domhnaill; 22 February 1893 – 13 May 1986) was one of the foremost radicals of twentieth-century Ireland. O'Donnell became prominent as an Irish republican, socialist activist, politician and writer.

Early life[edit]

Peadar O'Donnell was born into an Irish-speaking family in Dungloe, County Donegal in northwest Ireland, in 1893. He attended St Patrick's College, Dublin, where he trained as a teacher. He taught on Arranmore island off the west coast of Donegal before spending time in Scotland.

Irish War of Independence[edit]

By 1919, he was a leading organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union. He also attempted in Derry to organise a unit of the Irish Citizen Army (a socialist militia which had taken part in the Easter Rising). When this failed to get off the ground, O'Donnell joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and remained active in it during the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). He led IRA guerrilla activities in County Londonderry and Donegal in this period, which mainly involved raids on Royal Irish Constabulary and British Army barracks. In 1921, he became the commander of the IRA's Donegal Brigade. He became known in this period as a headstrong and sometimes insubordinate officer as he often launched operations without orders and in defiance of directives from his superiors in the IRA.[1] In the spring of 1921, O'Donnell and his men had to evade a sweep of the county by over 1,000 British troops.[2]

Irish Civil War[edit]

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, O'Donnell and his IRA comrades were split over whether to accept this compromise, which ended their hopes of an Irish Republic but which granted a self-governing Irish Free State. O'Donnell opposed this compromise and in March 1922, was elected, along with Joe McKelvey as a representative for Ulster on the anti-Treaty IRA's army executive. In April he was among the anti-Treaty IRA men who took over the Four Courts building in Dublin and helped to spark the outbreak of civil war with the new Free State government. The Irish Civil War would rage for another nine months. O'Donnell escaped from the Four Courts building after its bombardment and surrender, but was subsequently captured by the Free State Army, and imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol. At the end of the Civil War, he participated in the mass Republican hunger strike that was launched in protest at the continued imprisonment of anti-Treaty IRA men, resisting in this manner for 41 days.

Socialism[edit]

Unlike most Irish republicans of this era, O'Donnell did not see the republican cause solely in Irish nationalist terms. O'Donnell also advocated a social revolution in an independent Ireland, seeing himself as a follower of James Connolly, the socialist republican executed for his part in the Easter Rising. The period 1919–23 had seen much social unrest in Ireland, including land occupations by the tenants in rural areas and the occupation of factories by workers. O'Donnell, in fact, is regarded as the first Irish person to use the term "occupation" in relation to the occupation of a workplace when he and the staff of Monaghan Asylum occupied the hospital in 1919. "The occupation was, in fact, the first action in Ireland to describe itself as a soviet and the red flag was raised above it.".[3]

O'Donnell believed that the IRA should have adopted these people's cause and supported land re-distribution and workers' rights. He blamed the anti-Treaty republicans' lack of support among the Irish public in the Civil War on their lack of a social programme. Some republicans, notably Liam Mellows, did share O'Donnell's view, but they were a minority.

According to author and historian Tom Mahon,

"There were many contradictions and weaknesses in O'Donnell's polemic. In reality, the IRA was a Petit bourgeoisie conspiratorial organisation rather than a workers' and peasants' army. It was firmly rooted in the nineteenth century concept of a nationalist revolution and its few socialists were largely peripheral to the organisation. Kevin O'Higgins, a leading Sinn Fein activist during the Anglo-Irish War, famously said, 'We were probably the most conservative-minded revolutionaries who ever put through a successful revolution.' Additionally, O'Donnell failed to justify the IRA's refusal to acknowledge the wishes of the majority of the southern Irish population who supported the Free State. Most glaring of all, he had no satisfactory explanation of what to do with the Protestant working-class in Northern Ireland, who were prepared to take up arms to prevent their 'liberation' by the IRA. Despite the many flaws of his argument, he has received much serious attention from historians and biographers."[4]

Post-Civil War politics[edit]

In 1923, while still in prison, he was elected as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Donegal.[5] In 1924, on release from internment, O'Donnell became a member of the Executive and Army Council of the anti-Treaty IRA. He also took over as the editor of the republican newspaper An Phoblacht. He did not take his seat in the Dáil and did not stand at the June 1927 general election.[6] He tried to steer it in a left-wing direction, and to this end founded organisations such as the Irish Working Farmers' Committee, which sent representatives to the Soviet Union and the Profintern. O'Donnell also founded the Anti-Tribute League, which opposed the repaying of annuities to the British government owed since the Irish Land Acts. He also founded a short-lived socialist republican party, Saor Éire.

In addition, O'Donnell and the IRA found themselves in conflict with their former enemies of the Civil War era. Éamon de Valera, who had founded Fianna Fáil from anti-Treaty republicans, came to power in Ireland in 1932, and subsequently legalised the IRA in 1932–36.[citation needed] O'Donnell announced that there would be "no free speech for traitors" (by which he meant Cumann na nGaedheal, the Free State party) and his men attacked Cumann na nGaedheal political meetings. In response, Eoin O'Duffy, a former Irish Army General and Garda Síochána commissioner, founded the Blueshirts to resist them. There was a considerable amount of street violence between the two sides before both the Blueshirts and then the IRA became banned organisations. O'Donnell saw the Blueshirts as a fascist movement based on the big farmer class.

Republican Congress[edit]

O'Donnell's attempts at persuading the remnants of the defeated anti-Treaty IRA to become a socialist organisation ended in failure. Eventually, O'Donnell and other left-wing republicans left the IRA to co-found the Republican Congress in 1934 with other socialists, communists and Cumann na mBan members.[7]

The 'overriding' aim of the Republican Congress was the maintenance of a united front against fascism.[8] Despite having left the IRA, O'Donnell and others were tried in absentia by an IRA court-martial presided over by Seán Russell and they were dismissed 'with ignominy'.[9]

The high point of the Republican Congress was between May and September 1934, where it achieved remarkable success as an umbrella organisation planning class agitation. It earned the wrath of the IRA leadership, however, which banned IRA members from joining it.[10] This led to widespread defections to the Congress from the IRA in Dublin, and the spectacular success of the Republican Congress in organising Belfast Protestants under the Republican Congress banner.[11]

This included a march by the Shankill Road branch to Bodenstown churchyard in June 1934 to honour the founding father of Irish republicanism, Theobald Wolfe Tone.[12] The Shankill republicans, many of whom were members of the Northern Ireland Socialist Party, were carrying banners with slogans such as 'Break the Connection with Capitalism' and 'United Irishmen of 1934'.[13] To the bemusement of many, the IRA leadership blocked the Belfast contingent from carrying their banners and attempted to seize them.[14]

The Republican Congress spearheaded attacks on Blueshirts in Dublin, while the IRA rank and file continued attacks on them elsewhere.[15] By September 1934, however, the state was successfully crushing Ireland's "fascist menace", the Blueshirts, and leading Fine Gael figures were finally abandoning the Blueshirt leadership under Eoin O'Duffy and reverting to parliamentary politics.[16] With the demise of the Blueshirts imminent, 186 delegates attended what became the final Republican Congress assembly in Rathmines Town Hall on 29-30 September 1934.[17] The Congress ultimately split on a proposal by Michael Price to make it into a political party, a proposal which was perceived by the Communist Party of Ireland and other vested interests as threatening their respective power.[18] O'Donnell also rejected the proposal, arguing that the Left had more power as a united front.[19]

Spanish Civil War[edit]

In 1936 O'Donnell happened to be in Barcelona in order to attend the planned People's Olympiad on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. He joined the Spanish Republican militia that supported the Popular Front government against Francisco Franco's military insurgency in the Spanish Civil War. When he returned to Ireland, he encouraged other republicans to fight for the Spanish Republic - accordingly, IRA men, led by Frank Ryan and some Communist Party of Ireland members joined the International Brigades, where they were known as the Connolly Column (after James Connolly).[20]

This was a very unpopular stance in Ireland, as the powerful Catholic Church strongly supported Franco's Catholic Nationalists. Attitudes to the Spanish Civil War also mirrored the divisions of Ireland's civil war. O'Donnell remarked that the Bishops had condemned the anti-Treaty side in the latter for opposing a democratic government, but were now advocating the same thing themselves. A former comrade of O'Donnell's, Eoin O'Duffy, led an Irish Brigade to fight for the Nationalists.

Writings[edit]

After the 1940s, O'Donnell devoted more of his time to writing and culture and less to politics, from which he withdrew more or less completely. He published his first novel, Storm, in 1925. This was followed by Islanders (1928), which received national and international acclaim.[21] The New York Times describing it as a novel of 'quiet brilliance and power', the London Spectator 'an intensely beautiful picture of peasant life.'[22] The writer Benedict Kiely recalled meeting a Chicago man in Iowa in 1968 who had never been to Ireland but could describe the landscape of west Donegal, and the ways of its people, in minute detail despite being blind. When Kiely asked him how he knew so much he revealed he had read Islanders in braille.[23]Adrigoole (1929), The Knife (1930) and On the Edge of the Stream (1934). O'Donnell also went to Spain and later published Salud! An Irishman in Spain (1937). Although Adrigoole was set in Donegal, it was based on the real life story of an O'Sullivan family of Cork who had all died of starvation in 1927 and is 'by far the gloomiest and most pessimistic of his books'.[24]

After World War II, he edited the Irish literary journal, The Bell (1946–54), having founded it with Seán Ó Faoláin, the editor before 1946, in 1940.[25] Other books by O'Donnell include The Big Windows (1955) and Proud Island (1975). The Big Windows is, in the words of Donal Ó Drisceoil, 'by common consent his finest literary achievement.... The reviews at the time, and on its reissue in 1983, were universally positive.' [26]

His one play, Wrack, was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on 21 November 1932,[27] and published by Jonathan Cape the following year.

Islanders and Adrigoole were translated into Ulster Irish (Donegal dialect) by Seosamh Mac Grianna as Muintir an Oileáin and Eadarbhaile, respectively. All of his work has a strong social consciousness and works like Adrigoole, as well as being powerful works in themselves, exemplify socialist analyses of Irish society.[2] A biographical documentary entitled "Peadairín na Stoirme" was screened on TG4 in 2009.

In total O'Donnell wrote seven novels and one play, in addition to three autobiographical accounts: The Gates flew Open (London, 1932), about his part in the Irish War of Independence and Irish Civil War; Salud! An Irishman in Spain (London, 1937), about his time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War and There Will Be Another Day (Dublin, 1963), his account of the land annuities campaign in the 1920 and 1930s. [28]

Personal life[edit]

Following his escape from Kilmainham jail, Peadar married Lile O'Donel on 25 June 1924 in the Catholic Church on Berkeley Road in Dublin.[29] He had never met Lile before this, but they had communicated extensively during his time in prison.[30] Witnesses at the funeral included his brother Frank, Sinéad de Valera, Fiona Plunkett of Cumann na mBan and Mary MacSwiney.[31] They began their honeymoon in a hotel in County Dublin that evening but by the following morning Peadar was on the run once again as he had been identified.[32] Fortunately for Peadar's aspirations, Lile had a large inheritance and this allowed him to devote himself to his writing and political activism, allowing him to, in the words of Donal Ó Drisceoil, 'live the life of that favourite bogeyman of police reports, the "professional agitator"'.[33] He and Lile lived in Marlborough Road in Donnybrook for many years.[34] He subsequently lived in 174[35] Upper Drumcondra Road in Drumcondra, and it was there that he and Lile raised their nephew, Peadar Joe O'Donnell.[36] Peadar and Lile travelled widely across Europe. On a trip to the United States of America in 1939, during which he met the singer Paul Robeson and is reputed to have taught him the words of the song Kevin Barry, Peadar's brother Joe was killed in an accident in New York. Peadar and Lile offered to bring Joe's young son, Peadar Joe who was almost five, back with them to Ireland for an extended holiday. When World War II broke out Peadar Joe stayed with them permanently and they raised him as a son.[37] They had no children of their own, and Peadar Joe attended the fee-charging Catholic secondary school Belvedere College.[38] Lile passed away in October 1969, and Peadar subsequently sold their home in Drumcondra.[39] He moved to a bedsit in Dublin, in with a friend in Mullingar, Ned Gilligan, and he also lived with Peadar Joe and his family.[40] He spent the final seven years of his life living in the home of his old friend Nora Harkin in her home in Monkstown, Co. Dublin.[41]

In 1985 Peadar O'Donnell wrote his last piece for publication, Not Yet Emmet, his account of the Treaty split of 1922.[42] In 1986, at the age of 93, Peadar O'Donnell died.[43] He left instructions that there were to be 'no priests, no politicians and no pomp' at his funeral and those wishes were granted.[44] Following cremation at Glasnevin Cemetery his ashes were placed in his wife Lile's family plot in Kilconduff cemetery outside Swinford, Co. Mayo.[45]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ó Drisceoil, Donal (2001). Peadar O'Donnell. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1-85918-310-6. 
  2. ^ a b Ó Drisceoil, Donal (2001). Peadar O'Donnell. Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1-85918-310-6.
  3. ^ http://www.irishleftreview.org/2010/04/28/book-review-peadar-odonnell-donal-drisceoil/ William Wall in Irish Left Review
  4. ^ Tom Mahon & James J. Gillogly, Decoding the IRA, Mercier Press, 2008. Pages 80–81.
  5. ^ "Peadar O'Donnell". ElectionsIreland.org. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  6. ^ "Mr. Peadar O'Donnell". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 19 May 2012. 
  7. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 83
  8. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  9. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 83
  10. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  11. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  12. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  13. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  14. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  15. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 85
  16. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 85
  17. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 84
  18. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 88
  19. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 89
  20. ^ http://web.archive.org/web/20091028112140/http://www.geocities.com/irelandscw
  21. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 54
  22. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 54
  23. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 54
  24. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 54
  25. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 110
  26. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 116
  27. ^ Wrack, Irish Playography website. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
  28. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 151
  29. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  30. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  31. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  32. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  33. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  34. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  35. ^ 'Noble agitator and natural leader', Review of Peadar O'Donnell by Peter Hegarty
  36. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 36
  37. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 103
  38. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 131
  39. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 122
  40. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 122
  41. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 122
  42. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 124
  43. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 124
  44. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 124
  45. ^ Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O'Donnell (Cork, 2001), p. 124

External links[edit]