In Remembrance Of Times Past



From top: Peadar O’Donnell and  Dan Boyle

Radical socialist Peadar O’Donnell never let pragmatism interfere with his principles.

Dan Boyle writes:

We’re now half way through our national decade of commemoration. The fears, of some of us, of re-opening old sores don’t seem to have come to pass. It may be that the more difficult remembrances are still ahead of us. We can only hope that the spirit that has pervaded so far can continue.

Part of the success has been in bringing about a greater understanding, that the Ireland of one hundred years ago was a far more complex place than we’ve ever considered it to be.

I’ve been greatly taken with the double headed An Post stamps showing an Easter Rising participant alongside a Great War counterpart. As a country that obsesses about our past, being able to so respectfully, is a long awaited sign of maturity.

I think we are learning more about ourselves away from the big ticket events. It’s the smaller, more hidden stories that are telling us more about the journey that has taken us here.

I was disappointed last weekend to learn, too late, and so not be able to attend an event, on my Dad’s island of Arranmore. It was marking the arrival there, as a teacher, of the radical activist Peadar O’Donnell, one hundred years ago.

He only taught on the island for about two years, but certainly made his presence felt. Outside of his teaching he formed there a union for migratory workers, which many islanders joined.

Living half their lives each year as Tattie Hokers in Scotland was a reality for the islanders. My grandparents were part of this annual exodus.

O’Donnell’s promotion of an agrarian socialism shook the complacency of the established order of the early days of the state. This establishment did what it could to ensure that its potential never took hold.

More of an allergic than a reluctant politician O’Donnell never let pragmatism interfere with his principles. Elected as an abstentionist TD in 1923, he made a number of attempts of to form a radical socialist party.

The first attempt, Saor Éire, was declared illegal by the Cumann na nGaedheal government. The second entitled, Republican Congress, succeeded in having a number of councillors elected before succumbing to the Behan dictum of splitting at its first convention.

O’Donnell achievements on issues like land distribution, and bringing an end to land annuities, were brought about outside of parliamentary politics, towards which he held much disdain.

Because of that he is seen more as a busker than a concert performer on the stage bill of Irish politics.

Before the end of O’Donnell’s life my Dad had a conversation with him. Being too young I didn’t appreciate the significance of the meeting or seek to ask what they had talked about.

We could do worse than listen now to what he was saying then.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD and Senator. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

Pic via Donegal Daily

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22 thoughts on “In Remembrance Of Times Past

  1. Joe Small

    I’m not sure we have much to learn from someone who ignores the will of the people and helped plunge the country into civil war. I notice he married a wealthy women and lived in Donnybrook allowing him to focus on writing and political activism instead of getting a real job – not very Socialist of him.

    1. Gorev Mahagut

      Are you saying he was uppity and married above his station? Because perhaps that says more about you than it does about O’Donnell.

  2. Tony

    The trouble with socialism is the use of force that is needed to enforce it. Something that was dreamed up in the age of reason was bound to fail when human nature actually turned out to be a thing.

    1. nellyb

      Same trouble with capitalism – mining of the worst of human nature. Proper competition is openly laughed at.
      The reason we tolerate it is because the bloodshed is outsourced to the third world.

    2. ahjayzis


      Britain still hasn’t recovered from the savagery and wanton aggression of the establishment of the NHS.

      The millions of affordable and council houses built post-war serve as macabre tombstones to the masses slaughtered in their construction.

      Every night I say a prayer for the children sacrificed to the Dark God of Socialism so that we might give the poorest a floor below which they cannot fall and the means to have a little dignity through social welfare.

      I wish everyone had paid through the nose for private primary and secondary education like you most probably did, Tony. That way we could free the enslaved teachers forced to teach the great unwashed.

      Asinine generalist rubbish, as per usual, Tones.

      1. Tony

        You just can’t help being nasty ahjizz. I never once criticised the tenets of socialism, just the practicality of implementing it. People tend to hold on to what they have, so force is needed to redistribute wealth. You are describing a welfare state when describing Britain and the people voted it away in their droves when they elected Thatcher. They were clearly stating they didnt want to pay upwards of 70% in taxes. So the only option is to force them to pay, and that’s not working is it? I notice you don’t mention the great socialist success of Eastern Europe where millions were killed in the name of socialism. I know you want to be seen as good, but you also have to be seen as credible.

        1. ahjayzis

          I’ve just detailed a few instances of where it was implemented.

          You’re doing the boring, tired trick of equating it with authoritarian communism. But that’s true of any extremist take on any ideology. Right-wing juntas ruled over most of South America for most of the 20th century but no one uses them as examples to refute the concept of a property owning democracy.

          The “only option” is to argue for your principles in a democratic society – it’s why Labour left office when it lost an election and resisted the urge to deploy the tanks and put the Conservative party in gulags.

          1. Tony

            Democratic societies the world over have rejected socialism of the O Donnell type and continue to reject it. Mostly because although we care about the greater good, we tend to act in selfish ways that benefit those closest to us.

          2. ahjayzis

            …so? Does that make him a bad man or something?

            It’s a right in a democratic society to argue for your principles. If we were all to change our minds, positions and beliefs based on the latest poll we wouldn’t actually have a democratic choice at election time.

            On your other point, nobody actually argues that you should impoverish yourself to help strangers. But that in societies that are more equal – i.e. less ludicrously skewed and not everyone getting paid the same – that everyone actually does better.

          1. Jusayinlike

            Untrue it was far healthier than its neighbours debt wise, it had plenty of exports and even boasted the first eastern European car to make it into the US the yugo, it had a huge cigarette manufacturing business, and had lots of mineral wealth also
            Can you compare Yugoslavia debt levels to darkside socialist country Romania at that time

  3. Neilo

    Ah now, Tony, how can you say that? For my summer holidays next year, I plan to escape to Cuba in a tractor tyre.

  4. Turgenev

    a) Misspelled. It’s Peadar.
    b) I’ve been greatly taken with the double headed An Post stamps showing an Easter Rising participant alongside a Great War counterpart. As a country that obsesses about our past, being able to so respectfully, is a long awaited sign of maturity.
    I’d disagree. It’s deeply lacking in respect to place people who fought and died for the freedom of their country from a cruel empire beside those who fought and died as the cattle-fodder of that empire in its most destructive expansionist war.
    c) @JoeSmall Writing is a real job.

    1. Turgenev

      Oh, and d) I marched beside Peadar O’Donnell at the newly-built American Embassy, protesting that new empire’s vicious war in Vietnam. Perhaps we shouldn’t have?

    2. Dan Boyle

      1. I didn’t misspell Peadar.
      2. It’s fine to disagree. I happen to think that both sets of men were misguided in how saw their sacrifice. All were Irishmen.

      1. Ray O'Connor

        Unless of course you point out that the Greens protect a circle of corrupt misogynists in a regulatory body then Dan believes you should be censored. The dark side of this upper class cult must be protected regardless of the human cost

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