Funeral of Manus O’Riordan told he protected legacy of those who fought fascism

‘He defended those no longer here to speak for themselves in his articles and lectures’

Trade unionist Manus O’Riordan played a huge role in ensuring the legacy of the men and women who fought against fascism in the 1930s will continue to inspire people in the continuing struggle against fascism today, mourners at his funeral heard on Friday.

Mr O'Riordan's partner, Nancy Wallach told mourners at a celebration of his life at Glasnevin she enjoyed the greatest happiness and fulfilment in sharing her life with him as she recalled his commitment to highlighting the courage of those who fought fascism in the 1930s.

"Manus was on the side of all those brave men and women who had been written out of history. Those who ideals and sacrifices had often been distorted in order to lessen their power to inspire new generations of activists. I refer of course to the heroes and heroines on the International Brigade.

"As Ireland Secretary of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, Manus brought his meticulous research skills, his prodigious intellect, his strong sense of justice and boundless energy to restore the legacy of the anti-fascists who left their own homes across the sea to defend Spanish democracy.


"He defended those that were no longer here to speak for themselves in his articles and lectures and Facebook posts."

Ms Wallach instanced Mr O'Riordan's research into Irish republican leader, Frank Ryan that showed he remained committed to an anti-fascist position even after his capture while fighting with the International Brigade in Spain in March 1938 by Italian troops fighting with Franco.

She told how Mr O’Riordan had transcribed Ryan’s interrogation notes after he was captured and questioned by his fascist captors in Burgos Prison and how he sent the notes to the IBMT to publish to show that Ryan remained true to his republican beliefs amid suggestions he had reneged on them.

"Manus's efforts on behalf of the International Brigade volunteers was, of course, deeply personal because his own father, Mick O'Riordan fought and was wounded at the Battle of the Ebro and went on to write the history of the Connolly Column (Irish International Brigade volunteers).

“Manus understood the need for the children of the brigadistas, like himself, to have their fathers’ honoured in countries that instead often punished them and distorted their courage for their own records,” said Ms Wallach whose own father, Hy Wallach fought in Spain against the fascists.

Chief among the mourners were Mr O’Riordan’s adult children, Jess, Neil and Luke and his sister Brenda and Neil O’Riordan remembered his father in a poignant tribute where he revealed that his father’s sharp intellect was often honed in debate with his own father, Michael.

“Our grandfather Michael’s shadow loomed large over him but he carved out his own path, winning scholarships in secondary school through his diligence to allay money worries in a household which had a huge appreciation of the importance of education without necessarily the means to pay for it.”

Mr O'Riordan recalled how his father obtained a degree from UCD and a Masters in New Hampshire before returning to Dublin to work with the ITGWU where he met their mother, Annette and where he remained as a researcher for all his working life as the ITGWU and FWUI merged to form SIPTU.

“You soon learned with my dad that if you were going to disagree with his interpretation of events, you would need to be certain of your facts because he would be certain of his - his command of dates and his ability to recollect obscure minutiae made him a daunting adversary.”

Mr O'Riordan was a noted singer and music played a central part of the celebration with his sister, Brenda playing a piece on the harp by Turlough O Carolan while his daughter, Jess read Charlie Donnelly's poem The Tolerance of Crows and his son, Luke sang "Roll Away The Stone"

Folk singer Radie Peat of Lankum sang Liam Weldon's song Via Extasia and Gerry O'Reilly sang The Parting Glass before Francis Devine sang the socialist anthem The Internationale and Mr O'Riordan's coffin draped in The Starry Plough was removed for cremation.

Among those who attended to pay their sympathies to the O'Riordan family and Ms Wallach were President Michael D Higgins, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin TDs Louise O'Reilly and Sean Crowe.

Former Labour Party leader Ruairí Quinn, former Press Ombudsman and Labour TD John Horgan, Communist Party of Ireland Gen Sec Eugene McCartan and retired trade union leaders Jack O'Connor of Siptu and Mick O'Reilly of Unite were also there.

The IBMT also paid tribute: “Salud camarada – no passaran.”

Mr O'Riordan was a keen supporter of Bohemians FC whose fans paid tribute to him before their match against Dundalk on Monday night.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times