Michael Enright


Brecht's lines from the Threepenny Opera, "consider the darkness and the great cold/in this vale which resounds with misery", embody how family and friends felt as they stood in the Killinick cemetery in Co Wexford while Michael Enright was buried in bright October sunshine, aged 45. Earlier, as we walked down Bride Street, I overheard a man telling another how Michael had helped him to join Alcoholics Anonymous. A woman said simply: "Michael was a great help to me."

These were the people to whom he had devoted his life as a political organiser, as a councillor for the Workers' Party and, following its establishment, Democratic Left. As chairperson of the Wexford Trades Council he came to know the working class in a town of declining metallurgical industries, with a silted port and new, half-finished housing estates where welfare often predominates over work.

Men of Iron, his history of the Wexford lock-out, dealt with the radical impetus which grew out of the town's foundries; his work as a councillor involved an unsentimental engagement with what that world had become.

Michael's political evolution may have appeared erratic - the UCG Labour Party, the Socialist Labour Party, the Workers' Party and finally Democratic Left. But this variety of memberships was all of a piece, consistent with his relentless exploration of socialism as an evolving methodology of liberation rather than a rigid doctrine of neo-theological certainties. Michael was always both teacher and student - even his honeymoon was intensely political as he and Mary began their wonderful marriage in the Soviet Union, then seldom visited from Ireland and often for the Left a mythologised Otherworld. The realities of the Soviet achievement was one of the topics which most exercised him as he and I travelled to work together for a number of years and he brought an extraordinary intellectual restlessness to this and to the many other issues we debated. Irish nationalism and the rights of Ulster Protestantism were interrogated by him at similar depth as he evolved a position on the varieties of Irish identity which was to achieve its full political articulation only with the establishment of Democratic Left.

As is the socialist tradition, his conclusions issued in practical political action: the fierce independence he brought to Wexford Corporation and to the Trades Council, his work for Chilean political refugees, his establishment of the Centres of the Unemployed at New Ross and Wexford, his membership of the Teachers' Union of Ireland, his participation in the Peace Train and, latterly, his membership of the board of Teastas, the State agency for third-level certification outside the universities.

Proinsias De Rossa's oration at Killinick, with its perfectly chosen quotation from Raymond Carver, helped to fortify us all in the face of a tragedy from which little solace can be drawn. To Mary, whom he met in UCG - Michael up from Ennis, Mary in from Oughterard - and to his adored daughters Karla and Kiera, we can only offer as consolation his life's work with its affirmation that the public space, the political, is the determinant in all our lives.