Essential for Understanding Provisional Irish Republicanism

Robert White, Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Indiana Universit-Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI) with a letter that featured in the Irish News on 21/06/2013 in response to a comment by Newton Emerson. The Irish News, however, did not print the full letter, including — most important — the URL for the online documentary that is open access. The documentary, like the Irish Republican Movement Collection in general, is out there for students, scholars, and interested others to help them become informed and develop their own judgement on what happened between 1969 and today.

Dear Editor,

As the author of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, the Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary (Indiana University Press, 2006), I take exception to Newton Emerson’s comment on June 8th that the book is 'one of Irish history’s most extreme cases of over-biography.' The late Mr. Ó Brádaigh is worthy of a “436-page tome” for several reasons.

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was the first person to serve as Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, as President of Sinn Féin, and to have been elected (as an abstentionist) to Leinster House/Dáil Éireann; sources suggest that only one other person has attained all three positions. In 1957, Ó Brádaigh was in prison for IRA-related offences when he was elected to the Dublin parliament. When he completed his sentence he was not released but interned. In 1958, when he escaped from the Curragh, Ó Brádaigh became Chief of Staff and the first Sinn Féin TD “on the run” since the 1920s. The man lived an interesting life.

Understanding Ruairí Ó Brádaigh’s politics is essential for understanding Provisional Irish Republicanism. Between 1956 and 1983, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh spent more time on the IRA Army Council than any other person. He was Chairman of the 1970 “Provisional” Sinn Féin Caretaker Executive and served as Sinn Féin’s president from 1970 to 1983. Between 1969 and 1983, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh arguably had more influence on Provisional Irish Republicanism than any other person. We cannot understand Gerry Adams and Sinn Féin today without understanding from whence they came. Even in death the authorities considered Ó Brádaigh important; witness armed Gardaí at Sacred Heart Church and a riot squad in St. Coman’s Cemetery. Newton Emerson suggests that Gerry Adams’ tribute (which was longer than “11 words”, by the way) displayed a “better grasp” of Ó Brádaigh’s historical significance than my biography. Perhaps Adams was brief because there are aspects of his relationship with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh that he does not want to admit?

If Newton Emerson’s complaint is that 436 pages is too much too read, there is good news. Ó Brádaigh’s life and politics inform the documentary Unfinished Business: The Politics of “Dissident” Irish Republicans, which is found in the Irish Republican Movement Collection of Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI). Unfinished Business is open-access/online: 

I invite Irish News readers to look at the biography, watch the documentary, and then make their own assessments of whether or not Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was and will remain historically significant.


  1. Well said Robert ,like or loathe the man, Ruairí O Brádaigh never deviated from his core beliefs,he died as he lived a Republican,something his successor in quisling $inn £eind seems in such a hurry to ditch, and though the flame may be diminished by his passing,it still burns and I,m sure will burn brightly once again in the future.

  2. Points well made here Bob. While I personally like Newton the irony is that Ruairi has been much more relevant than him throughout the conflict. Although that is not something I think the Newt would find fault with.

  3. While we have the example of a man like Ruairi O'Bradaigh our cause will never die. Ruairi may have passed from this world but his spirit lives forever in the Irish people he left behind and their desire to be free. In these times when treachery is afoot he showed us the way, the man's a guiding light on the path to the republic, that light will never be extinguished while we have men like Ruairi O'Bradaigh. A colossus in modern republicanism is how some have described him, sounds just about right

  4. Robert , Maybe too many pages for Newt, no one else has given a negative review.

    Ruairí foresaw Adams and Co's thinking and had the Intelligence to state actual facts as to were he seen SF heading for, "Stormont" and Leinster House", he was 100% correct, and , he warned everyone of the future and were SF were going , He was also 100% correct on that. On a scale of 1 to 100 for Honesty , Integrity , Dedication , Adams = 1 , Ruairí = 100.

  5. As I said before, this material/archive is a mega valuable resource and very welcome. I'm just about 3/4 the way through my MA dissertation and would have been much the worse without it. BRILLIANT.

  6. 436 pages covering a lifetime of service to Irish Republicanism is hardly overkill. The book in question is well researched by the author and, for this reason, it represents a comprehensive account of the man, the politician and, the revolutionary. In my opinion, Ruairi is deserving of a highly commendable biography.