Friends of the International Brigades Ireland (FIBI)  remember one of their colleagues.


The sudden passing of Manus O'Riordan on Sunday, September 26, came as a massive shock to everyone connected with FIBI, particularly as many of us had met him at our annual Sliabh Foye commemoration in Omeath, Co Louth, the previous afternoon.

Manus had proudly carried the late Jer O’Leary’s trademark Connolly Column flag to the cairn honouring seven Co Louth brigaders, on the hillside overlooking a magnificent Carlingford Lough, where the ashes of his mother, Kay, and his father, Michael, had been scattered. He had borne this flag to many an event over the years, most recently at a community gathering to express solidarity with the Palestinian people during the bombing of Gaza.
 
And, as usual, although he was clearly revelling in the beautiful day and the cordial company, he had to rush off to yet another event. On Saturday night it was a singing session in his native Dublin, but it could have been anything from a football match to an appearance as a keynote speaker at an academic symposium in west Cork.

As he headed towards his car after the wreaths were laid and tribute was paid to FIBI founding member and president Eddie O’Neill, who died in July, the farewells would have been ringing in his ears and he might have been looking forward to the resumption of our annual Jarama Valley commemoration next February.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. On Sunday evening, our friend and comrade - a stalwart of the anti-fascist movement and key figure in preserving the memory of the International Brigades – would leave us bereft.
 
Manus was a man who wore many hats. As well as being a member of the FIBI executive, he filled the role of Ireland Secretary for the International Brigades Memorial Trust (IBMT). He was also a trade unionist, political activist, polemicist, writer, and singer of some repute.

Manus was reared in the Portobello area of Dublin, but his background could hardly have been more internationalist. His father Michael was an IRA veteran from Cork who would later become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. A brigader, he was wounded in the last major action of the Spanish Civil War during a republican offensive on Hill 481 near Gandesa in 1938.

As Manus freely admitted, he and his late father didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to politics, but they were always united in their pride of the heroism of the International Brigaders who defended the Spanish Republic in the fight against fascism. They not only believed in the nobility of their ideals but realised the necessity of preserving their memory to inspire future generations.

The end of Franco’s tyrannical dictatorship following his death in 1975 paved the way for a new regime to publicly recognise the role played by those international volunteers who had fought for the Republic. Surviving veterans were welcomed and warmly received. In 1988, Manus accompanied his father to the former battlefields for the first time, and they attended the unveiling of a memorial in Barcelona.
He was fond of relating a particular anecdote from this special trip.

Raising a glass, Michael quipped: ‘It’s taken me 50 years to have a beer in Gandesa!’.

Thankfully, it wouldn’t be his last! In the following years, the pair would attend many more commemorative events in Madrid, Catalunya, and Euskadi. And Manus would become firm friends with many of his father’s comrades and fellow veterans, including Bob Doyle, Eugene Downing and Peter O’Connor.

In May 1996, the then President of Ireland Mary Robinson unveiled a statue marking the 80th anniversary of the death of James Connolly at Beresford Place, opposite Liberty Hall, Dublin. The dwindling band of surviving Irish Brigaders were given pride of place at the ceremony and the president singled them out for attention. It isn’t hard to detect the hidden hand of Manus behind this belated recognition.

In 2016, when the current President of Ireland Michael D Higgins officiated at the AGM of the IBMT at Liberty Hall, Manus stated:

Ireland should rightly be proud of these volunteers who fought against fascism and for social justice. Acknowledgement of their sacrifice and inspirational role in the war in Spain was a long time coming, but in recent years it has been heartening to see greater public awareness and official recognition of the Irish volunteers.

Much of this greater public awareness and official recognition was due to Manus’ tireless campaigning against media and historical distortion. He was a constant thorn in the side of those who sought to twist their actions – always challenging their propaganda through letters to the newspapers and well-argued articles in various authoritative publications.

In 2013, Manus was persuaded to combine his role as IBMT Secretary with an executive position in FIBI, which had evolved from The Friends of Charlie Donnelly, an organisation formed by Eddie O’Neill, Bob Doyle and Harry Owens, to honour the memory of the young Co Tyrone poet who fell at the Battle of Jarama.

Manus was attracted by the activism of FIBI, which had established very close contacts within the municipality of Rivas-Vaciamadrid and had, in 2010, erected a memorial cairn constructed with a stone from every county in Ireland, overlooking the Jarama battlefield.

FIBI has since extended its remit, developing strong bonds in Spain and Catalunya. It has built several, similar cairns across Ireland and is involved in extensive research into men and women born in Ireland who fought against Franco. Throughout the last decade, Manus has been an intrinsic part of our many endeavours and events near and far to keep alive their memories.
 
He was a mainstay in the annual Jarama Commemoration and was involved in planning and attending commemorations in Lopera, Brunete, San Pedro de Cardeña, as well as many locations throughout Ireland of particular significance to The Connolly Column.

Perhaps the most poignant trip abroad occurred in 2018 when FIBI marked the 80th anniversary of The Retreats, where his father Michael was wounded. Manus and his sister, Brenda, stood shoulder to shoulder at the spot beside the River Ebro where their father had crossed into battle. He too had carried a flag into battle.

Manus had a sharp intellect, which he used to rebut any slur on the memory or reputation of International Brigade volunteers. He was also dogged in his pursuit of historical revisionists, lazy journalists, and careless researchers. He would demolish their shibboleths with precise, sharp, forensic arguments. Over the years, he often had to challenge smears against Frank Ryan, Bob Doyle, Charlie Donnelly or the Brigades in general. He was not found wanting when it came to taking on the right-wing peddlers of distortion.

In a long, varied career as a trade union official, he was an Economist with the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU) but was probably better-known as Head of Research with SIPTU, a position he filled with distinction for many years. He was an outstanding labour historian and an accomplished traditional singer, in both Irish and English. Those of us fortunate to spend time in his company appreciated both his love of song and his extensive repertoire.

He was also an avid supporter and proud member of his local League of Ireland football club, Bohemian FC. His son Luke is the club’s Communications Director, and his eldest son Neil is also a member. The family love affair with the club continues down to his grandchildren.

On Monday night, the day after his death and only three days after he had attended what would turn out to be his last match, fans of both sides observed a respectful minute’s silence before the club’s away game with Dundalk at Oriel Park. The Bohs’ fans paid tribute with a large banner: ‘RIP Manus – No Pasaran!’.

We will miss our fallen comrade, but our thoughts are first and foremost with those who have lost a father, grandfather, brother, and partner. Our sincere condolences to all his family members.

With the passing of Manus so soon after Eddie we are conscious of the huge debt we owe them and the massive contribution they have made to the legacy of the anti-fascist fighters of the 1930s and the continuation of that struggle today.

We believe there is no better tribute we can pay to Manus and Eddie than to ensure that their work continues. FIBI will build on the solid foundations they have laid.

La Lucha Continúa. 

Manus O’Riordan 1949 - 2021

Friends of the International Brigades Ireland (FIBI)  remember one of their colleagues.


The sudden passing of Manus O'Riordan on Sunday, September 26, came as a massive shock to everyone connected with FIBI, particularly as many of us had met him at our annual Sliabh Foye commemoration in Omeath, Co Louth, the previous afternoon.

Manus had proudly carried the late Jer O’Leary’s trademark Connolly Column flag to the cairn honouring seven Co Louth brigaders, on the hillside overlooking a magnificent Carlingford Lough, where the ashes of his mother, Kay, and his father, Michael, had been scattered. He had borne this flag to many an event over the years, most recently at a community gathering to express solidarity with the Palestinian people during the bombing of Gaza.
 
And, as usual, although he was clearly revelling in the beautiful day and the cordial company, he had to rush off to yet another event. On Saturday night it was a singing session in his native Dublin, but it could have been anything from a football match to an appearance as a keynote speaker at an academic symposium in west Cork.

As he headed towards his car after the wreaths were laid and tribute was paid to FIBI founding member and president Eddie O’Neill, who died in July, the farewells would have been ringing in his ears and he might have been looking forward to the resumption of our annual Jarama Valley commemoration next February.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. On Sunday evening, our friend and comrade - a stalwart of the anti-fascist movement and key figure in preserving the memory of the International Brigades – would leave us bereft.
 
Manus was a man who wore many hats. As well as being a member of the FIBI executive, he filled the role of Ireland Secretary for the International Brigades Memorial Trust (IBMT). He was also a trade unionist, political activist, polemicist, writer, and singer of some repute.

Manus was reared in the Portobello area of Dublin, but his background could hardly have been more internationalist. His father Michael was an IRA veteran from Cork who would later become the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland. A brigader, he was wounded in the last major action of the Spanish Civil War during a republican offensive on Hill 481 near Gandesa in 1938.

As Manus freely admitted, he and his late father didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to politics, but they were always united in their pride of the heroism of the International Brigaders who defended the Spanish Republic in the fight against fascism. They not only believed in the nobility of their ideals but realised the necessity of preserving their memory to inspire future generations.

The end of Franco’s tyrannical dictatorship following his death in 1975 paved the way for a new regime to publicly recognise the role played by those international volunteers who had fought for the Republic. Surviving veterans were welcomed and warmly received. In 1988, Manus accompanied his father to the former battlefields for the first time, and they attended the unveiling of a memorial in Barcelona.
He was fond of relating a particular anecdote from this special trip.

Raising a glass, Michael quipped: ‘It’s taken me 50 years to have a beer in Gandesa!’.

Thankfully, it wouldn’t be his last! In the following years, the pair would attend many more commemorative events in Madrid, Catalunya, and Euskadi. And Manus would become firm friends with many of his father’s comrades and fellow veterans, including Bob Doyle, Eugene Downing and Peter O’Connor.

In May 1996, the then President of Ireland Mary Robinson unveiled a statue marking the 80th anniversary of the death of James Connolly at Beresford Place, opposite Liberty Hall, Dublin. The dwindling band of surviving Irish Brigaders were given pride of place at the ceremony and the president singled them out for attention. It isn’t hard to detect the hidden hand of Manus behind this belated recognition.

In 2016, when the current President of Ireland Michael D Higgins officiated at the AGM of the IBMT at Liberty Hall, Manus stated:

Ireland should rightly be proud of these volunteers who fought against fascism and for social justice. Acknowledgement of their sacrifice and inspirational role in the war in Spain was a long time coming, but in recent years it has been heartening to see greater public awareness and official recognition of the Irish volunteers.

Much of this greater public awareness and official recognition was due to Manus’ tireless campaigning against media and historical distortion. He was a constant thorn in the side of those who sought to twist their actions – always challenging their propaganda through letters to the newspapers and well-argued articles in various authoritative publications.

In 2013, Manus was persuaded to combine his role as IBMT Secretary with an executive position in FIBI, which had evolved from The Friends of Charlie Donnelly, an organisation formed by Eddie O’Neill, Bob Doyle and Harry Owens, to honour the memory of the young Co Tyrone poet who fell at the Battle of Jarama.

Manus was attracted by the activism of FIBI, which had established very close contacts within the municipality of Rivas-Vaciamadrid and had, in 2010, erected a memorial cairn constructed with a stone from every county in Ireland, overlooking the Jarama battlefield.

FIBI has since extended its remit, developing strong bonds in Spain and Catalunya. It has built several, similar cairns across Ireland and is involved in extensive research into men and women born in Ireland who fought against Franco. Throughout the last decade, Manus has been an intrinsic part of our many endeavours and events near and far to keep alive their memories.
 
He was a mainstay in the annual Jarama Commemoration and was involved in planning and attending commemorations in Lopera, Brunete, San Pedro de Cardeña, as well as many locations throughout Ireland of particular significance to The Connolly Column.

Perhaps the most poignant trip abroad occurred in 2018 when FIBI marked the 80th anniversary of The Retreats, where his father Michael was wounded. Manus and his sister, Brenda, stood shoulder to shoulder at the spot beside the River Ebro where their father had crossed into battle. He too had carried a flag into battle.

Manus had a sharp intellect, which he used to rebut any slur on the memory or reputation of International Brigade volunteers. He was also dogged in his pursuit of historical revisionists, lazy journalists, and careless researchers. He would demolish their shibboleths with precise, sharp, forensic arguments. Over the years, he often had to challenge smears against Frank Ryan, Bob Doyle, Charlie Donnelly or the Brigades in general. He was not found wanting when it came to taking on the right-wing peddlers of distortion.

In a long, varied career as a trade union official, he was an Economist with the Irish Transport & General Workers Union (ITGWU) but was probably better-known as Head of Research with SIPTU, a position he filled with distinction for many years. He was an outstanding labour historian and an accomplished traditional singer, in both Irish and English. Those of us fortunate to spend time in his company appreciated both his love of song and his extensive repertoire.

He was also an avid supporter and proud member of his local League of Ireland football club, Bohemian FC. His son Luke is the club’s Communications Director, and his eldest son Neil is also a member. The family love affair with the club continues down to his grandchildren.

On Monday night, the day after his death and only three days after he had attended what would turn out to be his last match, fans of both sides observed a respectful minute’s silence before the club’s away game with Dundalk at Oriel Park. The Bohs’ fans paid tribute with a large banner: ‘RIP Manus – No Pasaran!’.

We will miss our fallen comrade, but our thoughts are first and foremost with those who have lost a father, grandfather, brother, and partner. Our sincere condolences to all his family members.

With the passing of Manus so soon after Eddie we are conscious of the huge debt we owe them and the massive contribution they have made to the legacy of the anti-fascist fighters of the 1930s and the continuation of that struggle today.

We believe there is no better tribute we can pay to Manus and Eddie than to ensure that their work continues. FIBI will build on the solid foundations they have laid.

La Lucha Continúa. 

No comments