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24 August 2006 Edition

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Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary

By Robert W. White. Published by Indiana University Press, USA. Price £18.99/€27.86

Robert White's biography of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is not half as interesting as Ó Brádaigh himself.

This is partly due to the common difficulty of an author attempting to provide general historical detail alongside a more personalised account, but partly I suspect because White does not have any particular insight into those events despite an obvious sympathy with his subject. And, in fairness, he does provide some sense of a man whom I found to be extremely helpful and with an exact recall of events in the 1960s when I interviewed him a few years ago.

The book charts Ó Brádaigh's life from his birth into a Longford republican family in the 1930s. White does provide some flavour of the situation in which republicans found themselves following the Treaty and the dilemmas posed by Fianna Fáil's ascent to power in 1932.

Ó Brádaigh's father, Matt, remained outside the new party as an elected republican councillor and a supporter of the IRA which found itself quickly at odds with De Valera's government. Matt Brady's status as an elected representative also placed him at variance with Sinn Féin, which regarded even participation in local government as a betrayal of the Republic.

That contradiction is not explored by White even though the struggle to reconcile allegiance to the Republic with a concern to actively engage with economic and social conditions on behalf of existing or potential republican supporters has been central to Ó Brádaigh's own political life, and indeed to the Republican Movement as a whole.

Ó Brádaigh became active in the early 1950s and participated in both the preparation for and prosecution of the 1956-1962 Border Campaign. During the course of this he was elected, while interned, as an abstentionist TD for Longford-Westmeath in 1957. He was Chief of Staff of the IRA when the campaign ended in February 1962 but resigned although he remained a prominent member of Sinn Féin.

The 1960s were a period of reorganisation which saw the Republican Movement develop a closer connection to socio-economic struggles.

Although in some accounts this is seen as having laid the basis for what is simplistically portrayed as a 'left-right' split in 1969/'70, Ó Brádaigh has always made it clear that he supported the radicalisation of the Movement.

Those who later opposed what became the 'officials' had supported the Civil Rights Movement. They believed that it would expose the contradictions of the unionist state and British rule and open up the prospect of armed struggle, not to mention the necessity of armed defence. In that they were clearly vindicated.


Ó Brádaigh and others also felt that their opposition to ending abstentionism had been vindicated by what they saw as an inextricable link between the reformist attitude to the Northern state and the desire to pursue parliamentary participation. That interpretation again came to be questioned after the 1981 Hunger Strikes as republicans sought to broaden the struggle politically and become more relevant to potential supporters in the 26 Counties.

Abstentionism from Leinster House was dropped at the 1986 Ard Fheis and Ó Brádaigh and his supporters left to form 'Republican Sinn Féin'.

Most republicans can recognise the consistency of Ó Brádaigh's position over the decades. However, events dictate change and it was felt by most republicans in recent times that certain changes were necessary if the Movement was to advance. Some of those changes have indeed been clearly vindicated by subsequent events. Whether they will lead to long-term success is not in anyone's gift. Success will be born out of active engagement in day-to-day realities.

Ó Brádaigh has chosen to remain outside of that, and as such is entitled to respect, as he is for a lifetime of commitment to his vision of republicanism.

At the end of my interview with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh (to which I referred at the beginning), I asked him what he felt about current (2001) events. He used the analogy of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned by the gods to continually roll a rock to the top of a hill only to see it roll back down and have to resume once again his unending task.

Ó Brádaigh compared himself to a republican Sisyphus.

There is a certain dignity in that, as was identified by the French philosopher, Albert Camus, who saw Sisyphus as a metaphor for the creation of meaning in a meaningless universe. Camus concluded:

"The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

If that is enough, then one must imagine Ruairí Ó Brádaigh happy.

By Matt Treacy

Gripping true story

The Phoenix Park Murders. Conspiracy, betrayal and retribution

By Senan Molony. Published by Mercier Press, Dublin. Price €12.99

It happened in the Phoenix Park, all in the month of May,

Lord Cavendish and Burke came out for to see the polo play.

James Carey gave the signal and his handkerchief he waved,

Then he gave full information against our Fenian blades.

On the evening of 6 May 1882, the highest-ranking administrator of the British government in Ireland and his second in command are out walking in the Phoenix Park. Men, wielding deadly surgical knives, descend upon them. The government officials are slashed to death.

The killings were witnessed from the Vice-Regal Lodge, now Áras an Uachtaráin, the then official residence of her British imperial majesty's representative in Ireland.

One of the dead men was the newly appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, who was married to the niece of the English prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He had arrived on the day he died. The other man was Thomas Henry Burke, the head of the Irish Civil Service, a man denounced by nationalists as the leading 'Castle Rat' in the British occupation. The attackers belonged to a secret society, the Irish National Invincibles, known more simply as The Invincibles.

The Invincibles were composed mostly of former members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, operating independently of IRB Centre.

Senan Molony's book, The Phoenix Park Murders: Murder, Betrayal and Retribution, is a gripping true story of assassination, conspiracy, intrigue, and retribution, published on the 125th anniversary of the event.

Molony's well-crafted book tells the reader in step-by-step drama how the attack occurred, what lengths the police went to in their investigations, how one of the leading members of the Invincibles, James Carey, gave evidence for the British crown only to be shot dead for his betrayal, and how five men were hanged for the deed.

Very few books have been written about the Invincibles (in fact, this reviewer knows of only one, and this has been out of print since the 1960s) and Molony's is certainly welcome.

With a clever style of writing, a fascinating collection of illustrations and an attention to detail that would satisfy the most pedantic of readers, Molony has recreated a host of characters to bring this episode of Irish history alive.

Don't be put off by the badly-designed cover or equally inappropriate and misleading title - this book is a must for all those looking to fill that space on their bookshelves for a book about the Invincibles.


An Phoblacht Magazine


  • Don't miss your chance to get the second edition of the 2019 magazine, published to coincide with Easter Week
  • This special edition which focuses on Irish Unity, features articles by Pearse Doherty, Dr Thomas Paul and Martina Anderson.
  • Pearse sets out the argument for an United Ireland Economy whilst Pat Sheehan makes the case for a universally free all-island health service.
  • Other articles include, ‘Ceist teanga in Éirinn Aontaithe’, ‘Getting to a new Ireland’ and ‘Ireland 1918-22: The people’s revolution’.

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