6 March 2008 Edition
Le Chéile 2008
The republican family honours activists
BY SEÁN Mac BRÁDAIGH
THE 2008 Le Chéile event, held to honour five Irish republicans, one from each province and one from overseas, for their hard work and dedication to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality saw hundreds of guests – including many leading republicans, Sinn Féin TDs, MPs MEPs and MLAs – pack into Dublin’s Stillorgan Park Hotel on Saturday evening, 1 March.
Republican supporters and activists from every corner of Ireland gathered to pay tribute to the lives and the republican activism of the five honourees: Brian Keenan (Ulster), Ella O’Dwyer (Munster), Kathleen Glavey (Connacht), Áine Ní Gabhann (Leinster) and Jim Slaven (International).
On stage, Sinn Féin Senator Pearse Doherty and Councillor Mary Doyle related brief biographies of the honourees, in Irish and English, before Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and party Chairperson Mary Lou McDonald presented each with commemorative bronze sculptures designed by world-renowned artist Robert Ballagh.
Thunderous applause greeted leading republican Brian Keenan as he made his way on stage to accept his award. The Ulster honouree thanked the Ulster activists for what he said was a great honour.
He congratulated Sinn Féin on a good Ard Fheis and said that the weekend had seen a lot of pragmatism and that this augurs well for the future.
Keenan said the republican struggle has been a long one and that there is still “a long way to go”. He said the struggle needs to be conducted at all times with integrity and without bitterness. He regretted the fact that in recent years as some people had disagreed and left the Movement, there had been a degree of bitterness. He appealed to republicans to do whatever they can to heal any bitterness that existed. “In your own life, try to do something about it,” he said. Thanking republicans again for the honour they were bestowing he said: “I love you to bits.”
Connacht honouree Kathleen Glavey was not able to attend the Le Chéile event in person so her award was accepted on her behalf by Joe Desmond.
Paying tribute to Kathleen, he said that over the last number of years Kathleen has been key to bringing the Sinn Féin message to all parts of rural north Galway. She was very effective in turning things around for Sinn Féin in the county. With much of the connection with republicanism in that part of Ireland coming from historical reference, Kathleen was able to make republicanism relevant in the 21st Century in County Galway.
On behalf of Kathleen, Joe Desmond paid thanks for the presentation and said it was a great honour.
Speaking in Irish as she accepted her award, Leinster honouree Áine Ní Gabhann said that she never did what she did for awards or anything of the sort but said she was very honoured nonetheless. Áine paid tribute to a very long list of people, including friends and fellow Sinn Féin members as well as her parents, Pádraig and Máire Ni Gabhann, and her uncle, Seámus Mac Uidhir, who spent several years interned in the Curragh Camp.
Encouraging everyone present to enjoy the night, she concluded by saying: “Go raibh míle, míle maith agaibh. Ar agahidh linn, agus tiocfaidh ár lá.”
Munster honouree Ella O’Dwyer thanked all those people who had sent her cards on the recent death of her father, Billy.
Giving thanks for the honour she was receiving, she said that, like many other republicans, she had two families: her natural family and the family that is the Republican Movement. That, she said, is something that will never change.
To huge applause, Ella then invited onto the stage a number of her comrades who had spent many years in English jails – Patrick Hackett, Martina Anderson and Eddie Butler.
Accepting his award on behalf of those in Scotland who had worked for Irish freedom over generations, Jim Slaven also acknowledged that the award was in recognition of the work of the Irish Diaspora.
He noted the shift in power away from the British state and towards Celtic nations that was in evidence in Scotland and said that this is a process that is irreversible and will have an impact on the Irish republican struggle.
He said the debates over the Ard Fheis weekend under the banner of Republicanism in the 21st Century showed that republicanism in the years ahead would no longer just be about resistance and sacrifice but also about government and power and said that the message he wanted to bring was that “the Diaspora are with you”.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams welcomed all those present to the Le Chéile event, particularly the five honourees. Each had made a very significant and unique contribution to the struggle for Irish freedom, he said.
To loud applause, Adams said that Ella O’Dwyer’s gesture in bringing onto the stage several of her comrades – who between them had done so many years in English prisons – “says everything”.
“What genuine republicanism is about is the freedom of the people of this island, of the unity of Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter, a rejection of sectarianism and the establishment of citizenship, the sovereignty of the people.
“Republicans are people who adhere to these broad principles but also who act upon them and our honourees tonight certainly have acted on those principles.
Adams said that “behind every single person on this ardán tonight are families, friends, communities, comrades, people who kept faith, people who looked after them, people who stayed with them, people who reared their children, people who kept things going.
“Of course they are Irish republicans, of course they are activists, and of course they are brave. But we are so used to dealing with brave people sometimes that we just take it for granted. But above all they are wonderful, giving, generous human beings.”
He said awards such those being presented could never sum up the contribution which they had made nor is it meant to.
“It is simply a token of our love and our affection and our gratitude for their contribution to our struggle. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.”