24 June 1999 Edition

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Fógraí bháis: PETER O'CONNOR

The death has occurred of Peter O'Connor, one of the last surviving Irish veterans of the International Brigade in the war against fascism in Spain, 1936-39. He was 87. He died peacefully in the early hours of last Saturday morning at Waterford Regional Hospital.

A large crowd attended the mass and the burial on Monday in Ballybricken, Waterford city. At the graveside, Ken Keable played The Coolin on tin whistle and an emotional oration was given by Michael O'Riordan, former Chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland and also a veteran of the Connolly column.

Peter O'Connor was a devoted family man. He was a life-long Pioneer and a man of simple tastes, with an almost child-like sense of humour. Whilst holding firmly to his strong beliefs, he was also at ease with people with different views, tolerant, polite and kind, and always quiet-spoken and modest. He was sweet natured, and a very happy man. To the end he kept in touch with the families of many of the Waterford men who had fought in Spain. He often became emotional when speaking of his comrades who had fought in Spain and took every opportunity to perpetuate their memory, especially Mossie Quinlan of South Parade, Waterford, who was killed at Jarama.

Born in County Waterford on 31 March, 1912, into a republican working-class family, he joined Na Fianna at age nine or ten and then the post-Civil War IRA (1929-1934). He participated in the refounding of the Communist Party of Ireland in 1933. He was a delegate to the Republican Congress in 1934 but then had to go to London to seek work. He was awarded the Bronze Medal of the British TUC for recruitment. In December 1936 he went from London to fight in the war against fascism as a member of the Connolly Column of the International Brigade. He fought in the ferocious battles of Jarama and Brunete, resisting the fascist advance to Madrid. Many of his comrades were killed at his side. He helped to carry the body of Charlie Donnelly, the County Tyrone poet, from the battlefield.

He remained a member of the Communist Party of Ireland until his death. In 1996 his union, MSF, joined with SIPTU in publishing his short autobiography, A Soldier of Liberty, in which he wrote, ``You have to believe in something - in a cause that will make the world a better place, or you have wasted your life.''

The Book Centre in Barronstrand Street, Waterford, (051 873823) is creating a window display in honour of this great son of Waterford, and will be selling a A Soldier of Liberty.

By Ken Keable.

An Phoblacht
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Dublin 1