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On Friday morning passing pedestrians, public and private transport drivers and passengers on Dublin’s Finglas Road witnessed a funeral cortege in which trade union banners and flags were carried by some of the mourners. The hearse leading the procession, followed by a lone piper did not bear the Starry Plough-draped coffin which instead was carried on the shoulders of a rota of family, comrades and friends on the approximately one-kilometre walk from the home of Manus O’Riordan to service at the famous Glasnevin Cemetery.
A large crowd participated in the funeral procession composed of a wide cross-section of the Irish Left, from revolutionaries to radical reformers to sedate social democrats. Manus was well known in Irish left-wing circles for a number of reasons. At various times he had been an active socialist, a member of the very small but influential and very controversial B&ICO, a senior official in the major trade union SIPTU and an active senior member of the Friends of the International Brigades Ireland. This last owed much to the fact that Manus’ father had fought in Spain and the veneration in the Irish Left and much of the Irish Republican movement for the Irish volunteers who fought to defend the Spanish Republic against the fascist-military uprising led by General Franco and aided by Nazi German and Fascist Italy. Mick O’Riordan survived the Spanish Antifascist War and was General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland and the last time some of the mourners had walked this route was in the elder O’Riordan’s funeral in 2006.
The trade union banners marked Manus’ trade union work while another signalled his support for the Cuban Republic against the blockade imposed upon it by the USA. Two large flags in the red, gold and purple of the Spanish Republic of 1936-1939 were carried too, bearing the legend “Connolly Column” (in Irish and in English) to represent the Irish volunteers who fought against the military-fascist coup. Along the route, copies of a combined Spanish Republic and Starry Plough, attached high upon lampposts, fluttered or strained outwards in the breeze. Among the procession a number of Starry Plough flags flew also, the green and gold version of the Irish Citizen Army, along with a Basque and a Palestinian flag, the latter recalling the stand of the Basque country against Franco and the former, Manus’ solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people. At one point, the Catalan Senyera (flag) was also displayed, recalling that in the Ebro Offensive, Michael O’Riordan had been chosen to carry the Catalan flag across the Ebro river. A number of people also wore scarves of the Bohemian Football Club, with supporters among Manus’ family and friends.
Though cold, the day remained sunny and most thankfully of all, rain-free. Upon reaching the cemetery, the coffin was taken into the chapel near the entrance at which non-religious or religious services may be chosen. Due to Covid19 restrictions, the service was reserved for family and close relatives only.
The rest of the crowd gathered outside and perhaps before 11 am a burst of applause heralded the approach of the President of the Irish State, Michael D. Higgins, accompanied by a senior member of the Irish armed forces in ceremonial uniform. The applause was no doubt in appreciation for Higgins’ appearance and due to his office but also certainly in approval of his decision not to attend a forthcoming British colonial state function to celebrate the centenary of the partition of Ireland in 1921. And also no doubt in sympathy to the controversy regarding his decision whipped up by sections of the British and Irish media and a handful of politicians, not only British and Unionist.
There was an ex-president of a different kind present too, Jack O’Connor, who was elected General President of the SIPTU (trade union) in 2003 for three terms and in 2009, President of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. O’Connor took a stint sharing the weight of the coffin and though no doubt he had his supporters in the crowd he had a substantial number of enemies in the trade union movement too, though this is not the place to speak of the reasons.
Among others who attended to pay their sympathies to the O’Riordan family and Manus’ partner Nancy Wallach were Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and Sinn Féin TDs Louise O’Reilly and Sean Crowe.
Former Labour Party leader Ruairí Quinn, former Press Ombudsman and Labour TD John Horgan, Communist Party of Ireland Gen. Sec. Eugene McCartan and retired trade union leader Mick O’Reilly of Unite were also there.
After the service, some of the attendance repaired to the not very distant Maples Hotel in Iona Road, where food had been prepared and refreshments could be purchased. Even with the crowd by then much diminished, they were spread over two reception rooms and had to be fed in shifts.
Manus’ sister Brenda playing a piece on the harp by medieval Irish musician Turlough O’Carolan while his daughter, Jess read a poem by Charlie Donnelly, who died fighting fascism in Spain, “The Tolerance of Crows” and his son, Luke sang the “Roll Away The Stone” song celebrating workers’ leader Jim Larkin (a song often sung by Manus himself in the past.
Manus was a regular participant in the singing session of the Góilín where he sang songs, in some of which the lyrics were his translations into Spanish, Irish or English and some were of his own composition. He composed poetry too. Accordingly, a significant section of the attendance at his funeral was composed of singers and participants of the Góilín and it was strange to hear no song sung during the procession or among the crowd outside; however folk singer Radie Peat of Lankum sang Liam Weldon’s song Via Extasia and Gerry O’Reilly sang The Parting Glass before Francis Devin sang the socialist anthem The Internationale before Manus O’Riordan’s coffin draped in The Starry Plough was removed for cremation.. At least one occasion to pay respect to Manus’ memory is promised in the future and no doubt song will play an important part of the proceeding then.
Manus O’Riordan wrote and lectured copiously over the years on a number of topics and over time revised some of his opinions, never shrinking from doing so publicly and renouncing a previous position strongly held. All his assertions were backed by arguments in favour and never merely by assertion.
Despite the numerous verbal battles in which Manus took part in speech and print, a number of them quite heated, he managed to remain on speaking terms with most people including his political enemies and had a wide range of friends and of people with whom he was on good terms. He lived an active and useful life but one cut short too soon at the age of 72.
There will be a number of groups and occasions where his absence will be keenly felt and of course by his family and his partner Nancy Wallach.
Manus O’Riordan/ Manus Ó Ríordáin, (1949- 2021)