Home Gaeilge Ruairí Ó Brádaigh – Cuimhneachán

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh – Cuimhneachán


Anyone who has ever navigated the ocean sea understands the importance of the North Star, that constant in the firmament, which enables the sailor, ideally with the assistance of a sextant, to know the latitude of his travels. There are very few such constants in the human experience, especially, since the occasion of Original Sin, among men.

Every once in a great while, a man emerges, whose example is as constant as the North Polar Star, in spite of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” Bishop Fulton J. Sheen used to remind us that there is a real difference between right and wrong, “Right is still Right, even if no one is Right, and Wrong is still Wrong, even if everyone is Wrong.”

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was there, throughout the second half of the twentieth century, and on, through his last breath on the 5th of June 2013, into the twenty-first, reminding, through example, of the rectitude of the men and women of 1916, and of their Easter Monday Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Respecting the democratic will of the people as expressed in the 1918 general election (a virtual national-self determination plebiscite), which elected deputies then formed An Chead Dáil Éireann, which assembly, without foreign let or hindrance, pledged its allegiance to the Irish Republic Proclaimed in 1916, and then, following the American example of the 4th of July 1776, Declared, to a candid world, the Independence of that Irish Republic, Ruairí also pledged his allegiance to that All-Ireland Irish Republic.

As an educator, himself, Ruairí understood that an electorate, like a conscience (or, as above, a navigator), is only a reliable guide when properly informed. Even though the Irish Republic of 1916 had been driven underground by “outrageous fortune,” and replaced, de facto, with a Twenty-Six County neo-colonial state, and the Six County “occupied Ireland” statelet, he, in part inspired by the example of his own father, and in part by Ireland’s old tradition of nationhood, he, not unlike Pádraic Pearse, determined, at a very early age, to a life of service, to restore Ireland to its place among the nations of the world, to bring about the realization of the bright dream of 1916. Beginning his public life in 1950, he consistently set the example of loyalty to that ideal. Working secretly (beginning in the IRA in 1951), as well as in the open, he set the example, and preached only the Gospel of Tone, of Emmet, of Rossa, and of Pearse.

Ruairí’s devotion to duty was single-minded and with steely determination, but his persona was generally a most charming and persuasive exterior. As we traveled around Ireland in his old grey car, or in whatever car I had rented, it was always an education, not unlike walking the streets of his Jewel and Darlin’ Dublin with Éamonn Mac Thomáis.

There was no end to the stories, always insightful, informative stories, not intended for entertainment, as much as for education. He seemed to know everyone, and everyone seemed to know him. It could be a car repair shop in the Midlands, and a nearby restaurant for a cup of tea while a broken windscreen was replaced, or a place in the wilds of Conamara, which The Tall Fella had once used as a safe house. A private meeting could have been arranged with a French jurist, of international reputation, at The Castle Hotel, or with some other interesting people in the Skeffington, within sight of Liam Mellows’ statue on Eyre Square in the City of the Tribes. I witnessed mutual respect, understanding and genuine affection between Ruairí and so many real people. For my part I developed some lasting friendships with men, to whom I was introduced by Ruairí – one of whom named one of his sons Ruairí Ó Brádaigh Mooney.

Ruairí always seemed to be on duty. Once we were to meet the family in Dublin of an American attorney, who was active in the Cause in New York. We arrived early, it was raining, Ruairí got out of the car to stand under the overhang of a building, whilst I sat in the car. A man came along and said to him, “Ó Brádaigh, tusa?” Which was followed by ten minutes of conversation, totally as Gaedhilge, when your man said to Ruairí (still in Irish), “I’m here to meet a Yank from New York called Liam Ó Murchadha.” Whereupon Ruairí pointed to me, and I still sitting in the car this entire time. No matter what the occasion, including that cup of tea (accompanied by a pile of spuds – you would think we were farmers just come in from turning the hay), Ruairí was always the brilliant, but respectful, conversationalist. Yet as I listened to him charm (and educate) the house, there was never a wasted word.

Once I asked him if he were ever off duty, he responded, saying, “I’ll bet that you think Ireland is a country.” To which I responded, “Of course I do.” “It’s not,” he replied, much to my astonishment, “Ireland is a large village, and sooner or later, everyone knows everyone else’s business. Which is why we must always be conscious of setting the right example.” After a slight pause, he added, “Besides, if I failed in my duty, anywhere, Patsy would hear of it, and tell me about it.”

There were two points to this exchange, the obvious one regarding his sense of duty, and the more subtle one that his wife, Patsy, was his confidant and secret counsellor in all things – in many ways part of the secret of his amazing successes, against outrageous odds. He also confided that, when he would travel with Daithí Ó Conaill, that Ó Conaill was so straight, that, if he thought that a joke Ruairí had told might have been, in the slightest, inappropriate, Ó Conaill would later, privately, take him to task for it.

“At work” for Ireland there were two teams: privately, Ruairí and Patsy; publicly Ruairí Ó Brádaigh and Daithí Ó Conaill. Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill (assisted by Seán Ó Brádaigh, publicity director and the brother of Ruairí, who also had an uncanny ability to advise on how to avoid virtual land mines) were the intellectual dynamic duo of the Irish Republic, who would have Ireland, as Pearse said of O’Donovan Rossa, “as we would surely have her, not Free merely, but Gaelic as well, not Gaelic merely, but Free as well.”

While they were the intellectual leaders of the Irish Republican movement, they were not prideful of their position, but rather were continuously seeking input from a variety of others. On one occasion I witnessed them consulting with Nobel Laureate Seán Mac Bride, at Mac Bride’s home. In the crafting of the Éire Nua plan, they called upon, extensively, the legal counsel of the late Caoimhín Campbell of Galway. The point here is that neither man was on an ego trip, but both sought the best advice they could find, because they desired whatever was best for Ireland, and they had a prejudice in finding it in the culture and ancient institutions of Ireland, before any foreign “-ism” or imports – including unbridled capitalism and state-imposed socialism.

The danger of foreign influence, of attempts to involve Ireland, on one side or another of the Cold War, was real. Just as in the early years of the twentieth century Irish nationalists would proclaim, “We serve neither King nor Kaiser,” it could have been said by Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill – Irishmen of one allegiance only, in the 1950s, and subsequently, “We serve neither Crown nor Kremlin.” It was KGB/Communist influence among some members of what would become the “Stickies,” in addition to the question of the traditional policy of Abstention, and the failure to defend the people down the “North,” which contributed to the 1969/70 “Provisional” – “Official” split in the Republican movement.

Ó Brádaigh and Ó Conaill, led other Irish Republicans, in defence of Ireland’s old tradition of nationhood, in opposition to all foreign attempts (English, Soviet, or otherwise) to control the Republican movement, or to violate Irish neutrality. Éire Nua is an intellectual tour de force; while it seems simple enough, it is the result of slow (almost evolutionary) and deliberate research and discussion. Yet, not unlike the distributism of Chesterton and Belloc, but in a uniquely Irish way, it is a revolutionary departure from the capitalist and socialist foreign systems, which, sooner or later, fail to deliver the promised joy. While Ruairí Ó Brádaigh deserves to be remembered for a variety of things, including his physical courage as a military leader, the Éire Nua plan may be among his most lasting contributions (analogous to the relationship of James Madison to the Constitution of the United States).

Ruairí Ó Brádaigh was exceptionally mindful of “Ireland’s exiled children in America” and of their potential to assist the Cause of Irish Freedom. He testified before a committee of the United States Senate, and lobbied the Congress. He traveled extensively, building the morale of, listening to, and advising (not dictating to) the “Yanks” who wished to make a meaningful contribution. He was no stranger to Our Lady of Refuge Parish in The Bronx. Only for Ruairí, on the recommendation of Mike Flannery in a meeting on Fordham Road, introducing us, I might never have met the late Dave Burke of Lawrence, Massachusetts (who became one of my dearest friends), and never have succeeded Dave as Editor of the National HIBERNIAN DIGEST. He is also personally responsible for opportunities for other adventures in my life. My story, I am certain, is not unique.

This remembrance began with an analogy to the North Star and how its constancy, measured with accuracy through the use of a sextant, becomes an invaluable aid to navigation. While the corpus of Irish Republican ideology, the definition of Freedom, may be found in the words of Tone, Emmet, Lalor, Mitchel, Rossa and Pearse; the teaching, and the example, of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh has provided us with the instrument to measure, with great accuracy, the present degree of orthodox adherence to the Fenian Faith.

Like Mike Flannery, who was “out” with his older brother in 1916, and who fought in the Irish War for Independence, and in the Second Defence of the Republic, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, with the blessing of Commandant General Tom Maguire, last surviving member of the Second Dáil Éireann, and other associations, provides continuity within the Irish Republican movement.

It is fortunate that the stature of Ruairí Ó Brádaigh, who could never be purchased nor intimidated, has been recognized by a number of serious writers and historians – today’s Ireland, as well as future generations, will be in their debt; I will mention only three: J. Bowyer Bell, The Secret Army: The IRA 1916 – …. (also recommended to me by old Joe Clark, a member of the Árd Comhairle of Sinn Féin, Sráid Caoimhín in 1971, who had commanded the defense of the Mount Street Bridge in 1916, “it’s all here, and he’s got it right”); Ed Moloney, A Secret History of the IRA (former Northern Editor of The Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune, now living in New York); Robert W. White, Ruairí Ó Brádaigh: The Life and Politics of an Irish Revolutionary (Dean of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts and Professor of Sociology at Indiana University – Purdue University, Indianapolis).

While we are all saddened that Ruairí has been taken from us, we should, in the words of Pádraic Pearse, speaking of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, be “in exaltation of spirit that it has been given to us to come … into so close a communion with that brave and splendid Gael.” Ruairí’s death on the 5th of June is doubly significant: June 5th is the birthday of another great Irish Patriot / Revolutionary, James Connolly; also, June 5th is the anniversary of the great Irish victory at the Battle of Benburb (1646). If he couldn’t remain with us, then at least he had the opportunity, in Heaven, of observing June 5th in the company of the likes of James Connolly and of Eoghan Ruadh Uí Néill – “Owen Roe.” †

Today’s mass in my home parish of Immaculate Conception in Irvington, New York is being offered in memory of Ruairí. Ar dheis lámh Dé go raibh a anam uasal.

Editor’s Note: The Gaelic American is digitizing archival videos by visiting our Youtube page you can see the latest one which features Ruairís Easter 1983 address in Toronto, Canada.

Contributed by Liam Ó Murchadha, former Editor of The Irish People and Hibernian Digest.

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  1. What a welcome tribute to Ruairi. Also to Mike Flannery and David Burke. Two of the most exemplary of Ireland’s patriots. I knew Ruairi and Mike very well; and saw Burke at the Cullyhanna reenactment of the British military murder of Fergal Cariher and the wounding of his brother. The reenactment was followed by a “trial” by international jurists in which Burke participated.

    The above eulogy is so ethical and appropriate as to place its author Liam O Murchadha among the exalted ranks of those he commemorates. May I be so fortunate as to meet Liam someday.


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