Most younger people will be unfamiliar with the name Ruairi O’Bradaigh. He died yesterday.
He was a familiar figure in the 1970s. The Roscommon schoolteacher was a familiar figure in the 1970s and was often on TV alongside Sean MacStiofain.
It seems a lifetime ago. O’Bradaigh was President of Sinn Fein and MacStiofain (English born John Stephenson) was Commander of Irish Republican Army. They were unlikely figures and I dont think were overly popular with northern nationalists, even those of a militant persuasion. To some extent O’Bradaighs Connachtness, Mac Stiofains Englishness and their combined Dublinness distanced them from political reality and the “front line”.
Yet O’Bradaigh is interesting. Despite the obvious look of an schoolteacher, complete with pioneer pin and fainne…he was a paramiltary man in the 1950s leading raids in England and across the border, during Operation Harvest…so he was a peculiar throwback to the old IRA (1916-1922) when young men were village schoolteachers by day and leading flying columns in the mountains by night.
When the new breed of northern Sinn Feiner, Gerry Adams took over the Leadership and the organisation went “legit”, O’Bradaigh looked even more out of his time, out of his depth and increasingly shrill as the voice of the breakaway, Republican Sinn Fein.
Yet in the mid 1970s he was involved in talks with Loyalist paramilitaries which were surprisingly far-sighted for the time. And they were scuppered by no less a waste of space than Conor Cruise O’Brien.
We talk about a Decade of Centenaries. Actually its a decade when people who were once powerful….die. Margaret Thatcher. Ruairi O’Bradaigh…..