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Obituary: Pat O’Connor, 1948-2015
by D.R.O'Connor Lysaght
12 August 2015
Pat O'Connor's death deprives Ireland of a fine singer, a good parent, a good friend and a great socialist. Many can claim to the first three titles. Few combine them with the last. That fact makes it the more necessary for his life to be celebrated here. Many more signed up for the struggle; very few fought it as consistently and staunchly as did he. Whether it was marching for political prisoners, picketing recalcitrant capital, canvassing, editing the revived Bottom Dog or organizing the commemoration of the Limerick Soviet his frail form was to be seen in the thick of the action, save when, as happened too frequently, his delicate health betrayed him.
It is well to ask how his activism was maintained compared to the dissipation of that of so many of his contemporaries, who had shown more initial enthusiasm and who seemed to enjoy greater physical stamina than he. Revolutionary socialist activism is, of course, a gruelling profession, yet not all these others faced worse handicaps than he.
The answer must be that Pat entered the struggle unencumbered with the illusions that stimulated others before failing them. From the beginning, he knew that the road would be long and hard but he knew, also, that it had to be travelled. He recognized that the struggle for national unity then at its most intense, was one that could be achieved only by revolutionary means, that this would involve the mobilizing of the workers throughout Ireland to overthrow both the twenty-six county state and the six county province as against the brave but doomed strategy of relying on the arms of a minority representing a political minority of a religious minority in a territorial segment to drive the British Army into the sea and that revolutionary socialists could not bypass it. Acknowledging this, he was realistic about both immediate and ultimate possibilities. When the writer was staying in Limerick to try to organize a branch there it was often Pat who deflated the bubble of his impatience. He softened the sharpness of the dichotomy in his perception by a dry wit which cannot be reproduced in print.
It should not be assumed that Limerick itself posed a particular problem. While it was still the city of confraternities and of the anti-Semitic boycott of 1904, it had a relatively small but real countervailing left wing tradition in unearthing which Pat played his part. His problems and those of his comrades were with those who claimed to speak for this tradition. The increasingly rightist populism of deputy Steve Coughlan was too blatant to be a real threat. More serious was Jim Kemmy, a principled hard working reformist who believed in the myth that the Northern Irish Protestants constituted a distinct nation, denounced republicanism as Fascist and attacked anyone who allied with them, however temporarily. As opponents of partition from a clear revolutionary socialist standpoint, our Irish section had to fight to grow in Limerick more than elsewhere. Nonetheless, it did grow slowly until the end of the seventies.
The hunger strikes narrowed its field of manoeuvre. The republican movement emerged not only larger but ready to benefit from a new departure that would take into account socialist critiques and answer them sufficiently to fool people that they were revolutionary socialists rather than taking the slippery slope followed by so many of their predecessors into reformism. At the same time, and not just in Ireland, socialism itself was under pressure from that imperialist offensive identified with the names of Reagan and Thatcher, and which the leaders of the reformist left, including Kemmy, led the way in appeasing.
Pat O'Connor fought against the tide when others around him went under. As there were no other major initiatives open to him other than propaganda, he produced propaganda. The Bottom Dog was maintained, if irregularly and, on the broader theoretical front, he was a leading figure in the Limerick Soviet Commemoration Committee. In this last, he understood, better than the writer, the full significance of the event commemorated as an outstanding example of peaceful working class resistance to imperialism and as a launching pad for a workers' republic that was sabotaged by the political cowardice and organizational manoeuvring of the official national leaders of the class that staged it.
The writer has good memories of Pat: the political discussions in the kitchen of his flat in Rathbane, his encouragement when the writer wondered if his account of the Soviet was not better than Kemmy's ('Don't be silly!' He would walk the walk by publishing the paper as a pamphlet), Pat's fiftieth birthday party when all sections of Limerick's left came to celebrate his life. His second marriage when he presented the writer's wife with the cake to celebrate her simultaneous birthday. Less happily, there were the times when Pat turned up at Limerick station to greet the writer only to find that he had taken a different train to the one expected. Finally there was the last meeting at the premier of the Limerick Soviet DVD on Mayday last. Everyone knew that he was dying, but he was fighting a determined rearguard action to survive and behaved with his usual ironic cheerfulness with only physical signs of deterioration, such as his inability to drive. The said DVD leaves its viewers with him giving the penultimate analysis of the event, as is only proper.
On behalf of Socialist Democracy commiserations are sent to all those close to Pat: his wife Brima, his ex-wife and long standing friend Mary, his daughter Karen, his grandchildren and his siblings.
In such cases, it is common to say that the subject's life will not be seen again. Here it can be expected that the struggle will disprove that cliché. The future of humanity requires it.
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