In Memoriam: Manus O’Riordan (1949-2021)

November 6, 2021
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Manus O’Riordan. Photo CPI Belfast.

On Sunday, September 26, 2021, the respected and popular Trade Unionist, political activist and writer, Manus O’Riordan, died suddenly of a heart attack. Among many to pay tribute was the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who remarked that. “It was a privilege to have known him and his father, Mick O’Riordan, particularly for their testimony to the bravery of those who served in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.” As the son of a former volunteer, Manus grew up steeped in his father’s world of politics, of which Spain was always a significant part.

Born in Dublin in 1949, Manus was raised in the Portobello area of the city. Having earned a secondary school scholarship, he went on to take a degree in economics and politics from University College Dublin and a Masters in Economics and Labor  History from the University of New Hampshire, USA. After graduation he returned to Dublin to work as a researcher and economist for the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union (later merged into SIPTU, the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union), becoming the Head of the Research Department. It was a job to which he dedicated the entirety of his working life and where he met Annette, who he married in 1974.

The couple regularly accompanied Manus’s father to International Brigade commemorations and reunions in Ireland, Britain and, following the death of Franco in 1975, Spain itself. Continuing the work of his father, who wrote a history of the Irish in Spain, Manus penned numerous articles and reviews defending the reputation of the former volunteers, notably his fellow UCD alumnus, the Irish Republican leader, Frank Ryan. Soon after the International Brigade Memorial Trust was formed in Britain in 2001, Manus joined as a trustee and Executive Committee member. In 2010 he officially took on the role of Ireland Secretary and, three years later, he took on a similar role in the Friends of the International Brigades of Ireland.

Both organizations were very fortunate to have him, for Manus possessed a unique skill set. He was extremely knowledgeable, with a prodigious memory and his presence and gravitas commanded fellow committee members’ respect. He was dedicated and hard-working, organizing the IBMT’s AGM in Dublin on two separate occasions: in 2005 when Irish President Mary McAleese invited a group of veterans, including Manus’s father, to meet her at her official residence, and in 2016 when President Higgins opened the meeting and delivered a beautifully crafted and heartfelt speech on the volunteers’ political legacy.

Erudite, cultured, with a mischievous sense of humor, Manus was always entertaining company. He was a brilliant linguist who translated poetry between English and Irish and, like his wife Annette (who sadly died in 2013), was an accomplished singer. He often performed the wonderful Spanish Civil War ballad, Si me quieres escribir, to captivated audiences. Somehow, he also found the time to be a devoted supporter of Bohemian Football Club. On the day after Manus’s death, fans of both sides observed a minute’s silence, paying their affection and respect with a large banner: “RIP Manus – İNo Pasarán!

It’s always sad when someone dies prematurely, but there is some consolation that Manus’s final hours were spent doing what he loved and dedicated to what he did much of his life. On the day before he died, he attended the annual International Brigade commemoration at Omeath, County Louth, proudly bearing the flag commemorating the Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Jim Jump, Chair of the IBMT, expressed the view of many when he paid tribute to his former colleague’s life and work:

Manus made an enormous contribution to the work of the IBMT. He brought a scholarly wealth of knowledge about the volunteers from Ireland to our deliberations and did much to raise awareness about the large Irish contingent in the British Battalion in Spain. He was also a warm and loyal colleague and his loss will be painfully felt by his many friends in the IBMT and beyond.

Above all, the loss will be felt most keenly by his family, to whom he was devoted: his partner Nancy Wallach (also the child of an International Brigader); his sister Brenda; his children, Jess, Neil, and Luke; and his grandchildren, Amaia, Rory, Caleb, and Eli. Hopefully, the widespread demonstrations of affection and respect with which Manus was clearly held will provide them with some small measure of consolation.

Leanann an streachailt – La lucha continúa – The fight goes on.

Richard Baxell is a British historian and the author of three books on the Spanish Civil War. Between 2015 and 2018 he was the Chair of the International Brigade Memorial Trust.

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