Ruairi O Bradaigh
Maintaining ideological purity was more important to him than human life
HIS parents set Peter Roger Casement Brady firmly on the road of killing for Ireland. His innate obstinacy and theologically inclined mind were what would make him an implacable opponent of compromise.
His father, Matt, was an IRA veteran who had been badly wounded by a policeman in 1919 and was heavily involved in ceremonies commemorating the Easter Rising. His ex-Cumann na mBan, Irish-speaking mother was also a keeper of the republican flame.
On the morning of February 7, 1940, Matt Brady looked at his watch and told his daughter and his eight-year-old son to kneel and pray for two Irishmen who "now lie into quicklime in Birmingham". (These were Peter Barnes and James McCormack, who were hanged for their alleged role in bombing Coventry and killing five.) Two months later, the little boy was much affected by the funeral cortege through Longford town of Sean McNeela, who had died in a Dublin jail while on hunger strike for political status. Then, two years later, Matt died and was given an IRA funeral.
By the time he went to UCD to study commerce and Irish, young Brady was well-drilled in the belief that Britain was the source of all Ireland's problems and could be ejected only by force.
While a student, he hibernicised his name to Ruairi O Bradaigh and joined the IRA. On graduating, he took a job teaching Irish at a vocational school in Roscommon, but he was militarily active.
For his involvement in the futile IRA Border Campaign, O Bradaigh would be imprisoned, interned and elected to the Dail on an abstentionist ticket. He was only 26 when he became IRA chief of staff, a job he gave up in 1962 after he and the rest of the Army Council ordered an end to the campaign, citing as the prime reason the inability of the general public to focus on "the supreme issue facing the Irish people – the unity and freedom of Ireland".
O Bradaigh went back to his job in Roscommon, where – as a respected teacher, a devout Catholic and a courteous and clean-living husband of Patsy and father of six – he was popular even with many people who didn't share his politics. But it was his irreconcilable politics that defined O Bradaigh's life.
He rejected any idea that principles should be modified by considerations of pragmatism. Like fundamentalists who see the Old Testament or the Koran as divine revelation and therefore immutable, he lived according to the holy writ of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. The 1921 Treaty was corrupt and partitionist: Leinster House and Stormont had to be abolished.
As late as 2007 he explained to a Republican Sinn Fein commemoration that "the all-Ireland Republic of Easter Week remains the only legitimate State in Ireland, endorsed in the last exercise in all-Ireland democracy in 1918".
When, in 1970, Sinn Fein moved to ditch abstentionism, it was O Bradaigh's ideological purity that led him to walk out of the ard fheis and precipitate the split between what became known as the Officials and the Provisionals.
He was president of Provisional Sinn Fein until, in 1983, he was replaced by the less principled and politically more cunning Gerry Adams. And when, in turn, in 1986, Adams's Sinn Fein voted to take seats in the Dail, O Bradaigh walked out again.
Bolstered by the support of the prophet Tom Maguire – the sole survivor of the Second Dail, the last one O Bradaigh considered legitimate – who denounced the Provisionals as he had denounced the Officials for abandoning the sacred doctrine of abstentionism, O Bradaigh founded Republican Sinn Fein, and its armed wing, the Continuity IRA. His contempt for the "treachery" of the Provos and his loathing of the peace process keep his rage alight.
This engaging man showed no concern about the murders and maimings caused by him and his followers throughout his long life: sacrifices were necessary for the continuation of the struggle and the survival of the Irish republican ideal.
Although the Continuity IRA regarded the Real IRA as ideologically unsound because they hadn't been bothered by Sinn Fein taking Dail seats, they were prepared to co-operate with them on killing sprees. They were, for instance, key participants in the Omagh bombing that killed 29 people and two unborn girls.
Like Robespierre, O Bradaigh was incorruptible, utterly rigid and thought terror intrinsically virtuous when employed on behalf of the republican ideal.
Robespierre, however, had the excuse of being only 36 when he was executed. O Bradaigh was 80 when he died last Wednesday, as obdurate as ever. Ill-health had caused him to hand over the leadership of Republican Sinn Fein in 2009, but he was still its inspiration. Maybe now this charismatic fanatic has died, some of his followers will come to their senses.