Peadar O'Donnell
Peadar O'Donnell was an Irish republican and socialist
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 activist and writer.

Early life

Peadar O'Donnell was born into an Irish
Irish language
Irish , also known as Irish Gaelic, is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish people. Irish is now spoken as a first language by a minority of Irish people, as well as being a second language of a larger proportion of...

 speaking family in Dungloe
Dungloe is a Gaeltacht town in County Donegal, Ireland. It is the main town in the Rosses and the largest in the Donegal Gaeltacht...

, County Donegal
County Donegal
County Donegal is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Border Region and is also located in the province of Ulster. It is named after the town of Donegal. Donegal County Council is the local authority for the county...

 in northwest Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, in 1893. He attended St. Patrick's College
St. Patrick's College of Education (Drumcondra)
St Patrick's College of Education is a linked college of Dublin City University since 1993, located in Drumcondra, Dublin City, Ireland. The college is in existence since 1875 and has a Roman Catholic ethos. It is the largest primary teacher training college in Ireland...

, Dublin, where he trained as a teacher. He taught on Arranmore Island off the west coast of Donegal before spending time in Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...


Irish War of Independence

By 1919, he was a leading organiser for the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
Irish Transport and General Workers' Union
The Irish Transport and General Workers Union, an Irish trade union, was founded by James Larkin in 1908 as a general union. Initially drawing its membership from branches of the Liverpool-based National Union of Dock Labourers, from which Larkin had been expelled, it grew to include workers in a...

. He also attempted in Derry
Derry or Londonderry is the second-biggest city in Northern Ireland and the fourth-biggest city on the island of Ireland. The name Derry is an anglicisation of the Irish name Doire or Doire Cholmcille meaning "oak-wood of Colmcille"...

 to organise a unit of the Irish Citizen Army
Irish Citizen Army
The Irish Citizen Army , or ICA, was a small group of trained trade union volunteers established in Dublin for the defence of worker’s demonstrations from the police. It was formed by James Larkin and Jack White. Other prominent members included James Connolly, Seán O'Casey, Constance Markievicz,...

 (a socialist militia which had taken part in the Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

). When this failed to get off the ground, O'Donnell joined the Irish Republican Army
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 (IRA) and remained active in it during the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

 (1919-1921). He led IRA guerrilla activities in County Londonderry
County Londonderry
The place name Derry is an anglicisation of the old Irish Daire meaning oak-grove or oak-wood. As with the city, its name is subject to the Derry/Londonderry name dispute, with the form Derry preferred by nationalists and Londonderry preferred by unionists...

 and Donegal in this period, which mainly involved raids on Royal Irish Constabulary
Royal Irish Constabulary
The armed Royal Irish Constabulary was Ireland's major police force for most of the nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. A separate civic police force, the unarmed Dublin Metropolitan Police controlled the capital, and the cities of Derry and Belfast, originally with their own police...

 and British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 barracks. In 1921, he became the commander of the IRA's Donegal Brigade. He became known in this period as a headstrong and sometimes insubordinate officer as he often launched operations without orders and in defiance of directives from his superiors in the IRA.

In the spring of 1921, O'Donnell and his men had to evade a sweep of the county by over 1000 British
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was the formal name of the United Kingdom during the period when what is now the Republic of Ireland formed a part of it....


Irish Civil War

After the Anglo-Irish Treaty
Anglo-Irish Treaty
The Anglo-Irish Treaty , officially called the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty Between Great Britain and Ireland, was a treaty between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and representatives of the secessionist Irish Republic that concluded the Irish War of...

 of 1922, O'Donnell and his IRA comrades were split over whether to accept this compromise, which ended their hopes of an Irish republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

 but which granted a self governing Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

. O'Donnell opposed this compromise and in March 1922, was elected, along with Joe McKelvey
Joe McKelvey
Joe McKelvey was an Irish Republican Army officer who was executed during the Irish Civil War. He participated in the anti-Treaty IRA's repudiation of the authority of the Dáil in March 1922 and was elected to the IRA Army Executive...

 as a representative for Ulster
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, located in the north of the island. In ancient Ireland, it was one of the fifths ruled by a "king of over-kings" . Following the Norman invasion of Ireland, the ancient kingdoms were shired into a number of counties for administrative and judicial...

 on the anti-Treaty IRA's army executive. In April he was among the anti-Treaty IRA men who took over the Four Courts
Four Courts
The Four Courts in Dublin is the Republic of Ireland's main courts building. The Four Courts are the location of the Supreme Court, the High Court and the Dublin Circuit Court. The building until 2010 also formerly was the location for the Central Criminal Court.-Gandon's Building:Work based on...

 building in Dublin and helped to spark the outbreak of civil war
Battle of Dublin
The Battle of Dublin, a week of street fighting in Dublin from 28 June to 5 July 1922, marked the beginning of the Irish Civil War. The fighting began with an assault by the Provisional Government of the proposed Irish Free State on the Four Courts building which had been occupied by a hard-line...

 with the new Free State government. The Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

 would rage for another nine months. O'Donnell escaped from the Four Courts building after its bombardment and surrender, but was subsequently captured by the Free State forces, and imprisoned in Mountjoy Gaol. At the end of the Civil War, he participated in the mass Republican hunger strike
Hunger strike
A hunger strike is a method of non-violent resistance or pressure in which participants fast as an act of political protest, or to provoke feelings of guilt in others, usually with the objective to achieve a specific goal, such as a policy change. Most hunger strikers will take liquids but not...

 that was launched in protest at the continued imprisonment of Anti-Treaty IRA men, resisting in this manner for 41 days.


Unlike most Irish republicans of this era, O'Donnell did not see the republican cause solely in Irish nationalist terms. O'Donnell also advocated a social revolution
Social revolution
The term social revolution may have different connotations depending on the speaker.In the Trotskyist movement, the term "social revolution" refers to an upheaval in which existing property relations are smashed...

 in an independent Ireland, seeing himself as a follower of James Connolly
James Connolly
James Connolly was an Irish republican and socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish immigrant parents and spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but became one of the leading Marxist theorists of...

, the socialist republican executed for his part in the Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

. The period 1919-1923 had seen much social unrest in Ireland, including land occupations by the tenants in rural areas and the occupation of factories by workers. O'Donnel, in fact, is regarded as the first Irish person to use the term "occupation" in relation to the occupation of a workplace when he and the staff of Monaghan Asylum occupied the hospital in 1919. "The occupation was, in fact, the first action in Ireland to describe itself as a soviet and the red flag was raised above it."

O'Donnell believed that the IRA should have adopted these people's cause and supported land re-distribution
Land reform
[Image:Jakarta farmers protest23.jpg|300px|thumb|right|Farmers protesting for Land Reform in Indonesia]Land reform involves the changing of laws, regulations or customs regarding land ownership. Land reform may consist of a government-initiated or government-backed property redistribution,...

 and workers' rights
Labor rights
Labor rights or workers' rights are a group of legal rights and claimed human rights having to do with labor relations between workers and their employers, usually obtained under labor and employment law. In general, these rights' debates have to do with negotiating workers' pay, benefits, and safe...

. He blamed the anti-Treaty republicans' lack of support among the Irish public in the Civil War on their lack of a social programme. Some republicans, notably Liam Mellows
Liam Mellows
Liam Mellows was an Irish Republican and Sinn Féin politician. Born in England, Mellows grew up in County Wexford in Ireland. He was active with the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Irish Volunteers, and participated in the Easter Rising in County Galway, and the War of Independence...

, did share O'Donnell's view, but they were a minority.

According to author and historian Tom Mahon,
"There were many contradictions and weaknesses in O'Donnnell's polemic. In reality, the IRA was a Petite bourgeoisie
Petite bourgeoisie
Petit-bourgeois or petty bourgeois is a term that originally referred to the members of the lower middle social classes in the 18th and early 19th centuries...

conspiratorial organisation rather than a workers' and peasants' army. It was firmly routed in the nineteenth century concept of a nationalist revolution and its few socialists were largely peripheral to the organisation. Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin O'Higgins
Kevin Christopher O'Higgins was an Irish politician who served as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister for Justice. He was part of early nationalist Sinn Féin, before going on to become a prominent member of Cumann na nGaedheal. O'Higgins initiated the An Garda Síochána police force...

, a leading Sinn Fein activist during the Anglo-Irish War, famously said, 'We were probably the most conservative-minded revolutionaries who ever put through a successful revolution.' Additionally, O'Donnell failed to justify the IRA's refusal to acknowledge the wishes of the majority of the southern Irish population who supported the Free State. Most glaring of all, he had no satisfactory explanation of what to do with the Protestant working-class in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, who were prepared to take up arms to prevent their 'liberation' by the IRA. Despite the many flaws of his argument, he has received much serious attention from historians and biographers."

Post-Civil War politics

In 1923, while still in prison, he was elected Teachta Dála
Teachta Dála
A Teachta Dála , usually abbreviated as TD in English, is a member of Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Oireachtas . It is the equivalent of terms such as "Member of Parliament" or "deputy" used in other states. The official translation of the term is "Deputy to the Dáil", though a more literal...

 for Donegal
Donegal (Dáil Éireann constituency)
Donegal was a parliamentary constituency represented in Dáil Éireann, the lower house of the Irish parliament or Oireachtas from 1921 to 1937 and from 1977 to 1981...

 as a Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin
Sinn Féin is a left wing, Irish republican political party in Ireland. The name is Irish for "ourselves" or "we ourselves", although it is frequently mistranslated as "ourselves alone". Originating in the Sinn Féin organisation founded in 1905 by Arthur Griffith, it took its current form in 1970...

 candidate. In 1924, on release from internment
Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning as: "The action of 'interning'; confinement within the limits of a country or place." Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction...

, O'Donnell became a member of the Executive and Army Council
IRA Army Council
The IRA Army Council was the decision-making body of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, more commonly known as the IRA, a paramilitary group dedicated to bringing about the end of the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The council had seven members, said by the...

 of the anti-Treaty IRA. He tried to steer it in a left-wing direction, and to this end founded organisations such as the Irish Working Farmers' Committee, which sent representatives to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and the Profintern
The Red International of Labor Unions , commonly known as the Profintern, was an international body established by the Communist International with the aim of coordinating Communist activities within trade unions...

. O'Donnell also founded the Anti-Tribute League, which opposed the repaying of annuities to the British government owed since the Irish Land Acts. He also founded a short-lived socialist republican party, Saor Éire
Saor Éire
Saor Éire was a left-wing political organisation established in September 1931 by communist-leaning members of the Irish Republican Army, with the backing of the IRA leadership. Notable among its founders was Peadar O'Donnell, former editor of An Phoblacht and a leading left-wing figure in the...


In addition, O'Donnell and the IRA found themselves in conflict with their former enemies of the Civil War era. Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

, who had founded Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fáil – The Republican Party , more commonly known as Fianna Fáil is a centrist political party in the Republic of Ireland, founded on 23 March 1926. Fianna Fáil's name is traditionally translated into English as Soldiers of Destiny, although a more accurate rendition would be Warriors of Fál...

 from anti-Treaty republicans, came to power in Ireland in 1932, and subsequently legalised the IRA in 1932-36. O'Donnell announced that there would be "no free speech
Freedom of speech
Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship. The term freedom of expression is sometimes used synonymously, but includes any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used...

 for traitors
" (by which he meant Cumann na nGaedheal, the Free State party) and his men attacked Cumann na nGaedheal political meetings. In response, Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy was in succession a Teachta Dála , the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army , the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the Army Comrades Association and then the first leader of Fine Gael , before leading the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during...

, a former Irish army
Irish Army
The Irish Army, officially named simply the Army is the main branch of the Defence Forces of Ireland. Approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army, divided into three infantry Brigades...

 General and Garda Síochána
Garda Síochána
, more commonly referred to as the Gardaí , is the police force of Ireland. The service is headed by the Commissioner who is appointed by the Irish Government. Its headquarters are located in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.- Terminology :...

 commissioner, founded the Blueshirts (a semi-fascist
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 organisation, originally named the Army Comrades Association) to resist them. There was a considerable amount of street violence between the two sides before both the Blueshirts and then the IRA became banned organisations. O'Donnell saw the Blueshirts as a fascist movement based on the big farmer class.

O'Donnell's attempts at persuading the remnants of the defeated anti-Treaty IRA to become a socialist organization ended in failure. Eventually, O'Donnell and other left-wing republicans left the IRA to found the Republican Congress
Republican Congress
The Republican Congress was an Irish republican political organisation founded in 1934, when left-wing republicans left the Irish Republican Army. The Congress was led by such IRA veterans as Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and George Gilmore. It was a socialist organisation and was dedicated to a...

 in 1934. However, this organisation made little impact in Irish politics.

Spanish Civil War

O'Donnell happened to be in Barcelona
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain after Madrid, and the capital of Catalonia, with a population of 1,621,537 within its administrative limits on a land area of...

 attending the People's Olympics on the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 in 1936. He joined the Spanish Republican
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 that supported the Popular Front
Popular Front (Spain)
The Popular Front in Spain's Second Republic was an electoral coalition and pact signed in January 1936 by various left-wing political organisations, instigated by Manuel Azaña for the purpose of contesting that year's election....

 government against Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

's military insurgency. When he returned to Ireland, he encouraged other republicans to fight for the Spanish Republic - accordingly, IRA men, led by Frank Ryan
Frank Ryan (Irish republican)
Frank Ryan was a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army, editor of An Phoblacht, leftist activist and leader of Irish volunteers on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War....

 and some Communist Party of Ireland
Communist Party of Ireland
The Communist Party of Ireland is a small all-Ireland Marxist party, founded in 1933. An earlier party, the Socialist Party of Ireland, was renamed the Communist Party of Ireland in 1921 on its affiliation to the Communist International but was dissolved in 1924. The present-day CPI was founded in...

 members joined the International Brigades
International Brigades
The International Brigades were military units made up of volunteers from different countries, who traveled to Spain to defend the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939....

, where they were known as the Connolly Column
Connolly Column
The Connolly Column was the name given to the Irish volunteers who fought for the Second Spanish Republic in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. They were named after James Connolly, the executed leader of the Irish Citizen Army...

(after James Connolly
James Connolly
James Connolly was an Irish republican and socialist leader. He was born in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish immigrant parents and spoke with a Scottish accent throughout his life. He left school for working life at the age of 11, but became one of the leading Marxist theorists of...


This was a very unpopular stance in Ireland, as the powerful Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

 strongly supported Franco's Catholic Nationalists. Attitudes to the Spanish Civil War also mirrored the divisions of Ireland's civil war. O'Donnell remarked that the Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

s had condemned the anti-Treaty side in the latter for opposing a democratic government
Democracy is generally defined as a form of government in which all adult citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideally, this includes equal participation in the proposal, development and passage of legislation into law...

, but were now advocating the same thing themselves. A former comrade of O'Donnell's, Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy was in succession a Teachta Dála , the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army , the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the Army Comrades Association and then the first leader of Fine Gael , before leading the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during...

, led an Irish Brigade (Spanish Civil War)
Irish Brigade (Spanish Civil War)
The Irish Brigade , fought on the Nationalist side of Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. The unit was formed wholly of Roman Catholics by the politician Eoin O'Duffy, who had previously organised the banned quasi-fascist Blueshirts and openly fascist Greenshirts in Ireland...

 to fight for the Nationalists.


After the 1940s, O'Donnell devoted more of his time to writing and culture and less to politics, from which he withdrew more or less completely. He published his first novel, Storm, in 1925. This was followed by Islanders (1928), Adrigool (1929), The Knife (1930) and On the Edge of the Stream (1934). O'Donnell also went to Spain and later published Salud! An Irishman in Spain (1937).

After World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, he edited the Irish literary journal, The Bell
The Bell (magazine)
The Bell Magazine Dublin, Ireland. A monthly magazine of literature and social comment which had a seminal influence on a generation of Irish intellectuals.- History :...

(1946-54). Other books by O'Donnell include The Big Window (1955) and Proud Island (1975). He also published two volumes of autobiography
An autobiography is a book about the life of a person, written by that person.-Origin of the term:...

, The Gates Flew Open (1932) and There Will be Another Day (1963).

His one play, Wrack, was first performed at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin on 21 November 1932, and published by Jonathan Cape the following year.

Islanders and Adrigoole were translated into Ulster Irish
Ulster Irish
Ulster Irish is the dialect of the Irish language spoken in the Province of Ulster. The largest Gaeltacht region today is in County Donegal, so that the term Donegal Irish is often used synonymously. Nevertheless, records of the language as it was spoken in other counties do exist, and help provide...

 (Donegal dialect) by Seosamh Mac Grianna
Seosamh Mac Grianna
Seosamh Mac Grianna was an Irish writer, in his early career under the pen-name Iolann Fionn. He was born into a family of poets and storytellers, which included his brothers Séamus Ó Grianna and Seán Bán Mac Grianna, in Ranafast, County Donegal, at a time of linguistic and cultural...

 as Muintir an Oileáin and Eadarbhaile, respectively. All of his work has a strong social consciousness and works like Adrigoole, as well as being powerful works in themselves, exemplify socialist analyses of Irish society.

See also

  • John Fahy (priest)
    John Fahy (priest)
    John Fahy was an Irish priest, republican, agrarian and radicalFahy was born in the townland of Burroge, in the parish of Killeenadeema, Loughrea, County Galway. He was one of a number of sons of John Fahy, a strong farmer and feverent member of the Irish National Land League, and Honoria Davock...

  • Ernie O'Malley
    Ernie O'Malley
    Ernie O'Malley was an Irish Republican Army officer during the Irish War of Independence and a commander of the anti-treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War. O'Malley wrote three books, On Another Man's Wound, The Singing Flame, and Raids and Rallies. The first describes his early life and role in...

  • List of imprisoned members of the Oireachtas

External links

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