Peadar O’Donnell (1893-1986)


Life
b. 22 Feb. 1898, Meenmore, Co. Donegal, one of eleven children; ed. St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra; school-monitor at 16; teacher-training, Dublin, 1911-13; became National School teacher, Donegal, working on Arranmore and Inisfree islands; aided Donegal migrants in Scotland, 1916; fulltime organiser for ITGWU in 1918; activist against conscription, 1919; joined Volunteers in 1920; reputedly participated with Eoin O’Duffy and Ernie O’Malley in the destruction of the Ballytrain RIC Barracks, Co. Monaghan, Feb. 1920; proceeded to Derry as ITGWU organiser; appt. Donegal Brigade IRA Commandant, 1921; organised the shooting of Sargeant Higgins from Brow of the Hill, Christian Bros. residence, in the Bogside, 1 April 1921; evaded British cordon in Donegal; with Liam O’Flaherty, seized the Rotunda for Unemployeds, 1922;
 
member of Republican garrison of captured Four Courts, July 1922 - and therefore party to the firing of the Public Records Office; captured and sentence to two years, and imprisoned with Liam Mellowes in Mountjoy; conducted 41-day hunger strike; escaped from Harepark Camp in the Curragh, 1924; Republican MP, 1924; contrib. extensively to An Phoblacht, which he edited in the late 1920s; tried by Free State court for inciting annuities boycott, 2 April, 1927; denied right of court and suffered week’s detention in D-Block of Mountjoy, being acquitted of all charges on his return; mbr. of Executive Council of IRA, 1924-34 (up to expulsion with Frank Ryan); wrote Islanders (1928); opposed Land Annuities with Col. Maurice Moore, and through him sought aid from Fianna Fáil; imprisoned for agitation, 1927;
 
proposed reorganisation of Sinn Féin, 1927; failed to est. League of Republican Workers; fnd. Irish Working Farmers Commitee, the Workers Revolutionary Party; fnd.-ed. The Workers’ Voice ; presided at European Peasant Congress in Berlin, 1930; opposed Blue Shirts; fnd.-mbr Saor Éire, and ed. An Phoblacht ; imprisoned 1931; spoke up for Jim Gralton, the Roscommon socialist deported to America by the Fianna Fáil govt., in Rotunda Meeting, 1932; also worked on An tÓglach, contrib. to Dublin Magazine, Ireland Today, and Irish Booklover ; ed. Republican Congress, and imprisoned, March 1934; wrote polemic account of the Inís Mor disaster of 1925; moved to South of France; living in Upr. Drumcondra with his wife, who ran a nursing-home, 1936; Dublin in Spain at outbreak of Spanish Civil War (1936-39); helped organise the Connolly Column that Frank Ryan led to Spain, Dec. 1936; quit IRA in 1937; business manager of The Bell assisting Sean O’Faolain, 1940;
 
became editor of The Bell, 1946-48, and 1950-54 - resuming publication after the cessation of the first run; assisted by H. A. L. Craig, and then Robert Greacen; President MIAL; issued novels Storm (1925), written in prison; Islanders (1928); Adrigoole (1929); The Knife (1930); On the Edge of the Stream (1934); The Big Windows (1955), set in the Boer War period, revealing prejudice in Co. Donegal when one of the mountain people takes an island wife; also Proud Island (1975), in which the Arranmore islanders fight for survival against disappearing shoals (‘the island was going to scatter like a barrel that had shed its hoops unless the herring came back’) and against out-island land-grabbers; also issued autobiographies, The Gates Flew Open (1932); Salud! An Irishman in Spain (1937); There will be Another Day (1963); and a play, Wrack (Abbey Th. 1932);
 
in 1960 he wrote a cheque for fifty guineas to pay all the lecturers at the first Yeats International Summer School; chaired the reading, Three Irish Poets - being Kinsella, Murphy and Montague - held at Royal Hibernian Hotel on 3 Feb. 1961 and played a part in the publication of the Dolmen Miscellany (1962) and Liam Miller’s Dolmen-issued journal Poetry Ireland (1962-68); received 10,000 from Irish-American Cultural Institute in 1982; known in later years for daily coffee sessions at the Gresham; was invited to speak at UCG, June 1985, at which time he was blind (proceedings published Feb. 1986); opposed EU entry; life-long non-drinker and non-smoker; spent last years in in the gate-lodge home of Nora Harkin (d.2012), widow of his friend Charlie Harkin (d.1979), and an acquaintance of hers since childhood in Donegal when she carried a letter to him from her father about an eviction at the age of 13; continued to write and to give interviews, though blind and striken with cancer;
 
visited by Seán MacBride, Seamus Heaney and Vietnam’s ambassador to London. d. 13 May 1986; The Letterkenny Public Library holds a set of The Bell annotated by him. DIW DIB DIH DIL KUN FDA DUB OCIL
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Works
Novels
  • Storm (Dublin: Talbot 1925);
  • Islanders (London: Jonathan Cape 1928), in the US as The Way It Was With Them (NY: Putnams 1928), and Do . [rep. edn.] (Cork: Mercier Press 2005), 136pp.;
  • Adrigoole (London: Jonathan Cape; NY: Putnams 1929);
  • The Knife (London: Jonathan Cape 1930), published in the USA as There Will Be Fighting (NY: Putnams 1931);
  • On the Edge of the Stream (London: Jonathan Cape 1934);
  • The Big Windows (London: Jonathan Cape 1955), Do . [rep. edn.] (Dublin: O’Brien Press; London: Allison & Busby 1983; rep. O’Brien 1998);
  • Proud Island (Ireland: O’Brien Press 1975; rep. 1998).
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Autobiography
  • The Gates Flew Open (London: Jonathan Cape 1932);
  • Salud! An Irishman in Spain (London: Methuen 1937);
  • There will be Another Day (Dublin: Dolmen 1963).
  • Monkeys in the Superstructure, Reminiscences of Peadar O’Donnell, intro. Michael D. Higgins [two speeches of a meeting to honour O’Donnell held at UCG in Jun 1985; iss. by Committee of Concerned Univ. Staff] (Salmon Press 1986), 32pp.
 
Plays
  • Wrack [Abbey 1932] (London: Jonathan Cape 1933).
Miscellaneous
  • Afterword in Brinsley MacNamara, The Valley of the Squinting Windows (1964 Edn.);
  • review of Liam O’Flaherty, The Land, in The Bell, 12, 5 (1946), pp.42-44.

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Criticism
  • Paul Doyle, ‘Peadar O’Donnell, Checklist, in Bulletin of Bibliography, 28 (Jan.-March 1971);
  • Grattan Freyer, Peadar O’Donnell [Irish Writers Series] (Lewisburg: Bucknell UP 1973);
  • Michael McInerney, Peadar O’Donnell: Irish Social Rebel (Dublin: O’Brien Press 1974), 254pp.
  • Micheal D. Higgins, ‘Liam O’Flaherty and Peadar O’Donnell, Images of Rural Community’, in Crane Bag, 9, 1 (1985), pp.41-48;
  • Alexander G. Gonzalez, ‘Peadar O’Donnell’s Short Stories’, in Journal of Irish Literature, 17, 1 (January, 1988), pp.54-57;
  • Alexander G. Gonzalez, ‘Intricacies of Glen Life at the Turn of the Century, The Broad Appeal of Peadar O’Donnell’s The Big Windows’, in The Journal of Irish Literature, 20, 3 (September 1991), pp.19-27;
  • Alexander G. Gonzalez, Peadar O’Donnell: A Reader’s Guide (Chester Springs: Dufour Edns. 1997), 128pp.;
  • Donal Ó Drisceoil, ‘My Pen is just a Weapon’: Politics, History and the Fiction of Peadar O’Donnell’, in The Irish Review, 30, 1 [Nov.] (Spring-Summer 2003), pp. 62-70;
  • Peter Hegarty, Peadar O’Donnell (Dublin: Mercier 1999), p.334.
  • Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O’Donnell (Cork UP 2001), 128pp.
See also Frank O’Connor, The Lonely Voice (Cleveland: World 1962; London: Macmillan 1963); Richard English, Radicals and the Republic: Social Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937 (OUP 1994).
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Commentary
Michael D. Higgins, intro., Monkeys in the Superstructure: Reminiscences of Peadar O’Donnell, [two speeches of a meeting to honour O’Donnell held at UCG in Jun 1985 [Committee of Concerned Univ. Staff] (Galway: Salmon Press 1986), 32pp.; contains personal reminiscences chiefly of political dealings with Sean Lemass and others; incls. an account of a visit to Mountjoy to determine the charge under which O’Donnell was formerly held, only to find that one Col. Mick Hogan had been held there also for releasing to his brother James Hogan, Prof. of English at UCD, police papers that served the latter as documentation for his book on O’Donnell (p.7).

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Anthony Cronin, Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist (harperCollins 1996): ‘.. the revolutionary novelist Peadar O’Donnelly … had been prominent in the IRA and its breakaway organisation the Republican Congress, enjoyed a reputation as a firebrand. His wife was a businesswoman who owed a nursing home, in middle-class Drumcondra O’Donnell lived a life which was the acme of bourgeois respectability, with holy pictures on the walls and evenings rounded off with the Rosary.’ (p.239.)

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Brendan McDowell, ‘Hunting Down O’Donnell’, review of Richard English, Radicals and the Republic, Social Republicanism in the Irish Free State 1925-1937 (OUP 1994), in ILS (Fall 1995), p.32; notes that a reviewer of a previous work by English criticised his sympathetic view O’Donnell, and that this has been made good to a fault in the apparent antipathy of the present book, ‘O’Donnell’s considerable charms are resisted and scorn is poured on his intellectual fraudulence, his presumption, his laziness of thought, his unawarness of reality and, indeed, on his overall inadequacies as a political thinker and a strategist’; speaks of O’Donnell’s vision of an all-island socialist state brought about by the union of working farmer and worker; O’Donnell is quoted, ‘I was ever on the winning side in any damn thing ever I did.’

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Carlo Gébler, review of Peter Hegarty, Peadar O’dononell (Mercier 1999), in Fortnight (April 2000), pp.30-31, remarks, ‘Having wrested power from the Imperial regime (which in Ireland was totally Hiberniscised anyway) it was to O’Donnell’s credit that he recognised that the republican movement had practically nothing to offer either the Catholic people of Ireland, over whom it had assumed control, or the other kind of Irishman, the one who lived up north. Post-partition O’Donnell embarked on a career as professional refusnik which lasted for the rest of his life.’ Gébler finds it hard to warm to O’Donnell and suspects that his espousal of the underdog has less to do with principle than a childish desire to be on the side of the angels.’; selects comments ‘worthy of a Boucicault’ and avers that in later years, ‘it was O’Donnell-lite, that came more and more to the fore’ (p.31).

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Robert Greacen, review of Donal Ó Drisceoil, Peadar O’Donnell [Radical Irish Lives] (Cork UP 2001), p.326: O’Donnell was imprisoned in Mountjoy in Dec. 1923 and escaped in March 1924 wearing uniform of Free State soldier; dedicated socialist republican but refused the name of communist; influenced by radically-minded mother; primary teaching and later trade-union official; aimed to convert IRA to socialism; quotes O’Donnell: ‘[I saw] the world in terms of men and women and days and deeds, barriers, enemies, friends, with a sens eof tide underlying it all’, and remarks that by ‘tide’ O’Donnell meant that Marxist doctrine looks forward to the inevitability of revolution, a belief that ‘underpinned his optimism’. Greacen writes that O’Donnell published seven novels, a paly, three autobiographical books, various pamphlets and a huge amount of miscellaneous journalism as well as founding [sic] The Bell in 1939 and editing it after O’Faolain, yet ‘he rejected the idea of himself as being primarily a creative writer [quotes]: “My pen is just a weapon and I use it now and then [to gather] into words scenes that surround certain conflicts.”’ Greacen further remarks that Ó Drisceoil accordingly deals only marginally with O’Donnell’s creative work but notes as a portent the fact that Terry Eagleton has described his fiction as ‘superb’.

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Breandan Ó Cathaoi briefly noticing Peter Hegarty, Peadar O’Donnell (Mercier), in The Irish Times (26 Feb. 2000), notes historical and polemical inadequacies such as the contention that the Treaty of 1921 did not go much further than Home Rule and that Michael Collins was a ‘Fenian Home Ruler’ but commends the book for sure information about activities in his native O’Donnell’s Donegal. The author is from Derry and his engagement with the IRA army council.

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References
Desmond Clarke, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. II] (Cork: Royal Carbery 1985); calls O’Donnell an unofficial labour organiser; fought in Spain in International Brigade; lists Storm (Talbot 1926), 143pp. [war of independence in Arranmore, Donegal mainland, and Derry; ambushes and raids; resuce of boat’s crew in hurricane; no political bitterness]; Islanders (London: J. Cape 1928), 224pp; [of Donegal; hardened bodies and souls bright with faith and soft with pure charity; tragedy and comedy; no villainy; absorbing interest]; Adrigoole (Cape 1929), 315pp. [Hughie Salach life story, from schooldays through peasant life of hiring far, migratory work, dance and wake; ending broken-hearted over dead wife]; The Knife (Cape 1930), 288pp. [deals with antagonisms between Catholic and Protestant, shown as soluble; and antagonism between Parnellites and anti-Parnellites, and between some nationalists and Church, rancorously described; incident and stark realism; Fr Burns made detestable; odious gaol governor, &c.; some amusing interludes]; On the Edge of the Stream (Cape 1934), 287pp. [lives of very poor in Donegal near Carrick, migrant worker Phil Timoney returns to Derrymore from Clydeside with ideas on religion and econics; organises campaign aginst gombeen Garveys, who retaliates with procession of banners and hymns round his house, which is charged by a bull amid scenes of fright and hilarity; Garvey party brings down missioners from Dublin]; The Big Windows (Cape 1955), 222pp. [S. Donegal glen, 1930s; islandwoman m. glenman, finds narrow society and superstition distasteful; sets out quietly to change them, and is resented; wins all hearts; ends in tragedy as husband Tom dies in accident and she returns to island]. NOTE, there is an entry in in Who Was Who .

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Anthologies: GRATTAN FREYER, ed., Modern Irish Writing (1979), contains an extract from the novel The Knife. SEAMUS DEANE, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2: selects Islanders [1141-44]; Rems. at 1025 [unromantic Patrick MacGill contrasts with O’Donnell’s dashing description of sea-crossing in Islanders ]; 1221, BIOG & CRIT [as supra]; variant date, Islanders (1927); remarks that in his fiction the struggle for social justice, often symbolised in a [?]communal life of the poor in Gaelic Ireland, is a constant theme.

Libraries & Booksellers: Belfast Public Library 1956 holds The Gates Flew Open (1932); Adrigoole (1929); Storm (n.d.). Hyland Books (Cat. 214) lists Brian O’Neill, The War for the Land in Ireland (NY 1933), intro. Peadar O’Donnell another ed. (London 1935).

Books in Print (1994), Islanders (London: J. Cape 1928), in America as The Way It Was With Them (NY: Putnams 1928); rep. (Mercier 1976, 1988, 1993), 124pp. [ 0 85342 851 4]; The Knife, A Tale of Irish Troubles (London: J. Cape 1930), in America as There will be Fighting (NY: Putnams 1931); rep. (Dublin: O’Brien Press [Irish Hum. Centre] 1980) [0 906462 037]; The Big Windows (London: J. Cape 1955; O’Brien Press 1983, 1988; Mercier 1993) ) [0 86278 090 X; 0 85342 851 4]; Monkey in the Superstructure, reminiscences of Peadar O’Donnell (Salmon Publ. 1986) [0 948 33902 0]. (See Whitaker & BNB.)

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Quotations
Fighting fit: ‘My pen is just a weapon’ (quoted in Richard English, ‘Revolutionary writing’, Fortnight, 404, May 2002, p.22).

Shakespeare & Co.: ‘I don’t remember on what day of the week I finally escaped from prison but it was on a Wednesday that I saw a copy of Shakespeare in the officers’ lavatory when I was outside having a bath; I stole it! Well, listen here, there’s no punishment I could ever receive for that theft that would exceed the joy its capture gave me. I’m telling you, Shakespeare was a great man, and I would suggest to the British ruling class that the least they can do when they jail folk like me is to present each of us with a copy of his works. It is true that in this case I rescued Shakespeare from a few of my countrymen but that must not be used as an argument to resist my plea, for it is only that section of my countrymen who can be hired to serve the Empire who would use Shakespeare in a lavatory.’ (The Gates Flew Open, London 1932, pp.169-70; quoted in Richard English, ‘“The Inborn Hatred of Things English: Ernie O’Malley and the Irish Revolution, 1916-1923’, in Past and Present, May 1996, p.182-83.)

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Notes
First strike: O’Donnell is satirised as Prunshios McGonaghy in Anthony Cronin’s novel, The Life of Riley (1964). He also appears in Francis Stuart’s Black List, Section H, London chapters.

NORA HARKIN (1910-2012) - b. “of good mountainy stock” at Strabane, dg. of Mick McGinley who wrote “Glenswilly”, a popular emigrant ballad, on ship-board in the Pacific travelling from New Zealand; returned to “Glenswilly", a small farm in Breenagh, Co. Donegal; sold up and bought a pub in Strabane with his wife Bridget; Parnellite, and short-story writer; remained a Republican; Harkin was slapped in the face by a a “Free Stater”at a meeting in Ballybofey; addressed campaign envelopes for the republican candidate in a 1924 by-election. took job at Irish Hospital Sweepstakes in Dublin, 1921 [aetat. 21]; met Bobby Edwards, Oliver Sheppard, Sheehy-Skeffington and Éamon de Valera’s goddaughter, Cora Hughes; met her husband to be Charlie Harkin, of Tyrone, then newly returning from the USA, at a Mansion House céilí, in 1932; Harkin in the IRA upt ot 1934 when he established the Republican Congress with his friend Peadar O’Donnell, being supported by Frank Ryan and George Gilmore; when given a gun to conduct an assassination, he buried it under a bush in Mountjoy Square and spent the afternoon at the cinema; Nora active in the Spanish Aid committee [for Republicans] and sang for Frank Ryan the night before he left Ireland: “I happened to look out into the dark. There he [Ryan] was, with a light shining on him and a tear on his cheek. I never saw him again”; witnessed church-gate collections in aid of Franco, the largest since the time of Daniel O’Connell; m. Harkin, 1932, with whom three children, Michael, Niall and Fiona (d. 19430; acted at Peacock theatre; sang on Raidió Éireann; worked for the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement and for the Irish Family Planning Association; helped to form the Ireland-USSR Society with Frank and Bobby Edwards, John Swift, Angela McQuillan (Hon. Sec.), et al., 1966; made trips to the Soviet Union with McQuillan; received gift of appreciation from Gennadi Uranov, the Russian Ambassador to Ireland, 1988; the group transformed into the Irish International Friendship Society in 1992, retaining contact with 15 newly-independent republics on the break-up of the USSR; suffered the death of Harkin, 1979; Peadar O’Donnell, a good friend of the couple, moved into Nora Harkin’s gate lodge home in Monkstown, 1980 (d.1986) - having first met him at 14 when she cycled 13 miles with a letter from her father about an eviction; younger friends incl. Theo Dorgan, whose poem about her was recited at the funeral: “The child carrying despatches became the woman we knew / And loved, clear-eyed and sure that what matters is love / Of family, friends and comrades, our common truth. / And yes of course she was remarkable, Nora Harkin, / Though she’d be surprised to hear us say so; her message / Was always herself, her life exemplary. Our loss is grievous ... / She is survived by her sons Michael and Niall, grandsons Niall, Miki and Damien, seven great-grandchildren and one great, great grandchild; d. 7 June 2012. (See obituary, in The Irish Times, [Sat.] 23 June 2012.)

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