by Seán Murray
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the untimely death of Republican giant Dáithí Ó Conaill on New Year’s Day 1991. A disciplined revolutionary who never compromised on his principles.
Dáithí came from a strong Cork Republican family. His uncle Michael O’Sullivan (17) was a member of the Cork Brigade IRA and was bayoneted to death by British Crown forces in March 1921. At the age of 17 Dáithí joined Sinn Féin during the local elections of 1955. By the end of the following year he was on active service as a Volunteer of the Irish Republican Army, where he played a central role serving as an organiser under GHQ staff in Co Fermanagh.
On 1st January 1957 he was second-in-command of the Pearse Column during the attack on Brookeborough RUC barracks which resulted in the deaths of two of his comrades, Fearghal Ó hAnluáin and Seán Sabhat. Four others were wounded including Séan Garland the column commander. Dáithí took command and led a successful withdrawal back across the border evading 400 RUC, B-Specials, two helicopters and the British army. As a full time revolutionary durning this time he was captured in the free state and was then imprisoned in Mountjoy and the Curragh Concentration camp from where he escaped with his friend and comrade Ruairí Ó Brádaigh in September 1958. He returned to active service and became Director of Operations bringing him onto the Army Council.
Durning a plan to increase operations in East Tyrone on the 10th November 1959, Dáithí along with J.P. O Hagan and Mark Devlin where ambushed by the RUC and B-Specials in Arboe on the shores of Lough Neagh. Dáithí was shot six times and made his escape covered in blood and in a weakened condition he managed to make his way to a country house and seek refuge but was later captured by Crown Forces and was then sentenced to eight years which he served in Belfast’s Crumlin Road Jail. Following his unconditional release in September 1963.
During the 1960s he took a job teaching in Glencolmcille in Donegal and was made O/C of the Donegal branch of the IRA. He later went on to become Director of Publicly and travelled extensively forming NORAID in the United States to raise funds for the war effort back home and in 1971 he travelled to Prague to procure arms which unfortunately where intercepted on route to Ireland.
In 1974, Dáithí along with Ruairí Ó Brádaigh drafted the Éire Nua policy for a four province federal model of government for Ireland. Leo Martin a veteran Belfast republican said of Dáithí that he was “ Brains, strategic thinking and leadership all combined in one person” . Ruairí Ó Brádaigh said of him he possessed the ‘ablest mind in the Republican Movement for over 20 years’. The sheer breadth of his ability and intellect was evidenced by his service to the All-Ireland Republic both militarily and politically. He had a central role in forming the ÉIRE NUA policy of Sinn Féin and remained a tireless advocate of it right up to his death in 1991.
Speaking in Belfast at Easter 1973 he said: “Today, the central issue in the war is one of conflict between Ireland’s right to freedom and England’s determination to keep us in subjection. All other issues are subordinate to this basic point. There can be no compromise on the fundamental issue as to who should rule Ireland: the British Parliament or the Irish people. We have had 800 years of British ineptitude in ruling Ireland; we have never known rule by the Irish, of the Irish, for the Irish. Until we do, we shall never enjoy peace and stability in our land.”
Days before he died Dáithí drafted the ‘Towards a Peaceful Ireland’ document, his last contribution to the cause of Irish Freedom.