50 years ago this month, IRA Volunteer Martin O’Leary gave his life for a Socialist Republic, when he was killed on active service, by a premature explosion, while engaged in Military Action in support of striking workers at Mogul Mines in Tipperary.
Vol. Martin O’Leary came from Connolly Road, Ballyphehane in Cork, and would grow to become a committed disciple of James Connolly and a soldier of the Socialist Republic. Following the split in the Republican Movement in 1969/1970, O’Leary was a member of the so-called ‘Official’ faction. In the early 1970s, the war for National Liberation was at its height and both the IRA, and the ‘Official’ faction were engaged in the revolutionary armed struggle. Since the days of Connolly and the Irish Citizen Army, there is a long and proud history of Socialist Republicans taking action in defence of workers and it was in this context of the struggle that Martin O’Leary gave his life.
In May 1971, over 400 members of the ITGWU at the Canadian owned Mogul Mines in Silvermines in Tipperary, voted for strike action. The strike was in support of a recently dismissed worker and ITGWU official from the mine, but also about the poor pay, terrible conditions, and unresponsive management. The Strike Committee was led by the Socialist Republican Jim Kerr, who was also a member of the ‘Official’ Faction.
As part of its service to international imperialism, the free state administration had provided permission to the Canadian Multi National, Mogul Mines, to rob the Irish People of the largest repository of silver ore in western Europe from the Silvermines site, natural resources that by right belong to the people of Ireland. In the process, workers were being exploited by the imperialist multi national, and forced to risk their lives on a daily basis underground. In the years before the strike 6 workers had been killed during accidents at the mine.
On July 3 1971, about six weeks into the strike, an armed active service unit of the ‘Official’ Faction held up security workers and the mine and proceeded to place gelignite charges at the main electricity transformers at the mine. The operation was a success, with the resulting explosion causing 1.6 million pounds worth of damage to the Mogul operation, stating the case of the workers in a way that could not be ignored.
However, shortly after the explosion, a badly burned man was dropped at of at Barrington’s Hospital in Limerick. This was Vol. Martin O’Leary. During the course of the operation, Martin had been laying the charges at the main electricity transformer. The charges exploded prematurely causing Martin to be electrocuted and mortally burned. His comrades had managed to pull him to safety and drop him to the hospital before making good their escape.
Over the next few hours, as Martin’s family kept a vigil at his bed, they were repeatedly interrupted by the Free State Special Branch, attempting to interrogate the dying Volunteer about the operation. As Martin lapsed in and out of consciousness for the next few hours, the Free state even went so far as to place a tape recorder under his bed in the hope he might reveal information about his comrades. Their efforts were in vain, and Martin remained a loyal and true soldier of the Socialist Republic until his death. He was 20 Years old.
In the aftermath of the Operation, the Free State launched a widespread hut to capture the Volunteers involved. The home of the Socialist Republican Brigid Sheils Makowski, who had provided billites for Martin in advance of the operation, was one of many raided by armed members of the Special Branch.
The Funeral of Vol. Martin O’Leary took place in his native Cork. A crowd of more then 1,500 were in attendance, including a 20 strong delegation of the strike committee. Despite a large Garda presence, a volley of shots was fired by his comrades outside his home on Connolly Road, and his Tri-Colour drapped coffin was buried in the Republican plot of St. Finbars cemetery in Cork. Laying a wreath on behalf of the strikers, Jim Kerr said, “the Irish nation was indebted to Martin O’Leary for what he had done… it is a warning to all the oppressors that the Irish working people are no longer content to be bonded slaves”
On the following Monday, a representative of Mogul Mines flew into Ireland, keen to settle the dispute in the aftermath of the Military Action. The dismissed worker was reinstated with £300 back pay and the strikers returned to work confident in the knowledge that they had Martin and his comrades to thank for their victory.
While we will never know for certain what Vol. Michael O’Leary would of thought of events after his death, or the slide of the ‘Official Faction’ into reformism, and counter revolution, his comrades have commented that it is unlikely he would of supported such moves and have suggested it was likely he would have been a supporter of Seamus Costello and those who went on to form the IRSP and INLA in 1974.
While this will likely remain a matter of opinion, what can be said for certain is that Martin O’Leary gave his life for an Irish Socialist Republic and his example should remain an inspiration for all serious Revolutionary Socialist Republicans today.