Ruairi O Bradaigh: IRA leader who believed fervently in armed struggle - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Ruairi O Bradaigh: IRA leader who believed fervently in armed struggle

 

Ruairi O Bradaigh, who has died at the age of 80, never deviated during his long republican career from his profound belief that the British presence was the sole cause of all Ireland's woes. He also never departed, from first to last, from his stance that the institutions that rule Ireland are not legitimate and that republicans are entirely justified in using force to bring them down.

He put his beliefs into violent practice, most notably as an IRA leader in its most violent period, the early 1970s, and later as political head of one of the dissident republican groups which continue their violence today. His opinions meant he was always isolated from mainstream Irish nationalism. In recent decades he became cut off from mainstream republicanism too, utterly opposed as he was to the strategy of Gerry Adams and others of taking republicanism into politics.

But such isolation never cost him a moment's concern. He was known as one of the old IRA's sea-green incorruptibles, completely uninterested in money and position and completely uninterested, too, in anything short of Britain's surrender and withdrawal. He was once described by the FBI as "a national security threat, a dedicated revolutionary undeterred by threat or personal risk." Private Eye regularly sneered at him, meanwhile, as "Rory O'Bloodbath".

He was born in 1932 in the Irish Republic. His mother and father, both active republicans, named him Peter Roger Casement Brady in memory of Roger Casement, a republican martyr executed by the British for his part in the 1916 Rising. He later Gaelicised his name.

Probably the most academic of the IRA leaders of the time, he came from a middle-class cosmopolitan background. A devout Catholic who abstained from alcohol, he moved in his teens to Dublin where he took a degree in commerce. Joining Sinn Fein and the IRA at an early age, he was involved in the small-scale and ill-supported campaign launched by the IRA in 1956.

He came to prominence by taking part in a raid on an army barracks in Berkshire which yielded guns and ammunition. Although most of this was recovered before it could be smuggled to Ireland, the incident made O Bradaigh's reputation, and he briefly became IRA chief of staff before the campaign petered out for lack of public support. Arrested many times and imprisoned on a number of occasions, he is said to have been author of the statement which announced the ending of the campaign.

When the Troubles erupted in the north in 1969 the republican movement split, with O Bradaigh and other veterans taking charge of the larger and more militant faction, the Provisional IRA. Though no longer an active gunman or bomber, he was one of the principal directors of the IRA as it expanded into the most lethal of the various combatants. In 1972, for example, it was responsible for 229 of the year's 500 deaths.

By the mid-1970s, however, many militant northern republicans tired of his leadership, and in particular his part in approving a ceasefire which was said to be disastrous for the IRA.

Young turks, headed by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, seized control in a bloodless coup, claiming that during the ceasefire the British "probably came as near at that time to defeating the republican struggle than at any other time."

O Bradaigh had been duped, they argued, into believing that Britain was seriously considering withdrawal from Northern Ireland. He stayed on as president of Sinn Fein but as a figurehead, his power gone. Things came to a head at a packed meeting in Dublin in 1986 when the Adams-McGuinness faction sought to ditch decades of republican tradition to allow Sinn Fein candidates to take seats in the Dublin parliament.

Everyone knew that O Bradaigh had always held that ending traditional abstentionism would spell the beginning of the end for armed struggle and lead on to what he denounced as constitutionalism. He insisted: "The armed struggle and sitting in parliaments are mutually exclusive. Parliament is a substitute for a national liberation struggle. It is there to contain and draw off revolutionary fervour."

As he spoke in the debate he was perspiring and over-emotional, his words tumbling out not always in sentences. One commentator wrote: "In contrast to the young, confident, self-assured men who made up the new leadership, he looked old-fashioned, desperate: a loser. They seemed to look forward while he looked back."

The key speech against him came from McGuinness. who promised delegates: "Our position is clear and it will never, never, never change: the war against British rule must continue until freedom is achieved."

When the vote went against him O Bradaigh and a small group of supporters shouldered their way out of the meeting, later announcing the formation of a new group which they called Republican Sinn Fein.

In later life he took a grim satisfaction in declaring that he had been correct in predicting that the new leadership would eventually opt for politics and preside over the disbandment and disarmament of the IRA. A few years ago when McGuinness denounced dissidents such as him as "traitors," O Bradaigh retorted that he was guilty of treachery.

Ever since then Republican Sinn Fein has been an insignificant group, in two decades failing to attract any appreciable support. But it spawned a military wing, the Continuity IRA, which over the years has claimed a number of lives. "As long as the British remain, there will always be some kind of IRA," O Bradaigh shrugged. Suffering from ill-health, he retired as head of Republican Sinn Fein in 2009.

An implacable warrior who regarded himself as keeper of the sacred republican flame, he vowed that he would never accept Ireland's present "illegitimate" institutions. And he never did.

He is survived by his wife Patsy and their six children.

David McKittrick

Ruairi O Bradaigh, republican leader: born Longford, Irish Republic 2 October 1932; married (six children) died 5 June 2013.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
News
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Sport
Tito Vilanova passed away aged just 45
footballThe club's former manager died in April, less than a year after he stood down
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
newsBut just how much does a 122-carat coloured diamond go for these days?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

PE Teacher (Female)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Teacher of Girls PE for Wiltshire scho...

Retail Business Analyst - Retail-J

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week