Taking up the baton
A Letter from Ireland
This week we lost Rita O’Hare. She was a friend, a comrade, and mentor, and at times tormentor.
Many knew her longer and better than me. Those who can write better than I ever will of the woman we lost. Niall O’Dowd captured the essence of Rita as an activist in his piece on Irish Central. Mary Lou gave an incredible eulogy describing the urgent energy of a woman “who did not know her place”.
There were former prisoners and IRA volunteers, grown old and grey, carrying with dignity their unconquerable revolutionary spirit. There were neighbors, friends, and family. The new generation of Sinn Féin leaders and younger activists. I was proud to be asked to coordinate with her friends from the US who had traveled over. Many more tuned in to watch the service online.
I had not been to Glasnevin before the funeral. Had never made the time. As the US delegation carried the coffin on the final leg to the Republican Garden of Remembrance, I spotted the grave of John Devoy; “The greatest ever Fenian”, who lived and organized most of his life in exile in the US.
It was at this spot that Gerry Adams gave his oration. He acknowledged her role as an IRA volunteer, her work in Sinn Féin, and her essential role in developing and embedding the peace process. He thanked her family for sharing her with us. He asked the Grandchildren to carry the stories of Rita with pride. “Tell them that before they were born she fought for them and their future, so that you will all grow old in a free and united Ireland.”
Rita was part of something bigger than herself. Bigger than any one person.
Speaking about Irish Republicanism Gerry said, “It is a continuum. Like a relay race with each generation of activists passing the baton on to the next generation.”
The righting of wrongs and the struggle for justice continues. It may take different forms. it evolves and changes as progress is made. It never stands still. The graves at Glasnevin are proof that the struggle was there before we were born and will continue when we are gone until an Irish republic of equal citizens is established.
We are part of what came before and of what will follow. It is our role to progress Irish unity and build a true republic of all who share this island. Rita O’Hare played her part and made a difference.
This generation will not have to make the sacrifices of previous years. There is a peaceful and democratic pathway ahead. That is the gift and legacy of the generation of Rita O’Hare. The baton has been passed on. It is up to all of us and to those who follow to win the race.
Rest easy Rita.
Ciarán Quinn is the Sinn Féin Representative to North America. Each week he writes a letter from Ireland with news and analysis. It is featured in the weekly Friends of Sinn Féin USA Newsletter. Be sure you are subscribed to stay up to date.