Margaret O’Leary who died suddenly yesterday morning (Tuesday 17th November) was a loyal and dedicated member of the Republican Movement and the Workers’ Party for over fifty years.
Margaret, born in February 1947, was the second oldest of four children. Her brother Jer was eighteen months older than her, while her brother Denis and sister Carmel were, respectively, five and twelve years younger than her.
As Margaret herself said in her tribute to her brother Jer less than two years ago: “We were reared on Upper St. Columba’s Road, Drumcondra. It wasn’t a political household by any means although there was always interest in current affairs.
“It was a great neighbourhood to grow up in, with dozens of local kids around our own age, and after school and during the holidays with everybody playing together on the local roads – and on the railway line when we could get away with it.”
It was an area and an era when soccer was the game on the streets and tournaments between adjoining streets or neighbourhoods were a regular feature of life. In her young days Margaret was “a committed Drum’s [Drumcondra] supporter” but she did not carry that passion for sport into her later life.
The early and mid 1960s, when Margaret was finishing her school days and entering the world of work, was an era of political struggle and upheaval right across the world. Here, the Dublin Housing Action Campaign was on the streets and gripping the imagination of a new generation including Margaret and her older brother. Again, in Margaret’s own words: “… Jer began to take an interest in the revitalised Official Republican Movement. He had kept this to himself so when I joined as well in 1968, we surprised each other with our joint involvement …”
Margaret threw herself energetically into the Cumann and wider campaigning work of the organisation. In January 1970, when the Provisional rump walked out of the Ard Fheis, she was resolute in her support of Official Sinn Féin and the socialist direction of the party. Margaret was totally in support of the campaign of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Associations non-violent campaign for civil rights and political reform in Northern Ireland. As state repression and sectarian violence flared Margaret engaged in many solidarity actions to draw attention to the situation in Northern Ireland. As well as the usual protests and pickets Margaret was part of a small team, with Seán Ó Cionnaith and others, that engaged in a number of totally peaceful but high-profile events.
In the mid-1970s Margaret started to work for the Party on a full-time basis, initially dealing with a mixture of administration, accounts and assisting with the fledgling Irish People newspaper. Later, as the Irish People became a successful publication and the leading left-wing weekly publication in the country, Margaret worked full time on the paper and with its different editors.
Margaret continued as a party activist. In the summer of 1978 she participated in the World Festival of Youth and Students as part of the SFWP/IDYM section of the Irish delegation. On her return from Cuba she was one of the founder members of the Ireland Cuba Friendship Society and was a committee member for many years. In 1979 she was a candidate in the Drumcondra Ward in the local elections, ending up with nearly 500 votes. In 1980 she went to Copenhagen as part of the SFWP delegation to the alternative International Women’s Conference which ran in parallel to the UN International Women’s conference.
During the 1980s, as Lorna and Jennifer were born and growing up Margaret, without any lessening of her commitment, stepped back from some of her day-to-day party activism. However, Margaret continued to work full-time in the Workers’ Party office, represent the Women’s Committee on the Ard Comhairle on several occasions, initiate and edit ‘Womens View’ from its inception to its final edition and, after she moved to Finglas, be an active Party member in the Dublin North West constituency.
In 1991, as the manoeuvrings of what became the Democratic Left faction started to emerge, Margaret acted as an effective and energetic shop steward for all the Party workers. Despite being put under severe pressure Margaret refused to betray her principles or her comrades and after the De Rossa-led betrayal and walkout of February 1992 Margaret was a key person in holding our organisation together and in starting the rebuilding process.
In 1993 Margaret ceased working full time for the Party. However her skills and experience were always available to the Party and she was always anxious to contribute whatever she could to ensure the smooth operation of the head office.
After she left the Workers’ Party head office, Margaret endured a period of unemployment during which she undertook various computer training courses, including a C.A.D. course. She then found employment with the Irish Council for Social Housing. Margaret continued to work beyond normal retirement age because as she said herself “what would I be doing sitting in the house all day”. She remained with the ICHS and, despite officially being on holiday, went in to their office do one “little job” on the morning before she died.
The Ard Comhairle / Central Executive Committee of the Workers’ Party would like to extend our deepest sympathy to Margaret’s husband Frank, her daughters Lorna and Jennifer, her grandchildren Robyn, Aliyah, Adam and Jamie, her sister Carmel, son in law Tom, her extended family, friends and colleagues. Margaret’s brothers Jer and Denis predeceased her.
As part of her tribute to her brother Margaret said: “I was born on the actual morning on which Jim Larkin’s funeral and burial was taking place to Glasnevin Cemetery, not far from where we lived, when, as James Plunkett recorded, ‘the funeral on that bleak day in February 1947, saw thousands standing in the slush and the cold to bid Larkin farewell’.”
Unfortunately, due to the restrictions of Covid 19 we cannot gather or stand together to bid Margaret farewell. However, we will remember her and, when it is possible, we will gather to honour her