I’ve only just finished Donal Ó Drisceoil’s incredible biography of the “grand old man” of the Irish left, Peadar O’ Donnell.
Peadar, living until 93 years of age, had been involved in Saor Éire and the Republican Congress, two majorly important moments in the history of left-republicanism. He founded The Bell (An Irish literary magazine) and wrote a number of novels such as Proud Island and The Big Windows in his lifetime too. His story is an interesting one, from the smaller details (The influence of a ‘Wobbly’ trade unionist brother returning from the U.S to the household in his younger days,for example) to the major moments, like his time in Mountjoy prision (in the company of men like Liam Mellows)
Mountjoy Prison brings us onto another interesting character, Paul Robeson.
Robeson, of course, was a famous American actor, singer, writer and political activist, who even toured Republican Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
On page 103 of O’ Drisceoil’s biography of O’ Donnell, an interesting story is told of Peadar O’ Donnell’s time in the United States, some of which was spent moving in communist political and social circles.
The legend goes that:
Peadar was stranded at a roadside with a burst tyre when a limousine stopped and offered help. He was invited to sit in the car by the passenger while the driver fixed the puncture.The passenger turned out to be Paul Robeson, who told Peadar that he would like to record an Irish song. O’ Donnell suggested Kevin Barry, the ballad glorifying the young IRA man hanged by the British in 1920, which he said conveyed the spirit of Ieland. He procceded to teach the song to Robeson, who released it on record in the early 1950s
Here it is, found on Youtube of course . Fantastic. That Robeson voice.
Uploaded by YouTube User DoYouRemember1001 (I don’t go in for that slideshow lark ;) )
Amazingly, in 1972, Leonard Cohen sang the song in Dublin at the National Stadium. Sadly,there was no repeat on either occasion when I got to see the great man.