‘Tomás Mac Giolla: Republican, Socialist, Leader, Comrade’

Slugger regular Garibaldy has kindly given permission to reproduce his Obituary post for Tomás Mac Giolla.

From The Workers’ Party:

Tomás Mac Giolla (1924 – 2010)

The death has occurred early this afternoon of Tomás Mac Giolla, former President of the Workers Party, TD for Dublin West (1982-1992) and Lord Mayor of Dublin (1993/94). He was 86 and is survived by his wife May (née McLoughlin) and his sister Evelyn and his nephews and nieces.


Mr. MacGiolla passed away in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin early this afternoon. He had been ill for some time and had been in hospital for the last week.

Tomás Mac Giolla was born in to a farming family at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary on January 25th, 1924. He was a nephew of the Irish Parliamentary Party MP, T.P. Gill. He was educated at St. Flannan’s College, Ennis, Co. Clare and in University College Dublin where he completed a degree in Commerce. He subsequently worked as an accountant with the ESB from 1947 until he became a full time public representative for the Workers Party in the late 1970s.

Mr. Mac Giolla joined Sinn Féin around 1950 and stood unsuccessfully for his first election for Sinn Féin in North Tipperary in the 1961 general election. He was elected President of Sinn Féin in 1962 which was the same year in which the late Cathal Goulding became Chief of Staff of the IRA. Together they played a pivotal role in transforming the republican movement away from nationalist armed struggle towards socialism and into what would eventually become the Workers’ Party.

He was elected to Dublin City Council in 1979 and was Workers Party TD for Dublin West from 1982 to 1992. In 1993 Tomás Mac Giolla became Lord Mayor of Dublin. He remained active in politics after his retirement and was a member of the Ard Comhairle of the Workers Party until his death.

Paying tribute to Mr. Mac Giolla this afternoon, the current Workers Party President Michael Finnegan, who is Mr. Mac Giolla’s former director of elections in Dublin West, said that Tomás Mac Giolla was a greatly underestimated figure in Irish politics who played a major role in the struggle for civil rights and democracy in Northern Ireland and for people’s rights throughout Ireland and internationally.
Issued 4th February 2010

Tomás MacGiolla was, in every sense, a giant of a man. As anyone who met him knew, he was a man with a tremendous passion and zest for life, something he shared with May, his wife of so many years. They also shared a deep and strong commitment to the politics of Tone and Connolly, and were bound together by life-long activism. Tomás’ love for an teanga dúchais helped shape his life almost as much as his commitment to republicanism. Tomás was a man of tremendous vision. His was a pivotal role in the transformation of the Republican Movement in the course of the 1960s and 1970s that culminated in the adoption of the simple title of The Workers’ Party in 1982. Together with Cathal Goulding, he led the move away from sterile and narrow militarism towards a party of and for the working class. His was a strong and insistent voice that Republicans must make themselves and their struggle relevant to the people of Ireland. His was a powerful voice against sectarianism. He saw that the real enemy of the plain people of Ireland was not just partition but the rotten and oppressive political and economic system north and south that gave free rein to corruption and bigotry, that destroyed communities in cities as well as the countryside, that exiled the young, and that divided the people of Ireland. Without an end to economic exploitation, he told Republicans, there can be no freedom. To quote from his speech to the Ard Fheis of January 1970

Our objective is the re-conquest of Ireland from the Ground Landlords, the river barons, the speculators, the cartels and the monopolies and the struggle against them will now be intensified. If needs be, we must be prepared to win back our country farm by farm, river by river, mine by mine, shop by shop, and factory by factory.

Tomás was a tireless and fearless fighter for the Irish working class, no more so than in Dáil Éireann. It was Mac Giolla’s interventions in the Dáil that initiated the process that brought the coruption of the political elite into the light of day. But parliamentary politics was only ever one small part of his activism, only ever one front in his struggle for socialism. This is not the time for a full account of his career. But to me Tomás Mac Giolla was to me an inspiration. To hear Mac Giolla take hold of the microphone and talk about the unity of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter was to hear the authentic voice of republicanism. When he spoke about Iraq or Serbia, you understood clearly what internationalism meant. And when he spoke about the oppression inherent in the capitalist system, you were reminded of Swift’s saevo indignatio or Guerva’s statement that the revolutionary was motivated by the love of mankind. It brought back memories of why you became a socialist in the first place. Vivacious, passionate, human. This is the Tomás Mac Giolla I will remember. A visionary, a socialist, a Republican: a true leader and a giant of the Irish Left. This is what he was.

  • John O’Connell

    A man whose heart was in the right place. May he rest in peace.

  • Marcionite

    Heaven is enhanced today. Ireland, diminished. God rest his soul. A man for whom the word decent fits perfectly.

  • Greenflag

    I did’nt know he had been an accountant with the ESB and went from there to being leader of Sinn Fein (Officials) before it became the Worker’s Party, Democratic Left etc .

    You don’t have to agree with all of his political opinions to acknowledge that he was a gentle giant and a good man .

    Condolences to all the bereaved .

  • Sean Og

    A man ahead of his time.

    Many of the policies he championed throughout the 70s and 80s are now accepted by all the main parties. If they had listened to him then many Irish people would have lived longer.

  • Henry94

    The Stickies were an amazing bunch in their political day. It’s a pity they threw in their lot with the Soviet Union. When that tide went out they were destroyed. But some very able people came through their ranks.

    They often now claim to have been right about the north but in fact it was John Hume who was right. Their mantra of Class Politics was never really relevant and isn’t now.

    But Tomás MacGiolla always appeared to be a man of integrity. When the student princes scuttled for the lifeboats and became instant Social Democrats he at least went down with the ship.

    In one election he lost to Liam Lawlor by a handful of votes. No matter what your politics you’d have to say the voters got that one wrong. May he rest in peace.

  • Paul Doran

    Henry94 Class Politics is as right now as it could ever be.Look around you it is everywhere , class theirs and mine.Take the recent Lillis case,Can you imagine the good Judge saying to a person from a working class area, Good man go and sort your affairs out after all someone was killed but you need time after all you have only been waiting about year now.

  • JG

    Well said Paul Doran.

    When the student princes scuttled for the lifeboats and became instant Social Democrats he at least went down with the ship.

    In one election he lost to Liam Lawlor by a handful of votes. No matter what your politics you’d have to say the voters got that one wrong. May he rest in peace.

    Agreee 100 with this though.

    RIP Tomás. A good and decent man who I had the pleasure to share company with a few short months ago.