Obituary of Rayner Lysaght: leading labor activist and historian and extremely influential figure in Irish left-wing politics


Rayner Lysaght died of prolonged illness on July 2 at Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at the age of 80. He was a prominent activist and historian of the Irish labor movement and an intellectual ancestor in many ways to the current spectrum of far left parties and elected politicians.

His full name, which he preferred to use in his writings, was Daniel Rayner O’Connor Lysaght. He was born January 30, 1941 in Llanishen, Cardiff, the eldest son of surgeon Arthur and Jacqueline Lysaght (née Heard).

The family had roots in Limerick and Cork and used the spelling “Conner” in their name, but Rayner preferred “O’Connor”, due to his admiration for Feargus O’Connor (1796-1855), an Irish leader. origin of the radical Chartist movement for political reform in Britain.

Lysaght was educated at Cheltenham College before moving to Trinity College Dublin, where he studied modern history and political science, from which he obtained an Honors BA in 1964. He then obtained a Masters degree from University College Dublin in 1983.

An admirer of innovative and controversial politician Dr Noel Browne, Rayner joined the left wing of the National Progressive Democrats (NPD). The party, created by Browne and Roscommon TD Jack McQuillan, was active from 1958 to 1963.

Browne and McQuillan then joined the Labor Party and Lysaght followed. Browne, however, was not easy going and he ultimately kicked Rayner out of the party.

In the mid-1960s, Rayner became involved in the far-left mainstream of the labor movement which endorsed Leon Trotsky’s views. and worked to launch a revolution that would establish a socialist society based on democratic principles, rather than a Stalinist dictatorship.

The Vietnam War was a huge problem at the time, and protests against it facilitated the spread of radical ideas.

In 1967 he joined the Irish Workers’ Group (IWG), whose most prominent member was activist and colorful journalist Gerry Lawless..

The IWG collapsed following a dispute between different factions in 1968 and Rayner moved on to the League for a Workers’ Republic.

Another split took place in 1971 when a group comprising Lysaght and his friend Peter Graham broke up. In addition to his high-profile political activities, Graham was also a member of the secret paramilitary group Saor Éire, which shot dead Gda Richard Fallon, 43, in a bank raid in Dublin on April 3, 1970.

Graham, 26, was himself shot dead in his apartment in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin on October 25, 1971, apparently following an internal dispute at Saor Éire.

Among Rayner Lysaght’s published works, one of the most popular was a pamphlet on the Limerick Soviet, which acted as the de facto government authority in the city for almost two weeks in April 1919.

It arose out of a general strike organized by the Limerick Trades and Labor Council to protest against the British Army’s designation of most of the city and part of the county as a “special military zone”.

The Limerick Soviet controlled the city, printed its own currency and organized the food supply during the period in question.

Paul Murphy, the TD People Before Profit for South West Dublin, attended Lysaght’s funeral last Tuesday and later said: “Rayner’s work as a Marxist historian was revolutionary. Its greatest impact was probably discovering and popularizing the history of the Limerick Soviet.

“With this work he gave a crucial point of reference for the socialists: the workers could and did take over the management of a city in Ireland. He was also a non-sectarian Trotskyist, happy to attend and speak at a wide range of meetings and debates with other socialists.

Lysaght has written numerous articles as well as a number of brochures on political issues over the years and his book The Republic of Ireland was published by Mercier Press in 1970.

In his later years he also collected and published material relating to a small Irish Trotskyist group of the 1940s.

Besides extensive scholarship, he had a spiritual side, as seen in a debate on the “two nation theory” where he said: “Ireland is certainly not two nations, but I am not. really sure it’s one. “When a rowdy shouted, ‘What is this?” Lysaght responded with his best upper-class accent, “It’s a developing nation, my kid.”

His funeral at the Glasnevin Crematorium was limited in number due to the pandemic, but still included a wide range of mourners.

Charles Lysaght, author and distant relative of the deceased, referred to the poem where William Butler Yeats wrote: “My glory was that I had such friends.

Charles then said his deceased relative was “a pure-souled idealist” and added: “My quote reflected the fact that he had built up a devoted circle of friends, although he came from a very different environment. ”

The coffin was draped in the Starry Plow flag. Dr Kieran Jack McGinley spoke about 40 years of working alongside Rayner in the Irish Labor History Society. As director of Umiskin Press, Dr McGinley also worked with Lysaght, who edited and wrote the introduction to the autobiography of labor leader Matt Merrigan, Eggs and Rashers: Irish Socialist Memories, published in 2014.

“Searching for Rayner’s favorite memories is a tough choice,” said Dr. McGinley. “He will be dearly missed but not forgotten and his purse will stand the test of time.”

He said former Labor Party leader and finance minister Ruairí Quinn “asked me to convey his condolences to all who are here today”.

Rayner Lysaght is survived by his wife of 48 years, Ine, his brother William, his sister Priscilla and other relatives. Due to her illness, Áine was unable to attend her husband’s funeral but was able to follow the service online from the hospital.

Their friend Anne Conway told those in mourning: “Rayner came from a very wealthy background and he could have chosen a different path in life, but he chose the cause of the working class.”

She read a message from civil rights activist Michael Farrell, who was also present: “There has hardly been any radical or progressive protest or demonstration that Rayner has not been for 60 years or more and he has played its part in social change. ”

Tribute was also paid by John McAnulty on behalf of the Socialist Democracy organization, which is the Irish branch of the Fourth International and whose members included Rayner Lysaght.

Among those who expressed their condolences on was Jim Gibney, a leading member of Sinn Féin, who wrote: “Rayner was a big supporter of a united Ireland and political prisoners during the political status protests in the H-Blocks and the Armagh Women’s Prison. in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I met him at events in Dublin and at conferences. He was a gentleman, with a soft voice and an encyclopedic spirit.

“He passionately transmitted his scholarly knowledge in a gentle and unpretentious way. And I will always remember him for that and his gentle but persuasive ways. “

The obituary includes the following summary of Rayner Lysaght’s life and times: “He lived to make this Trotsky quote a reality: ‘Life is good. May future generations cleanse it from all evil, oppression and violence and take full advantage of it.

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