Mr Des O’Hagan

MANY tributes have been paid to Des O’Hagan, the lifelong socialist and republican, who was a founder member of the Workers’ Party for which he was a standard bearer in South Down for many years.

Mr O’Hagan, who died last week aged 81, was originally a Belfast man who made Downpatrick his adopted home. A genial and kind man, he was a familiar figure in the streets of the county town right up until a few weeks ago.

He was a member of the IRA who came to renounce violence in favour of the politics of persuasion. Once set on the path of peace, he never wavered in his beliefs.

He was a committed socialist who sought to bridge the sectarian divide through a socialist republic.

He was a member of the Thomas Russell Society in Downpatrick and like Russell and the other United Irishmen he believed in an Ireland where Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter would join together.

He came from a family steeped in socialism. His grandfather was a leading figure in the 1907 docks strike organised by trade union leader Jim Larkin and his family was also associated with James Connolly, one of the executed leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising.

He joined the IRA in Belfast at the age of 15 and was active during the border campaign of the 1950s. He served four years in Crumlin Road jail for trying to help a prisoner escape from 

a hospital where he was to undergo an operation.

While serving his sentence he decided to reject violence and instead took up politics. On his release he obtained a degree in sociology at the London School of Economics and later became a lecturer at Stranmillis Teaching College.

He was one of the leading lights in the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) in the late 1960s and helped to organise demonstrations.

He was one of the first people to be lifted under Operation Demetrius — the introduction of internment by the Stormont government in August 1971. He spent the next year and a day inside Long Kesh, during which time he wrote a series of letters which were smuggled out of the camp and published in the Irish Times. They formed a unique record of the daily life of the internees, their relationship with the prison authorities and their reaction to the often bloody events taking place on the outside. In 2012 he published a collection of his letters in a book simply entitled ‘Letters from Long Kesh.’

Also immersing himself in politics, he founded a Long Kesh branch of the NICRA and was an active member of Republican Clubs, the political wing of the Official republican movement. On his release he became an education officer for the Workers Party, the new name for Republican Clubs.

Having taken the democratic path, he stood as a Workers Party candidate in many Westminster and Assembly elections. Despite his lack of electoral success, he remained a firm believer in the ballot box.

He was idealist, a man of the hard left who had visited the Soviet Union and supported the communist cause. In a statement, the Workers Party described him as a Marxist intellectual, author, political activist and polemicist who had “dedicated his life to class politics.”

He was also the beloved husband of his late wife, Marie, father of Donal, Aedan and the late Ciaran, father-in-law of Liz, grandfather of Naoise, brother of Raymond and Angela, and brother-in-law of Norma.

The funeral service was held at Roselawn Crematorium on Saturday, May 9.