An Islanders' tribute to Peadar O'Donnell

The social activist was a school headmaster on Arranmore

An Islanders' tribute to Peadar O'Donnell

Arranmore Island will remember the celebrated social activist, human rights campaigner and writer, Peadar O’Donnell, at a ceremony later this month.

Peadar O’Donnell, born in 1893 in Meenmore, outside Dungloe, trained as a teacher at St. Patrick’s College in Dublin and served as headmaster of Athphort National School on Arranmore from 1916-1918.

“An Islanders’ Tribute to Peadar O’Donnell” will be held on Arranmore at 1pm, September 24th, at the island’s Cultúrlann, to mark Peadar’s work and the lasting connection he made with the people of the island.

Trade unionists to speak

The event is an opportunity for islanders to pay tribute to Peadar O’Donnell for his advocacy of islanders’ social and industrial rights.

The tribute will feature the unveiling of a photograph of Peadar O’Donnell and a plaque remembering his time at the island school. Speakers will include Des Geraghty, Donal Donnelly, Anton McCabe, Sean Bonner, John Boyle and Seamus Rodgers.

As part of the ceremony, Arranmore school pupils will read the Proclamation and raise the flag.

The event falls on the centenary of Peader O’Donnell’s arrival at the island school and the 30th anniversary of his death.

Leading political thinker

During his time on Arranmore, Peadar developed his appetite for socialism. Setting aside one hour per day to his writing and becoming involved in the trade union movement, he soon developed the public persona that would see him become a leading political thinker of the twentieth century.

These roots in social activism saw him elected, while at the island school, as county secretary for the Donegal branch of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in July of 1917. In that role he campaigned for funding, policies, pay and conditions, among other issues in education.

Increasingly influenced by the socialist world view of the great union leader and social activist Big Jim Larkin and socialist leader and Proclamation signatory James Connolly, Peadar later established a connection with the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union.

Advocating for tattie hokers

While on the island, he also witnessed first-hand the hardship of Arranmore islanders who emigrated to Scotland to work as tattie hokers, which spurred him to advocate on their behalf.

In June 1918 Peader chaired a meeting on Arranmore, and with the islanders he established the Arranmore Migratory Labourers’ Union.

He later also formed strong connections with the people of the Donegal islands of Inis Fraoch and Inis Caorach.

Peader set his 1927 novel, Islanders, on Inis Caorach. The New York Times described that work as a novel of “quiet brilliance and power”. In all, he wrote seven novels and one play.

Peadar O’Donnell died in 1986, at the age of 93.