Trade unionists and activists stood with the people of Arranmore Island recently to pay tribute to social activist and writer, Peader O’Donnell, who served as a teacher and headmaster at an Arranmore school.
Des Geraghty, former Siptu president and a friend of Peadar’s, was among those who spoke at the event, “An Islanders’ Tribute to Peader O’Donnell”.
“He was a man of the people who never forgot his roots in the rugged highlands and islands of Donegal, but also knew how inequality, poverty, emigration and injustice blights the lives of poor, hardworking people of all nationalities and persuasions,” Des said in his remarks during the ceremony.
Born in 1893 in Meenmore, outside Dungloe, Peader served as headmaster of Arranmore’s Athphort National School from 1916 to 1918, after training as a teacher at St. Patrick’s College in Dublin.
While on Arranmore Peader set time aside each day for his writing and involvement in the trade union movement. He was elected county secretary for the Donegal branch of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) in July of 1917.
He also witnessed the hardships experienced by Arranmore islanders who emigrated to Scotland to work as tattie hokers. In June of 1918, with the islanders, he established the Arranmore Migratory Labourers’ Union.
Des said, “For me he will always be remembered as a constructive socialist, a courageous soldier, a proud, generous spirit, a man of the people and a true inheritor of all the O’Donnell rebel traditions of Donegal.”
The tribute also featured the unveiling of a picture of Peader and a plaque remembering his time on the island. Other speakers included John Boyle, first Into vice president from the Rosses; Anton McCabe of the NUJ; Labour activist Seamus Rodgers; social activist and author Donal Donnelly, a friend of Peader’s; and solicitor Sean Bonner of the Donegal Historical Society.
Speaking after the tribute, Eamonn Bonner, manager of the Ionad an Chrois Bhealaigh, the Arranmore community centre, said the aim of the event was to ensure Peader’s memory is kept alive and to send the message that “people, no matter where they are geographically, can make changes and have an input in improving the lives of the ordinary, working person in the country.”
Nora Flanagan, chairperson of the committee behind the Arranmore tribute, said Peader’s work had improved conditions for people across the board. ”We now enjoy better pay and conditions in all aspects of our work, thanks to the like of Peader and his colleagues”.
She also said he had a particular affinity with island communities, and said Arranmore hope make the tribute an annual event.
”We want to do something every year to remember him, because he was a very important part of island life,” Nora said.