Tribute to Comrade and Friend Noel Cullen, who died on Saturday 26th May 2012, by Sean Garland, National Treasurer, the Workers’ Party of Ireland, at Noel’s funeral in Glasnevin Crematorium, Dublin.
May I first express on behalf of the Ard Comhairle, members and supporters of the Workers’ Party our most sincere sympathy to Noel’s mother Ellen, his son Jake and daughter Riona, to his sisters Bernie and her husband Brian, to Marie and her husband John, to Catherine and her husband Padraic, to his brothers Donal and his wife Helen, and to Brian and his wife Debbie and to all the extended family especially Jamie, Jody, Kieron, Ruairi, Kathy, Sean and Oisin, to Neil, Ross and Kathleen and to Donna and Robert. He loved them all as they have shown how much they have loved him, most especially over the past difficult years.
Noel’s death at such an early age was and indeed is a great shock to his family and to a wide and great number of friends and comrades. We know that the past years since he was diagnosed with cancer were years of strain and stress on Noel and his family. But we also know that it was through his calm and determined attitude, greatly helped by all his family, that he was able to play a part in his children’s life and also in the activity of the Workers’ Party.
The last time I met with Noel was in Arbour Hill with the Workers Party Easter Week commemoration. He was his usual quiet self, concerned as to how I was and how was the party doing. This was typical of a man always generous and caring about others.
For Noel politics, and especially class politics, was and remained to the end the most important issue in this society. He had learned long ago that this society was based on greed and inequality and until we had a truly Democratic, Secular Socialist Republic we would always have inequality, poverty and injustice. Voltaire, the Great French philosopher of the 18th century, said it for his day :-“The poor are poor because they are robbed and robbed because they are poor” But then Marx came along and clarified this quote when he stated, “You are poor because of the economic system under which you live and under which you are governed, Capitalism. You will always be poor under this system which places the privileges of the few above the rights of the many, it is this system of Capitalism which must be changed forever”.
Noel’s long history as a political activist began when he joined the Irish Democratic Youth Movement, the youth wing of the Workers’ Party. He along with many others, as our late friend and comrade Tomás Mac Giolla stated, “built the finest political movement this country had ever seen”. It had the potential to build a society where the working class would reap the benefits of their labour. In common with many of his comrades, Noel felt deeply the betrayal of the party by members of the leadership who for opportunistic reasons sought to liquidate the party and carve out for themselves positions of power and privilege. That some of them have got their reward today it is true but it is at the expense of workers and families who have paid and continue to pay the price of their treachery.
Comrade Noel Cullen stands out as an unique comrade and friend. He knew what he and his party stood for and whatever the difficulties it faced Noel was confident, as we are, that success could be achieved. A comrade of great determination, Noel could be relied upon in any and every emergency. He never got excited and was always able to discuss every issue in a calm and rational manner.
We, Noel’s family, friends and comrades have lost a wonderful human being who was a bulwark against pessimism, deceit and division. The love and respect that I have seen Noel’s family express at his passing has been most wonderful for it is a true demonstration of the impact Noel has made in his short life. The famous English poet Emily Dickinson stated, “That is only comes once is what makes life so sweet”. I believe this to be true and I know that Noel, from my association with him over many years of struggle in the common cause of Socialism, held the same view.
Noel was in the tradition of Tone and Connolly, of Liam Mellows and Frank Ryan, of Cathal Goulding and Tomás Mac Giolla, who all sought to unite workers of every religion and of none. He had no time for those who sought to divide workers and he was always hostile to sectarianism which has been used down the road to divide workers. How do we fill the void left by Noel’s passing. Frankly I don’t know, for we do not get many Noel Cullen’s passing our way. I do know that Noel’s attitude to what has to be done in the coming days and years is reflected in the Wobblie poem from the United States in the 1920s which is still very relevant, and I quote:
“Mourn not the dead that in the cool earth lie
- dust unto dust,
The Calm sweet earth that mothers all who die –
As all of us must:
But rather mourn the apathetic throng
The cowed and the meek –
Who see the world’s great anguish and its wrong –
And dare not speak”
In looking back, at the time of their passing, over the life of a friend and comrade Noel, we are mindful of the loss he is to his family and to all of us. We try to weigh the balance and say to ourselves, “did this man make an impact, did he play his part, did he make a contribution, not just to our country but to the world at large?”. I will come back to this later. Noel was an Irish Socialist Republican, he was a true internationalist. He stood, with his late friend and comrade Seán Ó Cionnaith for the rights of the Palestinian people, for the people of Cuba and Korea, struggling against the might of US imperialism which has never stopped interfering in the affairs of sovereign nations. Whether it be in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the aim of the United States is to dominate and to carry out its policies through client states on every continent. The world is waking up to the dangers of US imperialism and it was through the work of our late comrade Noel and many others that people learned as to who the enemy is of workers, capitalism.
I will conclude with an answer to the question I posed was Noel’s life a success and I believe I found it in a poem written by an American poet from the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson. It is called Success:
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of
intelligent people and the
affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of
and endure the betrayal
of false friends.
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or
a redeemed social condition;
to know that even one life
has breathed easier
because you have lived
this is to have succeeded
Going on Ralph Waldo Emerson’s standard we can truly say that Comrade Noel Cullen’s life was a great success.