Sean Cronin who died in the US on 9th March was a highly respected republican, in the tradition of Tone and Connolly, who made a significant contribution to the study of Irish nationalism. From the late sixties into the seventies and eighties he produced a number of major works on Irish revolutionaries; “Young Connolly” and “For Whom the Hangman’s noose was spun” a short booklet on Wolfe Tone’s journey to America and to France where he spent some years seeking French aid for the United Irishmen, A biography of Frank Ryan Socialist Republican leader of the Republican Congress and leader of the Irish contingent in the Spanish Civil War who were defending the Democratic Spanish Republic against Franco’s Fascists, he also wrote The Revolutionaries, Jemmy Hope, Marx and the Irish Question all published by Repsol Publishing the publishing arm of the Workers Party of Ireland.
Sean had the view that even in the darkest periods of Irish history it was essential to keep the flame alive. He made this point very strongly in his pamphlet “They Kept Faith” on Sean Sabhat and Fergal O’Hanlon who were killed at Brookeborough Fermanagh in January 1957. It is clear from all the works that Sean Cronin produced that he had a great affinity for all the subjects of his work. He identified with the struggles and the sacrifices of subject people all over the world and never hesitated to express or render support to those under attack or suffering repression from reaction. Living in the United States for many decades he never lost his interest or optimism that Ireland would one day succeed in achieving Tone’s and Connolly’s objective of a united people free and independent.
Through reading the obituary, by an anonymous writer, in the Irish Times of Saturday 12th March one would never know the extent and the valuable contribution Sean Cronin made to Irish history and politics. They mention in passing a major project he completed on Irish Nationalism: The History of its Roots and Ideology. Living in the United States for many decades he never lost his interest or optimism that Ireland would one day succeed in achieving Ton and Connolly’s objective of a united people free and independent.
I first met with Sean Cronin in 1955, after he arrived in Ireland from America with his wife Terry, when he joined the IRA. Having spent the war years in the Defence Forces he was, compared to the IRA standards, an able soldier. He became a member of GHQ staff and within some months he was working on a plan of campaign “Operation Harvest”. A very generous, sociable, unassuming man of integrity he never imposed himself on any person. His first wife Terry, who died in 1977, was in her own right a very capable and progressive person a shining light in bringing a very different viewpoint and analyses of politics in Ireland and the world to many naïve Irish republicans in the 1950s. During the time preparing for the commencement of “Operation Harvest” Sean Cronin took part in a number of IRA operations a major one being the attempt to rescue IRA prisoners from Wakefield Prison England (The aircraft episode).
Obviously resented and indeed hated by some elements in the IRA and the broader Republican Movement he was a victim of one of the most sordid and despicable campaigns of Irish McCarthyism’s witchhunts in the late fifties. A number of allegations, coming from the United States, claiming that Sean and Terry were Communists and therefore not fit or suitable, according to their standards, to be involved in what they stood for a Catholic Nationalist organisation. Spurred on by the lies and distortions of this element in the US Clann na Gael the campaign was led and fomented by Paddy McLogan a longtime reactionary leader of Irish nationalism and who had been a major figure in the IRA for many decades.
The IRA Army Council decided to establish a court of inquiry into the allegations. Some of the IRA Council did not agree with this decision but went along with it saying it would clear the air. Sean rejected this decision and parted company with the IRA. The IRA went ahead with its inquiry but by then the damage had been done. Instead of standing with an honourable man, who had been tried and tested many times, they surrendered to a faction of reactionaries and in the process lost the services and goodwill of an honest and true follower of Tone and Connolly.
Sean Cronin was a great friend and admirer of George Gilmore one of the foremost leaders and thinkers of revolutionary thought and practice in Ireland over the decades from the thirties. Sean had a great rapport with Cathal Goulding and Tomás MacGiolla and they worked together on many projects with Sean who was living in the United States. A great admirer of Frank Ryan his biography of Frank Ryan is acknowledged to be a first class accomplishment. On a number of occasions discussions were held with film producers on the possibility of producing a film based on Sean’s biography of Frank Ryan. Like many such ideas in the world of filmmaking unfortunately it never came to pass.
Sean was a founder member of the Wolfe Tone Society which played a huge role in the formation of NICRA which has an honoured place in Irish history in its task of building an equal, tolerant and democratic society. Again, as so often in the past, sectarian and anti-progressive forces played their trump card of sectarianism and for decades our country was trapped in the mire of sectarian conflict resulting in thousands of dead and tens of thousands seriously injured. Sean Cronin hated splits and factions and always opposed those who sought to divide people. He had long recognised that to achieve the objectives of Tone, Lalor, Connolly sectarianism had to be confronted and defeated and he always strove to create the conditions in which a united people could achieve the aim of those men.
To return to the Irish Times (the paper of record) for whom Sean worked as its US correspondent, they got a few facts wrong in their obituary of Sean. He was not sentenced to three months in the Curragh in January 1957 it was to Mountjoy Gaol he was sentenced. The Curragh was not opened until July 1957 as an internment camp in which Sean found himself in late 1958. The one pamphlet which they mention Resistance, in my recollection, was not a Sinn Féin publication but was issued by Republican Publicity Bureau. The crap Irish Times comes away with concerning his training as an officer in the Defence Forces in the 1940’s and sharpening pencils at both ends to demonstrate his discipline leading on to how this marked him over from other members of the IRA concerning timekeeping shows the depth and sincerity of their article. Such a man as Sean Cronin deserves respect and honour not the crap that the Irish Times passes off as an obituary.
In his last years he suffered serious health problems. Most saddening of all was the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. For an intellectual and a very active person this was a dreadful blow after living a life which gave so much to so many, many people. He still had so much to give in our common struggle.
We understand that his ashes will be scattered in Kerry in September when his wife Reva Rubenstein Cronin and family will be travelling to Ireland. On behalf of the Ard Comhairle and members and supporters of the Workers Party and all Sean’s friends in Ireland, we extend our sincere sympathy to Reva, Sean’s stepson, Philip Rubenstein and his two step-grandsons Douglas and Kenny.
We would intend to organise a memorial evening for Sean Cronin on the occasion of the scattering of Sean’s ashes.
Sean Garland on Behalf of Ard Comhairle
and members of the Workers Party of Ireland
17th March 2011