From Socialist Voice, September 2010

Alf O’Brien

(1938–2010)


After a short period in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Alf O’Brien took up his post as lecturer in mediaeval history at UCC. Many students of history and archaeology who attended his lectures will no doubt remember his individualistic and idiosyncratic approach to the subject matter.
     He believed in socialism as the best way to advance to a more egalitarian society, and after settling in Ballincollig he became secretary of the Labour Party in this expanding Cork city suburb.
     His world of academia, particularly with regard to his grasp of economics and commence (historical and contemporary), were of great benefit to his colleagues when it came to the necessity for an analysis of present-day Irish society. However, he felt badly let down after 1973, when the Labour Party entered into Government with Fine Gael. He felt that the working-class vote, garnered by activists like himself, had been used not to advance the cause of socialism but rather to give a kiss of life to a party of the right.
     However, in spite of the setback of electoral politics, his work continued as union representative in his employment. He was the secretary of the UCC Academic Staff Association (Cork Branch of the Irish Federation of University Teachers) and ASA delegate to the Cork Council of Trade Unions.
     There was no doubting Alf’s brand of socialism. After Yevgeny Lagutin of the International Department of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union gave a public lecture on Soviet socialism in the Crawford Gallery in Cork in 1986 Alf accepted that many of the advances enjoyed by workers in western Europe had in fact come about because of workers holding state power in the Soviet Union and the other socialist states of eastern Europe.
     Like many other communists, he was shocked by the victory of the counter-revolutionaries in Europe that took place between 1989 and 1991. However, at this time his academic skills were again to come into play. Having been a guest lecturer in the German Democratic Republic, he had vast knowledge of the key industries in that society and was more than able to tell the visiting German ambassador of the now united Germany, visiting UCC in 1992, that previously solid industries in the east had been “reformed” by being bought out for the purpose of expanding West German capitalist enterprises, or bought to be closed down so as to avoid any real competition in the new market-led economy.
     Alf, to the best of his ability and in spite of failing health, continued to keep the Red Flag flying in the fight to defend the gains in the present day, as we now experience one of capitalism’s most aggressive attacks worldwide.
     His retirement was not good to him, as he suffered various maladies of the body, and a severe mugging had an impact on his health. Alf was an active member of the Communist Party of Ireland for many decades, until poor health prevented him from playing any active role, but he identified with the programme of the party and remained a committed supporter until his dying day.
     The carbon molecules that made up the mind and body of Alf O’Brien took on a different composition, and he is no more.
     We offer our condolences to his wife, Frances, and to his brother, sister, and other relatives. We will retain the fond memories of the stories, the debates, the rapport and the pleasant company of a great comrade. Our tribute: more of the same, as our flag stays red.
[NM]

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