Niall O’Dowd writes on the passing of Rita O’Hare.
Rita O’Hare, one of the most prominent and beloved members of Sinn Féin, has passed and a mighty voice is stilled.
Operating from Dublin, she oversaw Friends of Sinn Féin USA for over two decades and many years previously also served time for IRA activity.
Though diminutive in stature, O’Hare will always walk tall in the pantheon of Irish revolutionary heroes.
No taller than five foot nothing, she dominated most rooms she walked into, irrespective of rank or position. She was a fierce voice for the Republican movement, occasionally flashing that Irish temper that cut through the babble of some sunshine patriots and told everyone what the real roots of the Troubles were really about.
In America, she cultivated friendships and relationships from President Barack Obama on down to an An Phoblacht newspaper seller. She had a non-pareil gift of precision. Her usual hello was punctuated by seven curse words such as “how in —the f…k are you miserable bas…d”, etc.
I once told her (hoping to draw a reaction) that she needed a nice ball gown and pearls to attend an upcoming White House event. “I’d rather go f….. bare ass naked” was her memorable response.
As Sinn Féin’s representative in America for 25 years or so, she became a beloved figure who basically attracted an ever-growing fan club.
The light touch covered a multitude, but she got down to business when the common courtesy had been exchanged. She built the Friends of Sinn Féin machine in America, bringing in powerful politicians and business supporters. Her message was always succinct and clear. “Irish America matters, you proved it with the Adams visa, it can make a difference, we have to keep going. The road to a united Ireland is ahead.” As usual she was right.
She was a former editor of an Phoblacht, something she was not shy to remind us of when she caught a typo with her gimlet eye in our Irish Voice newspaper. ”Yiz can’t even effin spell” she barked.
She was everyone’s friend and hypocrisy’s mortal enemy. She cut through BS like no one I ever met. Personally, she did not have it easy.
Due to her activities during the Troubles, she was barred from ever returning to Northern Ireland which meant missing elderly family and friends for a long period of her life.
She brought joy when she entered a room, a good laugh being the item first on the agenda usually beginning with the words “here … did you hear,” after which a big dollop of vicious and funny gossip followed. We could never get enough.
She loved her large brood. In fact, my last conversation with her a few months ago was about her great-grandchildren.
With them around Rita will always stay in our hearts. She died as she had lived, bravely, surrounded by people who loved her. If there is a God she’s not kneeling, she’s bitching at him right now about how he’s handling the Ukraine crisis saying, “Cop yourself on Jesus,”
‘She spoke truth to power, there can be no greater compliment or gift. She fought in the war, helped make peace after that war, and helped keep the peace despite all the obstacles.
So farewell old friend. You were the Sunday in every week around the Irish Voice office when we saw you coming and your spirit and inspirational hope will forever live on with us. May you rest in peace.
Editor’s Note: Rita passed away on March 3, 2023, at the age of 80. A funeral procession was held at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin on March 7, where Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald described her as “arguably the leading female republican of her generation.” Her body was cremated after the service.
Rita is survived by her husband, Brendan Brownlee; her children Terry, Frances, Rory, and Ciarán; her grandchildren and great-grandchildren; and her brother, Alan.
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