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Dr Rose Dugdale – fighter for Irish freedom, student of Chairman Mao

Dr Rose Dugdale – fighter for Irish freedom, student of Chairman Mao

Originally published by Friends of Socialist China, March 28, 2024.

A huge crowd gathered at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery on March 27th 2024 to bid farewell to Dr. Rose Dugdale, a fighter for Irish freedom for more than half a century, who passed away on March 18 at the age of 82.

Rose was born into immense wealth and privilege in England but gave it all up to devote her life to the working and oppressed people of the world and to the liberation of Ireland and the fight for a socialist republic in particular.

Former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams joined some 10 Sinn Féin TDs (members of the Dublin parliament), a TD from People Before Profit, veterans of the Republican struggle, including Jim Monaghan, her partner of many decades, and her close friend and comrade Marion Coyle, as well as her son Ruairí, and many others, at the non-religious ceremony.

Former Sinn Féin Assembly member and MEP Martina Anderson presided over the service and said that her friend had a “pivotal role” in the republican movement.

“I stand here with a sore yet proud heart, reminded of the remarkable journey I and so many others shared together with Rose in the depths of the Irish republican struggle.

“Through her, intellectually, politically and personally, I learned invaluable lessons, as did many others, about resilience, dedication, speaking up, speaking out and the power of conviction.

“Rose’s path from a privileged upbringing to the heart of the republican struggle was marked by her insatiable and unwavering commitment to economic equality, social justice and human rights.”

She added: “Rose’s legacy will forever be intertwined with the tapestry of Ireland’s fight for freedom.”

Rose’s partner, Jim Monaghan, one of the ‘Colombia Three’ Irish republicans who were jailed in the South American country after having spent time in the liberated areas then administered by the FARC liberation movement, spoke from his wheelchair, remembering Rose as “a force of nature.”

“Rose was a highly educated woman in politics, philosophy and economics [the subjects she had studied at Oxford University]. We both had a great interest in socialist politics and she taught me a lot.”

Jim was appointed as the head of Sinn Féin’s Education Department and Rose became his Deputy.

He described his partner as “an all-rounder in revolution, politics and education; a woman of many talents, she was well known as an IRA volunteer, but she was also a noted academic and gifted teacher, who taught economics, politics and philosophy.”

He referred to how Rose’s political awakening had been triggered not least by what she learned of the oppression and exploitation of Africa through her work as an economist and continued:

“She also taught English classes when she was in Limerick Prison. The women that were there, some of them couldn’t read, couldn’t write.

“She helped them through and she helped them read their letters and helped them write letters.”

He told the mourners that Rose was wearing two bracelets when she died, ones she had worn constantly for some two decades. The first was fashioned in the colours of the Irish tricolour. It was made by a FARC guerrilla in a Colombian prison and had a picture of Che Guevara on it. The other was made in the colours of the Palestinian flag.

Rose, he said, had supported the Colombian fighters in their struggle against US imperialism. She had also worked on aspects of the Good Friday Agreement as well as being a feminist and a supporter of gay liberation.

Christina McAuley read a poem that Rose had particularly liked and recalled that she had no interest in material things, adding that her clothes had now been given to homeless people in Dublin.

Another close friend and comrade said that Rose had been a political activist all her life and that class struggle was always front and centre of her politics. She was a republican, a socialist and an internationalist, and a strong supporter of the Palestinian and Basque liberation struggles. She also spoke of Rose’s affinity with animals and her love of the sounds of the countryside, which recalled her childhood. In words echoed by many, she said we would not see her like again.

The main eulogy was given by Rose’s good friend Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Sinn Féin TD for Dublin South-Central.

“Rose was an enigma to the establishment. They couldn’t, and can’t still grasp, that somebody could turn their back on privilege in order to help the masses,” he said.

“If they had spent any time with Rose, they would come away with a clear understanding of how her passion, her drive to help the oppressed, her determination to rebalance the world order was Rose literally putting her money where her mouth was.

“Having enjoyed an early life of privilege in England, living with all the trappings of wealth, she went on to reject that life that was being shaped for her and embrace wholeheartedly with no regrets a life of struggle against British imperialism and world imperialism.”

She had campaigned against the American war of aggression in Vietnam and spent time in socialist Cuba.

“She was a true internationalist and a true Irish republican who opposed fascism and racism in all its forms, seeing them for what they are, tools to divide the poor.”

She was one of many people in history who had come to stand wholeheartedly with the Irish people, “with the zeal of a convert.”

Referring to one of Rose’s most famous exploits, he described it as relieving her family of possessions to help provide “much needed weapons for self-defence.”

He had first met Rose in the early 1980s, shortly after he joined Sinn Féin. She could be fiery in debates, but never held a grudge or sought the limelight. She had helped thousands of working-class people in Dublin, had a talent for explaining complex ideas in simple ways, and saw the potential in everyone.

“She was energetic, with a passion for justice, tackling poverty, and seeking the redistribution of wealth and rebalancing of power. She was and is a true revolutionary and a true legend.”

Marion Coyle spoke on behalf of Rose’s son, Ruairí Gallagher, at his request:

“You will always live on in our hearts and never be forgotten. I love you, Ma. Tiocfaidh ár lá, [Our day will come].”

In closing remarks, Martina Anderson said that the way to pay tribute to Rose was to carry forward the noble cause to which she had devoted herself. She would inspire people for generations to come.

In recalling Rose’s total commitment to Ireland’s fight for freedom, it is impossible not to think of these words of Mao Zedong regarding Canada’s Dr. Norman Bethune:

“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism.”

It should perhaps be scarcely surprising, therefore, that a deep study of Mao’s works and an earnest attempt to apply them in practice was a crucial factor in the formation and development of Rose’s politics and remained a key influence and inspiration through her life.

In November 2011, she was honoured at a Dublin Volunteers Dinner Dance. The Sinn Féin newspaper An Phoblacht reported that:

“After studying in America for a Master’s Degree, Rose returned to England where she taught economics and obtained a doctorate in Philosophy.

“She was heavily involved in the demonstrations against the Vietnam War and it was this that led her to visit Cuba for summer camps that were set up by Fidel Castro to attract Vietnam War activists.

“‘It was in Cuba that I saw the possibility of socialism in the making. Academic life was dominated by great new theorists such as Marx and Mao and it really felt possible to change the world.’

“Rose became involved in working-class movements in Tottenham, north London, a community with high poverty rates and a huge Irish population. It was around this time (1972) that Bloody Sunday happened and that event had a profound effect on Rose and spurred her decision to join the republican armed struggle.

“‘There was a struggle going on right on my doorstep in Ireland and there was never any doubt that I had to be involved. When I got off the boat in Belfast, I saw the British Army on the streets in their uniforms with their high-tech weapons. I saw British troops raid a set of flats and I found it horrifying. I became anxious to get involved in the armed struggle.’”

And in this 2012 documentary, Rose recalls the political education classes she helped organise in rural Cavan. Discussions were held “on the kind of world we would build and the way we would do that”, not in an idealistic way, but based on the concrete realities. She had wanted to be a part of the armed struggle and “you have to learn how to do that. Just as with the class struggle – you have to learn. It is not something that comes instinctively to anyone of any class.”

Here we can see Rose’s passion for socialist education as well as a reflection of the fact that another of her favourite quotations from Mao was: “If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution.”

Saying that it was not easy to make the transition from armed struggle to constitutional politics, Rose recalled what she described as the “famous dictum” of Mao, that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, adding that people who had been involved in the armed struggle know something about “contesting the arrogance of power that other people maybe don’t know.

“I still haven’t changed my mind at all on the things that I came to realise in the early years. I think fundamentally… that all of us have to work to bring down capitalism and it’s about how to do that… I do believe that it’s definitely possible.”

Rose was and is indeed “a true revolutionary and a true legend.”

Rest In Power, Comrade Rose Dugdale!

*****

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