Charlie O’Neill was born in Drimnagh on 20th December 1937 and was a dyer by trade. His family had fought with the United Irishman and The Fenians. He was a Socialist Republican with a sharp wit who loved classical music, The Irish Times, a glass of wine and especially his family.”While the stories of O’Neill, and similar Socialist Republicans who dedicated their entire life to the cause of freedom, have been conveniently airbrushed from history by the establishment, their families will always keep their memories alive”.
He was a volunteer of the Irish Republican Army when, with a large number of Dublin volunteers, he became involved with the breakaway Joe Christle group who joined forces with Liam Kelly’s organisation Saor Uladh in Co, Tyrone, in 1956. They attacked custom post telephone exchanges, bridges, B-Special drill halls and they demolished the lough gates at Newry.
Charlie worked in a shoe factory in Cork during the early 1960s and eventually bought a cottage in Crosshaven. He became good friends with many of the University College Cork socialists as well as Jim Lane and Gerry Higgins from Irish Revolutionary Forces. Charlie, Higgins and Jim Lane attended an Anti-Vietnam War protest during the berthing of USS Courtyney in 1967 which was organised by the Cork Vietnamese Freedom Association. At this time Charlie became good friends with Tom Barry the former IRA Commander of the Third West Cork Flying Column during the Irish War of Independence.
Charlie was associated with the radical National Civil Liberties League that agitated around industrial disputes, Tenant and Traveller rights when he returned to Dublin. Furthermore he became a supporter of Saor Éire Action Group, a militant Marxist-republican group which included many prominent former members of the IRA like Frank Keane, Liam Sutcliffe and Trotskyist activists associated with the Fourth International.
On October 3, 1968, shots were fired in a failed attempt to raid the Munster and Leinster Bank in Ballyfermot. Unfortunately the getaway-car crashed at Drimnagh and four Republicans were arrested by armed Special Branch officers. Charlie, Sean (Ructions) Doyle, Padraig Dwyer and Simon O’Donnell were charged with the possession of firearms, four rifles, six automatic pistols and two revolvers and with shooting with intent to endanger life when they appeared in Dublin’s Central Criminal Court. After several adjournments the case against Charlie and Sean Doyle was finally heard on January 21, 1970. But when the counsel for the prosecution applied for a further adjournment, Justice Murnaghan refused to grant it. The prosecution fell back on a nolle prosequI, a tactic that allows the prosecutor to re-file the same charges at a later date. The judge released the two men who were to be re-arrested outside the court, but while all this was going on the two Republicans walked out of the Central Criminal Court to a waiting getaway car.
When the North of Ireland erupted in 1969 being an active militant Charlie volunteered to defend the besieged people in the Bogside of Derry. He along with Liam Walsh, Martin Casey, Peter Graham and other Saor Erie activist’s provided aid of all forms to the Nationalist people.
In a tragic turn of events in April 1970, Garda Richard Fallon was shot dead after a bank raid at Arran Quay Dublin. The Special Branch released the names of seven men connected with Saor Eire to the newspapers including Charlie, who they wanted to question. Three of those named would eventually stand trial in Dublin and be acquitted.
During a difficult situation in Cork when Charlie and Sean Doyle were detained at a Gardai roadblock. One of the Gardai, an inspector, was late for important engagement in Dublin as his transport had broken down. The two fugitive’s accommodated by giving him a lift. Unaware they were fugitives, the Gardai were instructed to wave the (stolen) car through the roadblocks to Dublin. The inspector “told them to enjoy the rest of their night” after they arrived at the destination which was a Garda station. A furious row broke out when the police learned that they had in custody two of the seven men wanted for questioning who were connected with Saor Eire.
Charlie moved to London to avoid the state harassment of Saor Eire supporters. While there he gave an interview to a London Times reporter about Saor Eire (1). He was eventually captured and received two concurrent sentences of one and a half years each which he served in Portlaoise Prison.
To conclude until his untimely death on 17, February 2016, he was still involved in all aspects of the people’s struggle. Therefore it was not a surprise when he took part in the anti-water tax demonstrations or when he was part of the Turfcutters resistance in Wicklow, to the EU directive that banned turf cutting.
Jim Lane said “I attended Charlie O’Neill’s removal from Clarkes Funeral Home in Blessington this morning and his later burial at Bohernabreena Cemetery. Despite the constant rain fall, there was a mighty turnout. As I have said elsewhere, Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís”.
(1) Oscar Gregan a brief overview of socialist republican activist the late Charlie O’Neill…CLR.