Saturday, March 02, 2013

So long, Kyran

WITH FRIENDS on a Hebridean holiday, above, white-haired KYRAN CONNOLLY (right) was always good company and cheerful even when he became seriously ill.  An erudite, cultured and good-natured Dubliner with a good sense of humour, he was also a thoughtful and principled fighter for all the oppressed - as below speaking at a demonstration across the road from the West London premises of Presss TV,  in solidarity with Iranian students and trade unionists.    
LIKE a lot of people, it seemed, at his funeral the other day, I found it hard to remember when I first met Kyran Connolly. It must have been at least 20 years ago, because that's about when a bunch of us assembled by a mutual friend set off for a holiday on the island of Cana, in the Hebrides.

With no pub, no shops and no  telly, just long walks in changeable weather, and our own company for entertainment around the log fire of an evening, we had a great time, and for much of the congenial atmosphere and good humour that lasted us we must thank Kyran. (and only to a lesser extent the shopkeeper back in Mallaig who sent over a supply of booze when our stock was running low, trusting us to pay him when we returned to the mainland).

But behind his lightheartedness, Kyran Connolly was no lightweight. A man of broad interests and knowledge, his job when I first met him was with an encyclopedia publisher, researching and writing up bespoke notes for international subscribers. A stalwart of the National Union of Journalists' Book branch, he served on the NUJ executive and was elected president of the union for a time, without ever becoming a bureaucrat in either manner or outlook.

At Kyran's funeral last week his twin brother recalled how the young lad had learned to speak fluent Irish and put this to use when taken to court on some cycling offence, by requesting as was his right to have the proceedings conducted in the national language. The judge agreed and asked the garda due to give evidence whether he could do so in Irish. The officer confessed he could not, whereupon the judge ordered the case dismissed.

A Dubliner, proud and knowledgable of his city's literary figures as well as its labour movement, which this year commemorates the heroic sreuggle during the 1913 lockout, Kyran kept touch with his home town in frequent visits, not only to family but to fellow trade unionists. I think it was Kyran that drew my attention to the rediscovery and publication of socialist James Connolly's address to Jewish immigrant workers, in a 1902 council election leaflet, in Yiddish.

Never narrow in his love for Ireland and above all, its people, Kyran also became committed to the cause of another island, whether rolling up his sleeves as a volunteer for the sugar harvest, or campaigning for the "Miami Five" jailed by the United States for counter-terrorism, as a speaker from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign reminded us at his funeral. He learned Spanish, well enough to enjoy conversations with the locals on his trips to the island, as well as the poetry especially of Federico Garcia Lorca.

Kyran's concern for human rights was genuine, and with it went the intelligence to cut through prejudice and recognise issues. In a quick search yesterday I came across the following, from a report on an NUJ conference, which I think illustrates this ability:

Finally some controversy and it comes in the familiar form of Judith Miller, the New York Times journalist jailed for 85 days for refusing to reveal a confidential source to a US grand jury about her reporting on Iraq before the US invasion.
Kyran Connolly, a books delegate, speaks in favour of motion 43, which condemns the jailing of Miller.  But the Irish Executive council doesn't like Miller, seeing her reporting as having pushed the US government case for invading Iraq, which caused so many deaths.  "We can't present her as Joan of Arc on this issue," says Rohan Brady of the Industrial Council. "We are not making a hero out of someone for opposing someone," another delegate points out.
An amendment is proposed to strike out Miller's name from the motion.The vote is called on the amendment. Twice delegates vote with a show of hands, but result is unclear. I think those against the amendment have it, but a but a count is needed. Enter the scrutineers!
Time passes.
Those in favour of striking out Miller's name - 51 delegates.
Against striking out her name - 64 delegates.
The motion condemning the jailing of Miller passes.

Good night, and good luck.
Stephen Brook  24 March 2006 11.32 GMT

Since becoming a delegate to the Brent trades union council for my union branch, I got used to seeing Kyran who attended for his NUJ Book branch, when he wasn't otherwise occupied through his duties to his housing co-op in Kilburn. Often as not we'd go over the road for a pint together after the meeting, and we'd enjoy what proved all too short a time discussing all sorts of issues. 

It was the same after weekend meetings of the Southern and Eastern Region Trades Union Congress (SERTUC). I remember the enthusiasm of Kyran just back from a stay in Cuba.

When I went to see him in St.Mary's hospital in Paddington, where he underwent cancer treatment, he managed to convince me by his apparent cheerfulness and optimism that after a period of convalescence he would be back again, if understandably not quite as active as before. Only recently, I was meaning to ask somebody if they had seen Kyran lately, and wondering whether he might make the trades council's AGM, when I heard the sad news that he had died.

Maybe he had known better than he was letting on, not wishing to share his pain or make us miserable. All too often though, we don't make the most of our friendships, and miss the opportunity to tell ourselves, let alone our friends, how much we appreciate them, until it is too late.    

Kyran Connolly 23 June 1946 -16 February 2013..

From the NUJ

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