Author, Film maker, Novelist, Journalist, Cartoonist, Poet.
Human Rights activist, Lecturer, Political advisor.
Print, Film and TV contributor.
PR, Management and Business Consultant.
An award winning writer when in his mid-teens, Osgur Breatnach was born into a Dublin family of writers, artists, musicians and human rights activists. From the mid 1960s he has variously engaged in journalism, editing/ designing periodicals; public relations; lecturing in politics and journalism; as a political advisor and activist in local and national community politics; contributing to award-winning TV documentaries, films, radio and Irish best sellers.
2. A UNITED FAMILY IN A DIVIDED EUROPE
Osgur was richly influenced by a family stretched across Ireland, Germany, the Basque Country, Peru and Spain. His father Deasún (Des) was Irish while his mother (Lucy) was Basque-German. Osgur was reared and nourished in a culturally rich and forward looking family environment in Ireland, but in a country economically and socially repressed.
Deasún (Breatnach) and Lucy (Maria de la Piedad Lucila de Hellmann Menchaca y Diliz.
Osgur’s mother, Lucy, was born in Vitoria in the Basque Country in the Iberian Peninsula and reared there, in Madrid and Germany. Her father, Heinrich, came from a northern German town (Gross Fullen in Meppen) where his own father was the village schoolmaster. Heinrich was employed as a radio operative at sea when WW1 erupted. The ship he served on was impounded in Bilbao for the duration of the war. There, he met and married a local (Lucilla) who had been born in Peru. She was the daughter of the owner of a large shipping company. Heinrich became a landlubber and accountant. In 1960, Osgur stayed for a prolonged period with his Abuelo and Abuela.
Lucy’s grandmother was born in Peru as the Basque family emmigrated there in the 1800s. They returned home to live in Algorta. Their home was where the infamous Condor Legion, bombers of Guernika, were arbitrarily billeted during the Spanish Civil War. When Lucy and the family moved to Madrid, her parents and two brothers faced the bombing of Madrid by Franco. Subsequently, the family left for Germany as refugees. Later, Lucy was conscripted for service into the German women’s land army (farming) during WW2, because of her father’s German nationality.
Shortly after traumatic WW2 events in Germany in 1940, during which Lucy cowered during the thousand plane bombing of Cologne and was interrogated by the Gestapo, she orchestrated her own escape from her conscription and returned to Madrid. For a short period she worked on an Enigma code machine in Madrid’s German Embassy.
Subsequently she became human-rights focused in her world view.
After the war, Lucy and Deasún met and married in Madrid, and moved to Tangiers, North Africa, for six months. It was a neutral Open International City hosting many representatives of conflict -regions on the African continent. There, the leaders plotted their independence campaigns. The couple spent hours debating Irish revolutionary history and world politics, Lucy as an equal and emancipated woman, with future presidents (eg Ben Bella of Algeria, and Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia). Deasún interceeded with Churchill, Stalin and Roosavelt on behalf of the leaders. He also wrote reports for the international media.
In 1948 the couple moved back to Madrid where Lucy had her first child (Diarmuid) before moving to Ireland. The family settled in Dun Laoghaire, a coastal satellite town outside Dublin. There, she gave birth to Osgur. Over time, four more children followed: Caoilte, Oisín, Lucilita and Cormac. All, in time, grew up to be renowned artists, writers, musicians or/and human rights activists.
Reared bilingually, Osgur and his siblings spoke Irish to their father, Spanish to their mother and learnt English while at school, playing with other children and through reading. For private conversations, meanwhile, Osgur’s parents conversed in French and German, until the children went to secondary school and learnt these languages as well.
An independent minded thinker, Lucy was often seen holding her own, along with Deasún, with Dublin’s literati in the political discussions of poets, painters, novelists, playwrights (such as Flann O’Brien and Brendan Behan), civil servants and lawyers in Dublin’s Pearl Bar, famously hosted by Irish Times editor Bertie Smyllie.
A human rights outlook ( his parents were longtime supporters of human rights bodies, such as Amnesty International) and support for feminism meant a radical environment for Osgur. Lucy also renewed her interest in art and writing (a posthumous book of children’s stories, illustrated by Lucy, was published in 2012).
DEASÚN was a Dublin man. His grand father was a friend of Parnell and developed a sucessful legal firm before he died. Deasún’s father then inherited the largest criminal law firm in Dublin. He died on return from WW1 from a misdiagnosed illness.
Deasún pursued a different career, becoming a prolific journalist, film and drama critic, writer (authoring ten books), poet, linguist, human rights activist, folklorist, lecturer, Irish language enthusiast, educationalist, socialist and Irish republican. He served in the war-time emergency Local Defense Corps at twenty one years of age and was in charge of Euston Station in the face of a threatened 1944 US airborne invasion. He rose to the level of Lieutenant and as the emergency tailed off he moved to Madrid where he met Lucy.
In the early sixties, as a member of the influential Irish Wolfe Tone Society, a political think-tank, he helped radicalize Sinn Féin and the Irish Republican Movement.
A contributor to the prestigious The Bell and writing articles, reviews, opinion pieces for most of the Irish national newspapers, as well as radio plays for Radio Éireann (then Ireland’s national radio station), Deasún used a variety of pen names including Mac Lir, Dara Mac Dara and Rex Mac Gall.
Deasún died of cancer two days after Lucy death from, as she was being buried, in October 2007.
3. RICH CONTRASTING ENVIRONMENTS
The European city of Madrid, and its forested Sierra de Guadarrama hinterland, contrasted with Dublin, and Ireland’s bare rugged West of Ireland, Connemara and the Aran Islands, and were intellectually, visually and gastronomically rich for Osgur.
The home environment was one of radical Catholicism, or liberation theology as it later became to be known; of the arts and with a world view that contrasted sharply with the post colonial, authoritarian, secretive and culturally repressive Irish society.
In the family home, daily engaging cross-cultural conversations and discussions were augmented by dipping in and out of hundreds of multi-language books and pamphlets, covering a wide breath of topics, that weighed down shelves in the family home.
4. BILINGUAL EDUCATION
Osgur had a full formal education from the early age of four and ended with a scholarship to university. He first attended Scoil Lorcán, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, the first all-Irish speaking primary school in Dublin, co-founded by his parents.
At age eleven he progressed to attend Colaiste Cualann, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, also an all-Irish speaking secondary school, also co-founded by his parents.
When the school temporally closed (before evolving into the esteemed Coláiste Eoin) Osgur continued his education in bi-lingual O’Connell Schools, Drumcondra, and all- Irish colleges Colaiste Iognáid in Galway, and Coláiste Íosagáin in the Baile Mhúirne Gaeltacht, in Cork, as a full time boarder. There as part of the school debating team, Osgur read avidly and began writing verse and prose, winning a national essay competition, with the ironic title (considering his future traumas) ‘A day in my life as a policeman.’
Community & Social Conscience
Developing a strong community and social conscience, at sixteen he helped establish, and became secretary of, the National Irish Secondary Students Union. Students from all over the South affiliated. All this helped hone his strategic thinking and debating skills.
Fellow committee members included Adrian Hardiman (who went on to become a Supreme Court judge), Michael McDowell (now ex-Attorney General) and Paddy Wordsworth (journalist and author).
In the late sixties, Breatnach developed his world view to become active in local and international campaigns. He saw all these struggles as intertwined. He opposed the Vietnam war through the Irish Voice on Vietnam; supported pro-independence struggles across Africa (in Angola, Guinnea-Bisseau, Mosambique, Eritrea); for US Civil Rights; against South African and Rhodesian apartheid; in support of Irish feminism and traveller‘s rights.
Osgur saw all struggles for independence and human rights as intertwined. When he joined the Irish Anti- Apartheid Movement he befriended Kadar Asmal, later to become Minister for Housing and Water in apartheid-free South Africa and Nelson Mandela‘s right-hand man.
For a short while Osgur joined the Irish Young Socialists (Irish Labor Party youth wing) along with (later to become a renowned Irish national TV broadcaster) Charlie Bird.
Awarded a scholarship to University College Dublin in 1968 Osgur studied for a degree in Arts but left to commit to full time community activism.
6. THE HOUSING CRISIS
In the sixties, as Dublin’s old housing stock began to literally collapse and in the face of the government’s lethargic housing policy, accompanied by aggressive landlords charging exhorborant rents, Osgur joined the local Dun Laoghaire Housing Action Group.
Soon becoming an activist, street orator, publicist and poster designer he began to emulate the successful civil disobedience tactics of Martin Luther King. Osgur helped turn the center of Dun Laoghaire into a Speaker’s Corner on Saturday summer afternoons.
Hundreds of vacant properties were occupied across the country by homeless families. Eviction orders were met with families ‘swapping’ occupied homes thus frustrating the court orders. On some occasions, the Gardai viciously enforced the evictions. Activists often ended up in hospital.
Later that year, he was elected secretary of the National Housing Action Groups, with branches in Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Bray, Wicklow, Wexford, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Drogheda, Sligo, Derry and Belfast (of which joint Northern Ireland First Minister Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams were, alternately, members).
In the local municipal elections of 1974 Breatnach contested and almost took the last council seat in Dun Laoghaire.
7. WITNESS TO WAR
Television images of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) attacking a Derry Housing Action Committee march on October 5th 1968 in the north of the island had an international impact.
Bogsiders charge invading RUC
The Battle of the Bogside that followed erupted as Derry’s nationalist population threw up barricades to protect themselves after the police burst into a local house and beat a father and his daughters. The father died a few days later.
As a free lance journalist Breatnach reported from Belfast in 1969 during the greatest forced mass movement of civilians since WW2.
Unarmed, he helped defend the Falls Road from murderous sectarian gun attacks and assisted the evacuation of civilians from a fire-gutted Bombay Street. His eyewitness account was subsequently published. No one knew it was the first day of what was to be a thirty-year war.
Later that year, perceiving the need for involvement in a national organisation he joined Sinn Féin.
Following a national political split in Sinn Féin he went with ( Official) Sinn Féin – since amalgamated into the Irish Labor Party . Deasún, his father, stayed with (Provisional) Sinn Féin.
Osgur’s local organisation, in which he served in every executive organisation, became the most active in Dublin and campaigned on housing, unemployment, women’s and travellers’ rights, for jury trials and against the death penalty; against internment and for civil rights, North and South.
8. NEW PARTY- NEW IDEAS
Disillusioned over time with the shifting policies of Official Sinn Féin he became a founder member of a newly legally registered political party in December, 1974, the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP). The party’s potential was immediately welcomed in an Irish Times editorial for its joint national policies for both social justice and political unification under the charismatic leadership of Seamus Costello, Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, amongst others, who began developing a fledgling inclusive Irish peace process. Osgur’s first son was born at this time.
Unlike traditional republican organisations, the IRSP had neither a women’s, youth nor military wing and campaigned for national territorial unity and a socialist economy by way of an inclusive peace process. It was erroniously, and mischieviously reported that it had a military wing, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA). In fact, the INLA had no political wing, leaving itself open to supporting any political initiative at any time, irrespective of its author.
Most of the central IRSP policies were adopted, or on the way to being adopted by Sinn Féin, leaving the IRSP politically redundant by 1983 and Osgur resigned.
Subsequently, the relationship between the IRSP and the INLA changed in 1984 and they re-branded themselves as the Irish Republican Socialist Movement. MI6, the RUC and the British Army, in counter insurgency strategies, infiltrated them and unleashed murderous internal conflicts that destroyed the new organisation’s credibility.
9. SALLINS KIDNAPED TORTURED AND FRAMED
The Irish State’s attacks on the IRSP culminated in the Sallins Case frame-up in 1976, when Osgur was kidnapped by Gardai. He was tortured and framed in the notorious Garda Heavy Gang– Sallins Case as the state in the south slid into recession and towards a police state.
The international campaign to clear his name was to take him over seventeen years.
Amongst the many hundreds of thousands who associated themselves with the campaign was Mick Hanley, (writer and singer of international hit Past the Point of Rescue). Hanley wrote a song motivated by a TV interview given by Breatnach on his release from jail. Open Those Gates was subsequently recorded by Moving Hearts.
THE RIGHT TO EXIST
However, immediately on its inception, the IRSP came under attack in physical and gun attacks from the British State in the North, and the Official IRA in the South. Some 30 members were shot and injured and three killed as the IRSP insisted on their right to form a political party.
Meanwhile, the Southern Government unleashed a black propaganda/ fake news campaign and harassment of the party.
Breatnach quickly became a national executive member of the IRSP and editor of the Starry Plough, the IRSP’s national newspaper, and developed a distinct style for the paper.
He wrote most of the paper, drew cartoons, took some of its photography and designed and laid out all the paper.
In 1978, Osgur was the last person, other than the killer, to meet with Seamus Costello on the morning of his murder and had to break the traumatic news to his bereaved family.
Later the song was reworded for the Release Nicky Kelly campaign and thereafter for the Birmingham Six Campaign.
The Sallins Case became notorious for being a blatant miscarriage of justice exposing garda, government and court collusion, and the longest criminal trial in Irish history.
It was also a milestone for prisoner and human rights, legislative changes and the campaign became a successful organizing template.
A second son was born to Osgur shortly after he was jailed. An International campaign supported by, among other international groups, Amnesty International and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, secured the quashing of Osgur’s conviction and sentence. His release and that of his other co-accused followed.
10. H-BLOCKS AND ASSASSINATIONS
With scores of thousands of citizens in the north being incarcerated for short to long periods, (according to independent international reports without due process and often on perjured evidence), political and living conditions in the prisons deteriorated.
Margaret Thatcher’s decision to brand hitherto recognised ‘political status ‘ prisoners as ‘criminals’, accompanied by harsh and brutal treatment of prisoners, escalated the response in the jails of Long Kesh/ The Maze (H- Blocks and Armagh Prisons).
A National H-Block & Armagh Committee was formed and tasked with leading an international campaign in the prisoner’s support.
Immediately on his release from wrongful imprisonment in 1981 Osgur was elected to its executive committee and served as joint- Public Relations Officer for the 26 Counties (in the South of Ireland) and Dublin City Organiser.
A strong advocate of tactical radical parliamentary involvement he strongly advocated contesting elections and was appointed Director of Elections for the only prisoner candidate who contested the Irish general election of 1981 in Dublin. The following year Osgur stood as a candidate in the general election in 1982.
Poster designed by Oisín Breatnach (brother to Osgur) in support of protesting prisoners in Armagh women’s jail.
Three of the ten hunger strikers who died in the H-Blocks were young IRSP members. Patsy O’Hara was a personal friend of Osgur’s and had actively supported the Sallins campaign against Osgur’s frame up.
Kevin Lynch, aged 25 from Co. Derry. 71 Days on hunger strike.
Patsy O’Hara, aged 23 from Derry City. 61 days in hunger strike.
Michael Devine, aged 27, from Co. derry. 60 days on hunger strike.
As part of a terror campaign by the British Government, other activist and friends were assassinated in their Belfast homes: Noel Lyttle & Ronnie Bunting and Miriam Daly, another personal friend of Osgur’s, and at which funeral he gave the main oration.