Poem tribute to Manus O'Riordan

Post date: 01/11/2021

'The Chestnut Tree', a poem by Marshall Mateer – Film Coordinator – memory of Manus O'Riordan, former Ireland Secretary of the IBMT, who passed away in September 2021.

The Chestnut Tree

It had to be autumn

with the chestnut trees ablaze, 

the conkers cracking open, as you 

would crack open a conversation

with a well-turned phrase

in your 'riverrun' of language.

Or when you entered a debate

stretching our knowledge 

to put the record straight 

with a steely precision -

you were your father's son.


Standing by the dark waters

of the Ebro, our feet fidgeting

from a plague of spiders 

you sang your great lament for the Republic

Was it three languages - or was it four?

Adding yeast to the

cultural republic in our minds

you raised the late summer sky 

and our ambition high.

But for you, there was no song sung

without its history intact;

as when, in Cowgate's shadowy pass 

standing under Connolly's high plaque

you told how, written there, in Scotland,

'Rebel Song' was taken on to Ireland

by way of Spain; we sing on - 

and sing with hope and fear -

"the tyrant's might is passing 

With the passing of the years."

Two years ago, it's almost to the day, 

and after a day of meetings, we sat

in a French café on the Farringdon Road

over three courses and a few more wines

talked happily of nothing and our times.

We waved as you crossed the road

- it was the last time we saw you -

you waved in return, then

shoulders hunched, leaning into the wind,

head forward with your small steps,

in your determined way, moved on 

ready for the next day

and eager for another song.

As we watch the children play

picking conkers from the leaves,

we know what freedom and democracy achieve

And sing along with you to 'roll the stone away'. 


'riverrun': Joyce’s word for the flux of language and flow of history he saw in Dublin’s life stream Anna Livia (the River Liffey), in ‘Finnegans Wake’.

‘Rebel Song’ composed by James Connolly for the Scottish Socialist Party and used by the British Battalion as a marching song at the Battle of the Ebro.

‘great lament for the Republic …’  memory conflates several of Manus’s songs. 


 ‘After a day of meetings …’ : The IBMT AGM weekend of 2019.


 ‘Roll Away the Stone’: a poem by Frank O’Connor about the Irish trade union leader Jim Larkin which Manus set to music. It was sung at his funeral by his son Luke O’Riordan.


Posted on 1 November 2021.

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