Press Release

SIPTU remembers immense contribution of Jer O’Leary to trade union culture

Date Released: 27 December 2018

SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, Ethel Buckley, has expressed the deepest condolences to the family of Jer O’Leary, following the death of the activist who made an immense contribution to the culture of trade unionism in Ireland through his artistic endeavours.

Buckley said: “On behalf of the members of our union, I wish to express the deepest condolences to the family of Jer O’Leary. A member of the union for more than 50 years as both an actor and health service worker, Jer remained active in SIPTU as a member of the Dublin Retired Members’ Committee and a supporter of the Dublin District Council.

“His contribution to the culture of trade unionism in Ireland was immense. As an actor he worked alongside directors such as John Arden and Jim Sheridan to bring back to life the character of ‘Big’ Jim Larkin in such seminal pieces of political theatre as the 1975 production of the Non-Stop Connolly Show in Liberty Hall and the Risen People.

“He brought the speeches of Larkin to an even wider audience through his regular rendition of them at protests and marches. In August 2013, he played the role of Larkin in the state commemoration of the 1913 Dublin Lockout on O’Connell Street in Dublin.

“Jer also acted in many feature films and on television, these included roles in The FieldIn The Name of the FatherBraveheart and Game of Thrones.”

She added: “His belief in the power of welding socialist politics to popular artistic expression also underpinned his revival of trade union banner art in Ireland. After winning an art competition for ITGWU union members he set upon a new career in the 1980s of designing tapestry trade union banners that delivered powerful messages of working class struggle in a colourful and eye-catching manner.

“In particular the use in his designs of the original Starry Plough flag and images of great union leaders such as Connolly and Larkin, as well as activists such as the Lockout Martyrs, effectively convened the ideals of solidarity and collective action which underpin our union. At MayFest 2018 there was an exhibition of his banners in Liberty Hall and SIPTU has produced a short documentary on his work for showing at MayFest 2019.

“His work will live on and continue to inspire future generations of trade union activists.”


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