Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Ciaron O’Reilly: the Catholic Anarchist Martin Sheen Calls His Hero

Ciaron O’Reilly. Photo: Brian Wheelan.

The words Catholic and anarchist aren’t used in the same sentence too often – but for Ciaron O’Reilly, they fit together like a glove. For him, the message of Jesus is one of community service, of challenging injustice, and of returning to the origins of the word ‘radical’.

Now in his late fifties, the veteran Irish-Australian peace campaigner has been called a “personal hero” by Hollywood legend and activist Martin Sheen. From living among refugees and homeless people, serving time in prison, getting deported from the US, acting as Julian Assange’s bodyguard and campaigning for Chelsea Manning’s freedom, O’Reilly has lived a life more adventurous than most can imagine.

“My anarchism and my pacifism are rooted in my attempts to follow Jesus,” O’Reilly told me during a recent interview for my Love and Courage podcast.

“I believe all human life is sacred, because it’s created in the image of God. You love God by loving humans – and that’s the expression of God in the world for me,” Ciaron said, outlining the inspiration for joining the Catholic Worker movement, which was founded by the renowned American journalist Dorothy Day in the 1930s. At one stage he was mentored by the Berrigan brothers, the famous priests who were leaders in the Vietnam draft resistance movement.

O’Reilly grew up in Queensland, in a house that shared a back fence with the second-largest army barracks in Australia. But despite their close physical proximity to Australia’s involvement in foreign wars – including Vietnam – it was events on the other side of the world, in Ireland, that took on greater significance for the family.

“By the end of my schooling, I thought that pacifism was implicit in Christianity. And eventually, I concluded that anarchism was, too.

Ciaron’s father had emigrated to Australia from Clara, Co. Offaly, and his Irish heritage was a huge influence on him growing up.

“The first demonstration I was taken to was a week after Bloody Sunday,” O’Reilly recalled, of the 1972 shooting of 28 unarmed civilians by British soldiers in Derry.

“So what was happening in the north of Ireland had a much bigger impact in our house than what was happening in Vietnam – even though people were shipping out [through the barracks next to our house].”

But it was witnessing what was going on in his own community, and the inhuman treatment of his indigenous peers, that really shook O’Reilly awake, and that would set him on the path to a lifetime of anti-establishment activism.

“I became engaged with Aboriginal people when I was at high school, and that was a real eye-opener – because they were in the same space as me, but living a totally different reality in terms of state oppression.

“When I was eight, Aboriginals still didn’t have the vote. They weren’t counted in the census, they didn’t have citizenship. In my state, until I was 11, it was illegal to co-habit with an Aboriginal.

“So, it was pretty intense to engage with that reality.”

The injustice he was witnessing hit home with even more force thanks to the family history of engagement with the struggle for Irish independence (his paternal grandparents had been members of the IRA).

“My father was also an Irish republican, and could see that what the Aboriginal people were going through was quite similar to what Irish people had gone through. Not a lot of Irish made that connection – I think many Irish people feel they have a monopoly on human suffering. But he did make that link.”

This early engagement would lead him towards a life much less ordinary, that would see him arrested at gunpoint after disabling a B-52 bomber, for which he spent nine months in a rural Texas prison that consisted of 6 metal cages, each containing 24 men, welded together in one room.

Ciaron faced prison again in 2003, just before the second war on Iraq started, when he joined four others as part of the ‘Pitstop Ploughshares’ to disable a US war plane that was refueling at Shannon Airport. This was documented in Harry Browne’s book ‘Hammered by the Irish‘, which was published by Counterpunch in 2008.

The group were looking at 10 years in prison, and faced three separate trials. The second collapsed when they discovered that the judge was a personal friend of George W Bush. Eventually, on their third trial, the jury acquitted the group on the grounds that they had been acting to save lives and property in Iraq and Ireland, in a historic judgement.

In more recent years, solidarity for Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning have been particularly important causes for him.

“There’s not much resistance because there’s not much solidarity. So, I think solidarity work is very, very important.

“I’ve been the recipient of a lot of solidarity in my jail time, and I felt it was my time to focus on Chelsea and Julian.”

Given this strong views on whistleblowers and privacy, it is perhaps no surprise that Manning and Assange would attract his attention. O’Reilly himself is currently part of an investigation into the alleged hacking of email accounts by the British Special Branch using Indian secret police and hackers.

“The demand is that there should be transparency of the state, and privacy for the individual. But, at the moment, we’ve got total surveillance of the individual and cover-ups for the state.

Throughout his life, his actions have been guided by three themes: community building, acts of mercy and non-violent resistance.

“Each of these themes gives the others an authenticity,” he explained. “If all you did was community, it’d become very self-indulgent and therapeutic. If all you did was acts of mercy, it’d be like mopping up after capitalism. And if all you did was resistance, you’d be like a disembodied voice. So, those three things give each other integrity.”

And O’Reilly, a man to whom many labels have been ascribed, says that those he chooses for himself – “radical,” “pacifist,” “anarchist” – are not answers that define his identity, but questions that drive him on in his quest for social justice.

“I’m a radical, Christian disciple. And radical is not a scary word. It’s a Latin word – it means ‘to return to the roots.’

And after decades working in social justice and solidarity movements, O’Reilly shows no signs of slowing down – partly thanks to the inspiration he draws from those around him.

“I’m struck by the beauty of humanity, some days. But we’ve got to find the hopeful stories, and share them, and celebrate them,” he said, citing the little-known story of a group of Scottish train drivers who attempted to derail the war in Afghanistan by refusing to transport arms along their single-track line.

“There’s some beautiful signs of hope – and they’re not celebrated.”

You can listen to the interview with Ciaron O’Reilly on the Love and Courage podcast using itunes, the podcast App on your phone or through Soundcloud. More information at www.loveandcourage.org

More articles by:

Ruairí McKiernan is a Dublin based campaigner, Presidential appointee to Ireland’s Council of State, and host of the Love and Courage podcast. www.loveandcourage.org and @ruairimckiernan on Twitter.

October 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Middle East, Not Russia, Will Prove Trump’s Downfall
Ipek S. Burnett
The Assault on The New Colossus: Trump’s Threat to Close the U.S.-Mexican Border
Mary Troy Johnston
The War on Terror is the Reign of Terror
Maximilian Werner
The Rhetoric and Reality of Death by Grizzly
David Macaray
Teamsters, Hells Angels, and Self-Determination
Jeffrey Sommers
“No People, Big Problem”: Democracy and Its Discontents In Latvia
Dean Baker
Looking for the Next Crisis: the Not Very Scary World of CLOs
Binoy Kampmark
Leaking for Change: ASIO, Jakarta, and Australia’s Jerusalem Problem
Chris Wright
The Necessity of “Lesser-Evil” Voting
Muhammad Othman
Daunting Challenge for Activists: The Cook Customer “Connection”
Don Fitz
A Debate for Auditor: What the Papers Wouldn’t Say
October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail