OBITUARY: Val Cardwell

Comrade Valerie June Cardwell, known to all as Val, a lifelong fighter for the cause of Irish freedom, and a staunch communist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist, passed away suddenly in London on 14 June 2011, at the age of 63.

Val was known to many campaigning for Irish independence and reunification, and other progressive causes, over decades, as for many years she was married to the Sinn Féin representative in Britain, former POW and now a city councillor in Derry, Gerry MacLochlainn. But Val was very much a political activist and personality in her own right, who lived her life according to her passionately held beliefs, who worked tirelessly at whatever needed to be done, be it great or small, and who inspired all those who were privileged to know and work with her by her revolutionary integrity, her hatred of every type of injustice, and her kindness, warmth, compassion, generosity and irrepressible sense of humour.

The esteem in which Val was held by the Irish republican movement was exemplified in the message sent to her funeral ceremony, held in north London’s Islington Crematorium on 22 June, by Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD. Comrade Adams wrote:

Val was from the valleys of South Wales. She had strong working class roots. Her grandfather was a miner and a founding member of the Communist Party. Val also joined that party. She was a committed and dedicated republican and socialist. It was this and her anti-imperialist instincts which brought her to invite Gerry MacLochlainn to speak to her branch of the Communist Party in South Wales. As a result she was expelled from the CP.

In 1982 she joined Sinn Féin in Britain and was an enthusiastic, hard-working activist. She also married Gerry and when he was imprisoned in England Val suffered severe harassment, had her home broken into, and was badly assaulted on a number of occasions.

Val’s anti-imperialist stance also saw her active on other struggles around the world. She had a particular fondness for the people and struggles in Cuba and Vietnam.”

These salient facts about Val’s life were expounded in greater detail in an emotional tribute by Gerry MacLochlainn, which eloquently spoke to Val’s irreplaceable contribution to the Irish republican struggle. As Comrade Adams indicated in his message, when Gerry MacLochlainn was imprisoned on account of his republican activities, Val joined the thousands of women who endured material privations and state harassment to support and visit their loved ones and to keep the struggle going. The difference was that those wives, girlfriends and mothers in the north of Ireland at least had the support and solidarity of a close-knit and strong nationalist, working class community, the wider ‘republican family’, whereas Val was truly behind enemy lines, in a hostile environment, where she often had to endure abuse, assault and poverty on her own, as well as battling frequent bouts of ill health, which she had endured from childhood. But she never once wavered – not in her support for Gerry, her work for Sinn Féin or in her working class and communist principles, which had if anything become stronger as a result of her shabby treatment at the pro-imperialist hands of the leaders of the revisionist CPGB.

Alongside her other anti-imperialist activities, Val joined the British delegation to the 13th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Pyongyang, DPR Korea, in July 1989. She greatly enjoyed her only visit to a socialist country and strongly supported the Korean people’s struggle to reunify their country, a struggle that she believed had much in common with that of Ireland.

Besides Gerry MacLochlainn’s tribute, the ceremony was addressed by Val’s nephew and nieces, who recalled both her political stands and qualities as well as their loving and much-loved aunt.

Val was also a comrade and much-loved friend to a number of CPGB-ML members over many years and a delegation of party comrades attended her funeral. Party Chairman Harpal Brar was among those who took turns to carry her coffin, which was fittingly draped with the Irish tricolour.

Val will be greatly missed by her family, comrades and friends, but she will live on, especially in the cause of Irish self-determination and freedom, which is inexorably moving towards its inevitable victory. In the words of Gerry MacLochlainn: “Val, thanks to people like you, we will see the Rising of the Moon!”

And come tell me Sean O’Farrell where the gath’rin is to be

At the old spot by the river quite well known to you and me

One more word for signal token whistle out the marchin’ tune

With your pike upon your shoulder by the rising of the moon

By the rising of the moon, by the rising of the moon

With your pike upon your shoulder by the rising of the moon

Out from many a mud wall cabin eyes were watching through the night

Many a manly heart was beating for the blessed warning light

Murmurs rang along the valleys to the banshees lonely croon

And a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon

By the rising of the moon, by the rising of the moon

And a thousand pikes were flashing by the rising of the moon

All along that singing river that black mass of men was seen

High above their shining weapons flew their own beloved green

Death to every foe and traitor! Whistle out the marching tune

And hurrah, me boys, for freedom, ’tis the rising of the moon

’Tis the rising of the moon, ’tis the rising of the moon

And hurrah, me boys, for freedom, ’tis the rising of the moon

(‘By the Rising of the Moon’. Words by J K Casey.)