Yesterday I attended the funeral in Dublin of life-long Marxist Rayner Lysaght, surrounded by over thirty of his old comrades who were members and supporters of the various embodiments of the Trotskyist movement that Rayner was a member of from the 1960s. Born into a well-to-do family in South Wales in 1941 he came to Ireland in the early 60s, graduating from Trinity College Dublin in 1964.
Always courteous and friendly he was a fountain of knowledge on Irish history and its labour movement: someone of whom it was always understood, without even having to consider, that would remain faithful to the socialist cause to the end. From his early membership of the Irish Workers Group in the 1960s until his membership of Socialist Democracy in 2021, Rayner retained membership of a revolutionary organisation throughout the decades.
While his braces, refined accent and labarynthine locution often gave an other-worldly impression, his long contribution to the Irish socialist movement was widely recognised by the many tributes from members of the various socialist currents in Ireland, personified by the attendance at the funeral of the People before Profit TD Paul Murphy. The many tributes on Facebook testify to his honesty, integrity and openness to everyone on the left with whom he came into contact over the years, including young historians seeking access to his encyclopaedic knowledge.
Much gratitude belongs to Anne Conway for her support to Rayner during his illness and also to his wife Aine, who followed the funeral on web cam while also in Beaumont Hospital. Anne spoke at the service along with Jack McGinley from the Irish Labour History Society and John McAnulty representing Socialist Democracy.
Anne recounted some of the many tributes from his former comrades.
From Michael Farrell – “there was hardly a radical or progressive protest or demonstration that Rayner was not at for the last 60 years or more and he played his part in bringing about major social change. He was a dedicated Marxist all his life and a fine scholar of working-class history when it was not popular and certainly wasn’t profitable. He was a comrade and friend from as far back as the 1960s, when anything seemed possible”.
From Joe Harrington from Limerick – “I met him in Dublin in 1972 when I stayed with him and Aine (and a few other notorious and not so notorious characters) in the place that I think was known as Parnell Road, in Harold’s Cross. Much later in Limerick the link to Rayner was persistent. He looked to us in the Treaty City for sorting the practical aspects of producing the six or so editions of his ‘The Story of the Limerick Soviet’ – aspects such as typing out his handwritten and long revised tracts of the narrative – on the old-fashioned typewriter, tippex and all. Every edition had to be launched and to succeed in putting a time limit on Rayner’s speeches, on those occasions, was never easy. As Pat O’Connor could tell and as Mary O’Donnell tells, there was always a story to tell after Rayner returned home.”
“Rayner saw the Limerick Soviet as extremely important, as a clear-cut example, in so many ways, of how workers can change society and the lessons from that effort – the strike weapon, the organisation of a society without bosses (if only for a short while), the impinging national question, the international aspect and the bureaucrats and the clerics’ sell-out. Apart from his other work, Rayner Lysaght’s labours on the Soviet has ensured that he has made a difference. Sure, that’s what legends of the socialist movement do.”
Anne also noted the other aspects of Rayner’s life that contributed to making him the valued friend and comrade that he was – “Rayner had an interest in so many things. You wouldn’t associate him with folk music, but he knew about and could talk about the artists, the songs, the persons mentioned in them. There was nothing unusual in Rayner reading a weighty tome by Marx or Trotsky, then proceeding to a comic or watching a TV detective series or reading a crime novel, a passion he shared with the Belgian Marxist, the late Ernest Mandel.”
“Rayner had an unquenchable curiosity about just about everything. He was a remarkable man – an author and historian, an activist, he was witty with a wiry sense of humour and enjoyed performing his party piece often with his rendition I am an English Man. He was a devoted husband to Aine.”
“Above all he was a Marxist revolutionary and was committed to the Workers Republic of James Connolly, so to honour Rayner’s memory and his commitment a rendition of Where Oh Where Is James Connolly will be played as we leave the service.”
Anne noted that “he wrote the book The Republic of Ireland in 1971, it was his contribution to understanding the country and the struggles of the working class. He wrote numerous other pamphlets some of them under pennames and I think, many will remember him for his work in uncovering the story of the Limerick Soviet, that briefly arose in 1919 following the Russian Revolution. He never really got the credit he deserved for this and was always modest about his abilities and his achievements. But he was an important historian of working class struggles in Ireland.”
It was appropriate that, while his wife of 48 years Aine, and his brother and sister William and Priscilla, could not be at the funeral, his cousin thanked the congregation for the welcome Rayner received when he moved to Ireland and the many good friendships he had formed in his new home.
As a member of Peoples Democracy from 1978 and latterly Socialist Democracy until 2012, I attended many meetings, events and demonstrations with him over these years. Like many of those who attended the funeral, who had not seen him for a number of years, his contribution to the socialist struggle in Ireland gave him a presence that will be missed by all.
He was always there, a seemingly permanent embodiment of the struggle that we were all a part of, from before we entered it to whatever difficulties we knew we would certainly face in the future. Rayner was there and we knew that he would always be there. Now that he has left us, as we all will do, we will remember with gratitude, fondness and inspiration his contribution to the great cause to which he devoted his life.
His RIP web site records the words of Leon Trotsky:
“Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression, and violence, and enjoy it to the full.”