Remembering Bob Kavanagh


Ireland’s activist community was left in deep shock as news spread of Bob Kavanagh’s sudden and untimely death in late December. Bob is remembered as both a committed political activist, a very talented musician, a great friend and loyal comrade. Many of us got to know Bob from the pivotal role he played in the long running Shell to Sea campaign from 2005 onwards. The campaign which pitched a rural community against a global oil company took place in Erris in western Mayo. Bob was one of the first who took the decision to move to Erris to stand with the local community against Shell. Those involved in the campaign will always remember Bob’s political dedication which was offset by an often needed wry sense of humour on picket lines on cold Mayo mornings.

A founding member of the Rossport Solidarity Camp he worked tirelessly with the people of Erris to build a democratic community based campaign to resist the onshore refinery at Ballinaboy. While the campaign was ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the project, it was successful in adding large costs for Shell, and arguably made it less likely for other companies to consider similar projects worthwhile.
Modest by nature Bob never appreciated his influence both within in the Shell to Sea campaign or the impact his activism had on wider Irish politics. Anti-fracking campaigners, who successfully prevented the introduction of fracking in Ireland built on the experiences of the Shell campaigners. Indeed the political networks built in those years of struggle have had been mobilised successfully in other spheres, most recently in the Repeal campaign. Bob was also a dedidated, committed and active anti-fascist unwilling to tolerate racism or fascism in any guise, something that also came across through his music.

\Following his involvement in Shell2Sea, Bob moved to Cork and joined WSM in mid-2008. He was an active branch member for a number of years, helping to organise public meetings and to write for the paper, Workers Solidarity. For a number of years he was a member of the editorial committee. In terms of anarchist ideas he was close to the the ‘class-struggle’ tradition. He was someone who lived his politics. Writing on class in 2008 he outlined his vision of successful political activity 'Our experience of working cooperatively under capitalism prepares us to take control, and victories in our everyday struggles to improve working and living conditions teach us confidence'.

Between 2009 to 2012 he was particularly involved with the founding and running of Solidarity Books, the anarchist led bookshop and meeting space located on Douglas Street in Cork. In June 2010 he spoke at the Victoria Hotel, Cork at a WSM public meeting 'Ireland Can't Afford Capitalism - Why We Need a Revolution'. This event saw WSM posit system change as an alternative to the option of electing a new set of politicians to the Dail who would simply ‘manage austerity’ for the IMF and the Troika. A large crowd turned up to meeting and the speakers’ contributions were met with rapturous applause.

Other WSM members who worked with Bob during this period speak of his ‘quiet resolve and commitment’ around the issues of the day and the need to resist austerity. ‘A really reliable comrade’, was how another described him. In 2011, Bob was instrumental in helping start a Galway Branch of WSM. Although he ended his full membership of the WSM the next year he remained committed to anarchist ideas and played a part over the next number of years in a range of campaigns including the successful anti-water tax campaign, the Marriage Equality Referendum and Repeal 8th/ Together 4 Yes.
Music was one of the great loves of Bob’s life. His interests were wide and varied - everthing from hardcore punk to jazz caught his attention. This said he had a special love for ska and Oi!

He played with a range of bands: The Dogboy Conspiracy, Fuktifino, Riastradh, Only Fumes and Corpses, Section 4, Good Time Fun Boys, The Jollars, The Maori John Wayne, The Hacklers to name a few. In recent years he played with The Hacklers who toured regularly in Europe and the UK and were working on a new album. He was also played with The Jollars who performed occasional gigs in Ireland and Europe. Musically he was difficult to pin down but he was probably closest to the punk tradition. Although he disagreed with the use of the term punk, he loved the music. Musicians who played with Bob mention in particular ‘his amazing bass playing’ and it will probably be as a bassist that he will be remembered by those who heard him play. However, he also was an accomplished guitarist and often sang with the bands he played in. Occasionally, and at the most unexpected moments, he was also known to whip out the clarinet.

He is greatly missed.

Photo: T.Sales