Donnelly, Charles Patrick (1914–37), poet and republican, was born 10 July 1914 at Killybrackey House, Killybrackey, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, eldest son among six sons and two daughters of Joseph Donnelly, cattle-breeder, shopkeeper, and landlord, and Rose Donnelly (née McCaughey), also of Co. Tyrone. In 1917 the family moved to Church St., Dundalk, where he attended the local CBS. A precocious talent, he wrote for the Christian Brothers magazine Our Boys at an early age and read widely, before his childhood was shattered by the death of his mother (27 February 1927). The family moved to a new house at Moorlands, Dundalk, with his two aunts assisting his father to rear the large family. In 1928 they moved to Mountjoy Square, Dublin, and he attended O'Connell's Schools before being expelled. His rebellious nature and developing social conscience brought him into deep conflict with the piety of his aunts. He frequented the north inner-city tenements and spent days wandering through the streets, appalled at the poverty he witnessed. He was apprenticed to a carpenter but, attending lectures at the workers' college on Eccles St., became increasingly drawn to left-wing movements.
His father married (October 1930) Maria Farrelly, a dress designer. Under her persuasion he matriculated for UCD, which he entered in October 1931 to study English, Irish, history, and logic. His circle of friends included Niall Sheridan (qv), Donagh MacDonagh (qv), Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh (qv), and Mary Lavin (qv). He began to publish his poetry in student newspapers and wrote fiction and reviews, as well as extensive articles on politics. He was acknowledged later as a poet of immense promise – yet other interests were to curtail this development. Dismayed at the ultra-conservative catholic hegemony at UCD, he formed a left-wing group, Student Vanguard, and riotous scenes accompanied its first meeting when Frank Ryan (qv) was the speaker. The solemn intensity of his political beliefs alienated many of his fellow students as he moved increasingly towards revolutionary politics. An undisciplined approach to study caused him to fail his first-year exams on several occasions, eventually leading him to leave university. By 1934, he was effectively a full-time radical activist with Republican Congress and was a member of its ruling executive. He wrote for its newspaper, Republican Congress, and was jailed for picketing on a number of occasions, spending a month in Mountjoy (January 1935). He was also a member of the Communist Party of Ireland. Although he had embarked on a love affair with Cora Hughes, fellow activist and UCD graduate, his personal life was in turmoil as his relationship with his family deteriorated and he slept rough in the city.
In February 1935 he travelled to London as chief organiser for Republican Congress. Initially working in cafes and bars, his writing talent soon brought him employment at an international news agency. He continued his political and economic commentaries writing for Reynolds' News, Left Review, and the Daily Worker, the official journal of the communist party. He edited Irish Front with Leslie Daiken (qv) and wrote a thesis on military strategy in nineteenth-century Spain which was highly commended by Capt. Basil Liddell Hart, the distinguished military historian. Commissioned by the Labour Research Bureau to write a survey on Irish banking, he also worked with the Fabian Research Bureau, and began a biography of James Connolly (qv). He joined the League Against Imperialism and continued to develop his naïve idealism into rigorous political thought.
Returning briefly to Dublin, he informed his friends and family that he intended to travel to Spain to defend the republic in the civil war, and ignored their attempts to dissuade him. Leaving London (23 December 1936), he travelled through France and joined the Irish contingent of the international brigade at Madrigueras (7 January 1937). He argued passionately that the Irish should fight alongside their English comrades, but was outvoted; they fought as the James Connolly column attached to the American Abraham Lincoln battalion. He was shot at Jarama (27 February) in a counter-attack against nationalist forces; his reported last words were ‘Even the olives are bleeding’. Difficulties in retrieving his body delayed his burial, in an unmarked grave in an olive grove, until 10 March 1937. Numerous poems were written in his honour; his own poetry, published in various anthologies, is collected in Joseph O'Connor, Even the olives are bleeding (1992).