Cork and the Spanish Civil War.

Extract from: "Song for a Poor Boy. A Cork Childhood", by Patrick Galvin

Published by Raven Arts, Dublin, 1990. ISBN 1851860800

Galvin was born in Cork in 1927, the author of 5 collections of poetry and several plays.

"When the Spanish Civil war broke out, Mr Goldman stood at the corner of Washington Street and protested against the Fascists. My mother supported him and, in the evenings, she painted slogans on our tenement wall urging the natives of Cork to aid the republicans and join the International Brigades.

My father thought differently. He said the Republicans were burning the church in Spain and he didn’t want to see anything like that happening in Cork. But he refused to join the Blueshirts, who were marching through the city wearing holy medals, and appealing to the people to join them in their Great Crusade against the Bolsheviks.

At a huge rally in the city, Monsignor Sexton said that 24 Sisters of the poor had been crucified in Barcelona, and when two men asked him for proof, they were thrown into the river Lee and had to be rescued by the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army said that it was their Christian duty to rescue people from the river Lee and offered to make tea for everybody, if only they’d be sensible and go home. But the crowd didn’t go home. They knelt in the streets and prayed for General Franco.

At the corner of Washington Street, Mr Goldman still stood and protested loudly. My mother brought him a bowl of soup from the Penny Dinner house in Hanover Street, but he refused to eat it. He said he was starving for Spain. She offered to mend a hole in his jacket - but he said he was quite capable of doing it himself - though he never did.

He looked weary and old, as if he’d seen it all before and there was little he could do now to prevent it happening again. I wondered where he’d grown-up and about his family background. He never mentioned it.

In the evenings, I sat at his feet and listened to him read. And during the day I attended school and listened to Brother Reynolds talking about Spain. Brother Reynolds knew everything about Spain. He’d read it in the newspapers.

He said that Spain was a Catholic country and the Communists were out to destroy it. He said the Communists were everywhere. But if they were so, so was General Franco.

His photograph appeared in every newspaper. His eyes peered at you out of every shop window. And his spirit haunted the classroom where Brother Reynolds was telling us that what was happening in Spain today could be happening in Ireland tomorrow.

Atrocities were being committed out there. Children were being burned alive by the Reds, and their ashes scattered on pig farms in Galicia. Priests were being hanged. Bishops were being shot through the eyes. Nuns were being raped. And when my friend, Connors, asked him what rape meant, he split him over the head with a metal ruler and told him to wash his mouth out with salt and then drench himself in holy water. He asked us to pray.

We should pray for General Franco. We should pray for the Moors who were fighting now to save Christianity, we should pray for the Blueshirts and join them today and be remembered forever in the Great Book of Names that was now being prepared in Heaven by Blessed Michael and his angels.

My friend Connors threw up - and others joined the Blueshirts. They danced and they marched and they wore uniforms and looked like Boy Scouts. But when Brother Reynolds saw them he said they were like little angels who would one day grow up to be big angels and they would fly off to Spain and help General Franco to kill the Reds.

He appealed for money to buy guns. He placed a collection box at the school gate and said that anyone who failed to contribute would burn in Hell for all Eternity. They would be tortured by demons.

When I told my mother about Brother Reynolds, she said he was a born eegit [a fool]. But Mr Goldman said he was only one of many. The country was full of them. My father said nothing, but when he saw the collection box at the school gate on his way to Mass, he kept his hand in his pocket.

One evening as I sat with Mr Goldman, listening to him read, someone threw a brick through the window. The scattered glass cascaded across the room and Mr Goldman flung his coat over my head. We sat in the dark and waited for a second brick. But there was only one - and it was followed by a man’s voice shouting 'Dirty Jew. You murdered Christ.'

The following day, Mr Goldman returned to the corner of Washington Street. He continued to protest."