A Rebel Voice, A History of Belfast Republicanism 1925-1972 by Raymond J Quinn.
This was published by the Belfast Cultural and Local
History Group, Belfast 1999. ISBN 0953524108.
It costs, £10 and is available from:
Belfast Cultural and Local History Group, 76-8 Hamill Street, Belfast
BT12. All cheques should be made payable to BCLHG. Please allow 10%
Around thirty men from Belfast went to fight in Spain,
ten of whom died in action. In terms of figures it was a small minority,
but Catholic and Protestant Socialist Republicans fought and died
together in war, something that had not happened since 1798. Unfortunately
it took a foreign war to achieve it. From Ballymacarrett alone, six
went to fight in Spain. Four against Franco, three of whom were killed,
Liam Tumilson, Ben Murray and Jim Straney.
What was the driving force that compelled working
class Catholic and Protestant men from the North to fight and die
on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War?
Two weeks before Christmas in 1936, many Irishmen
left their homes and families to begin the long journey to Spain to
join the International Brigades fighting on the republican side in
the civil war. The volunteers, many of them ill-prepared for the appalling
conditions and carnage that was awaiting them, had nothing materially
to gain by taking part in the struggle; their participation was based
purely on ideology, a belief that they were fighting against the tide
of fascism sweeping Europe. The majority of the Irish contingent came
from the Free State, but among their ranks were also many Northerners.
They were not, as one might expect, solely those who held republican
aspirations for the whole of Ireland, but a surprising mix of people
whose backgrounds were Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist,
who were joined by a common bond of socialist ideals and disillusionment
with the society they were leaving behind.
The 1930s was a time of strongly conflicting ideologies
- conservatism versus socialism, right against left, fascism squaring
up to communism. Working class Catholic men living in Ireland found
themselves torn between the conservative church, to which they were
bonded by faith and religion, and the attractions of socialism, which
the keenly-felt inequalities of daily life led many of them to adopt.
The carnage of the First World War and the failure
of the system to keep the promises of a better life to those that
survived, had seen the rise of working class politics in the 1920s.
While Europe witnessed the grip of fascism exerted in Germany and
Italy, in Ireland it was the same old story - politics and religion
remained inextricably bonded. However, during a period of increased
working class deprivation from 1932-34, Belfast saw - perhaps for
the first time - a real chance for Protestant and Catholic people
to bond together in the common cause of bread and butter issues. The
spread of socialist ideals proved to be a rare unifying factor against
a background of outdoor relief riots, unemployment and depression.
But as in so many other cases, religious division
won the day. Both the Stormont government and the Catholic church
would not allow what they considered to be left wing communist politics
to take preference over faith, belief and loyalty; even the I.R.A.
would not rally to the socialist banner.
In Belfast, the majority of the I.R.A. justifiably
saw themselves as "national republicans". They were anti-Communist
and the movement would not involve itself in the 1932 outdoor relief
riots as a matter of policy. Many members did play a role in the agitation,
but they were acting as individuals rather than as I.R.A. activists.
Tony Lavery and John Reaney, two volunteers from the Lower Falls,
were both very active on the barricades during the ODR October riot.
This position, however, later came to be viewed as tactically wrong
and policy changed when the I.R.A. some 700 strong in Belfast in 1933,
did become involved in a rail and transport strike that year. To be
fair, on balance the Republican movement could not involve itself
in a "Workers Union", as the sectarian nature of the Northern
State discriminated against Catholics and the I.R.A. was the only
line of defence that community had against a religious pogrom and
state inspired attack.
In the South, Fianna Fail took power, and although
still professing itself as a republican party, it moved away from
the concept of armed struggle and proscribed the I.R.A. Within the
movement itself there were those who wanted to push the organisations
burgeoning socialist leanings to the left, but their motion was defeated
at the 1934 General Army Convention in Dublin. The I.R.A. was a nationalist
movement, it was argued. The military element was always primary,
with social and economic questions taking second place. The people
of Ireland would determine what social or economic programme would
evolve upon the establishment of a Republic. Following the failure
of their socialist motion at the 1934 convention, three leading I.R.A.
men resigned and formed what was to become known as the Republican
Congress. It started well, receiving support in the South but made
little impact on the I.R.A. in the North. Nevertheless, it was the
Republican Congress that prompted Irish volunteers to form the Irish
Brigade. In all, some 200 Irishmen would fight in Spain with the International
The Spanish Civil War provoked a very hot debate.
Fighting had broken out following a military uprising against the
Socialist Popular Front government in July 1936. The coup was led
by General Francisco Franco and was backed by the church and the wealthy
of Spain. For the left, Spain had been the last bastion of power in
Europe, amid the growing power of Nazi Germany and Mussolinis
fascists in Italy. There were also fascist governments in Hungary.
Greece and Portugal. Even in the democracies of Britain and Ireland,
ultra-right movements were emerging as their governments clung to
a policy of nonintervention.
One of the founders of the Republican Congress. Frank
Ryan was urged by his friend and comrade in arms, Charlie Donnelly,
from Killbrackey near Dungannon, to support the cause of the Spanish
republicans. Donnelly visited Ryan in Dublin during 1936 before leaving
for England, where he had already spent some time developing a sophisticated
and rigorous line in political thought. He was completely absorbed
by the Spanish conflict, a cause for which he would give up his life
within a year.
In September 1936. Cardinal MacRory, Archbishop of
Armagh, publicly denounced Ryan and the Republican Congress for sending
Donnellys suggested message of support to the Spanish Republicans,
whom he denounced as "an evil regime." An outraged Ryan
in an open letter replied; "May I assure your eminence that
as an Irish Catholic I will take my religion from Rome, but as an
Irish Republican I will take my politics from neither Moscow not Maynooth
Soon Ryan began to organise men to send to Spain,
and the Irish contingent left Dublin, Belfast and Rosslare between
December 12 and 14, 1936, travelling through London and France to
Spain. Their route would have been through southern France by train,
probably to the French Catalan coastal town of Perpignan, and from
there down the Mediterranean coast to Madrigueras, a village near
Charlie Donnelly, having returned to London from
Dublin, left the English capital on December 23, 1936, and joined
the contingent 15 days later, travelling to Spain on his own. By the
time he reached them, 11 of the group had already been killed in the
first few weeks of fighting.
If the urgings of the Republican Congress had led
many from the South to sign up for the Spanish cause, it was the outdoor
relief riots of 1932 that were to prove the deciding factor for some
of the Protestant working class in the North. Disenchanted Protestants
reasoned that if this was what the state could do to its working class
citizens, then a socialist agenda would be their standing in life.
They were not victims of republican propaganda, nor did they convert
to Catholicism or nationalism. They were committed to a working class
cause, which they believed in, and one for which they were prepared
One such man was William Liam Tumilson
from Thorndyke Street, off Templemore Avenue in East Belfast. The
outdoor relief riots had been the turning point for him and he embraced
socialism. In reality they were very young men with strong ideals.
Tumilson subsequently joined the I.R.A. in the Short Strand district
and struck up a friendship with Jim Straney from Thompson Street in
that area of the city (not the Falls Road, as previous records have
stated, although the family home originated in John Street at the
foot of Divis Street). Straney had joined the I.R.A. in the Short
Strand with several other local men through the Fianna in 1929, among
them Jack Brady from Kilmood Street and Willie OHanlon from
Woodstock Street. Whilst Jack Brady would become a leading republican
in Belfast in the 1930s, Jim Straney and Willie OHanlon would
end up on the battlefields of Spain. Liam Tumilson joined Republican
Congress in 1934 and therefore would have been stood down from the
I.R.A. as it dismissed any volunteers who went to Spain. It believed
they had a duty to remain in Ireland. The men who went were still
strongly bounded to Republicanism, but Socialist Republicanism.
Another Ballymacarrett man to volunteer was Ben Murray
from the Newtownards Road. Ben Murray was a committed socialist who
had been active during the outdoor relief riots. Both were later killed
at the Battle of Aragon in March 1938. Of those men who volunteered
for Spain from the east of the Lagan, only Willie OHanlon, and
Fred McMahon, who served as a paramedic, would return. Fred served
with the Scottish Ambulance Unit and was captured along with another
Belfast man Joe Boyd on 8 November 1936. Fred McMahon says that in
relation to the Spanish Civil War "the average trade unionists
tended to be apathetic. There were a few of the keen trade unionists,
the shop steward type who were pro-Republican ". He agrees
that many Catholics began to oppose the Republicans because of the
Catholic churchs support of Franco. He says - "there
were quite a few Catholics and Protestants, but mainly Catholics,
who were pro-Republican at the start, and then the media thumping
into them about the patriots, and thumping the atrocities by the Republicans,
which undoubtedly took place, they take place at all wars, and glossing
over the atrocities by the fascists and some of the vicious bombing,
Guernica particularly, the most sickening bombing before the war the
most sickening massacre ". One must also bear in mind
that "the Irish News is a Catholic paper, and it represents the
Catholic majority, and it called the insurgents, thats Francos
troops, patriots. Most of the Catholic population, and the church
certainly, was pro-Franco, and very violently so. And yet, peculiarly
enough, I met some churchmen behind Republican lines. I met a couple
of Redemptorists, and they were very pro-Republican".
McMahon himself says simply, "I was an anti-fascist
- thats why I went to Spain - I was violent thy anti-fascist".
Jack Macgougan, the secretary of the N.I. Socialist
Party in Belfast at that time, did not actually get to Spain but remembers
how their efforts at organising solidarity were ""more or
less diverted into aid for an ambulance. Two people went, Fred McMahon
and Joe Boyd, both from the Socialist Party". It is ironic that
socialists, communists and republicans were able to forge a common
front against fascism in Spain yet remained divided against another
enemy - imperialism and unionism at home.
The Republican Congress was one of the main organisations
active on the question of Spain. John Lowry, also the N.I.S.P., recalls:
"Peadar ODonnell coining to Belfast amid there was a paper
started, I cant remember the title of that paper but 0 Donnelly
was a leading figure in that paper and there was some contact between
ODonnell and some members of the Socialist Party. At the time
of the Spanish War 0'Donnell had courage enough to stand on the side
of the Spanish republicans and I remember a rally being organised
in the Ulster Hall, where a Basque priest, called Father La Borda,
was pro-republican and he addressed us, Im not sure if he spoke
English. But ODonnell was there and it was a very good audience
that listened to him ".
In 1934, Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney carried the
banner of the Shankill James Connolly Socialists to Bodenstown. Two
lorry loads of this club, made up of men from the Shankill and Ballymacarrett,
led by Bill McMullan, made their way South for the annual republican
commemoration. However, during the procession they were attacked by
members of the East Tipperary I.R.A., apparently for breaking a rule
that year that no banners were to be carried, unless authorised by
The first Irish volunteers to fight in the Spanish
Civil War saw action on the Cordoba front in December 1936. An Irish
unit marched with the IXth French Battalion and No. 1 Company of the
British Battalion, a total of 145 men whose objective was to capture
the town of Lopera. Nine Irishmen died during this action, all of
whom were from the South.
As more volunteers arrived, a training programme
was put into place, and the Irish found themselves at Madrigueras,
near Albecete, along with the British Battalion. Whilst here in training,
it was decided to amalgamate the Irish into the British Battalion,
but this caused objections amongst hard-line I.R.A. men who had fought
during the War of Independence. These objections were seen as being
wrong, since everyone was supposedly fighting for a common cause,
but in the end a vote was taken on the matter. The result of the ballot
was that the Irish volunteers remained a separate unit by a margin
of five votes. However, as forthcoming battles would soon bear out,
the distinction was largely irrelevant.
Having decided not to amalgamate with the British
contingent, the Irish moved to the village of Villanueva de la Jara
in January 1937 and joined the American Lincoln Battalion.
A few weeks later, on February 6, 1937. Francos
army advanced into the Jarama valley in an attempt to capture the
road between Madrid and Valencia. Jarama was to become one of the
bloodiest battles of the Civil War, lasting for a month. The opening
action of the Republican forces involved the British Battalion under
confused leadership taking on overwhelming opposition.
Within a week, the Lincoln Battalion received orders
to cut short its training and move immediately to join the battle.
The more experienced men in the Irish column had already gone to the
front, and indeed some of them had been killed, including Bill Beattie
from Wilton Street on the Shankill. Bill had been a former British
soldier, with service in the First World War serving in the 2nd Battalion
Royal Ulster Rifles for 8 years. He proved to be a tower of strength
to his comrades before his death. Many others, including Frank Ryan,
were wounded. The Lincoln's arrived at Jarama on February 23 with
450 men divided into two infantry companies - a machine gun unit and
a group of paramedics and doctors. Both sides were dug into trenches
at opposite ends of the valley. The terrain was rough and sparse,
dotted with twisted olive trees and vines. Conditions were appalling,
the trenches were filthy and both food and basic medical supplies
Despite the poor conditions, moral was high and the
volunteers fought as strongly as the ideals they held. Perhaps it
was those ideals that encouraged their spirits to fight, for in reality
their defence lacked good military tactics and thinking. Nevertheless,
they held up Franco's offensive, but at great cost.
Peter O'Connor, an Irish volunteer from Waterford
and a member of the republican Congress says:
On 23rd February our battalion took
part in the first attack on the fascist lines. It was very dark
and the olive groves were lit up with rifle and machine gun fire.
We advanced too far, but dug in where we were. Paddy Power was
just near me, in a section of a trench cut off from our main lines.
It was here that Charlie Donnelly, Eamon McGrotty, and the Rev.
M Hilliard were killed and Alan MacLarnan from Dublin was wounded.
I made the following entries in my diary for 26th and
27th February 1937: 'We were holding the line. We did
not get anything to eat since the morning of the 23rd.
it is now 26th February and all our canteens are empty.
We fight our way back to the main line.
The 27th February, and we attack again,
led by Eddie O'Flaherty and Paul Burns. Jackie Hunt from Waterford
is wounded in the ankle, and Bill Henry, that great Protestant
working class comrade from Belfast, was killed in the vanguard
of the attack, together with TT O'Brien. We hold the line and
consolidate our positions. The road to Madrid is safe. We settle
down to a stint of trench warfare, making the dugouts more livable.
Our main position is among the olive groves on the hills overlooking
the villages of Marata and Chinchon, where we settle down to repulse
attacks and counter attack.'
In the Jarama trenches, Liam Tumilson had become
friendly with Donegal man Paddy 'Roe' McLaughlin. McLaughlin was a
veteran of the war of Independence, originally from Main Street, Moville
and had volunteered from America in the hope of teaming up with his
old friend, George Gilmore. Gilmore was one of the founders of the
republican congress. The banter between Tumilson and McLaughlin was
always good. It was a sign of buoyant moral despite conditions. Tumilson
wrote home to Belfast in march from the trenches: "Still determined
to stay here until fascism is completely crushed. Impossible to do
other than carry on with the slogan of Cathal Brugha, 'No Surrender.'
On March 14 1937 Tumilson was killed by a snipers
bullet whilst in charge of the 'Liam Mooney Machine Gun company'.
Paddy McLaughlin, who survived the war, saw his friend die.
Jarama also claimed the lives of Dick O'Neill from
the Falls Road, and fellow Belfast men Billy Henry of 31 Bradford
Street, Old Lodge Road and Danny Boyle. Also killed was Eamon McGrotty
from Derry who died on the 26 February, 1937. In his last letter home
to his wife. Rosina, Bill Henry wrote: "There are some
great comrades here with me, with whom it would be an honour to
go to the happy hunting ground". Bill had survived the Great
War, and was 36 years old when he died. He was a member of the N.I.
Labour Party and the Irish Distributive Workers Union, being a Belfast
Another to be killed at Jarama was Charlie Donnelly,
whose body lay on the battlefield for 10 days before being recovered
by three of his fellow Irishmen, Peter OConnor and Peter and
Johnny Power. Donnelly was buried in an unmarked grave on the battlefield
with other volunteers.
Liam Tumilson was buried near the town of Morata.
His death resulted in his friend, Jim Straney, arriving in Spain to
carry on his stand. A year later, in August 1938. Straney was also
killed, during the advance on Gandesa. He died on Hill 481, the
pimple as it was called, along with two other Northern men,
George Gorman from Derry and James Haughey from Armagh. Jim Straney
was a young man with strong Republican ideals. He was an active member
of his local I.R.A. Company in the Short Strand before going to Spain.
During his visits to the family home in John Street, he would often
produce a new gramophone record for his aunt who was a keen dancer,
but instead of her hearing the latest sound in dance music, it would
be a rebel song telling of the struggle, or the 1916 rising. He would
often stand his two year old nephew up in the cot when the National
Anthem would he played on Radio Eireann. The Straneys were a close
family, and the youngest children SeŠn and Maureen looked up to their
older brother, as children do. When he decided to volunteer for Spain,
he waited until he was in England before sending a letter home. as
he knew the effect it would have on his father, who would certainly
have tried everything in his power to dissuade him from going to fight
in the Foreign War. When Jim was killed in 1938, it broke his fathers
heart, He had been saving and working on a cottage in Killough for
his son, one Jim often used as a safe haven for himself and his comrades.
when he was in the I.R.A. However, Jims death left his father
with no heart for the cottage and it fell into decay, as his father
died in July 1942. He was buried in Milltown cemetery and although
his son lies buried in Spain, his name adorns the headstone along
side his fathers.
Whatever their hopes, to die old wasnt one
Stevenson, Stockdale and Straney
from Scotland, Leeds and Belfast.
One died in hospital, two at the Ebro
Death made that sure when battle was done.
Martin Green (whose father fought with the British
Battalion in Spain)
The last engagement for the Irishmen of XV Brigade
was on the banks of the River Ebro. After this, they marched to Marsa,
later to Guiamets, and then finally to the demobilisation center at
Ripoli. Francos National Army, which heavily outnumbered and
outgunned the Republican forces, claimed the victory, but at a high
The Spanish Civil War was quickly overshadowed by
the outbreak of World War Two, when fascism swept across the remainder
of Europe. The Nazis had sent 26,000 men to help Franco and the Luftwaffe
had used Spain as a ground to implement and improve its bombing techniques,
which would be put to further devastating use in Poland in 1939.
The Belfast men who had fought in Spain began to
come home in mid-December 1938. The first six to return were Willie
OHanlon from the Short Strand, Hugh Hunter from York Street,
Bill Lord from Carrick Hill, Willie Fulton. who had joined in Australia,
Robert Boyle and Jim Larmour. In total, more than 30 Belfast men had
gone to Spain, ten of who were killed out of a total of 59 Irish casualties.
Little has been written about the Northern men who
went to fight in this foreign field, compelled by the strength of
their beliefs. Upon reflection, however, what European conflict have
Irishmen not fought in? They drift into the annals of history, just
names within volumes of print.
What is sure. however, is that whether it was the
Jarama Valley, Brunette, Aragon or the Ebro, rooted among the olive
trees is a small piece of Ballymacarrett and the Shankill, Belfast
blood that ran free on the dry. stony ground of Spain.
Volunteers In Spain)
While Frank Ryan led Irishmen out to Spain
in their crusade again Fascism, many of their fellow countrymen were
also taking a stand in Spain in support of Francos Nationalist
These volunteers were led by General Eoin ODuffy
and totaled over 700 men. They were mostly inspired by religious ideals,
and by a fierce desire to defend the Catholic church. They outnumbered
their socialist counterparts some three to one, and half their number
were former I.R.A. then Free State soldiers. although there was a
notable minority within their ranks, that had remained republican
during the Civil War and loyal to the I.R.A.. For such men, the need
for unity in the Catholic cause overcame the considerations of party
Despite much potential sympathy for an oppressed
republican peasantry in Spain, it was the religious persecution which
struck home sharpest in Ireland. The social revolution in Spain had
engulfed many groupings on the Popular Front left, among them Anarchists
and Communists who saw the Catholic church as a major target. In the
regions of Catatonia and Andalusia there was intense anti-clericalist
feelings and during the second half of 1936, thousands of churches
and other religious buildings were damaged or burned. Hundreds of
priests and nuns were murdered, as were six bishops. Francos
Army later took a bloody repression on the rural communities of Andalusia
during his march toward Madrid for their frenzied attacks against
It is therefore not surprising that the majority
of people in the Free State were outraged at the fate of the Spanish
church at the hands of the Reds. The influence of the
Irish hierarchy with the press ensured the atrocities were given maximum
coverage overshadowing the campaign of reprisals being carried out
by Nationalist troops.
It was against this background that the right-wing
General Eoin ODuffy began to recruit volunteers to fight in
Eoin ODuffy was born at Laragh, near Castleblaney,
Co. Monaghan in 1892. He joined the Volunteers in 1917, and within
a year was in command of the Monaghan Brigade. When the I.R.A. began
its campaign against the British, his unit was the first to capture
an R.U.C. barracks at Ballytrain on 14th February, 1920. Having risen
through the ranks, he was appointed liaison officer for Louth and
the Ulster Counties after the truce. In this capacity he set up his
H.Q. in St. Marys Hall. Chapel Lane amid the pogroms that plagued
Belfast. It is probably during this time he would have first met SeŠn
Cunningham who was O.C. of B. Coy, 2nd Battalion, covering the Short
Strand/Ballymacarrett area. Cunningham would later serve on his staff
During the Civil War, ODuffy was appointed
G.O.C. South Western Command, during which time he survived two ambush
attempts. He retired from the Army to become Chief Commissioner of
the Garda Siochana. When De Valera took power he was dismissed from
the Guards in 1933. and he embarked on a brief but stormy political
career. He will be remembered for forming and leading the Fascist
Blueshirt movement during the 1933/34 period.
He started calling for Volunteers to go to Spain
on 10th August 1936, and the first party of ten left Dublin for Lisbon
via Liverpool on Friday. 13th November, 1936. Nearly all the ten were
former I.R.A. Volunteers who had become Free Staters during the Civil
War, and had fought against the Republican forces, all holding officer
Before the year was out, hundreds more followed,
the largest departure being in December when between 500 and 753 left
Galway on 13th December.
In Spain, the Volunteers were formed up into the
XV Bandera Irlandesa del Tercio of the Spanish Foreign Legion. A Bandera
was an infantry battalion made up of about 600 men. The term Tercio
came from the renowned Spanish Infantry of the 16th century. In total
there was 18 different benders fighting within the Nationalist
The most highly decorated Belfast Volunteer was George
Caughie. MCM, MBE. He was the master-armourer. SeŠn Cunningham of
Clyde Street, Short Strand had been a Sergeant-Major in the British
Army in First World War.
When the Belfast pogrom broke out in July 1920, B.
Coy, 2nd Battalion, Belfast Brigade I.R.A. was raised in the Short
Strand to defend the besieged Nationalist enclave. There was over
forty local men who were ex-soldiers and many of these helped in various
ways through training or actual armed defence. One of these was SeŠn
Cunningham, and he later became 2 I.C. and then O.C. of the I.R.A.
in Ballymacarrett In 1922 he became O.C. of the 49th Battalion, Free
State Army in Dundalk. He was later transferred to Collins Barracks
in Dublin, and in November 1923 became O.C. of the 21st Battalion.
In 1927. Commandant Cunninghams Battalion played a major role
in the Military Tattoo at Lansdowne Road. He retired two years later
In Spain he held the rank of Captain in Charge of
the Banderas heavy machine gun company, and on one occasion
was personally complimented by General Franco. He later served on
ODuffys H.Q. Staff at Salamanca. Having survived the war
in Spain he would eventually return to his native Belfast settling
in Cavendish Street on the Falls Road. He died on the 11th March,
Other Belfast men known to have fought with the Nationalist
Volunteers are John Jones and Peter Fanning both of whom were I.R.A.
Volunteers when they went to Spain. Jones lived at the top of the
Whiterock Road in he cottages and Peter Fanning on the Springfield
They also survived Spain and Willie John McCurry
remembers with some humour being part of a three man IRA court-martial
board which was instigated after their return, more as a formality
than anything else. It was very much a laid-back affair. the presiding
officer telling them how "he would have let them off had they
fought on the Republican side".
Jimmy Drumm remembers a similar occasion when as
a young volunteer in 1938 he was sent over to Ballymacarrett to sit
on the court-martial of Jim Straney and Willie OHanlon who fought
on the Republican side in their absence. Joe Boal was also present
and yet again it was only a formality. A young Jim Straney would never
return from Spain killed in action and this deeply committed Republican
is rightly honoured on the I.R.A. Memorial in Short Strand. Three
others known to have served with ODuffys Brigade from
Belfast are Brendan Kielty, John Cleary and Patrick Ward.
The Nationalist Volunteers found themselves at Caceres
were they underwent a fairly comprehensive training programme lasting
six weeks. They were much better kited out than their
Socialist counterparts. Unfortunately, they were not to operate as
an integral force and were distributed among various army groups to
be used as need arose. Therefore, it became an isolated and under-strength
infantry battalion dependent on external Spanish units for all support
services. Language difficulties made liaison between the Irish field
officers and the Spanish general staff poor.
Poor leadership from ODuffy who spent most
of his time behind the lines at his H.Q., lack of direction and focus
eroded morale and the Bandera was stood down by Franco on 13th April
1937 following unfavorable reports from Spanish liaison officers,
the previous month. It was never given a proper organised chance to
prove itself and the Brigade returned to Dublin in June 1937 to a
However, events in Europe with the outbreak of World
War II highlighting the true face of fascism and all it entailed saw
attitudes in Ireland turn to indifference and eventually to ridicule.
ODuffy himself sank into obscurity and became ill, dying in
late 1944 at the age of 52. Frank Ryan died the same year, but while
he has become part of history and legend, Eoin ODuffy, and the
men of his Brigade became an embarrassment. They had espoused to the
winning side, but their defeated opponents in war won the struggle
for the hearts and minds of the millions outside of Spain, and in
doing so also won the judgement of history.
Theres a valley in Spain called
Its a place that we all know so well,
For its there that we gave of our manhood,
And most of our brave comrades fell.
In October 1994, a memorial was unveiled
at the village cemetery of Marata de Tajuna where the remains of soldiers
of the Spanish Republic together with those of the Volunteers from
many countries who had joined the International Brigade, are buried.
Nineteen of those are Irishmen which includes the four Belfast men
- Bill Henry, Danny Doyle, Dick ONeill and Liam Tumilson.
The grave remained virtually unmarked for 57 years,
neglected under the Franco regime. However, the present democratic
Government rectified this and a memorial to the 5,000 who fell at
Jarama was built. The ceremony was attended by Peter OConnor
of Waterford, a veteran of Jarama who in his speech said: "When
the Republican .forces were in retreat at Jarama, it was the gallant
leadership of Frank Ryan and Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion,
which regained all the positions lost in the retreat."
He also went on to say:
I truly believe that if fascism had been defeated
in Spain, and if France, Britain and America had supported the legally
elected government at the time, then the Second World War would probably
never have happened, thereby saving millions of lives .
Peter OConnor was twenty-four years old when
he fought at Jarama, one of five Waterford men to do so.
The monument consists of a large white marble slab,
set in the wall of the cemetery, with the following inscription:
To the memory of the fallen heroes of Jarama
who made the supreme sacrifice in the defence of Madrid and succeeded
in keeping open the road to Valencia, 1936-39. No Pasaran.
BELFAST SURVIVOR DIES
Paddy MacAllister who died on the 16th
September, 1997 was the last of the Belfast Volunteers who joined
the government forces to fight General Franco in the Spanish Civil
War. He left the Lower Falls as a young man in the Twenties to work
in Canada where he became involved in trade union activity. In 1936
he joined the Irish Brigade in Spain and was wounded on the Jarama
front. He returned to Belfast after the end of the War. Paddy was
living in Ballymurphy when he died and he is buried in the Socialist
Republican plot in Milltown. [CC. He is buried in the plot belonging
to the Workers Party.]
There are four main memorials in Ireland to those
who fought and died in Spain. In Dublin a plaque at the entrance to
Liberty Hall on Eden Quay lists the names of all those who died, I
have visited this memorial several times. On May 1st, 1994, Waterford
honoured its participants in the War. In an event organised by Waterford
Council of Trade Unions, Peter OConnor unveiled a plaque at
the A.T.G.W.U. building, Keyser Street, bearing the names of the ten
Waterford men who fought in the Connolly Column.
A memorial sits on Dooega, Achill Island to Tommy
Patten the first Irish causality. It was unveiled in 1987 and veteran
Brigaders Joe Monks, Bob Doyle, Peter OConnor and Michael ORiordan,
attended. Another memorial stands at Morleys Bridge at Kilgaraven.
The only memorial in Belfast that I am aware of that
lists the names of volunteers killed in Spain, is in the Short Strand
district. The I.R.A. memorial unveiled by Gerry Adams, M.P., on June
25th, 1995, lists among its 19 names Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney
both of whom had been I.R.A. Volunteers before leaving to fight in
I myself hope in the near future to have a plaque
erected listing the names of all six Ballymacarrett Volunteers.
COMMDT. SEAN CUNNINGHAM
In relation to SeŠn Cunningham (Seosamh O Cuinnegain),
despite what some, perhaps many readers may feel over his siding in
Spain with ODuffys Brigade, it should not be forgotten
that this man had commanded B Coy 2nd Battalion, in Ballymacarrett
during the 1920-22 pogrom. This period of history was for
Belfast Catholics, the worst in memory and Ballymacarrett in particular
fought for its very survival.
The large number of ex-soldiers who had fought in
the Great War, and the strong I.R.A. Company which was commanded by
SeŠn Cunningham. played a pivotal role in the defence of that area.
After the truce, the majority of the I.R.A. in the
Short Strand/Ballymacarrett area were pro-treaty, as was the case
in many other Company areas through out Belfast. Commandant SeŠn Cunningham
deserves to be remembered with credit for that role during the pogrom,
failing any sympathetic view for the stand he took in Spain.