George Brown Commemoration
Inistioge, Co. Kilkenny
Look Left, Workers’ Party, Sept-October 2008
Thanks to Terry Bannon for sending me this article and the photos, and for all his past help as well.
Inistioge, a small unspoiled village in South Kilkenny, was the setting for a remarkable commemoration on the weekend of 27th/28th June last. The occasion was to honour a native son, George Brown, who was born in Inistioge in 1906 and who died fighting in defence of the Democratic Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists in 1937. Reared in Manchester where his parents had emigrated before George was born, George’s mother had returned to her native village for the birth of her first three children. George was the last of the family to be born in Kilkenny. From an early age, George was active in the struggle of the working class for justice and freedom. A leading member of the Communist Party in Manchester his life is an inspiration to progressives throughout the world.
The Commemoration in Inistioge was a wonderful success due to the work and commitment of a very active and dedicated committee under the Chairmanship of local man Paddy Murphy and Committee Secretary Sean Walsh, along with Vice Chairman Jim Walsh, Treasurer Joseph Doyle, and committee members Terry Bannon, Davy Dwyer, Martin Gahan, Eugene Killian, Jerry Malone, Thomas O’Neill and John Walsh. The committee had put together a comprehensive programme which brought participants from Britain, Spain and most especially included very many local people, including the Chairman of Kilkenny County Council, Tom Maher.
Among the distinguished and honoured guests were Jack Jones, leading British trade unionist and friend of George Brown who also fought in Spain and the sole Irish survivor of the Connolly Column, Bob Doyle., who opened the weekend’s events. From the opening on Friday evening the commemoration got off to a great start with the highlight being a very informative and interesting lecture by Manus O’Riordan, Head of Research of SIPTU, in the course of which he dealt with the strong Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War.
Saturday was a full day with another great lecture from Harry Owens on the Defence of the Democratic Spanish Republic and much information about the real situation on the ground in Spain during that period. The proceedings were enlivened by the famed Kilkenny hurler Eddie Kerr who is a relative of George Brown. Eddie presented autographed hurleys to Jack Jones and Bob Doyle and in his speech at the presentation he paid a warm tribute to George Brown and to his comrades who had fought and died in Spain.
The morning session was chaired by Jack O’Connor, General President of SIPTU, who was presented with a commemorative plaque by the Committee Chairman, Paddy Murphy. Jack expressed his thanks and of how pleased he was to be present at a most unique and memorable occasion.
It was strongly supported by the local community which included relatives of George Brown, who also received commemorative plaques from the committee. The local Church of Ireland pastor kindly opened his church doors for the weekend where an impressive exhibition of books, badges, periodicals and flags took place in the Church of Ireland. The ceremony moved to the adjoining cemetery where the Committee Secretary Sean Walsh delivered an oration on behalf of the Committee and introduced Jack Jones, who unveiled a plaque honouring George Brown. Jim Nolan, playwright, then introduced Jimmy Kelly, Regional Secretary and Assistant secretary of the trade union UNITE who delivered an oration on the events and lessons on the struggle of workers yesterday and today.
One of the most moving parts of the ceremony in the graveyard was the recitation by Marlene Sideaways, Secretary of the International Brigades Memorial Trust, of Dolores Ibarruri, ‘la Pasionaria’, the Deputy Speaker of the Spanish Parliament, her farewell address to the International Brigades in Barcelona on 27th October 1938 and we quote an extract. She told them ”You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality…we shall never forget you, and, when the olive tree of peace is in flower, return!” This was followed by the reading by Sarah Brown, a relation of George Brown of an [anonymous] poem “Where shall we find you George Brown”
The gathering moved to the Woodstock Estate where the Commemoration Committee on the 30th December 2007 dedicated an olive grove to George Brown and his comrades of the 15th International Brigade and where a plaque was unveiled to mark the 70th Anniversary of the death of George brown. Jack Jones planted a tree in Woodstock to mark the occasion of his and his family’s visit. Music was provided by the Hatchery Folk Group and Brenda O’Riordan delivered a harp recital.
Andrew McGuinness made a presentation on behalf of SIPTU to Committee Chairman Paddy Murphy for his long service and work on behalf of the Trade Union movement. Sean Garland made a presentation to Paddy Murphy. One final word of thanks must go to Project Co-ordinator Sean Kelly of UNITE trade union in Waterford who played a key role in organising the weekend’s events and to Ciaran Crossey, Belfast historian, who supplied an article on Kilkenny volunteers in the International Brigade and assisted the committee in organising the weekend.
[There was another article in this issue of Look Left, Roy Garland making a presentation to Paddy Murphy, Committee chair. I will add this piece when I've a momment, CC.]
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