Preliminary remarks by
at the launch a new expanded edition of the classic history by his father
"CONNOLLY COLUMN: The Story of the Irishmen who Fought for the Spanish Republic"
at Liberty Hall Cultural Centre, Dublin, March 16, 2005
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Conaghan, was among the 200 people present in Liberty Hall for the launch of Michael O'Riordan's "Connolly Column". Together with Michael's son Manus and daughter Brenda, other family members present were Manus's wife Annette and their sons Neil and Luke, and Brenda's husband Tony McGaley and their son Dara. Michael's eldest grandchild Jessica O'Riordan, presently working in Christchurch, New Zealand, sent her best wishes, as did his second granddaughter Catríona McGaley. The proceedings were opened with the following remarks from Manus O'Riordan.
Lord Mayor and Friends,
To try to look ahead a quarter of a century might appear to some like an eternity, but looking back a quarter of century can sometimes seem like little more than the blink of an eyelid. I vividly remember, as if it were only yesterday, the launch of the first edition of "Connolly Column" by the veteran Donegal leader of the War of Independence, Peadar O'Donnell, and how later that same evening I brought my late mother, Kay Keohane, to see that 1938 classic of the Soviet cinema, "The Childhood of Maxim Gorky". And Peadar O'Donnell's opening words at that launch are firmly etched in my memory, when he said: "Speaking here this evening, I feel I'm surrounded by ghosts". I thought that this was indeed a powerful literary metaphor, but just that, as the names mentioned by Peadar were indeed well known to me, but did not exist beyond the pages of historical narrative.
It took me another decade to fully grasp what Peadar meant when he invoked those names : Liam Mellows, into whose Mountjoy prison cell he had stepped one evening in December 1922 to relate a "Mutt and Jeff" joke, without knowing that Mellows would be executed that following morning, with Peadar's last vivid image of Mellows being of him chuckling at that joke; Frank Ryan with whom Peadar had stood shoulder to shoulder in the struggles of the 1920s and 1930s; Charlie Donnelly and Liam McGregor who would both be killed in Spain. These had been real flesh-and-blood companions of Peadar, and I now realise just how much he truly felt their presence on the night of "Connolly Column's" first launch.
And there are other ghosts still closer in time to the Liberty Hall launch of its second edition. As you entered the Hall this evening you passed by the Connolly Column memorial plaque, floodlit and bedecked with roses for this special occasion. That plaque was unveiled fourteen years ago by the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Donnelly, and I am pleased that the present Lord Mayor, Michael Conaghan, is present with us tonight. Present at that Liberty Hall memorial unveiling in 1991 were a total of eleven International Brigaders:
Irish brigadistas Michael O'Riordan, Bob Doyle, Peter O'Connor and Maurice Levitas, who read out the Roll of Honour during that ceremony;
British brigadistas Bill Alexander and Dave Goodman;
American brigadistas Sam Walters and Bill van Felix;
French brigadista Francois Mazou;
Cypriot brigadista Michael Economides;
and Czechoslovak brigadista John Taylor.
With the exception of Michael O'Riordan and Bob Doyle, all of these brigadistas have now passed on. And it is indeed an honour that Bob Doyle has travelled over from his London home to be back in his native Dublin for this evening's launch of his comrade's book.
It is a particularly wonderful honour that a number of relatives of those Irish who gave their lives in defence of the Spanish Republic are also present among us:
Terry Quinlan, brother of Mossie Quinlan who fell at Jarama in February 1937;
Kay and Joe Donnelly, sister-in-law and nephew of Charlie Donnelly who also fell at Jarama;
June McGregor, niece of Liam McGregor who fell on the Ebro front in September 1938;
Siobhán Patten from Achill Island, a relative of Tommy Patten who fell at Madrid in December 1936, the very first English-speaking volunteer to be killed in the fight, and - as a Gaeltacht man - a native Irish speaker as well.
Other Irish brigadistas who survived the Spanish War but who have since passed on are also represented by their relatives here tonight:
Frank Edwards by his children Alicia and Seán Edwards;
Gerry Doran by his daughter Geraldine Abrahams;
Peter O'Connor by his son Emmet O'Connor;
Tom O'Brien by his son Michael O'Brien;
and Eugene Downing by his nephew Brendan Byrne.
The Memorial Banner of the Irish brigadistas, of which my father is the custodian, forms the front cover of "Connolly Column". It was unveiled in 1938 by Father Michael O'Flanagan, and currently hangs in the Irish Labour History Museum, where a formal presentation ceremony took place in 1990. From next year onwards, however, it will hang in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks, as the principal exhibit in a section devoted to Irish participation in the Spanish Civil War. This banner was made in the Kelly home in Dublin by a group of art students led by Maurice Cogan, and under the supervision of the artist Ada Kelly McGonigal. Its bottom panel was based on one of the Spanish Civil War scenes portrayed by the famous Catalan artist Sim, the original of which is in the possession of Ada's niece Barbara Kelly, and which is on display on the podium here tonight.
I should also mention some others present at this launch with family connections to the Spanish War. Cathal MacLiam is a brother-in-law of the late Dave Goodman, one of the British brigadistas who was here in Liberty Hall in 1991 for the unveiling the Connolly Column memorial plaque. Bill Gannon had been the organiser of the International Brigade volunteers sent from Dublin, and his nephew Jack is here among us. John Swift, General Secretary of the Irish Bakers' Union, had been the only Irish trade union leader with enough courage to openly proclaim his support for the Spanish Republic, and his son and namesake is also here. Leopold Kerney had been the Irish Minister to Spain who befriended Frank Ryan in Burgos Jail and saved his life, and his granddaughter Monique is likewise present. Muriel MacSwiney had not only been a firm supporter of the Spanish Republic during the War itself, but remained a good friend to International Brigade veterans subsequently. Her husband, the martyred War of Independence Lord Mayor of Cork Terence MacSwiney, had himself been such an inspiration to so many in the Spanish Republic, especially in Catalunya. Riots had in fact taken place on the streets of Barcelona on the occasion of MacSwiney's death in October 1920, and poetry in the Catalan language was composed in his memory. Terence MacSwiney's grandson Cathal Brugha, namesake of his other illustrious grandfather, is also present at this launch.
And I very much wish to extend a particularly warm welcome to Dara Fitzpatrick on a special occasion like tonight when his late father, Diarmuid MacGiolla Phádraig, is revealed in this second edition to have been the outstanding anti-fascist balladeer whose verse is featured throughout the "Connolly Column", and who is no longer enveloped, as in the first edition, in the mystery of his nom-de-plume "Somhairle MacAlstair".
This is indeed a unique gathering. A famous ballad says of "The Galway Races":
"There were half a million people there
Of all denominations
The Catholic, the Protestant, the Jew
There was yet no animosity
No matter what persuasion".
Well, in this 200-strong gathering, all of the above denominations, and none, are also represented. Wolfe Tone had spoken of substituting "the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter". The International Brigade's Connolly Column achieved precisely that, uniting Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and atheist volunteers in a common struggle against fascism in Spain. Irish volunteers came from both Republican and Loyalist backgrounds. It is indeed not without interest to note that, in the language of the defence of the Spanish Republic itself, the two terms were in fact synonymous; every Republican was a Loyalist, and every Loyalist a Republican!
And it is an enduring tribute to the non-sectarian legacy of the Connolly Column to record the fact that in 1998 when two Irish veterans of Spain, Michael O'Riordan and Peter O'Connor, initiated a campaign against the US blockade of Cuba, they were joined by religious personalities from many denominations, led by the Dominican priest Father Austin Flannery, who sends us his best wishes, and the Reverend Terence McCaughey of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, who is present with us tonight.
"Connolly Column", when first published in 1979, was indeed a pioneering book. It had been preceded a few years previously by Cathal O'Shannon's powerful 1976 television documentary, "Even the Olives are Bleeding!", which for the first time bought home to a wider Irish audience the calibre of the Irishmen who had fought in defence of the Spanish Republic. It therefore gives me great pleasure to call on Cathal O'Shannon to launch this new edition of "Connolly Column", and on the author Michael O'Riordan to reply to him. Finally, I would like to invite all of you to remain on in this Liberty Hall Cultural Centre, after the formal proceedings have been completed, for an evening of traditional music and song, with the theme of "Songs of the Spanish Anti-fascist War and other struggles".
Speech by Cathal O'Shannon and the opening remarks by Michael O'Riordan
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