Address by MICHAEL O'RIORDAN
on the launch of a new expanded edition of his classic history
CONNOLLY COLUMN :
at the Liberty Hall Cultural Centre, Dublin,March 16, 2005
The Story of the Irishmen who Fought for the Spanish Republic
Comrades and friends,
I am greatly honoured that this updated second edition of "Connolly Column" has been launched by Cathal O'Shannon.
Cathal's own pioneering television documentary on the Spanish Anti-fascist War, "Even the Olives are Bleeding", was a courageous
undertaking back in 1976. Franco himself had only been dead for a year. It would be 1977 before democratic elections were at last
allowed and parliamentary rule finally restored after four decades of fascist dictatorship. When "Connolly Column" was first
published in 1979 Spanish democracy was still very fragile. We should never forget that in 1981 there would, in fact, be another
attempt at a fascist coup.
Since then, much has changed. In 1996 there was a unanimous decision by the Spanish Parliament to award the right to Spanish
citizenship to all surviving International Brigaders. And much has changed in Ireland itself. It is indeed fitting that this launch takes place in Liberty Hall, home of James Connolly's own Irish Citizen
Army. It was here also at Liberty Hall that the Lord Mayor of Dublin unveiled the Connolly Column memorial plaque in 1991.
And right in front of Liberty Hall, in May 1996, the President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, also paid tribute to our fight against fascism in Spain, when she unveiled the James Connolly Memorial in Beresford Place.
Now there are only two of us fighters left, Bob Doyle and myself. This book speaks for itself as a tribute to our now-departed comrades, especially those who made the supreme sacrifice on the
battlefields of Spain. This expanded second edition also contains
much new material, especially in vindication of the reputation of our Commander-in-Chief, Frank Ryan.
Since you should all read the book for yourselves, there is only one more name I wish to single out for honourable mention before I
conclude, because I had not been permitted to reveal his name in the first edition. "Somhairle MacAlstair" was the pen-name of the
writer of the most powerful anti-fascist verse in the Ireland of 1930s. I can now tell you that his real name was Diarmuid Mac Giolla Phadraig, about whom I have much more to say in my new
foreword. His satirical song, "The Ballad of O'Duffy's Ironsides",
contains the following verse:
"Let loose my fierce Crusaders",
O'Duffy wildly cries,
"My grim and bold moss-troopers
That poached by Shannon sides,
Their shirts are blue, their backs are strong,
They've cobwebs on the brain,
If Franco's troops are beaten down
My Irish troops remain".
The reality of Eoin O'Duffy's farcical adventure in Spain was that that fascist leader's so-called Irish Brigade voted to return home
after only six months of relative inactivity. They were, as Brendan Behan caustically observed, unique in being the only army ever to have returned from war with more men than it had originally set out with. The ex-Garda Commissioner's ambitions of becoming the Irish Fuehrer were to suffer a fatal blow as a result of this disgrace.
In another ballad Diarmuid Mac Giolla Phadraig referred to those fascist ambitions as follows:
O'Duffy crowned dictator,
'Midst the rolling of the drums,
And the dupes that listened to him
Still rotting in their slums.
But the contemptible performance of Irish fascism is more humorously satirised in the closing verse of his earlier ballad:
On the village pump in Skibbereen
An eagle screams its woe,
As it hears the tramp of armed men
From the bogs of Timahoe.
The war drums roll in Dublin town
And from each lusty throat,
The Fascists sing the ancient hymn,
"The Peeler and the Goat".
There are far more gems from the pen of Diarmaid Mac Giolla Phadraig to be found in "Connolly Column", but you'll have to read
the book for yourselves. And in the spirit of such verses I will ask you to enjoy the rest of the evening of music and song that will be
held here in celebration of la Quince Brigada's own "Connolly Column" which, in contrast with O'Duffy's Brigade, did indeed fight
to the very end, until the Government of the Spanish Republic finally withdrew all International Brigaders at the end of 1938.
I will conclude by thanking my son Manus for editing this new edition, Warren and Pell Publishing for producing it, and a special word of thanks to SIPTU and Connolly Books for their support of this launch.
Salud y victoria !
Speech by Cathal O'Shannon
and the opening remarks by Manus O'Riordan
GO TO TOP OF PAGE