Donnelly's star still burns bright

The Irish Times, February 9, 2008, Book Reviews; Pg. 12

Every generation has its heroes. Too often they burn brightly and die tragically - and young. One such was the poet and social activist Charles Donnelly (1914-1937), who was a source of fascination and admiration for many of his contemporaries in University College Dublin in the 1930s and got iconic status when he was killed at the Battle of Jarama fighting with the International Brigades on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War.

Now he is to be celebrated in his old college at the instigation, most appropriately, of an undergraduate student, Enda Duffy. Poet Gerald Dawe, who has written about Donnelly, will give a public lecture on him, Child of the Revolution in Theatre R, Newman Building, UCD, on Tuesday, February 26th at 7pm. A plaque is also being unveiled at the college.

Lamenting him the year after his death in a piece in The Workers' Republic, Frank Ryan, who was with him in Spain, said Charlie Donnelly's death was "one of the tragedies of those breathless days just a year ago when men just had to fling themselves across the path of the fascist advances." The poet was immortalised in print by contemporary Donagh MacDonagh in his poem Charles Donnelly.

Dead in Spain 1937 as the "first fruit of our harvest, willing sacrifice/ Upon the altar of his integrity/ Lost to us . . .", and again years later in Christy Moore's version of Viva La Quinta Brigada. Donnelly's own famous line on the carnage of battle, "Even the olives are bleeding" - uttered just before he died - is the title of Joseph O'Connor's book Even the Olives are Bleeding - The Life and Times of Charles Donnelly (New Island, 1993). It was also the title of Cathal O'Shannon's Spanish Civil War documentary Even the Olives are Bleeding (1976).