Paddy Roe McLaughlin - Donegal and the SCW

By Gerard Duddy

Written for the Donegal Democrat and other papers. A lengthy version of this article also appeared in the Nov. 1st. 2006, Inish Times, Donegal, page 2 'The Remarkable Life of Paddy Roe McLaughlin.'

A short version was in the Oct. 20th 2006 Derry Journal, page 25, 'The Exploits of Paddy Roe.'

2006 marks the 70th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War, which occurred between 1936-39. As part of the year's commemorations, Moville Branch Library, Inishowen, Co. Donegal recently organised an historical talk on 'Ireland and the Spanish Civil War.' The event was held in a local hotel on 2nd May 2006 and was attended by over 50 people including historians and academics.

Part of the historical talk included acknowledging a local connection between Ireland and the Spanish Civil War. During the talk information was provided on an Inishowen (Lecamey, Moville) man Paddy Roe McLaughlin (1902-1974) that may otherwise have been lost from the annals of history and forgotten. Paddy Roe was a veteran of the War of Independence and a volunteer in the International Brigade. This year has witnessed a push among solidarity groups, academics and historians to document this history as part of our collective heritage.

Over the last five years Moville Branch Library has organised many historical talks including: 'Evictions in County Donegal,' 'A Maritime History of Lough Foyle,' 'Rekindling a Dying Heritage: The Demise of Townland Names,' 'The Donegal Corridor and Irish Neutrality During the Second World War' and 'Shot at Dawn'…the executions of young men during the First World War. All the above lectures have been very successful.

But perhaps of all the historical lectures, 'Ireland and the Spanish Civil War' has received the most positive response from the audience, the media and civic society generally. For instance, currently on tour from Moville Library is a pictorial exhibition reflecting Ireland's involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Many schools and public libraries in County Derry and Donegal have expressed interest in displaying this exhibition.

The Irish involvement in one of the pivotal European conflicts of the twentieth century has many angles/themes to it. It was first and foremost a civil conflict but it also had an international and ideological dimension. Like many conflicts it has been documented in film, literature and the arts. But perhaps from our perspective as a nation, it is the 1,000 or so Irish men who fought on opposing sides of the war that has gained the most notoriety and controversy. In my own county, some five Donegal men joined the Irish Brigade and supported Franco's revolt while nearly double this figure volunteered for the International Brigade and fought on the Republican side.

The purpose of the following information is to acknowledge as a community this local connection between Ireland and the Spanish Civil War. And also, to document this history as part of our collective heritage. It must be stated that this is only a sketch of his life…nonetheless; it constitutes an acknowledgement and a historical record.

Paddy Roe McLaughlin: A Republican and a member of the International Brigade.

He was born in 1902 in Lecamey, Moville. (Lecamey is the name of a townland situated 3 miles from Moville town, between the village of Carrowmenagh and Moville. In the northeast quadrant of the Inishowen Peninsula, County Donegal.)

Known to his family as Pat - but to his comrades he was known as 'Paddy Roe.'

His father Thomas and mother Bridget were small farmers.

Paddy Roe McLaughlin attended Falmore National School. For a period he served as an altar boy at the old church of St John's, which was located in the area currently occupied by St Columb's Church, Ballinacrea.

Paddy Roe was a veteran in the war of Independence and during the 1920's his republicanism orientated towards the 'Anti-Treaty' position.

Like many people of his generation he emigrated to America. It is known that he worked on the construction of New York subways during the 1930's. He also served in the U.S. 69th Infantry Regiment, New York National Guard. Whilst in the United States he also participated in protests in defence of two Italian-born American anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti outside the prison in the state of Massachusetts when they were executed on August 23, 1927. Both were accused of the killing of a shoe factory paymaster and a security guard during a robbery on April 15th, 1920.

Following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, it is estimated that over 40,000 (48, 000) volunteers went to Spain from various countries in the period 1936 - 39. Paddy Roe was one such volunteer who went to fight on the side of the democratically elected republican government against Franco's fascist revolt.

For Paddy Roe and over 40 other volunteers the journey to Spain was to begin at Victoria Station, London on December 1936. Other persons at Victoria Station included Joe Monks, Frank Edwards, Kit Conway, Peter Daly and Jack Nalty. It is believed that when Paddy Roe left America on route to London he intended going to Spain to where he would meet George Gilmore, a Portadown born Protestant who was reared in Dublin. George Gilmore was actively involved in Irish republican and socialist politics. Together with Peadar O'Donnell and Frank Ryan, George Gilmore left the IRA in 1934 and established the Republican Congress, whose objective was to establish a workers' republic.

For many volunteers, the route to Spain was across the Channel, through Paris and then across the Spanish border to places like Catalonia. Many travelled in groups but quite a number travelled alone in their determination to fight against the tide of fascism that was sweeping through Europe at that time.

Paddy Roe fought in the trenches and among the olive trees and survived. His experiences were recorded in the 'Book of the XV Brigade.' In Spain he fought with the James Connolly section of the American Lincoln Battalion. He was a member of the International Brigade from December 26th 1936 to March 7th 1938 'with an excellent record of service.' During this period his comrades included Belfast Protestant Republican Liam (Billy) Tumilson; the poet Charles Donnelly from Dungannon; the Power brothers from Waterford John, Paddy Willie; Hugh Bonar of Dungloe and Eamon McGrotty, an ex-Christian Brother from Derry. It has been recorded that Paddy Roe was an enthusiastic soldier and well liked. His commander in the field was Boston journalist Paul Burns and his best friend in the trenches was Liam Tumilson.

Paddy Roe witnessed the death of Tumilson on March 14th, 1937 in the Jarama Valley by a snipers bullet as he stood on a small hill siting machine-gun emplacements. Liam Tumilson was quietly buried by his comrades in the English speaking section in the little town of Morata, about 20 miles south west of Madrid. It was Paddy Roe who wrote 'An Appreciation of Liam Tumilson' which was published in the Irish Democrat on 28th August 1937.

Interestingly, Paddy Roe himself was reported killed in action. The full obituary can be read in Michael O'Riordan's book, 'Connolly Column: The Story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1926-1939.' The actual obituary appeared in the column 'Trailing the Gael' in the December 18th, 1937 issue of the 'Irish World and American Industrial Liberator.' Although the Catholic Church would have viewed those Irish men who had gone to Spain to fight against Franco as being on the 'wrong side of the fence,' the local Parish Priest Fr. Sherrin, along with parishioners in the old church of St John's Ballinacrea prayed for him in light of his reported death.

Paddy Roe was also a close associate of Father Michael O'Flanagan who championed the Spanish Republican cause. It is believed that Fr. O'Flanagan was no stranger to the north west of Ireland and visited the Inishowen Peninsula on a number of occasions, particularly the area of Moville and surrounding districts.

After the war many volunteers returned home to a mixed reception. Unemployment was still high in Ireland and subsequently, many stayed in England. Nonetheless, his political interests continued. He was a founder member of the Connolly Association in England, one of those who attended the meeting on September 4th 1939, at the Engineers Hall, Doughty Street, Liverpool.

In 1938 he married Kathleen Walsh, the fiancée of Liam Tumilson who had been killed in action. Kathleen was from Liverpool where she spent time in jail for anti-fascist activities.

By the 1940's with the outbreak of the Second World War many joined the British Forces. Paddy O'Daire from Glenties who fought on the republican side became an accomplished soldier and despite his politics, rose to the rank of Major in the British army during World War II. In the case of Paddy Roe he became a RAF mechanic and gained his pilot's licence and logbook flying Spitfires and Hurricanes. Years later he also was employed at the Dounreay nuclear power station in North Scotland as a pipe fitter; the occupation he followed to his retirement despite having his right hand crushed in a work accident about 1949.

Both Paddy Roe and Kathleen were members of the Communist Party. It is believed he joined the Communist Party while working in the USA. Like many active members of the Communist Party during this period Kathleen left the Party disillusioned by the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 while Paddy Roe remained a member.

Paddy Roe's last visit to Ireland was in the 1973. The latter part of their lives was spent living in Liverpool where Paddy Roe died in 1974 followed by Kathleen in 1998. The following tribute to Paddy Roe appeared in the Irish Democrat, November 1974: 'This bare narrative gives no conception of the romantic events which seemed to surround him at all times. He could keep listeners enthralled for hours, drawing upon his well-stocked and retentive memory…. With the passing of Patrick Roe McLaughlin, the Irish community has lost one of its most colourful and attractive characters. Born in (Lecamey,) Moville, East Donegal, he lived a life of incredible adventure. It would be difficult to count the number of armies he was in. He fought in the Tan and Civil War under Peadar O'Donnell's brother, Francis. After the defeat of the Republicans he emigrated to the United States, where he was associated with the James Connolly clubs, and their publication The Fenian.'

Why did Paddy Roe McLaughlin go to Spain and become a member of the International Brigade?

Apart from his short primary schooling Paddy Roe was essentially self-educated. This was an accomplishment for its time. He was a fluent Irish speaker and had a clear sense of his own historical location and of his destiny. His politics were ideology driven; this is evident in his political activities and his associates which included the internationally acclaimed Irish writer Sean O'Casey. Broadly, his politics could be described as 'Republican Socialist.'

Although initially an Italian phenomenon, Europe in the 1930's witnessed a surge in Fascism. For individuals like Paddy Roe the call to go to Spain would have been the first opportunity, as they saw it, to stem the raise of Fascism. Those associated with the Republican Congress or the broad 'labour movement' would have been a natural pool to draw from and join the International Brigade, whereas the 700 or so Irish volunteers who were led by General Eoin O'Duffy (Blueshirts) to support Franco's Nationalist Army were inspired by religious ideas and in defence of the Catholic Church. Paddy Roe and his 250 or so Irish comrades went to Spain in the belief that they were stopping the spread of Fascism.

As part of the Peadar O'Donnell weekend the Spanish Civil War exhibition runs from Friday 20th October to Friday 27th October at Ionad Teampall Croine, Dungloe, Co. Donegal. (074 9522198)

For additional information on volunteers from the North West look for 'No Pasaran - North West Spanish Civil War Project.'

For more information/comments or if you can add any further information, no matter how insignificant you think it may seem, please don't hesitate to contact:

Gerard Duddy

Branch Librarian

Moville Library

074 93 85110