Corrected notes from the discussion between
Mick O'Riordan with Ciaran Crossey and J.Quinn
1. The difficulties of compiling his list of volunteers.
Dublin 21st September 2001.
In his book, the Connolly Column, he had drawn together a list of the men who'd been in Spain. This list was drawn up from consultation from a number of the volunteers. The problems in compiling the list included the fact that immediately after the SCW he was interned with 2 other International Brigade members, Paddy Smith and John Power. While he was interned World War 2 was raging and the men were scattered everywhere.
Eventually O'Riordan was released and went back to Cork where he was active in the Labour Party and as chairman/secretary of the busman's section of the Irish Transport and General workers Union (ITGWU). Given all these reasons it was hard to maintain contact with some of the volunteers but he was persuaded to try after talking to Donal O'Reilly.
O'Reilly wanted a list of the volunteers in Spain because of the rumours and distortions as to who had been out there. O'Reilly's own background was that his father and three brothers had been in the GPO in the 1916 Rebellion, as was Donal, though briefly. He was discovered to be very young and Tom Clarke, one of the veteran leaders of the rebellion, belted him about the ear and sent him home. O'Reilly said 'get the names together' to give the honest record.
Michael stressed that the confusion of the time, the loss of records and the passing of time meant that he had never claimed that his list was complete. The two recent books by McGarry and Stradling had both added new names and details about the volunteers.
2. Date of birth.
Michael confirmed that his date of birth was November 12th 1917, five days after the western date of the Russian revolution. He told us that he'd actually been born premature and put it down to the fact that the boom of the battleships in St. Petersburg scared his mother, so he was actually born to the echoes of the revolution!
There were 2 important birthdays for him. On his fiftieth he went out to Moscow for the Anniversary of the Revolution and was able to meet up with some of the Soviet veterans of the SCW who he'd initially met in Spain.
On his 72nd birthday, 1989, La Passionaria, Dolores Ibarruri died. He went out to Madrid for the funeral (as did Bob Doyle). The crowd was so big that at one point the milling crowds meant that the coffin was lost control of and actually 'floated above' the crowd! The papers on the day of her funeral were full of reports of this leading communist's funeral, with a priest on the platform, and the murder in Peru of 5 Jesuits by a CIA linked group.
3. Why did he go to Spain? How did he get there?
He had been an early reader and when he read Connolly's Labour in Irish History that had made a big impression on him, he became a socialist republican. His family was from a Gaeltacht area of West Cork, an area active in the Land War.
Marsh's O'Riordan had joined the Fianna and was active in the early 1930's against the Blueshirts. In 1934 there was a battle at Yard in Cork when there was a mass gathering of Blueshirts which was opposed by both the republican movement and the security forces, the Broy Harriers. It was de Valera's Harriers who actually shot the Blueshirt.
Cork, a very pious area was nicknamed the rebel county, but this was nothing to do with Irish republicanism. It dates from the period of the English War of the Roses when the Cork gentry backed the losing side. In a continuation of this, the wealthy people of Kinsale supported the Blueshirts, including one priest, Fr. O'Neil, derogatorily referred to by both Fianna Fáilers and Republicans as Fr. F**k!
Given his involvement with the communist party and his support for Spain, he had been planning to go out to Spain in 1937. He was a local organiser in cork, the 'contact man with the CP in Dublin'. In April, just before he was to go he went down with appendicitis, a serious condition then, and was hospitalised for 4 weeks before being released to recover. Obviously he was then unable to travel, but was determined to go. He felt committed to go because he'd volunteered in 1937 but hadn't gone and the Spanish people needed all the help they could get.
In 1938 he again helped organise the trip and went out with Jim Regan (later jailed for 20 years for the UK bombing campaign of the IRA.) Another potential volunteer was Terry O'Connell who was rejected because of his poor feet. O'Riordan was 20 years old and borrowed O'Connell's papers [what papers? does this mean he was vetted inside Ireland? I thought this happened in London or France?].
One of the difficulties of going to Spain at this period was the fact that it had become illegal to go after February 1937, so a lot of the arrangements were hidden from the authorities.
Yet again Michael was unlucky in his travel arrangements. He missed the train to Dublin from Cork but was still determined to make the connection. To do this he got a bus to Limerick and a train from there to Dublin where he met up with the Sean Murray (the General Secretary of the CPI) and Bill Scott (who was back from Spain), the organisers of the Irish group, who demanded to know what kept him.
From Dublin he travelled to Liverpool, where he briefly lodged with a Spanish family, and then onto London. In London he met up with 4 other volunteers, one London man and three Scots. Travel arrangements were again difficult and O'Riordan travelled on a weekend pass belonging to an Englishman called John Smith. The group arrived in Paris on the eve of May Day 1938.
He went to the recruiting office in the Rue de Combat! At the office he was interviewed and asked as to why he wanted to go. It was stressed that no adventurers were wanted and that there were going to be hardships. O'Riordan's reply was that he sympathised with the Spanish Republic and also wanted to go to defend the honour of Ireland after the dishonour caused by O'Duffy's squad. After the interview the organisers brought the various volunteers together and brought three 'very badly wounded French comrades in to try to show the brutality of the war and the conditions they'd face.' At this point the recruiting officers offered the men one last chance to withdraw with honour, and three of them did.
From Paris the group of 20 volunteers (he was the only Irish volunteer) moved towards the Pyrenees border on a small bus. At a farmhouse they were met by a Spanish guide who, despite the patrols by French police and military, was able to get them over. The trip over the mountains took 12 hours where the men had to hold onto the man in front to move in the dark. The mountain passes were dangerous and men in other delegations had fallen to their death. The trip was so arduous that he fell asleep as soon as he was safely into Spain. Once in Spain they moved to Figueras where they were put up in an old monastery. Even at this stage he saw a lot of poverty in the country.
4. Bill Scott
Bill Scott was the first Irish volunteer to go to Spain. He went out in September 1936 and fought in the Battle of Madrid. He worked as a bricklayer, in fact his family are still bricklayers today.
On November 6th 1936 the International Brigade went into Madrid and Scott was with the Thaelmann Battalion, named after the leader of the German communists. Tommy Patten, the first Irish death, actually died before most of the Irish went out.
O'Riordan expressed an interest in military science and after his arrival in Spain was linked with the British battalion on May 2nd. He was sent to the cabo (corporal) training school where the instructor was Russian. His instructions were translated into English by a Russian/Canadian volunteer.
6. Christian Front
The Irish Christian Front was made up of 'all the failed politicians like Patrick Belton, TD. Peadar O'Donnell described him as being in so many parties, he'd been expelled from Fianna Fail and Fine Gael that he ended up in the ICF.' The Front collected money that was never traced. Belton had become very wealthy. His son was later Lord Mayor of Dublin. The son ended up losing the family wealth in Britain. There is also a granddaughter, Fine Gael MEP, Avril Doyle.
The ICF was started with mainly lay speakers, but there were a few priests on their platforms. The priests wore Blue Sashes, in order to show their sympathy, over their clerical clothes as they were not allowed into uniform. There was wide spread hysteria with calls for the 'crossed armed salute' accompanied with chants of 'Long Live Christ the King.' It was shortly after one such mass demonstration in Cork (its photograph forms the cover of McGarry's book) that O'Riordan decided to join the International Brigade.
7. Hill 481
The last major engagement of the Spanish Civil War was the battle of the Ebro. Earlier in 1938 the republican forces had been driven back across the river and in July 1938 they prepared a counter attack.
In the Chabola valley the shelter was made from tree branches and leave. The troops crossed in a surprise attack and they moved forward up to Gandesa where they were stalled at Hill 481, also known as 'The Pimple.' 'The Republican troops didn't have a chance, we had no planes or artillery.' Eventually the troops were driven back. In the last stages of the battle O'Riordan was hit in his back by shrapnel by a mortar that landed behind him. He was able to crawl back to safety.
The International Brigade withdrew from Hill 481 to Sierra Cabals where the last two Irishmen died. They were Jack Nalty, a famous cross-country/mountain runner. He'd been in the Communist Party and the IRA. Nalty was one of the men who'd been in Spain and was wounded. After recovering from his wounds in Ireland he had volunteered again to go back to Spain. 'The only brave men are those who went back twice, they knew the horrors of war.'
The other Irish volunteer who died at the last stages of the war was Liam McGregor. His people were Scottish but his mother was a Dublin Communist Party member. (His father had been killed in the First World War). He had been at the Lenin School in Moscow before returning to Ireland and then onto Spain.
8. Hospital treatment.
The shrapnel was removed using forceps. There was no anaesthetic available so the only help was a kid's thing, a piece of string with wood that was placed in your mouth. Michael said that 'he chewed half the wood away during the operation.'
Mataró hospital, the International Brigade hospital, was based in an ex-monastery. In a trip to Spain in 2000 O'Riordan looked again for this hospital and couldn't find it. It was a Marist Brothers Teaching College. His abiding memories of his period in the hospital was 'the horrible smell. He only had one bandage for his spell in the wards, the horrible festering smell.'
9. Other volunteers and politics.
Jim Stranney was killed at the Ebro but O'Riordan didn't actually know where. His friend Liam Tumilson had already been killed at Jarama. Straney and Tumilson had been the Catholic and Protestant workers who jointly carried the Banner of the Belfast branch of the Republican Congress in Bodenstown in 1934. Of the Irish volunteers over 60 died in Spain.
The first batch of men killed were at Cordoba. Tommy Woods, a 17-year-old died there. His family had a history of political action. His uncle Patrick Doyle was executed by the British in Mountjoy Jail in March 1921 and buried in a common grave with Kevin Barry. He was among the executed Republicans reburied with full State honours in Glasnevin in October 2001. Patrick's brother Seán Doyle was also killed during the War of Independence, during the IRA attack on Dublin's Custom House in May 1921. On Tommy Woods age - he was a very early volunteer and an age limit was brought in during 1937 that all volunteers had to be over 21.
In Spain there was a general position that they didn't take a party label, everyone tended to call themselves 'anti-fascist.' Most of the men were politically active, mainly in the Communist Party or in the Republican Congress, or both. While many men in all the International Brigades were Communists there was no CP organisation in the Brigades. There were a number of prominent non-Communists in the Brigades. Lewis Clive, a Labour Party councillor in England died at Hill 481. He was in fact a direct descendent of Clive of India and so was in a unique position that an obituary for him was carried in both the Times of London and the Daily Worker! Clement Broadbent, another LP councillor also died at the Hill while Jack Jones, a Liverpool LP activist went onto lead the TGWU in Britain.
When Jones was opening a memorial room to the International Brigades in Transport House in London two of those present were Frank Deegan, a Liverpool docker who was originally from Portlaoise, and Michael O'Riordan.
The Irish CP suffered big losses in the War. One of the dead was Kit Conway, who had been in the Tipperary Flying Column and went to America after the Civil War. He'd been briefly in the Free State forces before deciding to move over to the republican side. He did this and took some machine guns and belts of ammunition with him. After the Irish Civil War he migrated to America where he joined the National Guard 'to keep his hand in.'
Of the other names on the list supplied to him for this interview, O'Riordan said that he had no further information on Bill Davis. On J Bourke he'd really no further information but he had met him at the Achill Memorial for Patten and after that Bourke had died in an Old Peoples Home in Dublin. Bourke was Liverpool Irish and 'they were responsible for the split with the British in the Brigades.' Both Peter O'Connor and Charlie Donnelly disagreed with the split in the IB forces.
No Further information on Jefford, Kenny or Henry Bonar.
Maurice Ryan was in one unit while O'Riordan was in another, so he didn't have much on him. Specifically on the story about Ryan having been in charge of the IRA unit at Bodenstown, 1934, which took down the Republican Congress banners, O'Riordan thought this was wrong. MoR didn't think that Maurice Ryan had anything to do with the IRA. Some may have confused his name with the Tipperary IRA leader Mattie Ryan whom Sean Cronin names for that incident in his Frank Ryan biography.
Hugh Hunter. In 1945 O'Riordan attended a Communist Party convention in Belfast where he met Hugh Hunter, another Spanish veteran who was active in the Belfast CP. Neither O'Riordan nor Hugh Hunter ever knew anything about Patsy McAlister who was later associated with the Workers Party. McAlister apparently came back to Ireland at the same time as O'Riordan, December 1938. It seems he was with the Canadian Battalion rather than the Americans or British and their paths never crossed.
Hugh Hunter had 'a very bad speech impediment. In fact it was so bad that I'm surprised that he was allowed to go.' The IB volunteers were paid 10 pesetas a day, a nominal amount, while in the country and Hunter saved his to send it back to Belfast!
Terry Flanagan. He did end up in the Free State Army, but he wasn't the only republican to do so. Tom Barry very briefly joined them also during the Second World War 'Emergency'. Even O'Riordan himself was offered a commission after the Spanish Civil War. This post was offered by a senior member of Fianna Fail, and was obviously refused. One reason for the offer was his military experience in Spain.
Flanagan was a Lieutenant at the Curragh. There were four watchtowers with one more at the gates. Every day there was a change of the guard and on one day MoR was watching them when he noticed 'that Flanagan was walking in front of the guard with his sword'. His daughter is the well-known actress Finnuala Flanagan ("Some Mother's Son" and other movies).
As another detail Michael said that there were big rows among the internees about the politics of World War 2.
Nathan. He had a very good reputation as a solider and a leader of men.
Bill Gannon. He had been in New Zealand for years and was responsible for organising the volunteers in Ireland. He got a big military funeral from the Free State forces and may not have gone to Spain because he was too old.
10. Women in the War.
A female medic was Dr. C Lynch, as mentioned in Gustav Klaus's book on Tom O'Brien. MoR didn't know of any other Irish women involved directly with the war, although there were a number of women active in the solidarity movement back in Ireland.
John de Courcey Ireland - an expert on seafaring. He is now President of Irish CND. There was an obituary for his wife recently in which it claimed that she was in Spain, [Check this out.] something MoR didn't know about. His son Manus had been told by John Ireland that his wife Betty had been a member of a solidarity delegation to Barcelona.
Other material on Mick is available here.