[Note by C Crossey:- This is probably stored in the wrong part of this site, it's an article ABOUT Patsy, not an obituary piece. Still, well worth reading. Patsy died in Belfast on 16th September 1997 and his ashes were later scattered in Spain. He is marked on the memorial of the Workers Party in Belfast's Milltown cemetary.]

One who came back...PADDY MacALLISTER

This extract is from a pamphlet produced by the Belfast Executive of the Republican Clubs in 1977. The Republican Clubs are now known as the Workers Party. The pamphlet is called, "No Pasaran! The story of Irish volunteers who served with the International Brigades in defending the Spanish Republic against International Fascism 1936-1938".

One volunteer who did survive and return to Ireland, was Paddy MacAllister, from the Lower Falls in Belfast. Paddy still lives there and vividly remembers his experiences in Spain. Born in 1909 in Lincoln Street, he came through the Fianna to the IRA which he joined in l926. But unemployment at home forced him to emigrate to Canada in 1928, and there he worked at a variety of jobs, for several years, Then in the thirties as the depression worsened in Canada, Paddy MacAllister became involved with the relief-strikes of the unemployed in Vancouver, at a time when Protestants and Catholics in Belfast were uniting in the same fight, For these activities, Paddy was jailed twice in Canada, ending up doing three months in the county jail. In these circumstances, his socialist politics developed rapidly, and in 1937, MacAllister left for Spain, along with a group who intended joining the Inter-national Brigades.

They sailed from Vancouver to Dieppe, and then transferred by train to Perpignan, where they waited to cross the Pyrenees in to Spain, Setting off at 8.00 at night, they walked for around 12 hours across the mountains, Paddy remembers particularly that they weren’t allowed to smoke or talk, and had to walk in single file as they were smuggled across the mountain border from France into Spain. Remembering the long climb, he says. "Every peak I saw, I thought was the last one, but there always seemed to be another in front, higher than before",

Finally the volunteers arrived at a training-base in Figueras, where they were issued with a uniform of sorts. All those who had come from Canada were assigned to the recently formed Mac Kenzie-Papineau Battalion of the 15th International Brigade, The Battalion was named in honour of two Canadians involved in the 1837 revolt against the British Government in Canada, The new recruits spent a couple of months at Figueras, where they were trained in weaponry drilling and fieldcraft. Paddy remembers that the weapons-instructor was a Russian soldier, who trained them on Soviet rifles and machine-guns, while the Political Commissar at the base was an Irishman, Jackie Powers from Waterford, whose job was to look after the welfare of the men, and to ensure that they understood the political relevance of their actions, Thus every unit in the Brigades had a political commissar attached, who held equal rank with the unit 0/c, At Figueras, one of the training sergeants was Paddy 0’ Sullivan, who had served in the Irish "Free State" Army, and who was later to be killed in the Sierra Pandols, towards the end of the war. MacAllister remembers him as "a real professional".

When the Fascist offensive started on the Aragon front on the 9th March 1938, the Canadian group were moved up, Paddy remembers that they were driven backwards and forwards across the country by lorry several times, "probably to give the Fascist spotter-planes the idea that there were more Republican re-enforcement's than there actually were", On the first day of action, their sergeant was killed by a bullet in the head, Gradually the Republican troops were forced to retreat, and the contingent MacAllister was with ended up "digging in", along the banks of the Ebro river, where they stayed until July, During that month, the major Ebro offensive was launched by the Republican Army, and Paddy remembers crossing the river in a flotilla of small boats. As the Republicans advanced, at first they encountered little resistance, and they captured numerous Fascist soldiers. During the advance, however, a bomb hit a vine-yard beside the group, and although Paddy MacAllister wasn't wounded, five others near him were killed instantly, Among the casualties was Jackie Patterson, a Protestant from Dee Street on the Newtonards Road, Belfast, MacAllister had first met him when both men were active on the relief committees in Canada, Paddy also remembers meeting Jim Straney from Ballymacarret who had been in the local IRA unit, and who was then with a different battalion in the 15th Brigade, Straney had only recently arrived in Spain, and MacAllister remembers having a long talk about home. Jim Straney was killed in action the next day.

In general, Paddy recalls, their equipment "wasn't great", and for example, the rifles they had tended to over-heat after a short time firing Just before he left Spain, a new shipment of Czech weapons arrived, which Paddy considered to be "very neat" and which he regrets he never got the chance to use in action. The men at the front got the best of the food that was available, but Paddy remembers a diet of "beans, beans and more beans", and because the local water was disease-laden, the volunteers had to slake their thirst with local wine, which "wasn't bad, but doesn't compare with Guinness". Then on the retreat from the Ebro, Paddy and his group had nothing to eat for several days, and he still remembers a hastily-roasted leg of rabbit, presented to him by a French officer in the Brigades," as the nicest thing I';ve ever tasted,"

As the advance continued, there was a major battle in the Gandesa area, and in the end the Republican offensive was turned into a Republican rout, many of MacAllisters'; comrades were slaughtered, and he himself was cut off in a small gully in the Sierra del Caballs with several others. As they attempted to get away, MacAllister was hit three times, and although two of the hits were spent bullets and only stunned him, the third hit him in the arm, It was two days before he could get hospital treatment, and during that time, part of the bullet was sticking out of his arm. When he was finally admitted to hospital, Paddy read of the decision to recall the International Brigades, and thus, still recovering from his wound, he arrived in Belfast on Christmas Eve, 1938.

Today, he looks back on his experience in Spain all those years ago, and he says. "I don't regret it. I'd go again, but I'd be better prepared". His most prized possession is his Brigade identity card, which details his service. Nowadays, in retirement after 23 years in Belfast shipyards, he is a firm supporter of the civil rights movement, and recall that in the days when the barricades went up in the Lower Falls in 1969, he did his stint as a vigilante like everybody else, Certainly the British Army take no chances with the 68 year old veteran of Spain, he has been interviewed by them several times since the start of the troubles. And as Paddy says;"The fight is the same today as it was in the thirties's a class struggle. Religion shouldn't come into it".

There is one other article about Patsy, an interview in New Hibernia magazine, 1986.

Material on other Irish volunteers can be found here