The late Paddy McAllister – IRA volunteer, veteran of the Spanish Civil War, and member of the Workers’ Party

Look Left, Issue 2 [November-December 2006], Mickey McCorry, a Workers’ Party magazine.

The Workers’ Party is proud of its internationalist tradition. It is, therefore, fitting that we should today honour and commemorate the life and struggle of our deceased comrade, Paddy McAllister, who travelled to Spain to fight for freedom and democracy against fascism. 70 years ago Spain became the centre of the struggle between fascism and democracy as rebel army generals led by Franco conspired to overthrow the democratic Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic.

It soon became clear that Spain was to be an experiment for the international fascist movement. The fascists in Spain, morally and materially supported by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and right-wing and reactionary forces, received massive assistance from the Nazis and Mussolini’s fascist Italy. While the fascist dictatorships poured resources into the struggle against Republican Spain the bourgeois democracies of Europe stood idly by, ignoring the emerging threat, some indeed hoping for the demise of the Spanish Republic.

A beleaguered Spanish Government cried out for help and this call was answered by democrats and progressives from across the world – ordinary men who left their homes, families and domestic political struggles to go and fight for democracy, freedom and international solidarity. These volunteers arrived in Spain at a crucial time. They sustained immense casualties, often fighting with inadequate equipment. Nonetheless they fought gallantly against Franco’s fascists who were well supplied and sustained by the forces of European fascism.

Many of those who travelled to Spain to fight for the Spanish Republic were themselves refugees from fascism in Germany and Italy. They clearly recognised the nature of the enemy they faced. In Ireland too those men who joined the International Brigades were aware of the emerging threat.

Although the establishment press and reactionary political forces in Ireland stood out against the Spanish Republic many Irish people were keenly aware of the real battle which was being fought. For many Irish people the issues in Spain were clear. Speaking at a solidarity meeting on Spain in December 1936 Fr. Michael Flanagan stated: “The fight in Spain is a fight between the rich, privileged class as against the rank and file of the poor, oppressed people of Spain.” It was this realisation which led many Irish progressives – Socialists, Republicans and Communists to volunteer to fight for the Spanish Republic. Those persons who volunteered to fight in the International Brigades were amongst the best of their generation. The Irish who travelled to Spain were a demonstration of Ireland’s solidarity with the Spanish workers and peasants in the fight for freedom, democracy and social progress.

The main Irish contingent, along with hundreds of other volunteers, arrived in Spain in December 1936. They formed the James Connolly section of a company of the British and Irish Battalion, and after a couple of weeks training, they set off for the front on Christmas Eve 1936.

Paddy McAllister had a different route to Spain. Born in Lincoln Street in 1909 Paddy McAllister came through the Fianna to the IRA which he joined in 1926. Unemployment at home forced Paddy, like many others, to emigrate, in his case to Canada in 1928 and he worked in Canada for several years.

As the depression worsened in Canada Paddy McAllister became involved with the struggles of the unemployed in Vancouver at a time when Protestants and Catholics in Belfast were uniting in the same struggle.

Paddy was imprisoned twice in Canada as a result of his political activities. In those circumstances his socialist politics developed rapidly and in 1937 Paddy McAllister left for Spain with a group who intended to join the International Brigades.

They sailed from Vancouver to Dieppe and then they transferred to a train to Perpignan, where they waited to cross the Pyrenees to Spain. They walked for 12 hours across the mountains in a single file as they were smuggled into Spain. In Spain, on receipt of training, all those who had come from Canada were assigned to the recently formed Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion on the 15th International Brigade. This Battalion was named in honour of two Canadians involved in the 1837 revolt against the British in Canada. [Note by CC: This unit was actually established in July 1937 as the numbers of Canadians rose. Patsy would probably have initially been allocated to the American Lincoln Battalion.]

When the fascist offensive commenced on the Aragon front, the Canadian group moved up to the front. On their first day of action the group’s sergeant was killed and gradually the Republican forces were forced to retreat. Paddy McAllister had to dig in with his comrades along the banks of the River Ebro.

In July 1938 the Republican troops crossed the Ebro at night followed by the Canadian, British and American contingents of the 15th International Brigade. Initially the Ebro advance was successful with the Republicans gaining 270 square miles of territory in less than a week. Casualties were high. Jim Stranney, a member of the Ballymacarrett Unit if the IRA was killed at the battle of the Ebro. Jackie Patterson, a Protestant from Dee Street, was also killed. Stranney’s best friend, Lima Tumilson, had already been killed at the battle of Jarama. Sranney and Tumilson had been the workers who jointly carried the banner of the Belfast branch of the Republican Congress at Bodenstown in 1934. I have mentioned their denominations only to reinforce the point that the struggle for progress then as now was a class struggle which involved workers of all religions and none.

In March 1939 the fascists entered Madrid and by the end of that month nearly all of Spain was in fascist hands. The volunteers of the International Brigade who had survived the war and who were not imprisoned returned home.

Paddy McAllister, although wounded, survived. It was in hospital that he read of the decision of the Spanish Prime Minister to withdraw the International Brigades. Still recovering form his wounded, Paddy McAllister arrived back in Belfast on Christmas Eve 1938.

Paddy was not disheartened. He continued the struggle. He ramined active in political life and was involved in the civil rights movement and the Republican Clubs. He remained a member of the Workers’ Party until his death in 1997 at 88 years of age and he remained an internationalist. When interviewed towards the end of his life Paddy McAllister stated: “I went without tuppence and I went to fight fascism. And what’s more, I’d do it again tomorrow…”

Paddy McAllister, life-long socialist, comrade and Brigadista, we salute you.

Mickey McCorry, Chairperson of the Belfast region paid the above tribute. The Northern Ireland Executive are at present preparing the pamphlet No Pasaran, originally issued by the Party for the 40th Anniversary of the War against Fascism in Spain. It is hoped to have it on sale before the end of the year.

Note by CC: There is an extract from the 1977 pamphlet available elsewhere on this site, check out the small collection of articles about Patsy.