MAY DAY IN WATERFORD
On the Republic's first May Day Bank Holiday Waterford honoured its heroes of the Spanish Civil War on Sunday, 1st May, when a plaque bearing the names of the ten Waterford men who fought in the Connolly Column of the International Brigade was unveiled by Peter O'Connor, their last surviving member. The unveiling was preceded by a march, led by the Waterford City Pipe Band, following the route taken in 1938 by returning men of the Connolly Column, from the station along the Quay to Henrietta Street, where they had been entertained by ex-members of the Cumann na mBan and IRA.
Peter told the packed meeting, including relatives of his comrades, "The great lesson of Spain was the lesson of unity, where comrades of every religion, and of none, united in a common cause to defeat Franco fascism. We must strive for that unity today if we are to be successful in gaining the freedom of our country. I believe we cannot be successful in that task unless we join forces with the British working class. We must make common cause with our comrades across the water. Our enemy is not the British people but the system of British imperialism and monopoly capitalism which is the enemy of all peoples struggling to be free". Peter thanked his wife Biddy, a staunch Catholic, for standing by him "through all the vile propaganda about the reds in Spain burning churches, murdering priests and digging up the skeletons of nuns".
Other speakers included IB veteran Michael O'Riordan (a former General Secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland) who pointed out that two of the first Irishmen to be killed in Spain were a Protestant minister from Belfast (Rev. Bob Hilliard) and a Christian Brother (Eamon McGrotty. Mick O'Reilly, Republic of Ireland Secretary of the ATGWU and British IB veteran, Jack Jones, the former TGWU leader, sent greetings remembering the Power brothers in Spain.
The plaque, comprising two exquisite crystal plates mounted in oak, was designed and made by Tom Hayes of Waterford Crystal, the finest copper wheel engraver in the world and a former executive member of Waterford Council of Trade Unions which organised the event. The left-hand plate shows scenes of the Spanish Civil War and Waterford, while the right-hand one gives the names of the ten, headed by Maurice Quinlan who was killed at Jarama. It is mounted behind the top table in the ATGWU hall in Keyser Street.
The idea was prompted by the play "The Guernica Hotel" by local playwright Jim Nolan, which was well received when it was produced by Red Kettle Theatre Company in February at Waterford's Garter Lane Arts Centre. It concerns an International Brigader and Communist who has kept his faith in humanity in the despairing post-soviet era of triumphant capitalism.
Pausing in Henrietta Street, Jim Kelly of Waterford Council of Trade Unions told the marchers:
"The men who fought in Spain did not enlist against a background of popular support. They went against a backdrop of reaction and despair. The Irish anti-fascist fighters lucky enough to survive the carnage in Spain came home to an atmosphere poisoned by anti-communist hysteria and witch-hunting... With the re-emergence and rise of the neo-fascists throughout Europe we should remember the lessons of the 1930s. Fascism cannot be confined - it must be smashed wherever it raises its ugly head."Pauline Humphreys & Ken Keable, 4th May 1994, Published in The Irish Democrat.
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