Memories of my visit to Jarama, Oct. 1994

by Peter O'Connor

My wife Biddy and I flew out from Dublin Airport at 2.25pm, Thursday 6th October 1994. I was interviewed by Irish Times correspondent Peter Thompson and photographed by Paddy Whelan. I was also interviewed by an RTE television crew, who also photographed the Waterford Crystal vase (see article below).

When we arrived in Madrid we were met at the airport by Harry Owens from Dublin and his friend Juan Covan Rey, who drove us to Madrid and also the return journey to the airport. We were also met at the airport by Gervasio Poerta, President of the Political Ex-Prisoners of the Association of the International Brigades. He was the chief contact we had all the time we were in Madrid and the person to whom we entrusted the Waterford Crystal vase. He also arranged for our stay at the Hotel Metropole. On Friday 7th October we visited the Jarama Front. Bill Alexander (see below) described to us in detail the positions held by the fascists and the hills occupied by the Spanish Army and the International Brigades from Ireland, Britain, America, Poland, Germany, France, Greece and Yugoslavia.

Personally I could not recognise any of the positions Bill pointed out to us except the road which was known to us as the "Sunken Road", along which Frank Ryan and Jock Cunningham rallied the comrades of the Brigade and led them to the front, where our positions were stabilized.

On Saturday we returned to the village cemetery of Morata de Tajuna for the unveiling of the monument. As I was the only Irish survivor of those who fought on the Jarama Front, I had the honour of making the following speech:-

"I am proud and honoured to be here today at the unveiling of this long overdue monument erected to the memory of the comrades who paid the supreme sacrifice here on the battlefield of Jarama in the heroic defence of Madrid. To be here today brings back vivid memories of those days in 1937 when the heroic and gallant Army of Spain, ably assisted by the International Brigade, succeeded in keeping the road open to Madrid. From Ireland came the Connolly Column commanded by Captain Frank Ryan. Five of the ten men from my home city of Waterford took part in the battle of Jarama. They were Mossie Quinlan, Johnny Power and his brother Paddy, Jackie Hunt and myself. Mossie Quinlan made the supreme sacrifice and his body lies here among those we are commemorating today. The body of Charlie Donnelly, the poet and revolutionary from County Tyrone, lies here also. His death was a great loss to the struggle for freedom in Ireland. Nineteen Irishmen altogether gave their young lives here in Jarama. Special recognition is due to the comrade who rediscovered "El Osuario Del Jarama". That man is Francois Mazou, who is present here with us today. I was 24 years old when I fought here in Jarama. When the vile creed of fascism is again raising its ugly head it is vital for the young people of today to learn the lesson taught in Spain - the great lesson of unity, where anti-fascists of every nation, of every religion and of none, united in a common cause to defeat Franco fascism. We need that unity more than ever today, when fascism is on the rise all over the world. We must again say "Never!" to racism and fascism. No pasaran! Salud!"

The monument consists of a large white marble slab, set in the wall of the cemetery, with the following inscription:-

"To the memory of the fallen heroes of Jarama who made the supreme sacrifice in the defence of Madrid and succeeded in keeping open the road to Valencia, 1936-39. No Pasaran"

Other comrades from the Veterans of the Spanish Army and Brigaders from Britain, Poland and France also spoke.

After the ceremony at the graveyard we were entertained with a lavish banquet and, later, in another hall, with Spanish songs and dances.

Later again the same evening I presented the beautiful crystal vase on behalf of the 11/15 Branch of the ATGWU at the Waterford Crystal factory to Gervasio Puerta, President of the Political Ex-Prisoners of the Association of the International Brigaders. He told us that the vase will be exibited in the hall used jointly by the three organisations of: Political Prisoners, Republican Army Veterans, and International Brigaders' Association. This information was received with great satisfaction and applause.

Among the comrades whom I met in Madrid were:-

  • General Enrico Lister, a General in the Army of the Spanish Republic, who took a leading part in all the battles fought in Spain on behalf of the Spanish Republic.
  • Jack Bjoze, Abraham Lincoln Battalion, 140 Riverside Drive, New York City 10024 USA. Jack was the only one from the USA - due to the short notice they had no time to organise a larger contingent.
  • Amaja Ibaruri, daughter of Dolores Ibaruri (La Pasionaria).
  • Elmund Marciniak, a Polish correspondent from Warsaw, who was also in the International Brigade, Dombrovsky Battalion
  • Michael O'Riordan, Chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland.
  • Bob Doyle from Dublin, at present living in London.
  • Gervasio Poerta, President of the Political Ex-Prisoners of the Association of the International Brigades.
  • Francois Mazou, who discovered "El Osuario Del Jarama".
  • Maurice Levitas, from London.
  • Sadie and Fred Thomas, from Shenfield, Essex. England.
  • Harry Owens from Dublin and his friend from Madrid, Juan Covar Rey.
  • Manus O'Riordan and his friend who travelled on the plane from Dublin to Madrid with Biddy and myself.
  • Joe Garber from Wembley, Middlesex, London.
  • Frank Graham from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, author of the Fifteenth Brigade Book.
  • Dr Robert S Saxton, from West Sussex, England.
  • Bill Alexander from London, Secretary of the International Brigade Association.
  • Ken Crome, also from London, and Chairman of the IBA.
  • Pat Leppard from London, friend of Fred and Nora O'Shea.
  • Pauline and John Longstaff from Middlesborough, England.
  • Alison Kelly, from the Irish Embassy in Madrid. The Irish and Cuban Governments were the only governments which sent a representative to participate in the proceedings.

In conclusion I would like to say that I was very pleased in being present at these proceedings to honour the men who died at Jarama.

Peter O'Connor