Peter O'Connor's speech at the unveiling of the 1994 Waterford Memorial Plaque

Speech made by Peter O'Connor when unveiling the plaque in memory of the ten Waterford men of the Connolly Column, at the ATGWU Hall, Keyser St, Waterford, 1st May 1994.

I am very pleased to be here to-day on this historic May-Day of 1994, and to have lived to see my comrades and myself, all members of the Connolly Column, International Brigade, vindicated in the eyes of the Waterford Council of Trade Unions, and the people of Waterford in particular.

Looking back over the past 58 years, a meeting was held in support of the Christian Front in the central technical institute in Parnell Street. The meeting was chaired by archdeacon Killeher, and many trade unionists attended including Dan Foley, President of the workers' council, Charles O'Rourke, secretary, Thomas Gallagher, Edward O'Connor - no relation of mine I hasten to add - Peter Millea, Michael Coffey and John Conway. Reaction was very strong at the time and many people had not the moral courage to stand up against it. My brother Francis told me that in passing Ballybricken where an O'Duffy rally of the Christian Front was being held, he was nearly lynched because he would not raise his arms in the Christian Front salute. I mention those few points to show the atmosphere that existed not alone in Waterford but throughout the country at the time of the Spanish War, and the obstacles that we and our few supporters had to endure and overcome.

I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my wife Biddy who stood by my side through all the turmoil of the thirties. I know it was not easy for her, being a devout catholic. She stood up to all the pressure put upon her during those years. Through all the vile propaganda about the reds in Spain burning Churches, murdering priests and digging up the skeletons of nuns and dragging them through the streets of Madrid. Through all that vile propaganda she never left me for which I am truly grateful, and thank her most sincerely.

How things have changed and how to-day the Waterford Council of Trades Unions are the sponsors of the historic walk from the Railway station, and the unveiling of this beautiful plaque designed and made by that craftsman supreme, Tom Hayes. It is placed here in this trade union hall to honour the part played by the ten Waterford men who went to Spain to take their place in the Connolly Column of the international brigade under the leadership of the gallant and glorious leader Frank Ryan, and to fight side by side with the Spanish people in defence of their elected government and against the fascist forces of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini.

I must mention here the march from the railway station which we are commemorating here also. When the international brigade was disbanded in 1938 we thought it our duty to welcome home captain Johnny power, Jackie Hunt and John O'Shea, so about twenty of us met them from the Dublin train. We formed into line, marched across the bridge, along the quay and turned into Henrietta Street to the old Cathal Brugha Sinn Fein hall where about fifty people gave them an enthusiastic reception. A party of tea, cakes and sandwiches had been prepared by ex-members of the Cumann na Mbann and IRA.

The great lesson of Spain was the lesson of unity, where anti-fascists of every nation, 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.

In conclusion I would like to say that you have to believe in something - in a cause that will make the world a better place, or you have wasted your life. We of the Connolly Column, International brigade, under the leadership of Frank Ryan our great commander, saw in Spain 1936-39 our chance to make a stand for our fellow human beings. I personally will never forget or regret that part of my life. I am sure I can say the same of all the comrades who went to Spain from Waterford and for all the members of the Connolly Column.

Thank you again for giving me this opportunity of unveiling this Plaque in their memory.

Peter O'Connor, May Day 1994.

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