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- - - EMBARGOED UNTIL 8TH OCTOBER 1994 - - -

SPEECH AT UNVEILING OF THE JARAMA MONUMENT - PETER O'CONNOR

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 gallant Army of Spain, ably assisted by the International Brigade, kept the road open to Madrid.

From Ireland came the Connolly Column, commanded by Captain Frank Ryan. When the Republican forces were in retreat at Jarama, it was the gallant leadership of Frank Ryan, and Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion, which regained all the positions lost in the retreat. These two men marched up the road towards the front, singing "The Internationale", picking up stragglers on the way who gained new life at the sight of their leaders at the head of the column.

Five men from my home city of Waterford took part in the Battle of Jarama - Mossie Quinlan, who made the supreme sacrifice; Jackie Hunt and Johnny Power who were wounded; Johnny's brother Paddy Power; and myself.

Some of those Irishmen who died here at Jarama were personal friends of mine:-

  • Mossie Quinlan of Waterford, whom I've already mentioned.
  • Charlie Donnelly from Co. Tyrone, a poet and revolutionary, whose body I helped to carry down from the hillside. His death was a great loss to the Irish revolutionary movement.
  • The Rev. R M Hilliard from Killarney.
  • Eamon McGrotty, an ex-Christian Brother, from Derry.
  • Hugh Bonar from Co. Donegal, our Assistant Section Leader, who was killed by my side. We had been together all day during the attack and he died instantly with an explosive bullet in his head. Bonar was admired by everyone who knew him for his quietness, his courage, and his coolness in battle, and his death was a great blow to me. It was a great honour to me when I was chosen to take his place as Assistant Section Leader.
  • Bill Henry, a Protestant working-class comrade from Belfast, who by his coolness during our first heavy artillery bombardment when moving towards the front, gave us great encouragement to withstand the ordeal. He was an ex-British soldier who had fought in the First World War.
  • Dick O'Neill from Belfast.
  • Thomas O'Brien from Dublin,
  • and Liam Tumilson, a Belfast Protestant, who was killed quite near me.

I'd like to mention, among the wounded were: Marty Hourihan, our Battalion Commander, and some Irish-Americans:- like Paul Burns our Company Commander, and the three O'Flaherty brothers, Charlie, Frank and Eddie, all from Boston. They all distinguished themselves in the Battle of Jarama.

I truly believe that if fascism had been defeated in Spain, and if France, Britain and America had supported the legally elected government at the time, then the Second World War would probably never have happened, thereby saving millions of lives.

The great lesson of Spain was the 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 this unity more than ever today, when fascism is on the rise all over the world, even in Germany.

I was 24 years old when I fought here at Jarama. Today, when the vile creed of fascism is again raising its ugly head, it is vital for the young people to learn the lesson of history and to say again to racism and fascism - "No pasaran!".

Salud!





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