Waterford News & Star 16th July 2004

City salutes its Spanish Civil War heroes

THE courage and idealism of eleven Waterford men who fought the march of Fascism in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s will now be remembered by future generations thanks to a new memorial in their honour close to City Hall.

The unveiling of the eight tonne Spanish granite monument in front of the City Engineer’s Office on The Mall was attended by an estimated 400 relatives, friends, trade union leaders, politicians and admirers last Friday evening.

None of the 11 Waterford members of the International Brigade that fought against General Franco in that bitterly divisive civil war between 1936 and 1938 are still alive, but several International Brigade veterans attended the ceremony.

Two of the veterans, Cork man Michael O’Riordan, aged 87, and 91 year-old Jack James Larkin Jones, the renowned leader of Britain’s Transport and General Workers Union during the 1970s, performed the official unveiling of the memorial. Red roses, each representing one of the volunteers, were laid at the memorial.

Dubliners musician and singer Ronnie Drew was among the well-known figures at the event.

He performed at a packed social night in the Granville Hotel after the ceremony as did former SIPTU leader Des Geraghty, who is an accomplished traditional flute musician. He was among a number of prominent former and current trade union leaders who attended the unveiling.

Anthems and music from the Spanish Civil War were performed during the ceremony and a lone piper Tom Casey, son-in-law and close friend of the late Peter O’Connor performed The Minstrel Boy. Mr Casey also performed a moving rendition of a song he composed about Peter O’Connor in the Granville later that night. The memorial, crafted by Wexford sculptor Michael Warren, features the inscription “No Pasaran” (They Shall Not Pass), which was the rallying cry of the Spanish republican forces during the civil war.

At its foot lies a plaque on which are inscribed the names of the 11 Waterford men, who were among 145 Irish men who fought in defence of the Spanish republic. Their names are: Frank Edwards and Johnny Kelly from Barrack St., Waterford; Jackie Hunt, New St., Waterford; Harry Kennedy, Cooke St., Waterford; Jackie Lemon, Olaf St., Waterford; Peter O’Connor, Poleberry and Parnell St., Waterford; John O’Shea, Kilmeaden; brothers Johnny, Paddy and Willie Power from Newtown, Waterford and Mossie Quinlan, South Parade, Waterford. One member of the group died on the killing fields of Spain, Mossie Quinlan. He lost his life in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, which he fought in with five other Waterford International Brigaders.

Playwright Jim Nolan, Chairman of the Friends and Relatives of Waterford International Brigaders Committee, said the memorial was designed to serve as a lasting tribute to men, who were scorned and despised by so many when they left for Spain but whose heroism and self sacrifice was now being reclaimed and celebrated in their native place.

Veteran Michael O’Riordan said the occasion would go down in memory as a proud day when these men and their families were remembered by their comrades and by the people of Waterford. He spoke passionately of the ostracism and opposition the volunteers had faced from the Catholic Church and many people in Waterford and the rest of Ireland in the 1930s.

He recalled how one member of the Waterford group, Frank Edwards had been sacked from his job as a teacher in Waterford because of his involvement in the Republican Congress before going to Spain and his mother, a public health nurse was boycotted and forced to resign her job.

Jack James Larkin Jones, who is President of the International Brigade Memorial Trust, said Waterford City Council was outstanding of all the councils in Britain and Ireland in the degree of recognition it had given to the city’s International Brigade volunteers.

Civil war veteran 88-year old Moe Fishman travelled all the way from New York for the event. The Secretary of the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade said the 40,000 volunteers of the International Brigade from 52 countries had fought to change the policy of the democratic world in the 1930s from one of appeasement to recognising the dangers of Fascism. In contrast, he is today an active campaigner against his country’s invasion of Iraq.

Mayor of Waterford Cllr. Seamus Ryan, who is grandnephew of International Brigader Peter O’Connor, described the 11 Waterford volunteers as idealists who fought for a just cause.

“A social conscience was very much a part of the upbringing of the young men who were born and raised in working class Waterford. Their support for the Spanish Republic was a practical manifestation of this. They were not willing to talk about freedom they were willing to defend it,” said the honorary secretary of the organising committee.

Liam Cahill, a cousin of Mossie Quinlan, spoke on behalf of the families of Waterford’s International Brigade volunteers. The former RTE journalist and senior advisor to two Irish governments, expressed appreciation and deep gratitude to everyone associated with the commemoration.