Spanish Civil War veterans meet again
A reunion of three veterans of the Spanish Civil War from both sides of the Atlantic has taken place in Waterford in the Republic of Ireland.
With only a small number of the 45,000 who fought on the republican side surviving worldwide, the occasion was unique, as BBC Northern Ireland's Diarmaid Fleming reports.
Three elderly gentlemen sipping tea and beer in the corner of a hotel in Waterford reminisce on old times. They have plenty to talk about.
Jack Jones, 91, Michael O'Riordan, 86, and Moe Fishman, 88, are among the last few surviving members worldwide of the International Brigade which fought for the republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
The three are visiting the city to unveil a new memorial to the 11 men from County Waterford who joined them in the ranks fighting for the fledging democratic Spanish Republic.
The war from 1936-39 between Spanish Republicans and General Franco's nationalists - backed by Hitler and Mussolini - was once described as "World War One-and-a-Half", a bloody dress rehearsal for the Second World War.
About 45,000 international volunteers came from 54 countries but ended up on the losing side.
Many of them believed that with more international support they could have won, interrupting the rise of fascism and even the course of the Second World War.
More than 500,000 people died in the civil war, about 200,000 in combat.
An estimated 200 men went to Spain from Ireland to fight for the republican side, including Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland.
Fifty-nine died in battle and now only two of the Irish volunteers remain.
The only one now living in Ireland, Michael O'Riordan, says that while other Irishmen went to fight for General Franco with the blessing of some senior Catholic Church figures, his side were vilified and suffered discrimination on their return for their left-wing beliefs.
The new monument in Waterford is a vindication and is not too late, he says.
"Everything waits - everything comes about in its own good time. People will see we were not the demons we were purported to be.
"We were ordinary people who played our part in the trade union movement and stuck to our principles. This is to our credit and is now marked by the people themselves."
The lifelong communist jokes about one attempt to discredit him: "I went for election in Dublin but the Catholic Archbishop issued a statement saying anyone who voted for me was committing a mortal sin.
"So I became known as Mortal Sin 'Red O' Riordan', a name that stuck to me for some time," he says, adding with a twinkle in his eye that he got over 200 votes.
Jack Jones, who was later to become the leader of Britain's largest trade union, the Transport and General Workers' Union, explains what motivated him to fight.
"I went to Spain from Liverpool when we were then anxious to support the constitutional government in Spain which had been elected by the people and was under attack from General Franco, supported by Hitler and Mussolini.
"There was strong feeling about it and Liverpool was one of the centres which felt there should be solidarity."
"It was unique in terms of the number of volunteers who went. We were not part of any organised army: it was a voluntary exercise of international renown.
"I think it's in that sense we'll be remembered, that people went from all over the world and volunteered to lay down their lives. And many were killed, of course."
Standing beside the new Waterford monument "No Pasaran" by sculptor Michael Warren, Moe Fishman from New York - who like Michael O'Riordan and Jack Jones was injured in Spain - says visiting Ireland for the commemoration is particularly special.
"We had an especially strong relationship with the Irish volunteers because a number of them had fought with the Americans," he says.
"The number of Irish volunteers was not that large and that we would have some of them in our ranks was an honour for us. And many of the American volunteers were of Irish background."
He says the monument will help tell the story of the Spanish Civil War to future generations.
"No matter what the form of the monument, as long as it exists, people will pass by and will be curious about it and will ask questions, and will thereby revive a part of history that needs to be told."
Story from BBC NEWS: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/northern_ireland/3908529.stm
Published: 2004/07/20 09:04:08 GMT