PAMELA O’MALLEY (1929-2006)

Memorial Service in the Irish Labour History Museum

an appreciation by Manus O’Riordan

DUBLIN 2 April 2006

“Tá Gráinne Mhaol ag teacht thar sáile” an tagairt atá do Mháilleach stairiúil amháin san amhrán úd faoin dtroid fhada chun saoirse na hÉireann a bhaint amach - “Óró sé do bheatha abhaile!” Bhuel, is thar sáile a d’imigh Máilleach eile chun spiorad na saoirse a chotú sa Spáinn, agus is mór an onóir domsa páirt a ghlacadh san ómós seo do Phamela O’Malley, dá saol agus dá saothar.

It is indeed a great honour for me - as the Irish Executive Committee member of the International Brigade Memorial Trust - to take part in this celebration of the life and work of Pamela O’Malley. I am here today to represent the two last surviving Irish veterans of the International Brigades - Bob Doyle and my hospitalised father, Michael O’Riordan. But I am also here to represent all of the surviving British veterans as well, foremost among them being Pamela’s good friend Sam Russell. This is because Pamela had been among those who, during the decades that followed, took up the banner of those veterans’ own struggle on behalf of Spanish democracy and against the fascist dictatorship - symbolised at today’s service by the memorial flag of the Connolly Column, 15th Brigada Internacional - a courageous stand for which she herself would pay the price of imprisonment. It is therefore more than fitting that Pamela’s memorial brochure should contain that powerful poetic tribute paid to all those brigadistas by her Spanish Communist comrade Rafael Alberti - “A Las Brigadas Internacionales”. For Pamela O’Malley herself was no less worthy of that poem’s opening and closing lines:

“Venís desde muy lejos. Mas esta lejania
qué es para vuestra sangre que canta sin fronteras ?…
Madrid con vuestro nombre se agranda y se ilumina”.
“You come from very far away. But what is this distance for your blood which sings without frontiers? … Madrid, with your name, is enhanced and made all the brighter!”.

As Head of Research with Ireland’s largest union SIPTU, I have also had the opportunity to discuss Pamela’s legacy at a meeting in Brussels on March 21 with my counterpart, comrade and friend, Jorge Aragón Medina, Director de la Fundación 1º de Mayo, the research foundation of the Spanish trade union movement, las Comisiones Obreras. It was in the dark days of the Franco dictatorship that Pamela herself became a founding member of that underground union movement in the education sector. Jorge has in turn forwarded me a copy of the wonderful tribute paid to Pamela by Javier Doz, the former General Secretary of the Comisiones Obreras Education Federation, who says of her:

“She never sought after positions of prominence. Perhaps for that reason the footprint of her passage through this world is deeper and far more profound than just being well known to the general public. For the many of us who did know her, that footprint is indelible”.

It is a measure of Pamela’s own personal modesty that - when she came up to greet me after a lecture I had given at the 1997 Merriman Summer School - she first enquired if I remembered her. How could I ever forget her? She had become a childhood heroine of mine in the 1960s when my father told me of her imprisonment by Franco. I was to meet Pamela on three most memorable occasions in Spain itself. Firstly in 1994, on the Jarama battlefield, for the unveiling of a memorial over the mass grave of 5,000 Republican dead, including the Irish poet Charlie Donnelly, where I also had the privilege of greeting Alberti himself. Secondly in 1996, in the Madrid home of Irish Ambassador Richard Ryan, when he honoured my father and the other Irish veterans of the International Brigades who had come to receive the right to Spanish citizenship conferred on them by the unanimous decision of the Spanish Parliament. And the final occasion, in 2002, was in Madrid’s Circulo de Bellas Artes for the launch of Bob Doyle’s autobiography, “Memorias de un rebelde sin pausa”.

On both the first and last of these occasions I recited another of Rafael Alberti’s poems – “Si mi voz muriera en tierra” (“If my voice should die on earth”) - which I had translated into both Irish and English in celebration of the everlasting life of those now departed who had bequeathed to us the legacy of their struggle for freedom.

Here today, at this humanist memorial service, I am reminded of the words of the German poet Goethe, when he pointed out that “poetry is secular prayer”. So once again, in honour of Pamela O’Malley herself, I now return to those verses by Alberti:

Si mi voz muriera en tierra
llevadla al nivel del mar
y dejadla en la ribera.

Llevadla al nivel del mar
y nombradla capitana
de un blanco bajel de guerra.

¡ O mi voz condecorada
con la insignia marinera:

sobre el corazón un ancla
y sobre el ancla un estrella
y sobre la estrella el viento
y sobre el viento la vela !

Má fhaigheann mo ghuth-sa bás ar thalamh
Beir síos é chun na mara
Agus fág é ar an trá.

Beir síos é chun na mara
Guth nach bhfágfar balbh marbh
Más captaen é ar long chogaidh bhán.

Ó bíodh mo ghuth-sa gléasta
Le suaitheantais mhairnéalaigh:

Le hancaire ó mo chroí-se
Gus é ceangailte la réalt
As a n-ardóidh séideadh gaoithe
Faoi lán seoil - mo ghuth gan éag!

If my voice should die on earth
It’s from the sea it may be heard
If you leave it on the shore.

So take my voice down to the sea
That a captain it may be
Of a white ship of war.

O let my voice be decorated
With the emblems of a sailor:

With an anchor from the heart
That anchor reaching for a star
And from that star the wind will rise
With wind to sail - my undying voice!

Pamela O’Malley’s own undying voice is the exuberant voice of the democratic Spain of today that she herself fought so courageously to bring about by peaceful methods of struggle. It is also the voice of the renewed hopes that have emerged in recent weeks for a permanent and democratic peace in the Basque country and between all of the peoples of Spain, complemented by this week’s developments in respect of Catalunya.

Pamela, gracias a tí misma y a tus compañeros de la lucha, hoy tenemos una España democrática ; y se puede repetir - ni sólo con esperanza, pero ahora también con certeza - esas palabras inolvidables de la Pasionaria Dolores Ibarruri : “No pasarán !”.

Go raibh maith agaibh go léir as an deis seo a thabhairt dom chun labhairt libh inniu faoi Phamela. Ach, go mórmhór, go raibh mile maith agatsa féin, a Phamela!

Salud y victoria!

You can find an Irish Times obituary for Pamela here and a tribute by Seamus Heaney here.