Honour for Brigadistas

Man About Town: Ian Hill
Belfast Telegraph, 20 February 2006

They're still to be found, 70 years on, by the ditches of the country roads of Andalusia and the Asturias.

Awaiting the gravediggers, pathologists and DNA specialists, they're the descendants of the 'disappeared', who died defending Spain's democratically elected government, murdered by the death squads of Franco's fascists in a revolt supported by Hitler and the Catholic church.

But it wasn't only the Spanish who died in the Spanish Civil War. Hundreds from Ireland fought on both sides. Those on the left joined the International Brigade. The Blueshirts of the right were led by the Free State's popinjay chief of police, the man Franco dubbed 'that Operetta General, Eoin O'Duffy'.

Now the 77 Brigadistas of the North are to be honoured by a committee chaired by Pol Mac Adaim, secretary Kevin Doherty, treasurer Joseph Palmer, researcher Ciaran Crossey, designer Carol Osburn and archivist Sean Quinn. Chris McGimpsey attended some of their meetings.

Yet, launching the details on his own premises, Linenhall librarian and IBCC member John Gray asked that Duffy's men should not be forgotten. For many of them, unlike the equally poor but committed volunteers of the left, had been unable to resist the pressures of priest and politician.

Painter Gerry Gleason's actress daughter Victoria read of the death of Dungannon poet Charles Donnelly, wounded at Jarama. Donnelly is also to be remembered by a Winter School in Coalisland's Craic Theatre this weekend.

There's a pub quiz in the Spaniard tomorrow, meetings in the John Hewitt through March and April, leading to Gerry's Ghost On The March in the Linenhall in May. There'll also be a sculpture at the Custom House where Brigadistas first tasted anti-fascism. Devised by Gerry, it will be carved by Mark Anthony Grimley, there with his wife Doire who describes herself as a psychic.

Widow Betty Boyd recalled her ambulance driver husband, taken at Toledo, Betty Boe, her uncle Thomas Kerr from Belmont, dead from typhus at Barcelona. Freddy and Tommy McGrath spoke of their uncle Henry McGrath from the Shankill, dead in the last hour of the last day of the war. Norman Kennedy's East Belfast Historical Society's Journal notes two Brigade soldiers, Liam Tumilson, a Protestant communist from Ballymacarrett, and Jim Stranney, an IRA man from the Short Strand, both killed in action, defending democracy.

Some argued over which had been the most memorable words at the meeting. Were they Basque heroine La Pasionaria's as read by Victoria about how 'it is better to be the widows of heroes than the husbands of cowards'? Or Charles Donnelly's, of his Spanish battlefield, where 'even the olives are bleeding'?

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