Belfast News Letter September 3, 2005, Saturday


THE sacrifice of Ulster men and women who journeyed to Spain almost 70 years ago to fight the forces of fascism are set to be remembered by a new monument in Belfast.

The Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 is often overlooked when talking about the Second World War, but it was arguably on the Iberian peninsula that the battle against the totalitarianism in Europe truly began.

Next July marks the 70th anniversary of the start of that conflict between the elected government and the right-wing military rebels under General Franco, and plans are now underway to commemorate the 77 people from the Province who sailed to Spain to help defend the principles of democracy.

While Franco&s onslaught on the left of centre Republican government was backed by the military might of Hitler and Mussolini, no western government sided against him and it was left to Spanish freedom fighters and thousands of international volunteers to resist.

It was a resistance that would hold for three years before Franco eventually swept to power in 1939.

Among those Internationalist Brigadistas who travelled from all corners of the globe to join the battle were a disparate band of Protestants and Catholics from Ulster, 20 of whom would fall on Spanish battlefields.

Now Kevin Doherty, who is secretary of the recently formed Northern Ireland International Brigade Commemoration Committee, is co-ordinating the fundraising efforts for a marble tribute to their memory.

These people came from both sides of the community and came together to fight what they saw as the spread of fascism across Europe,&& explains Kevin.

We recognised there was no real memorial to all those people and we thought something needed to be done.

At the moment we have a design for a boat-shaped sculpture that would double as a bench.

It will symbolise the boats used by the Irish Brigadistas in the last engagement of the war when they crossed the river Ebro to do battle with the Fascist forces.

The committee, which is made up of trade union representatives, academics, artists and musicians, and is supported by politicians from both sides of the divide, is currently in negotiation with Belfast City Council and the Laganside Corporation over a possible site.

"Somewhere like Custom House Square or Writers' Square opposite St Anne's Cathedral would be ideal," says Kevin.

As well as plans for a permanent memorial, the Committee is hoping to run a series of information events and seminars at the time of the anniversary to raise public awareness about the war.

A researcher is also in the process of compiling records about anyone from the Province who took part in the battle.

"We want to do something for these people and commemorate them, but we also want to examine who these people were and what motivated them to go off and fight", says Kevin.

This is a part of our common history that has been forgotten about really and we just want to get people thinking again about what went on.&&

Anyone who thinks they could have family connections to the Spanish Civil War can get in touch with Kevin on 028 9096 1111 or by emailing

More articles on Ireland and the SCW are available here.