Address from Joseph Donnelly to the Public Meeting and Civic Reception
at GROSVENOR HALL, Belfast, Saturday 13th October 2007.
Rt. Honourable Lord Mayor, Spanish Civil War Veterans and Families, Ladies and Gentlemen.
As the brother of the late CHARLIE DONNELLY, I would like to contribute a few words on behalf of myself and the DONNELLY family.
I regret that myself and my wife are unable to attend this event due to ill health and other members of the family are also unavailable.
I wish to thank Ciaran Crossey for his kindness in reading out the following.
Also I want to offer congratulations to the organisers of this celebration of the sacrifices and achievements of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, especially those 82 members from Ireland and, in particular, those 20 from Northern Ireland who made the supreme sacrifice in an attempt to stem the tide of Fascism in Central Europe at the time.
I am proud that my brother, Charlie Donnelly was one of them. His life was always an inspiration to me personally and I know that this has been the case over the past twenty years especially since I was successful in recovering his lost poems and other memorabilia which were published in my book in 1987.
During his brief but eventful life, dying as he did at the age of twenty two, he impressed all who met him. Some recorded examples are as follows:-
An English journalist friend of his, Montague Slater wrote - quote - "To meet an advanced political brain in such a childlike exterior was a little like meeting a youthful chess prodigy. He had developed his natural detachment into a political outlook so nearly scientific and so little emotional that he was an uncommon figure in the London of 1935.."
His comrade in arms, American Paul Burns, himself a journalist and fellow member of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, speaking of his contact with Charlie during training remarked - Quote - "The number one man on our list was Charlie Donnelly. Conversations covered all aspects of the war in Spain and the versions of the war as served up in the press of Ireland, England and the U.S. We were all interested in the Republican Congress about which Charlie was able to elaborate. We talked about writers but, at the time, none of us knew that the blond young Irishman with the smiling blue eyes who spoke so engagingly, had published poetry of rare merit."
Another person to comment on Charlie was W. Arthur Peacock, Secretary Manager of the then National Trade Union Club in London where Charlie worked just prior to his departure for Spain. In his book, "Yours Fraternally", published in 1945, Peacock remarked in relation to Winston Churchill's broadcast where he (Churchill) made reference to EIRE'S attitude to the Second World War. Quote - Peacock -
"What I would like to remind Mr. Churchill is that among the first men to lose their lives in the battle against totalitarianism were some of the bravest and the youngest of EIRE'S sons. They lost their lives long before many of Mr. Churchill's supporters and colleagues were alive to the dangers of Hitlerism; at a time when these people lacked the vision to see the true significance of events in Spain. One who made a deep impression was the very young CHARLIE DONNELLY. A revolutionary spirit with a softly spoken Dundalk accent and engaging smile, he had come straight to London from work with the Republican Congress in Dublin. Charlie soon found employment with a South African News Agency and in spare moments, contributed stories to various Left journals. As the threat to Madrid grew, Donnelly could not rest and desk work became impossible. I heard him argue with his friends concerning his growing conviction that the time had come when intellectuals had to take part in the physical battle against Fascism for they were among its first victims if Fascism triumphed. To Spain he went and there he made the great sacrifice."
'EVEN THE OLIVES ARE BLEEDING' recorded as Charlie's last words before he was killed are now well known and synonymous with the Spanish Civil War. They appeared originally in HELLO CANADA, the Newsletter of the Canadian Volunteers, some of whom were attached to the Abraham Lincoln Battalion. In the heat of the battle on the 27th February 1937 on the Jarama Front, one such Canadian overheard Charlie speak those remarkably poignant and graphic words.
His death was a great loss to my family and to his many friends and I am glad that, with his comrades, he is not forgotten.