Unveiling of the Spanish Civil War memorial
in Belfast, 13th October 2007

Address by Kevin Doherty, Secretary of the IBCC

My name is Kevin Doherty and I am the Secretary of the International Brigades Commemoration Committee.

On behalf of the IBCC it is with great pleasure that I welcome you all here on this beautiful day in Belfast. When I describe today as beautiful I am not just referring to the weather. It is a beautiful day because 70 years after the event, Belfast is finally recognising the contribution its citizens made to the war against Fascism in Spain 1936-39.

The sculpture we are unveiling today is dedicated to the people of Belfast, the island of Ireland and beyond who joined the XV International Brigade to fight Fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and to those men and women from all traditions who supported the Spanish working people and their Republic.

In the 1930’s the governments of the great western powers sat back and allowed Fascism to sweep across Europe like a cancer. On the 18th July 1936 Spanish military officers launched a coup against the democratically elected left-of-centre government of the Spanish Second Republic.

The Generals were backed by the aristocracy, the Church, wealthy landowners, industrialists and financiers who were opposed to the governments limited social reforms. The Spanish people armed themselves to defend their government and the civil war began.

When Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy provided assistance for Franco’s forces the real character of the coup was exposed. Many correctly saw Franco’s coup as part of the international spread of Fascism and feared that if Madrid fell Paris and London would be next. However the governments of Britain, France and the United States, operating a policy of appeasement of Fascism, declared neutrality.

Support groups for the Spanish people sprang up across the world to raise money, food, medical supplies and arms. Thousands went to Spain to fight with the International Brigade or to serve as doctors and nurses for the Republic.

Approximately 320 people from the island of Ireland (78 of whom originated from Northern Ireland) went to fight with the people of Spain against Fascism. 82 of them made the ultimate sacrifice (approx. 20 of them from N.I.) and fell on Spanish soil.

Coming from both sections of the community here, these International Brigadistas recognised the perils of the growth of Fascism and selflessly risked their lives trying to halt it.

Their stance was correct. 5 months after the Spanish Civil War ended Hitler invaded Poland and the World War 2 began.

In her tribute to the departing International Brigades in 1938, the personification of the Spanish people’s resistance Dolores Ibarruri, better known as La Passionaria, explains:

For the first time in the history of the peoples' struggles, there was the spectacle, breath¬taking in its grandeur, of the formation of International Brigades to help save a threatened country's freedom and independence – the freedom and independence of our Spanish land. Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Republicans – men of different colors, differing ideology, antagonistic religions - yet all profoundly loving liberty and justice, they came and offered themselves to us unconditionally.

They gave us everything --- their youth or their maturity; their science or their experience; their blood and their lives; their hopes and aspirations --- and they asked us for nothing.

But yes, it must be said, they did want a post in battle, they aspired to the honour of dying for us.

We are delighted to have with us today the daughter and granddaughter of La Passionaria.

We are honoured to the have International Brigade veterans, Jack Jones, Jack Edwards and Bob Doyle who will be unveiling the sculpture.

We also welcome family members of other Brigadistas who are sadly no longer with us.

Unfortunately Mick O’Riordan who inspired us at the first meeting of the Commemoration Committee passed away and never saw this sculpture dedicated to him and his comrades. Mick would be proud to know that there was no corporate sponsorship involved in erecting this sculpture. This was not a public private finance initiative.

The people who raised the money and those who made donations, were like the Brigadistas themselves, working people, trade unionists, artists, musicians and playwrights.

They gave selflessly not just to commemorate the spirit and heroism of the men of International Brigades. They did so to bring this part of our history to people’s attention. To get people to think. To motivate them to ask the questions…

Who were these International Brigaders? Why did they decide to fight Fascism in a foreign land? Why did their Governments of the day try stop them and effectively supported the Fascists? And to ask, who else supported the Fascists and why?

The Commemoration Committee want people to learn from their history.

To look at the world around them and remember the dangers of allowing intolerance, and injustice to go unchallenged. We want people to act like the Brigadistas, to break down the barriers of hatred, sectarianism and racism. We want people to recognise their common history and to unite in their common interests.

Friends, comrades, we are here today to celebrate the memory of the International Brigades. Men who were not motivated by money or greed. They were motivated by their faith in humanity and a love of freedom and democracy. They were men who knew a better world is possible.

We are proud to be in the presence of veterans of the International Brigades.

I would now like to call the Minister for Social Development Margaret Ritchie, MLA to address you. [Extracts of here speech are available here.]

The Committee wish to place on record their thanks to the Minister whose support ensured that we got this site for the sculpture. Minister.

Before Bob does the unveiling I would like to thank the Artist Anto Brennan and also Gerard Brennan of the Open Windows Production team.

To most of you here Bob Doyle needs no introduction. An International Brigadista who was captured and imprisoned by the cruel Fascist regime; life long fighter for freedom and social justice; and author of the excellent book Brigadista: An Irishman's Fight Against Fascism.

It is with great pleasure that I now call on Bob to unveil the sculpture.

We will now have Pol McAdaim, Chair of the IBCC, to perform the Internationale. Before Pol begins, I will read the words of Mick O’Riordan which explains the relevance of the song he is about to perform,

On November 7th 1936 the Fascist forces prepared for what they thought would be their final assault on Madrid with what Mick describes as a “thunderous artillery bombardment.”

From his book Connolly Column Mick O’Riordan writes,

“However, instead of being subjugated the people rushed to the front lines of the defence of their city. Most of them were unarmed, but they took the guns from the hands of those who had fallen, and with grenades and petrol bombs they stopped the enemy tanks.

Foreign pressmen accompanying Franco’s army considered that it was only a matter of days before the city would be overrun. They began to file dispatches telling the world that Madrid had fallen.”

Early in the morning of November 8th the people of Madrid heard the sound of steady marching feet. At first they thought the Fascists had broken through the city’s defence. But then they heard the sound of a song that was now becoming more and more familiar to their ears, as the columns marched along the Gran Via, towards the front.

The song they heard was a song of defiance, international solidarity and comradeship. It was the "Internationale."

The people listened and heard it sung not in Spanish, not in just another language, but in a variety of languages. The first of the International Brigades had arrived.

The people who up to now had proved capable of throwing back the mighty Fascist offensive went wild with delight as they realised they no longer fought the battle of Spain, and of the world, alone.

Pol MacAdaim and that song Mick spoke of…

More reports from the unveiling and the IBMT events are available here.