Spanish Civil War fighters recalled on Achill

Deaglán de Bréadún on Achill for the Irish Times, 8th Sept. 1986

Sixty-one Irishmen who died on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War 50 years ago were commemorated on Achill Island, Co. Mayo, yesterday/ Four hundred people attended the ceremony at the memorial at Dooega, Achill, to Tommy Patten, a local man who died in the defence of Madrid in December 1936.

The attendance included four Irish veterans from the International Brigades which played a leading part in the fighting. They were Mr Bob Doyle, and Mr Joe Monks, both Dubliners now living in London, Mr Peter O’Connor of Waterford and the chairman of the Communist Party of Ireland, Mr Michael O’Riordan.

A parade led by Tricolours and the purple, yellow and red flag of the Spanish Republic arched to the Tommy Patten monument led by the Dooega Pipe Band of Achill.

Mr Peter O’Connor read aloud the names of his dead comrades, who came form North and South, and were Protestant and Catholic. He also read out the battles in which they died, names like Jarama, Brunete and Belchite, echoing strangely across the tiny Atlantic bay on the edge of Europe.

Mr Owen Patten, who was present with other members of the family, said later that the poverty of Achill in the 20s and 30s gave his brother a natural sympathy with the Spanish people. They were 14 in the family and Tommy Patten left Achill in 1932 to work as a labourer in Guinness’s London brewery. They swopped watches at he station as Tommy left for Spain and Owens till wears the watch his brother gave him.

“You’d want top watch them Fascist bullets,” he said to Tommy. The last words his brother spoke to him were: “The bullet that will get me won’t get a Spanish worker.” [CC – This comment obviously came from a later conversation, not in 1932.]

The monument to Tommy Patten was erected in 1984 from money raised locally and in the United States by Mr George Harrison, a Mayo man living in New York. Tommy Patten rests in an unmarked grave in Spain but his brother said yesterday: “He is well remembered now.”

The attendance included the chairman of the Labour Party, Senator Michael D Higgins; a former president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Mr Andy Barr; the general secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, Mr Jimmy Stewart, and the Northern Ireland Secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union, Mr Ernie McBride. There were several members of the ITGWU including, Mr John Meehan (executive member), Mr Pat Powell (Galway), Mr Michael Kilcoyne (Castlebar), and Mr Manus O’Riordan, (research officer.)

In a dignified and moving ceremony, wreaths were laid and Larry O’Dowd from Ballymote, Co. Sligo, played the ‘Internationale’ on the Irish war pipes – a first for many people present.

The chairman of Sligo County Council, Alderman Declan Bree, read the famous words of farewell by Dolores Ibarruri, La Pasionaria, to the International Brigades at the end of the war. “You are history, you are legend.”

The meeting was chaired by Gabriel McNulty of Achill, who said that the fledgling Spanish democracy had been the hope of Europe and volunteers from 53 countries, including Ireland, had come to defend it against Franco and his army. In the words of Frank Ryan: “These were true Irishmen because they were true internationalists.”

Mr Michael O’Riordan said the International Brigade members had saved Ireland’s good name which had been besmudged by pro-Fascist elements in the country. He pointed out that a Protestant clergyman, Bob Hilliard, and a Christian Brother from Derry, Eamonn McGrotty, died in the same cause.

Mr Karl Kormes, a German International Brigadier, was scheduled to speak but his flight was delayed. Mr O’Riordan read a message from him, saying that support fro Franco’s coup came from Berlin, but now the city was the capital of a workers’ State.

Mr O’Riordan said that what happened in Spain 50 years ago was happening now in Nicaragua. The people of Nicaragua were relying on the same international solidarity.

Mr Fergal Goulding of the Connolly Youth Movement, who was a voluntary worker in Nicaragua, said it was a country and a Government under siege against troops armed and supported by a foreign power, just as Spain had been in 1936. Last year over 200 voluntary workers were killed by the US backed Contras, he said.