Articles Reprinted from the Irish Democrat
November – December 1937
September – October 1937
Irish Democrat 6th November 1937 - War not always glorious advance - One Dawn on the Cordoba Front
Irish Democrat November 6th 1937 - Frank Ryan Speaks from Madrid
Irish Democrat 13th November 1937 - Defending Democracy in Spain - Our Boys go into action at Jarama
Irish Democrat November 13th 1937 - Spain has a claim on Ireland
Irish Democrat 20th November 1937 - ‘Kit Conway’s Courage inspired us’ - Savage Battle for Valencia Road
Irish Democrat 27th November 1937 - A Donegalman talks from Madrid. The full text of Paddy O'Daires radio address.
Irish Democrat 27th November 1937 - The International Brigade
Irish Democrat 4th December 1937 - Reception for men home from Spain
Irish Democrat 4th December 1937 - Story of the Irish Unit in Spain: Defending the Republic against fascism
Irish Democrat 11th December 1937 - Why I fought in Spain
Irish Democrat 11th December 1937 - Jack Nalty delivers lecture in Cork
Irish Democrat 6th November 1937
War not always glorious advance
One Dawn on the Cordoba FrontBy Joe Monks
The International' sounded well in Spanish as we sat listening to it ringing all along the line. Songs lift the morale better than anything else, and as I sat there listening to the Spanish boys sing I remembered the way we had sung in the trains as we journeyed to help form the International Brigade.
It seemed ages ago since then, and many of the lads who had sung with us were now lying under Spanish soil. They would never again sing the songs of Irish freedom, but the cause they adopted would inspire Irishmen to help in the saving of all small nationalities from the domination of Fascism.
How gay hearted they had been as they made part of the crowded troop train. Frank Ryan was proud as he led us through the streets of Barcelona, for he trusted every one of us, and now time has proven that he did not trust in vain, for not one of his men lowered the reputation of Ireland in the esteem of the many nationalities gathered together to save the flag of the Spanish Republic.
Many of the boys had given their lives when our army showed to the world that it was able to hold up the advance of Fascism across Spain, and some of us were privileged to follow up a Fascist retreat.
Ireland was represented in the Division which lifted the siege of Pozoblanco and pushed the hordes of Italians, Moors and Germans, thirty miles further South. Peter Daly was pleased during those great days of advancing. He and I had often talked of the '98 Rebellion in Wexford for he was proud of his native County and was forever singing 'The Boys of Wexford.'
The enemy at last took up a position on a high hill guarding a town. It was against this that our Unit was dispatched.
Waiting to Attack
But time was lost, and long before the order of attack came we saw the morning star shining in the east. We had not carried our advance far enough when the sun arose over the horizon giving full light to the whole affair and we found ourselves in a position where we could not move either back or forward without receiving terrible casualties.
I lay behind a big stone with my head well protected as the enemy bullets went singing by. I heard Frank Edwards, who lay a little on my right, firing his rifle. I had not seen anything which I deemed a suitable target for rifle fire and I roared over to him asking what he was firing at. He answered that the enemy trenches were somewhere near the top of the hill, and he felt better to be using his rifle. He was right. It always takes your mind off a serious plight to start using your rifle and I reloaded my magazine.
I wondered when or how we would get out of this situation, for I knew as the day wore on the Fascists, who had the advantage of the high ground would improve the sniping and inflict serious loss.
But the sun had not risen far when, to our amazement, a great thick fog started up and completely blotted out all vision; and as was expected an order was passed along that we were to retire back to the smaller hill which surrounded the Fascist position on three sides.
As we sat around in a group Paddy O'Daire took up his Billy-can of hot coffee and said 'Long live the tuaddenas,' explaining to some American boys how this using of fog was an old Irish custom.
The day passed without trying a counter-attack, and that evening our boys assembled in line for the dusk stand-to and the Fascists had to listen to them singing again: Always singing.
Irish Democrat November 6th 1937
Frank Ryan Speaks from MadridLast Sunday night Frank Ryan, Commander of the Irish Unit with the Spanish Republican Army, spoke to the Irish people from Madrid radio station.
In the course of his talk Frank Ryan told of the government troops victorious offensive on the Aragon front and the part played in that offensive by the men of the Irish Unit.
He dealt at length with the question of non-intervention and said that if the Spanish Government had been granted its right to buy arms, the Fascist hordes would long ago have been driven out form Spain.
He said that the men of the Irish Unit were delighted when the news came through of the defeat of the Fascist General Mulcahy and the so-called Christian front leader Belton in the General Election last July.
He appealed to all Republicans and Labour forces to unite to make it impossible for Fascism ever to raise its head in Ireland.
On Monday night Frank Ryan addressed a special message to the people of America from the Madrid Station and told of the unity and comradeship that has existed between the Irish Unit and the men of the American Lincoln Battalion.
Irish Democrat 13th November 1937
Defending Democracy in Spain
Our Boys go into action at Jarama
'Check the Advance'
Jim Prendergast gives another page of the Irish Unit's record
The early dawn of February 12 saw the arrival of our Brigade at the Valley of Morato not far from the theatre of action on the Jarama front.
We got out of the lorries and spread ourselves in little groups under the olive groves in the valley. We were having a short rest before going into action. Presently 'Kit' Conway came over to us. We walked with him to the roadside. He was very grave as he outlined to Paddy Duff and myself the nature of the forthcoming battle.
The Fascists had already embarked on their offensive to capture the Madrid-Valencia road. If they achieved this the last lifeline of the capital would be cut and Madrid would practically be encircled. Tens of thousands of Italian troops had been concentrated in the new offensive. New equipment, far superior to ours, was being used and they were advancing slowly but surely.
'Kit's' information was emphasized by the sound of the battle close by. To the left of us and directly in front the valley terminated abruptly in a series of very steep hills. The vicious rat-tat of machine-guns was pillowed by the rumble of artillery, and they were using heavy stuff; our ears, accustomed to artillery fire, soon sensed this.
A group of Brigade officers passed us. They were back from the lines whence they had gone to find out about the situation. We would not be long now. Frank Ryan must be back, too. I looked around for him. Somebody moved. It was Frank, but he had a steel helmet on. This puzzled us because we knew he had fitted on hundreds and couldn't get one small enough.
Frank came over to us. 'What are ye looking at?' he said 'Did you expect me back?' 'No, where did you get the steel helmet?' Frank explained. By the simple process of sitting hard on it he had managed a tight fit. 'We'll need 'em boys,' he said. 'It's hell up there and we are in for a tough fight.' He told us of the position in the line and that the Fascists were expected to launch a powerful attack under cover of nightfall to finally capture the road. Our Brigade would move in to smash this attempt at all costs. 'Kit' and Frank went away.
I went back to the group under the olives. I spread my blanket under a tree and lay down. It was impossible to doze, however, with the noisy chatter of the boys. Dan Boyle, a Belfast lad, gave me an English cigarette. Boy, this was good. Dan was in fine form although he just read his obituary in a misinformed paper.
It was a happy group under our tree. Dan. Ted Bourne and Dick O'Neill. And before long three of us would be wounded and one killed. We could not read the future and we did not care overmuch anyway. But Dan, handing the last of his fags around, did say his generosity was based on the possibility of not finishing them later, perhaps. Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of 'Kit' Conway. He issued a sharp command to fall in with full equipment by the roadside. In the space of a minute the Unit was ready, in formation. Endless conveys passed us by, packed with troops. It was going to be a mighty battle.
After receiving final instruction we moved off. 'Kit' leading us. On our left and right the other sections of the 15th Brigade were moving up also. The sound of the 'International' smote the air and swelled into a mighty roar.
We were now on top of the hills. 'Look at Madrid, boys', somebody shouted. Yes, it could be seen, but very strange and fairylike it seemed in the distance. That's how it must look like to Franco.
'Kit' called a halt suddenly. We listened and heard a faint hum. It grew louder. Binoculars were trained on the sky. Then they appeared suddenly - squadrons of planes coming in our direction. 'Under cover,' roared 'Kit.' We scattered. I dived under a boulder. Not much cover here.
We kept our faces to the ground, our hearts beating fast. We had already experienced these sickening aerial attacks. The roar grew louder - they must be only a few hundred feet away now. I looked up quickly. 'Kit' saw me and shouted at me to keep down. I hugged the rock and waited, thinking of the tense faces around me. If we only had planes. The roar grew terrific now. They would not miss this time. I could feel them boring into my back. Why didn't they start and finish it?
But something was happening up there. I ventured 'Kit's' wrath and looked up again. 'Kit' was looking through his binoculars. High up in the sky planes were circling. The sound of aerial machine-guns could be heard. What the _______! 'They're ours, boys!' 'Kit' roared. And so they were, and theirs too, engaged in battle. As this fact went home one of the planes banked and dived towards the earth - a mass of flames. Another and yet another, followed suit. And then we cheered for we knew they were Fascist planes that had fallen as the rest of had taken full flight across the sky with our chasers in hot pursuit.
We were overjoyed. For the first time we had seen the enemy aircraft beaten by the planes of the Republican Government.
Our excitement was interrupted by the order to move on. But our spirits were high now and it was not going to be a one sided battle for the Fascists. Somebody started singing the 'Ploughboy.' It was taken up and presently by the whole Unit was singing. We reached the sunken road and swung to the left under an olive grove. Not far ahead shells were exploding.
Suddenly batteries of our own artillery opened up fiercely. The shells sang past us with their message of death for the Fascists The new recruits, unaccustomed to the sound of our own artillery, pitched themselves forward on their faces every now and then, They were put at their ease by some of the older hands who explained that it was our own artillery.
I will never forget an old Scotch Communist who had insisted on being put with the Irish and had come up with us for his first time. As each shell screeched past him he slowly and laboriously went down on his hands and knees and then flattened himself out. He was not afraid, but just carrying out the instructions he had received for taking cover as conscientiously as if he was doing a canvas of the 'Daily Worker.' By the time he had got through his motion the shell would have exploded in the Fascists lines.
We were now in the heart of the olive grove and had come under the enemy artillery fire. Shells landed all around us. 'Kit' had received some instructions and ordered us to halt.
It was well we did, for just at that moment the menacing screech of an approaching shell sent my group diving flat to the ground. The shell exploded, landing directly in front of us, about thirty yards ahead. The explosion laid an olive tree flat.
A Brigade of Spanish soldiers were in reserve in these roads. They had been there for two days under continuous shellfire, and they were behaving well under this ordeal. Spread out under the trees they were playing guitars and singing revolutionary songs. A dive flat when a shell came near a particular group and hardly anything else to indicate what an ordeal it must have been for these brave Spaniards.
When we halted they were eating: they gave us chocolate and wine and shouted: 'Viva Brigadas Internacioanles!'
We had now passed the artillery barrage and were at the fringe of the olive grove leading across a valley to a series of hills with one huge cone like hill in the centre. These were the Pingarron Heights and this would be the point of defence for our battalions. On our right we could hear the fierce crackle of rifle and machine-gun fire. We would man the heights to meet the attempt of the Fascists to outflank our defence on the left. Again we halted on the ridge of the valet. We had come under indirect fire now and the bullets were singing fairly high over our heads. The old Scot commented on the funny whistle of them, overhead. 'I don't like these kind of birds,' he said, pulling on his pipe. He was a brave, quiet old man.
We knelt down just the same, no use taking chances at this stage. 'Kit' called the section leaders together. The heights would constitute our front line, he explained, and here we would come under direct fire. He outlined the manner each section would take up position.
(Concluding instalment next week.)
Irish Democrat November 13th 1937
Spain has a claim on IrelandFrom time immemorial the Irish people have been attracted towards the Spaniards – culturally, religiously, commercially and, above all, perhaps, politically. Dame Tradition has it that we came originally either from, or via, Spain to Ireland and the close connection which has been maintained between the two countries throughout the ages lends colour to this supposition.
We find Irish leaders looking toward the Spaniard for help against England at different periods in our history. O’Neill and O’Donnell expected much but received little. ‘Dark Rosaleen’ quaffed but sparingly of the almost mythical ‘Spanish ale.’ It is not for us to cavil at the lack of material aid for which, at one time or another, we hoped from our Southern friends. Rather it is for us to forget her shortcomings in the past and to extend our sympathies in her present deplorable extremity. If Don Juan del Aguila achieved so little in the hideous farce of Kinsale, are we to condemn the entire Spanish race for the blunder of this luckless, misguided soldier. We cannot afford to say that ‘we owe Spain nothing – what did she ever do for us?’ At least let us admit frankly that she was willing – albeit to a degree- to help us. The spirit was willing – the Minister of Finance (as usual) weak.
Small wonder that her call to arms has met with a hearty response in Ireland. Bravely the lads have resurrected their ‘Sam Brownes’ from the manure heaps and faced South- secure in the knowledge that ‘their strength is as the strength of ten because their hearts are pure.’ The Irish pen has not been idle but has been active in proclaiming the justice of the cause to the world. In the vanguard we find Mairin Mitchell, followed hotfoot by Peadar O’Donnell’s ‘Salud.’ C E Milne has added to the mass of literature in defence of Democracy and ably supports a much maligned and repeatedly misrepresented Government.
Financially we may not have helped appreciably, but morally and physically our contribution has been significant. The little band in Madrid – certainly it is worth its weight in gold – certainly it is worth a good many £30,000! Their war cry does not change. ‘UP THE REPUBLIC!’ means as much in Spain as it does in Ireland.
D O F
Irish Democrat 20th November 1937
‘Kit Conway’s Courage inspired us’
Savage Battle for Valencia RoadBy James Prendergast – continued from last week.
With ‘Kit’ at the head of us we moved cautiously towards the range of hills. Sections spread out into position. We had come under direct fire now and men were hurriedly seeking good cover among the bushes. ‘Kit’ ran from group to group directing the fire and range for each unit.
We had no time to dig in and the bushes rendered our field of vision practically useless. ‘Kit’ saw this at once and roared out the order to fire from standing positions. Although this was necessary it was practically suicide to stand up under this raking fire. But every man sprung to his feet without hesitation.
I looked ahead. It was possible to see for miles across the low-lying ground in front. In the distance I could see a white road. Cars and lorries were travelling along it at a tremendous speed. The Fascists were rushing up reinforcements to break through at Pingarron. Peter Daly and Leo Greene were on my left. Paddy Smith and Sean Goff on my right. Suddenly Daly shouted. They were advancing on our left. I looked across. They were, sure enough, some 500 yards distant.
Under heavy fire
We concentrated our fire on this spot. Our light machine-guns now swung into action. But the Fascists fire was growing pretty heavy and they were directing it uncanningly well. A young English chap fell over close by. A yell for stretcher-bearers. John Goff tumbled over his hand to his head. His face was a white, but he was not hurt. It was a narrow shave though and his helmet was badly dinged.
‘Kit’ danced furiously from position to position. “Don’t waste your fire, boys,” he kept shouting. Although ‘Kit’ was worked up to fever pitch, himself, he did not want us to let our fire be directed away from vital points.
The fire had grown so heavy now that nobody could tell what would happen, and fear was not felt anymore because it was no use felling afraid now. A Spaniard, who had got mixed-up with us somehow, moved over to my side. He was very cool, firing slowly and deliberately. The bush he moved away from was denuded with a stream of bullets. He looked at me and laughed.
The forces of the fascists seemed overwhelming. Moans of our wounded filled the air on all sides. It was no use. ‘Kit’ ordered us to move back to the heights. We moved back under an ever-increasing hail of lead.
We took up new positions. I saw Paddy Duff moving back, hit in the leg. Shells were exploding on our left. Holy God! If they shell us we would be blown into eternity! Low flying planes screamed towards us. Now we were for it in earnest. They passed over us and in a few minutes they flew back again with our chasers behind them. A faint cheer from the boys, nothing more.
We felt we would be driven from our positions. If we retreated it would mean that the Fascists would reach the road, and that would be the beginning of the end for Madrid. The swine were well equipped – the machine-gun was literally eating the top of the hill away. Our Unit had now become mixed up with the English lads, and ‘Kit’ had assumed command of the three companies on the hill. The other officers were dead or wounded.
I moved up the hill. Jack Taylor, a big Cockney, was dressing a wounded comrade. ‘Hit bad?’ I enquired. ‘Unconscious, thumbs up, I guess.’ I noticed blood on the seat of Jack’s pants. I asked him if he was hit? Yes, but in a fleshly part and nothing to justify him going back. Jack was a great guy.
I settled into a new firing position. My rifle was burning hot. ‘Kit’ came towards me. I noticed his face with little lanes of sweat running through the dust. He sat down beside me and handed me a note. It was from Frank Ryan’s HQ. We must hold onto our positions at all costs. Frank was coming up with the rest of the battalion and the machine-gun company. ‘Kit’ told me to convey these instructions to the Section to our left to move to the ridge covering our left flank. I looked through his binoculars and saw the Moors creeping up on our left. We were in great danger of being cut off.
I sped away to the left. Comrades turned from their firing positions and shouted angrily at me. ‘Keep under cover you b…dy fool! Do you want to expose us more than we are now?’ I felt foolish but ‘Kit’s’ message had to be delivered. I found the section leaders and gave my message. What’s left of the others are in the white house on the ridge, I was told.
‘Kit’ is killed
I moved to the white house and shouted. No reply. I went into the yard. They were there all right, but they were all dead – I shivered and moved back. The fire had grown heavier now, but the boys were answering back pretty effectively. I paused to watch a Scotch lad handle his light machine gun. Somebody called my name. It was young Paddy Smith. Blood was pouring from his head and arm. He had just seen me and now he was losing consciousness. I was told Goff and Daly had been hit. The cool Spaniard was killed. ‘At the rate the boys are being hit we’ll never hold out,’ said a first aid man grimly.
I left the first aid man and went on. ‘Kit’ was standing on top of the hill. He was using his rifle now and after every shot turned towards the men, issuing instructions. I got closer to him. Suddenly he shouted, his rifle spun out of his hand and he fell back. My God, ‘Kit’ was hit.
I rushed up the hill. ‘Kit’ was lying across his blankets, somebody dressing him. ‘He was hit in the groin,’ one of the boys whispered. His eyes were closed, his face pale and drawn. He opened his eyes and spoke, his voice broken with agony. ‘Boys, don’t leave me for the Fascists.’
Tears glistened in the eyes of the lads as they watched ‘Kit’. Many of them were from other companies, but 'Kit' was known and loved by them all. And his gallant leadership that day won them completely. There was no stretcher and 'Kit' was gently placed in one improvised from blankets.
In silence the lads watched him being carried away. On other fronts 'Kit'’s dashing courage and stern manner had become a byword with English-speaking volunteers. At the base he was the centre of every little social gathering with his characteristic love of fun and humour. It seemed impossible that this could happen now.
I was stunned, 'Kit' was gone. We’d never hold on now. And all this time the battle raged on. The Moors had brought us under a heavy flank fire. I could see the Fascist tanks toll up on the white road. We would have to retreat now. Then I saw Ken Stalker down the hill. He was the only experienced man left and would have to take command. I ran toward him, He was bandaging someone. I told him about 'Kit' and he went towards the top of the hill.
I picked up my rifle and moved towards a bush. Suddenly I was lifted off my feet, I was hit. I felt as if something terrible had hit me in the side. I could not catch my breath. The boys dressed me and carried me away. It was a tough and dangerous job, but they did it with a will.
We reached a sunken road and I was put into a waiting ambulance. 'Kit' and Paddy Duff were hit too. 'Kit' was in terrible pain. He was vomiting. I felt very faint but I talked up to 'Kit'. ‘Where are they taking us?’ he whispered back. To hospital, I told him. After a while he asked me if I was badly hit, and that was the last time I spoke to 'Kit'.
When we arrived 'Kit' was taken into hospital first. He died two days later. On his deathbed he insisted on carrying out his final arrangements regarding the Irish Unit.
The fight raged on at Jarama, the Fascists forcing out lads right back to the road. On the third day they attacked with planes, tanks, and artillery, and new forces of German and Italian troops. A rout developed among our forces and the Madrid-Valencia road was all but taken.
It was Frank Ryan, along with the other leaders of the famous 15th Brigade, who headed the routed soldiers back into position. It was a great sight, I am told. Frank and the others, with rifles slung across their soldiers, marching at the head of the returning men, and singing the ‘Internationale.’
In the fierce fighting that followed Frank was badly wounded in the arm and was forced out of the line. But the stopping of the rout held the day for the Republic.
Fortifications were built in the olives facing Pingarron Hill. And for four months the Irish Unit, with the rest of the Brigade, held its position there. The Fascists have never passed that way since. And once again Irishmen have played a part in the fight to save democratic liberty.
Irish Democrat 27th November 1937
The International BrigadeThe Culderon, Madrid’s largest theatre, was the scene of a memorable meeting on October 31. The people of Madrid organised a demonstration of homage to the volunteers of the International Brigade on the occasion of the first anniversary.
Seated on the platform in the huge theatre alongside General Miaja were the foundation leaders of the International Brigade. Frank Ryan, Commander of the Irish unit and Adjutant of the famous 15th Brigade, sat beside General Miaja.
Amidst scenes of great enthusiasm General Miaja presented inscribed banners to the various delegates from their respective Brigades and Battalions. There was little speech-making and the meeting closed with the singing of the Spanish Republican Anthem.
Irish Democrat 27th November 1937
A Donegalman talks from MadridThe full text of Paddy O'Daires radio address.
Below we publish the full text of a broadcast by Paddy O’Daire, Commandant of the 16th Battalion of the International Column. Commandant O’Daire spoke on October 26, the same night that Frank Ryan delivered his broadcast speech. In a later issue we hope to be able to print Frank Ryan’s speech.
Paddy O’Daire was a machine-gunner in the IRA during our own war for independence. Like many other Irishmen in later years, he was forced to emigrate to Canada in search of work. It was not long until he became prominent in the Canadian progressive movement. His revolutionary songs and ballads of the Irish and Canadian peoples struggle are well known to the workers of Western Canada.
Jail in CanadaHe was sentenced to fifteen months hard labour and deportation in 1930 by the Canadian Government for his activities on behalf of the workers. Like other Irishmen Paddy fought continuously on various fronts for the past ten months. He was wounded on the Cordoba front last December. As a result of his ability and courage he had risen to the rank of Captain in the Spanish People’s Army. His broadcast speech deals with the capture of Quinto and Belchite on the Aragon front and the great part played by the Irish Unit in the offensive.
Comrades: Although public speaking, especially through the microphone is not my trade, I will try to fulfil a task I have been given, and give you a picture of recent operations in which men from you own countries played a prominent role.
First, let me introduce myself. I am one of those Irishmen who came here nearly twelve months ago, to help to defeat the Fascist invasion of Spain, so that my own people may be spared the horrors which the people of Spain are now enduring. A Fascist victory here would be the beginning of the end for human liberty and progress the world over. On the other hand, a Fascist defeat here will save other democracies, Ireland included, and make our task of freeing our people more certain and more easy.
That is why I am here. That is why Kit Conway, of Dublin, gave his life on Pingarron Hill last February. That is why William Beattie, of Belfast, died at Brunete last July. That is why Peter Daly, of Wexford, fell before the fort of Purburrell last August. That is why scores of other Irishmen fought and died on the far-flung battlefronts from Andalusia to Aragon.
Among the many achievements of the International brigade in Spain there is one that must not be overlooked. They have broken down the barriers by which imperialism had divided the International working-class. So, Germans and Frenchmen, Rumanians and Bulgars, British and Irish workers, former enemies fight side by side, as allies against Fascist Imperialism. The breaking down of these barriers and in particular, the close comradeship of British and Irish workers will have far-reaching results in Great Britain and Ireland in years to come.
Fifteenth BrigadeNow, as you probably know, American, British, Irish and Canadian workers who with their Spanish comrades make up the Fifteenth Brigade, played a very important role in the recent successful offensive on the Aragon Front. It is, naturally, of my own Battalion, which is mainly comprised of comrades from Ireland and Great Britain, that I have been asked to speak.
Our first objective in the Aragon offensive was the town of Quinto. Months of inactivity on the front had given the German experts plenty of time for fortification work. The result was, that Purburell Hill, on the outskirts of the town, was turned into a fortress. It was a unique stronghold in the sense that it was fortified on all sides. Therefore, though we surrounded and isolated the town, we were no nearer capturing Purburrell. Big bombproof chambers held its garrison, held too, the shells for a battery of artillery that seriously menaced our positions.
Purburell Hill not only dominated the only road to Quinto and beyond, but it dominated the town itself, half of which was already in our hands. It was essential, therefore, that Purburell be taken at once. There was only one quick way in – to storm it. Our Battalion got the job.
How many of a garrison did it hold? That was a question which we could not answer. Such a position could be held by a small force, and time did not allow us to act on such an assumption. So on the afternoon of August 25, we took up positions for attack. Under heavy cross fire from the Church which the fascists in the town still held, and form Purburell itself, we advanced across a gully to gain a foothold on the Hill itself. Here, our Battalion Commander, Peter Daly, of Wexford, again showed fine qualities of leadership, and here, unfortunately, he received the wound which subsequently proved fatal. Comrade Daly had already been wounded twice, on the Jarama and Cordoba fronts. He was one of the finest comrades and bravest soldiers I have ever met, and his death is a great blow, not only to our Battalion, but to the Irish republican and working-class movement.
Assault at DawnAssuming command in Comrade Daly’s place, I soon realised that an attack without adequate artillery support would fail. Accordingly, I suspended further attempts to advance, and later withdrew the Battalion under cover of darkness. The night was spent in preparation for an assault at dawn.
To describe the storming of Purburell Hill on the morning of August 26, is a job for which I do not feel myself fitted. It was eight hours fierce fighting on a bare hillside under a broiling sun. I must admit that it was one of the fiercest battles in months of war here. Under their protecting fire, we fought upwards, often yard by yard. Three times the white flag went up from the Fascist posts, but our men refused to expose themselves to this old Fascist trick. A final charge brought us to their trenches and their hands went up in surrender.
Purburell Hill that German experts had assured them was impregnable, had fallen. And you can judge our surprise when we discovered that the number of prisoners was over three hundred, and the garrison’s casualties amounted to almost an equal number. We had captured a fortress with an attacking force inferior in numbers to the defenders. That does not often happen in war.
Line was heldAfter Quinto, Belchite, a key town to Saragossa, was our next objective. The part played there by our Battalion was less spectacular but equally gruelling. Other Battalions of our Brigade were storming the town,. Our job was to keep back any reliving force of Fascists. For three days and three nights they made desperate attempts to break our lines. They used large units of artillery and scores of aeroplanes. On one day no fewer than seven bombing and strafing raids were made. That will give you an idea of the gruelling we got. But we held that line. Belchite fell. Our men got a few days well-earned rest. And the Divisional General paid us the following tribute:
‘In these operations, the Sixteenth Battalion fully justified its role and maintained the traditions of worthy and outstanding effort which is has established in Spain.’
Now my American listeners will naturally be disappointed that I have only casually mentioned the part played by American battalions in these operations. I wish I had the time to tell you of American heroism in the street fighting at Quinto and Belchite. But Frank Ryan, who was with our Brigade, has promised to speak to you on Sunday next and to deal with the work of the American battalions during the Aragon offensive.
And now I make a last appeal: Today we are doing our part together with our Spanish comrades to smash the plans of International Fascism. If only the frontiers were open, if only we could get the guns for which tens of thousands of our comrades are waiting, then this long agony of the Spanish people would soon be ended. In their name, in the name of our dead, we ask the democracies of the world to help us to victory. SALUD!
Reception for men home from SpainAn enthusiastic crowd greeted Messrs P Duff, M Lehane and P McElroy, who had just returned from Spain, after serving ten months with Frank Ryan in the International Brigade. All three are recovering from severe wounds received in the recent fighting.
The meeting and reception was organised by the Women's Aid Committee, Irish Friends of the Spanish Republic. Dr C Lynch presided.
Speakers included Mrs Lucas, American social worker, just returned from Geneva; Miss M R McCord, a member of the American Socialist Party, recently returned from Franco-Spain; Mr J Swift and Mrs Sheehy-Skeffington.
"I went to Spain to fight fascism and as a protest against the shameful campaign of the Murphy Press and the organisation of the O'Duffy Brigade," said Mr Michael Lehane. "I had no affiliations with any Party. I am more than ever convinced I and my colleagues did the right thing. We have formed a bond of unity between the real Spain and the real Ireland. The Spanish war would be over long since, were it not for German and Italian intervention. The Spanish Republic was being deprived of its lawful rights to fight the Fascist invaders. By reason of the present policy of the British Government." [?] He appealed for support for the Spanish people in their struggle for medical equipment and milk supplies which were badly needed.
Miss McCord gave a vivid picture of the blood orgies perpetrated by Franco's forces in Grenada, Malaga and other towns in which she was residing, when the Fascist outbreak took place. It was one trial of blood and massacre of the working class and professional people in all places captured by Franco's forces. The whole directing brains were German and Italian. She felt sure the Irish and American people would do everything in their power to prevent Fascism raising its heads in their countries, and assist the glorious fight of the people of Spain.
A collection was taken which amounted to £3.7s.
Story of the Irish Unit in Spain
Defending the Republic against fascismBelow we reprint in full an article in the November 15th issue of 'The Volunteer for Liberty, organ of the International Brigades.
The story of the Irish in this War antedates the International Brigades. To Bill Scott, whose father soldiered in James Connolly's Citizen Army in the rising in 1916, falls the honour of being the first Irish fighter in Spain. He was with a Catalan Column on the Aragon Front, some weeks before the International Brigades were formed. Incidentally he never reached the Irish unit.
From the Thaelmann Battalion he went to Maganda's Brigade and was eventually invalided home, wounded. Other Irishmen fought in the Dumount and Thaelmann Battalions. Tommy Patton, of Mayo, and Bill Barry, late of Melbourne and formerly of Dublin, fell in action at Boadilla del Monte, early in December.
The first large contingent of Irish arrived at the base in the middle of December, and were in action a week later with the X1V Brigade at Cordoba, and later at Madrid.
The first to fall in action was Michael Nolan, a young IRA man from Dublin. Tommy Woods, a mere boy who added years to his real age in order to get to Spain – hit twice –succumbed to his wounds. Michael May and Tony Fox, inseparable friends, covered off a retirement, handling their weapons with effect until a Moorish charge got them. There were other causalities, too, in that campaign in which the Irish, fighting with reckless gallantry, were always to the forefront.
Partition bridgedEarly in January the Irish were on the Centre Front participating in a counter offensive on the northwest of Madrid. Majadahonda captured after a brilliant attack. Las Rozas was the next objective. Dinny Coady, Dublin worker, died at the head of his section. It was a very depleted Unit that returned to the base at the end of January, when the survivors of the various formations were drafted into the 15th Brigade, which had just been formed.
The Irish Unit was representative of all Ireland. Belfast and Derry sent their sons as well as Dublin and Cork, for the anti-fascist cause bridged partition. All parties and professions were represented. Communist, Socialist Labour Party members and Republicans; dockworkers and teachers, far-labourers and city-clerks.
Their Commander was Frank Ryan, Irish Republican Army veteran, and a leader of the Left Wing Republican and Labour Movement in Ireland.
They came primarily to fight Fascism, enemy not merely of the people of Spain but of liberty and progress the world over. They had added incentive in that a careerist ex-General, discredited in Ireland, had induced a body of Irishmen to go to fight for the traitor Generals ‘in defence of Christianity.’ Irish honour thus besmirched they would redeem. Irish sympathy thus misrepresented they would express aright.
So they threw their bodies as battle-gages into the conflict in Spain.
The Unit fought in two Sections, and at one period there was a third Section. While the First Section was on the Madrid Front in January a Second Section which was being formed at the base was drafted to reinforce the Lincolns, not yet at that time a battalion strength. Subsequently a Third Section was for three months on the Cordoba Front with the 86th Brigade.
Contrary to opinions held by narrow nationalists, it was easy and natural for Irish and British workers to unite in the common struggle against fascism. The unity forged between them on the battlefields of Spain will have far-reaching results in their respective countries, in days to come. I was fortunate and fitting, too, that military exigencies should have brought the Second Irish Section to serve with the Lincoln battalion. They Irish have played an important part in the history of America, and have contributed much to the advancement of the American labour Movement.
And there are already a number of Irish exiles, and Irish-Americans and Irish-Canadians with the Lincoln battalion – Paul Burns, Boston labour journalist and Irish Republican Congress leader, afterwards twice wounded in action; Michael Blaser, better known in New York as Micky Brown (subsequently killed at Jarama); Patrick R McLoughlin, formerly of the Clan na Gael in New York; Stuart (Paddy) O’Neill of Vancouver (killed at Brunete), and veteran Joe Kelly.
Of the original members of that Second Irish Section, which went into action with the Lincolns at Jarama, the survivors included the three power brothers, of Waterford, and the three Flaherty brothers, of Boston, gallant fighters all. Peter O’Connor holds the record for the Irishman who came unhurt through the most engagements.
Dinny Holden, 56 year old soldier from Carlow who ‘deserted’ so often from the rear to the front lines, that he was eventually allowed to remain there; ‘Dublin’ Hayes, the canny veteran whom every Section Commander wanted to have with him – all these and a few others survive.
Charlie Donnelly, University student from Tyrone, young revolutionary poet and working class militant, fell a few yards from the Fascist trenches in that terrible charge of the Lincolns, on February 27. Hugh Bonar, rugged Donegal fighter, and Liam Tumilson, who stowed away from Belfast, and hitch-hiked across Britain, ‘to be with the boys in Spain’; Bill Henry, Belfast Socialist, a Company Commander – these and other Irish died in action at Jarama.
Outstanding among the Irish was ‘Kit’ Conway, 38-year-old Tipperary fighter. He had fought in the IRA in the Anglo-Irish War of 1920-’21, and subsequently joined the Free State Army to carry out revolutionary work there. He had attained the rank of Battalion Commander before his activities were discovered and his resignation demanded.
After a brief period in emigration in the United States, he returned to become one of the militants in the Communist Party of Ireland. He was in command of the First Irish Section at Cordoba in December, at Majadahonda in January, at Jarama in February. He was a competent leader, courageous almost to the point of recklessness. More than once, he exposed himself unduly in action to encourage some youngster whose nerve was wilting under a baptism of fire.
The Irish suffered their greatest loss when ‘Kit’ died of wounds received while directing the defence of Pingarron Hill on February 12.
Among those Irishmen who died there in those first days of the Fascist offensive was the Rev. R M Hilliard, the ‘Boxing parson’ from Killarney, who handled a rifle in the ranks until the gunners of a Fascist tank hit him at point blank range.
Frank Edwards, schoolteacher, dismissed by the Catholic Bishop of Waterford for working class activities, was wounded in the side by shrapnel at Las Rozas, in January. He walked two hundred yards back, called for a stretcher for another wounded comrade, and collapsed from loss of blood. Two months later, he was one of the third Irish Section on the Cordoba Front.
Here on one occasion, he and Joe Monks of Dublin, remained alone in a position to face and break a charge of Moors by slinging grenades into their ranks. Jack Nalty, Dublin rank and file leader and noted athlete, had one arm smashed and was wounded on the other and in the chest at Lopera in December. He walked unaided three kilos back to a dressing station, and recovered to fight again through the Jarama campaign.
Brunete offensiveThe Irish also played their part in the great Brunete offensive in July. Among the prominent comrades who fell during this month were Michael Kelly, young London-Irish leader, and William Beattie and William Laughlin, two workers, of different creeds, who at one time had been in opposing sectarian factions in their native Belfast, until the common exploitation of the working–class showed them the road to working class unity, and eventually to the front lines of the fight against fascism.
Here too, died Bill Davis whose clenched-fist shot up in salute as a machine-gun riddled him at the storming of Villanueva de la Canada.
Paddy Duff, of Dublin, machine-gun Commander, saved his own life and that of stretcher-bearers at Brunete, when – wounded in the leg - he rolled into a shell-hole, and yelled the first-aid men back out of the zone of hurling steel. Not even Tom Jones of Wexford, dare devil leader of the first Aid Section, who ever insisted on dressing a wounded man where he fell, dared disobey Duff's command!
At Villaneuva, too, Paddy Murphy’s chivalry almost cost him his life, when he tried to save women and children whom the Fascists were driving before them as cover in a sortie.
Death took its toll again in the victorious Aragon offensive in August. Among those who fell at Belchite was Jim Woulff of Limerick, killed by a grenade at the very moment the town was captured.
Peter Daly, IRA veteran from Wexford, wounded in the Anglo-Irish war, wounded at Jarama in February, wounded again at Cordoba in April, rose from the ranks, promoted for bravery in the field, until he attained the rank of Battalion Commander.
He was the ideal working class officer whose comradeship with his men did not lessen his command over them. He fell at the head of his Battalion at the storming of Purburall Hill on the Aragon Front, on August 2. Not since the death of ‘Kit’ Conway, who was of the same stamp, did the Irish Unit suffer such a heavy blow. Peter Daly’s comrade Paddy O’Daire of Donegal, still with us, has also won successive promotions for bravery and leadership in battle. He is now a Battalion Commander. With him others of the original Irish Unit survive.
Thus after almost a year’s war in Spain ‘The Irish still remain.’ And the gaps are being filled. New recruits arrive – veterans and youths, men of different, and differing parties – here united in the common struggle.
Irish fascist intervention in Spain ignominiously collapsed when the duped Catholic rank and file revolted on discovering that they were fighting not for Christianity but for Fascism.
The Irish in the International brigades remain – for they fight for the same cause for which they fought at home, for the overthrown of the enemy which is attempting to enslave not only the people of Spain, but the whole human race. And so while there is an International Brigade there will be Irish fighters in Spain.
Irish Democrat 11th December 1937
Why I fought in SpainMy reason for going to fight with the Spanish Government forces was the same as that of all the Camarades I met out there. Each and every one of us had developed a hatred of the ruling class of our own countries, mainly because we workers are deprived of the necessities of life.
The literary men I met out there hated the present system because of the way capitalism looks on any project they put forward. Everything is regarded from a money point of view – they don’t seem to understand the meaning of the word –'Progress.’
Capitalism looks at nothing from its human aspect. The whole life of a capitalist is taken up in trying to make its own life secure at the expense of the rest of humanity.
So you see the reason was the same with the Spanish people, who had elected their own Government by peaceful means. They were prepared to utilise the resources of their country for the benefit of the people of Spain. This is why there is a war in Spain today – because the Fascists did not want to see Spain’s resources being used for the good of the whole people of Spain, but only for one section – the wealth grabbing section.
So we who volunteered, individually, came to the conclusion that if the Spanish people were to triumph over Fascist reaction, it would be a great help to every country in the world in the struggle for peace and democracy.
It is not too late to secure for the people, an intelligent, peaceful and cultured life.
P McElroy, Dublin.
Irish Democrat 11th December 1937
Jack Nalty delivers lecture in CorkJack Nalty, who fought with the Irish Unit of the International Brigades in Spain, and is well known in Dublin, Republican and Labour circles, gave a lecture to a very interested audience in Cork last Sunday.
Mr. Nalty dealt with the events leading up to the Fascist rebellion, the persistent provocative acts and statements of leading fascists, which finally gave way to open rebellion.
The people of Spain and the cause of democracy must win, said the speaker. A democratic victory in Spain would be a blow to Fascism the world over. He appealed to those present to show in every possible way their sympathy for the Republican cause in Spain, and particularly to develop inside their different organisations in a strong anti-fascist spirit.
After the lecture questions and discussion were allowed, and at the end a committee was formed to develop the sales of all Labour and Republican publications.
Mr Michael O’Riordan presided.
Other Left newspaper reports
Other Irish papers - articles from the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph, Irish Independent, etc.