IRELAND AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR
[Note C Crossey: I have to say that of all the papers I thought I'd be adding to this site, the News of the World was possibly well down the list! Still, this is an interesting article. One slight commemt- it was not the last day of the war but the last day that the International Brigades were supposed to see action - I know this may seem like nit picking! Anyone wanting more material on Brigaders can visit here.]
Danny Conlon in The News of the World August 7, 2005
HERO WHO DIED ON THE LAST DAY OF WARReligion aside, men of the North and South joined to fight fascism. 277 brave men of Connolly column remembered in Spain
LIAM McGregor reminisced with comrades as they awaited orders to leave the killing fields of Spain in 1938.
Two years into the bitter Spanish Civil War, the Connolly Column of the 15th International Brigade had been ordered home.
They were due to leave the next day, with grateful thanks from the elected Spanish government and the vast majority of Spaniards.
It was a balmy September night in Chabola Valley near the Ebro River and Liam was joking with friends - Catholics, Protestants, Jews, dissenters and atheists from Ireland north and south.
He recalled the great party they had organised just four months before to commemorate the man they esteemed as the father of Irish republicanism, 1798 Rebellion leader Theobald Wolfe Tone. Soldiers sent to the local vineyard with a huge well-washed ash can to collect the vino were late returning.
The party was already in full swing with a heady mixture of songs from the old world and the new. They were feasting on a 'banquet' of black rice-bread and mule meat.
But the warriors were getting thirsty. When the lads finally arrived, staggering along the road, leading a tired-looking donkey pulling the wine cart, they apologised profusely. They explained the anorexic-looking jack-ass found it hard to pull the heavy load. So they lightened it for him!
Once they had the wine, the toasts came fast and furious. To inspirational Wolf Tone and patriot James Connolly, after whom their column was named.
The gathering turned into a Spanish fiesta, Irish ceilidh and international folk song night. Jemmy Straney sang a favourite song of Belfast's Falls Road pubs - The Four Flags of Ireland, another sang about the Boys Of County Cork Who Beat The Black And Tans.
There were flamencos and a Cuban song from Donning Morales - killed the following month.
But the Irishmen would sooner have been in Bodenstown churchyard in Sallins, Co Kildare, for the annual Tone commemoration, drinking the pints of porter that flowed afterwards rather than the Spanish Rioja. As they laughed at these fond memories of comradeship and nostalgia in their dugout, shells burst all around, lighting up the dark night and ending the summer silence.
The fascists were mounting a surprise attack. A fierce battle ensued. And in the last hour of the last battle on the last day of the Irish contingent's stay, 24-year-old Liam McGregor lay dead, shot in the head, along with Irish comrades-in-arms George Gorman, Henry McGrath and fellow-Dubliner Jack Nalty (below left), the last to fall.
Nalty, officer of a machine-gun company, had arrived with Frank Ryan with the first Irish contingent in 1936.
They are all buried in the hard earth of Catalonia along with hundreds of their comrades from many countries who had rallied to the Spanish republican flag.
FightThey helped Spanish workers and peasants fight a fascist insurgency led by Spain's Army of Africa General Francisco Franco.
In his efforts to overthrow the democratically elected centre-left government he had the help of Hitler who sent transport planes and Stuka dive-bombers and Mussolini who sent 70,000 'volunteer' troops and bombers.
The Left throughout the world responded by sending more than 35,000 men and women - The International Brigades.
Among them were 277 Irishmen who had answered the call of freedom.
Liam McGregor came from a socialist background. He was a well-known communist agitator who had fought the Irish fascist Blueshirts, led by former Garda chief Eoin O'Duffy, on the streets of Dublin. O'Duffy also sent his Bandana volunteers to Spain - to fight for Franco. But their first battle was with Franco's own forces who mistook them for Brigaders killing two and wounding dozens.
Six months later, after failing to distinguish themselves and mutinying, Franco sent them back to Ireland and an ignominious homecoming.
Ireland was unique in sending volunteers to fight on BOTH sides.
Unlike O'Duffy's Bandana volunteers, the Brigaders were politically and militarily committed and in the thick of the fighting from the outset distinguishing themselves in the famous battles of Madrid, Jarama and many others before that at the Ebro River.
McGregor studied at the prestigious Lenin International School in Moscow. In Spain he was a political commissar with his company in the International Brigade.
The extent of the last Irish engagement can be grasped from the numbers involved.
The battalion went into action with 377 soldiers, including 106 Irish and British. By the battle's end there were 173 left, The other 204 in the battalion were either killed - 58 Irish and British comrades perished - missing in action or POWs.
The 15th International Brigade which had been in the thick of the fighting since 1936, along with the others from France, Belgium, America, Canada, Australia, Czechoslovakia and Poland, officially disbanded on October 16, 1938. When the survivors paraded through Barcelona in December to embark on homeward-bound ships, people thronged the streets cheering them and throwing flowers in their path.
In Spanish eyes they were heroes who would never be forgotten and are still fondly recalled in memorial ceremonies there today.
HeroesAnd the Irish heroes of Spain have not been forgotten in Ireland.
There is a large commemorative plaque to Irish Brigaders in trades union headquarters Liberty Hall in Dublin. And, from next year, the Memorial Banner of the Irish 'Brigadistas', which currently hangs in Dublin's Irish Labour History Museum, will form the focal point of an exhibition at the National Museum of Ireland in Collins Barracks..
The Spanish heroes will never be forgotten here. There was the powerful Cathal O'Shannon 1976 RTE documentary Even the Olives are Bleeding.
Several authors have also recorded the selfless fight of Irish people for freedom in a foreign land.
Notable among them is the updated Warren & Pell published Connolly Column: The story of Irishmen Who Fought For The Spanish Republic by Brigader Michael O'Riordan (22) launched on St Patrick's eve this year - aptly in Dublin's Liberty Hall, where James Connolly's Irish Citizens' Army mustered for the Easter Rising.
And Singer-songwriter Christy Moore had a hit with an emotive Spanish Civil War song Viva La Quinta Brigada:
Around the time I saw the light of morningChristy's song goes on to name many of the Irish heroes including Nalty:
Though many died I can but name a few.