Ireland and the Spanish Civil war

Press coverage from the Irish Post, Irish Echo and the Irish Democrat.

Latest articles added:
Irish Democrat, June 1986, Doyen of Orange Socialists, a book on Harry Midgley

Some Northern Irish newspaper reports are available here.
Home Page.

Irish Post 10th October 1981

Falsifying history: Frank Dolan (September 19) is no doubt right about Frank Ryan and Bernadette McAliskey both being Irish Republican Socialists. But to try and link them with el Famoso, the Irlanda regiment which fought to keep His Most Catholic Majesty on his Spanish autocratic throne, is to ridiculous. Those Irish regiments also fought to ensure that the Basques, Catalans and other minority peoples remained firmly under Spanish control.

It has always been the custom of autocratic monarchs to have foreign troops who are completely beholden to them and who have no sympathetic connections with the local population. Examples are the Swiss and Scots Guards of the Kings of France and the Cucassian Guards of the present King of Jordan. Incidentally, any chance he would be interested in an Irish brigade? It would certainly increase Irish influence in the Middle East and reduce unemployment in the Republic!

Dolan also fought to mention that Franco called his campaigns 'el Cruszada' (the Crusades) and that he was fully backed by the Catholic Church and by thousands of Irishmen under O'Duffy. To mention fighting on one side in the Spanish Civil War is to falsify history - especially as there were far more with O'Duffy than with Frank Ryan.

Peter Kane

42 Long Ridge House
West Wood Hill
London SE26

Irish Post 31st October 1981 3 letters

The Spanish Civil War: crawthumpers' moment of sham glory
Peter Kane waxed eloquent in your issue of October 10 on the Spanish Civil War. May I, as somebody who fought in that war, provide him with some facts.

O'Duffy's Brigade had minimal involvement. On the other hand, those Irish who were in the International Brigades and in the Irish Company (about 150 men in the latter) fought with distinction, honour and valour right up to the final defeat. Needless to say, many of them died.

Frank Ryan, although he did not hold as high a military rank as is sometimes attributed to him, was a great man of fine bearing. He was a leader of men.

During an exchange of correspondence in your newspaper some years ago, I named many of the great Irishmen with whom I had the honour of participating in that war.

Peter Kane said that Franco 'was fully backed by the Catholic Church.' Well, I can tell him that Franco killed countless Catholics. His dastardly deeds at Guernica horrified the world. As was characteristic of him, he tried to blame our side for it. But the truth prevailed and Picasso put it all in his masterpiece 'Guernica', which Frank Dolan wrote about in his column of September 19 when that painting was finally returned to Spain.

Brendan Moroney
92 Fifth Avenue
Queen's Park
London W10

Although Peter Kane's point (October 10), that far more Irishmen were with Eoin O'Duffy fighting on Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39 than were with Frank Ryan defending the democratically elected Republican government, is numerically correct, the assertion as such is flawed in terms of Irish commitment to the Republican side.

This is so because all the International Brigades......................[will fill in later, cc, 20/1/5]

Irish Post 14th November 1981

For whom the bells toll
Last Thursday in Bangor, North Wales, they laid to rest Patrick O'Daire from Glenties, Co. Donegal. He was 76 and as brave an Irishman as any that came this way.

As a teenager he joined the Irish army, took soldiering seriously and soon became an NCO. In 1929, he left Ireland for Canada under a Canadian government scheme which gave immigrants portions of land which, when cleared of boulders and brushwood, made good farms. After a year of Trojan work, O'Daire had cleared his farm and all that remained for him to do was to raise the finance which would buy stock and seed. Normally, this wouldn't have been a problem. But by now Canada was gripped by a depression and the money wasn't to be had. So O'Daire found himself out of work and on the streets with the unemployed.

A natural organiser, he was soon to be at the forefront n demonstrations. He used to teach the marchers rebel songs and this the Canadian police thought was dangerous, so they arrested him. He was given 15 months hard labour and then deported.

Next he settled in Liverpool. By now he was a committed Marxist. His Canadian experience had convinced him. Come December 1936, he left Liverpool to join the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War.

He saw his first action at Lopera when the newly formed XIV International Brigade went south to Andalusia to halt a Franco offensive which had already overrun Republican strongholds of Jaen and Cordoba.

O'Daire was wounded at Lopera but after a period in hospital, was soon back in action - being posted to the hastily formed XX International Battalion. This battalion stayed on frontline service from March until July 1937 and took part in the Pozoblanco counter-offensive. At Chimorra in the Sierra Morena. O'Daire was promoted on the field to lieutenant. Soon afterwards, he was one of the only 19 survivors who returned from Albacete.

Soon he was promoted again - to second in command of the British Battalion. The commander was Peter Daly and, when he fell mortally wounded on the slopes of Purburell Hill, it was O'Daire who led the final move forward that captured the fortifications on the summit and gave the Republicans control of the Quinto stretch of the River Ebro.

After that, he was sent for some time to a college for senior officers and, when the British Battalion was reorganised, O'Daire was given command of the legendary No. 1 Company in which he had first served at the battle of Lopera. He quickly won the admiration of his men. Among them was Jack Jones, the future general secretary of the British Transport and General Workers' Union. They established a lifelong friendship.

By utilising the principle of surprise, the Army of the Ebro came close to saving Spanish democracy by snatching victory from defeat. O'Daire survived those last fierce battles and eventually returned to Britain.

Then came World War 2 and he joined the British army - winning a commission and eventually becoming a Major with the Pioneer Corps in Italy. After the war, he lived in Coventry for many years - before finally setting up home in Llanberis where, in the closing years of his life, the beauty of the hills of North Wales kept green his memory of Donegal.

Jack Jones was among the old comrades at Thursday's funeral in Bangor. So too was another who served with him in Spain, London -based Joseph Monks, who supplied us with the details for this tribute.

Irish Post, 28th November 1981

I read with deep regret Fionn MacCool's column of November 14 the news of the death of Paddy O'Daire. You paid a fitting tribute to an out-standing man who played a very remarkable role in the Spanish Civil War.

For him and I and 44 others, it began at Victoria Station, London, on December 4, 1936. Soon, we were marching through the main streets of Barcelona.

Joe Monks (to whom you attributed the details of O'Daire's Spanish involvement) was there - as were Frank Edwards, Kit Conway, Paddy Roe, Peter Daly, Jack Nalty, Paddy Gill and the Powers brothers from Waterford. The other names I find difficult to recall after so long a time.

There should be a book written about that company. It's part of Irish history. Incidentally, the British Battalion is now being acknowledged through [the] Imperial War Museum.

Brendan Moroney
Queen's Park

Irish Post, 28th November 1981

Messrs. Moroney, O'Donovan and Connor wrote enthusiastically in your issue of October 31 in favour of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. What they overlooked to state is that the Republicans were also Communists.

They made no reference to the massacre of civilian Catholics, as well as priests and nuns, and the burning and desecrating of churches by the Communists before Franco stepped in and put an end to it.

One of the greatest successes of the Communist propaganda machine was to fool the world that the republicans were the good guys in Spain and that Franco's forces were the bad guys.

Franco saved his country from the scourge of Communism, but yet he continues to be given a bad press by the Western media.

Michael Feely
West Midlands.

Irish Post, 12th December 1981

Letters: Gallantry amidst the olive groves
I feel obliged to reply to Michael Feely's suggestion (November 28), that in the Spanish Civil War, 'the Republicans were also Communists' - which amounts to saying that I was a Communist.

Having entered Spain to serve with the International Brigades on December 6, 1936, and having been there throughout the civil war, I can state without hesitation that my Catholicism was never questioned. On the contrary, I was complimented on many occasions for holding firm to my religious convictions.

To give one simple example, I buried Ben Murray, from Clones, Co. Monaghan, in an olive grove and in the crater of the bomb that killed him. I recited appropriate Catholic prayers and that was what my comrades expected off me.

I attended many other Catholic funerals.

The Spanish Republican government was never dominated by the Spanish Communist Party.

What illustrates the truth of the entire situation is this fact - the vast majority of civilians who died were killed by Franco's bombings. He bombed towns, villages and churches - flattening them to the ground.

The International Brigades included people from all countries and they came to support a just cause. It was as simple as that.

Eighty percent of those involved, like me, were not Communist. But we all were anti-Fascist.

The Spanish people, even those who supported Franco, hold the International Brigades in high esteem to this day. We fought the just fight in defence of the lawfully elected popular government and, were it not for Hitler and Mussolini backing Franco (and in doing so getting plenty of practice for World War 2), we would have won. It was their intervention which changed the course of the civil war.

The International Brigades were the last to lay down their arms. They did so with honour.

Brendan Moroney
92 Fifth Avenue
Queens Park
London W10

Irish Post, 12th December 1981

Having only been a four-year old toddler on a farm in South Kerry when the Spanish conflict erupted, I do not propose to contest Michael Feely's assertions (November 28) about the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys'. But this statement that the 'Republicans were also Communists' is one that, I imagine, he would find it very difficult to confirm. Certainly none of the historians of the Spanish Civil War, to my knowledge, has ever made such a remarkable discovery in the course of their research.

Incidentally, for those interested in the Spanish Civil War, I recommend a reading of George Orwell's 'Homage to Catalonia'.

Pat O'Donovan
Englefield Road
London N1

Irish Post, 12th December 1981

With reference to Brendan Moroney's and Michael Feely's letters in your issue of November 28, is it any wonder that a handful of Orange Unionists dominate Irish politics? I wish someone would explain why Irish Catholic socialists and Blue Shirts were so concerned about Spain's problems in 1936.

With all the ranting and raving one hears from Orange Unionists and left-wing Papists and Communists (one must not forget Ian Paisley's remarks about the late Pope John wearing red socks), I have not heard of a Unionists brigade fighting for or against Franco.

There was no need for Irishmen to journey to Spain in order to fight either left or right dictators. The Stormont government was right there and capable of teaching Franco, Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin a lesson in that noble art.

Michael Murphy

Irish Post, 23rd October 1982

Letter: The tragic change in Spain
I have just returned from a two-week holiday in Spain. What a contrast from Spain I fought for during the Civil War. That was a marvellous Spain and I loved its people. Now it's only your money that wants. Furthermore, they have become ill mannered. This is a tragedy in a country which had natural courtesy.

In several places they tried to rip me off. Luckily, my Spanish is still in good order and I was more than able to hold my own. The accommodation in those hotels that I saw was a disgrace to the name of tourism.

There was one incident which I knew of (but didn't witness) where a barman threw a 16 year-old boy through the window of the hotel lounge. The boy sustained severe cuts on his face and went to the police station to complain. Not only did they take no notice of him, they actually kicked him out. When he got back to the hotel, he was forced to pay £80 for the broken window.

The less said about the police the better. Anybody else who complains about the Garda in Ireland should go and sample their equivalent in Spain.

My impression was that Spanish tourism has a positive distaste for the English - despite the billion pounds of so British tourists spend in Spain each year. The Germans are the favourites there. I didn't bother finding out why.

But it really saddened me what has happened to a once marvellous country. It saddens me even more so when I think of the many fine Irishmen who fought and died for democracy and freedom in Spain. I regret having to write all of this, but feel it needs to be said.

Brendan Moroney

Irish Post, 13th November 1982

Letter: The Change in Spain
Brendan Moroney (October 23) wrote about the displeasure which he experienced while recently holidaying in Spain - a Spain which he had previously experienced participating in its Civil War. Like Mr Moroney, I too have just returned from a holiday in Spain. I enjoyed it immensely.

I was in Spain on several occasions when General Franco was in power and this was my first visit since King Juan Carlos became head of state. I noticed several changes.

What Eamon De Valera was to Ireland, General Franco was to Spain. They were both father figures. They deeply loved their respective countries.

The changes in Spain have been brought about not by tourism but by the change of leadership, more prosperity and foreign investment. Everywhere I went, I found the Spanish people were friendly, courteous and honest.

The only occasions I was 'taken for a ride' was when I patronised English-owned or English-speaking bars or clubs.

Sean S O Cuilleanain
St Andrews,

Irish Post, 4th December 1982

Franco parallel nonsense
I need to reply briefly to Sean S O Cuilleanain who, in your issue of November 13, replied to my letter of October 23. In his reply, he submitted: 'What Eamon De Valera was to Ireland, General Franco was to Spain.' That's utter rubbish.

Franco was a dictator and a tyrant. Even 25 years after the Civil War he still had republicans in jail and was even executing some of them. A good friend of mine from the civil war days, Juan Grimau, was executed as late as 1963 and on false evidence.

Franco also resorted to torture and murder. I can vouch that we on the republican side treated those of Franco's soldiers whom were captured humanely and as prisoners of war.

Eamon De Valera was a statesman of world renown. I wish to God Ireland had somebody of his calibre today. If it had, it wouldn't be in the state it is.

Having risked my life in Spain, I naturally retain, even after all these years, a great love for the country and its people. But I was certainly disappointed by what I saw on my recent holiday there - the rapacious commercialism in so many years, even in what were formerly delightful little fishing villages.

Unlike Mr O Cuilleanain, I found the English-run pubs which I visited to be among the more honest establishments. I just feel that tourists from Britain, who contribute such vast suns to the Spanish economy each year, deserve better and more honest treatment than I saw being provided in so many establishments.

Still, here's to Spain. I need to go on believing that the ordinary Spaniard is still a man of nobility.

Brendan Moroney
Queen's Park

Irish Post, 23rd April 1983

Sam Wild: A hero's passing
Sam Wild died peacefully in Sheffield the other day. No flags flew at half-mast, neither in Yorkshire not in Madrid. But then Sam's place in history was already assured and his passing didn't need symbols or trimmings.

He was, of course, one of the heroes of the Spanish Civil War - a comrade in arms of Peter Daly and Paddy O'Daire. All three were, at different times, commanders of the Saklatvala Battalion.

Wild was born in Ardwick, Manchester, in August 1908. His father, a fitter and turner, was a member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, while his mother, Mary McGrail, from Castlebar, Co. Mayo. Sam grew up positively Manchester-Irish - immensely proud of the Fenian tradition with which his mother's family endowed him. Most of his early education was acquired at St. Aloysius's School in Ardwick.

London based Dubliner Joe Monks, who also went through it all in Spain, remembers vividly. He remembers Sam's outstanding role in the battles of Jarama, Brunete and Teruel. 'As a field commander during the big Fascist breakthrough in the spring of 1938, Sam led the battalion in a series of checking actions that delayed the enemy and purchased time for many of the Spanish Republican units to regroup and fight again. Thus the long retreat down the south bank of the Ebro River was not allowed to develop into a general rout,' Joe Monks tells us.

The following July, at the re-crossing of the Ebro, Sam was raised to the rank of major and awarded the Republic's highest medal of valour.

A few years ago, to mark the 40th Anniversary of it all, there was a gathering in Manchester in tribute to Sam., Present were old comrades, as well as representatives of subsequent generations who appreciated what it was about and what men such as Sam were imbued with back in those years of the Thirties.

The crowning of the evening was a message read from Dolores Ibarruri - the legendary La Pasionaria, who outlived Franco to return to Spain in triumph.

To Sam Wild that evening in Manchester she said: "We have not forgotten and will never forget your heroic participation in our national, revolutionary war; and your continuing solidarity with our people."

Let that be his epitaph.

Irish Post, 14th May 1983

May God grant Sam Wild his eternal award
I was saddened to read in Fionn Mac Cool's column in your issue of April 23 of the death of Sam Wild, one of the heroes of the Spanish Civil War. I knew him but briefly, for only a matter of one week, when I was in the British battalion of the 15th International Brigade. But I knew of him, of course, and of his outstanding feats as a soldier.

I had fallen foul of one of the American political commissars attached to the 15th Brigade headquarters. I was in poor physical shape and things were bad. Sam Wild intervened and hospitalised me. I have regretted since that I didn't have the honour of serving under him.

Sam was in the finest tradition of Irish soldiers who served on the Continent in various centuries and he certainly epitomised the best of our people who served in Spain. During the big Franco offensive in March 1938, Sam was briefly captured but he turned the tables on his captors and, unarmed and with his fists, saved himself and his comrades from certain death.

May God grant Sam Wild his eternal award.

Incidentally, perhaps not everybody who is interested in those days knows of the whereabouts of the grave of Peter Daly, who was, of course, another of the Irish heroes in Spain. He is buried in the cemetery of Benicasim, a small village about five kilometres from the city of Castellon de la Plana. Some time ago, I visited his grave.

I rather doubt if the world will know such bravery again. It was an honour to have been part of it.

Brendan Moroney

Irish Post, 28th May, 1983

Gallantry in Spain

I read with interest Brendan Moroney's letter in your issue of May 14 about Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, I have read the various letters which he has contributed to your newspaper on this subject over the years.

It prompts me to suggest that he should consider writing a book on his experiences and those of the many gallant Irishmen who served and sacrificed in that epic struggle.

Mick Morrissey
12 Star Cross Street
London NW1

Irish Democrat June 1983

Patrick Power RIP

A link with one of Ireland's most revolutionary periods was broken with the sad death last month of Paddy Power, from Waterford City. Aged 74, Paddy lived in Paddington and was the last of a famous trio of brothers; the others being John and William.

The three of them fought in the International Brigade, and all were active in the Socialist and Republican movement for many years. Paddy remained staunch in his beliefs to the end and we salute his memory.

Irish Post, 16th June 1983

O'Duffy's Broken Dream
Micheal O Callanian looks at the rise and fall off Fascism in Ireland half a century ago.

This time 50 years ago - the summer of 1933 - the Irish Free State, little more than a decade in existence, was threatened with a Fascist take-over. It has already happened in Italy and in Germany and the Fascists were also marching in Britain, the United States and in Australia. They were the 'shirt' people and in Ireland they were the Blueshirts. They were to threaten democracy far more seriously than Sir Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts did in Britain.

The Blueshirts were led by General Eoin O'Duffy, who was born on a small farm near Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan, in January 1892. As a teenager he threw himself wholeheartedly into the Gaelic revival movement and especially the Gaelic League and the GAA. He became secretary of the Ulster Council of the GAA in 1914, at the age of only 22, and he quickly established a reputation as an excellent organiser.

He joined Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers early in 1917 and within a year was commander of the Monaghan Brigade of the Volunteers. Soon afterwards he and a colleague, Dan Horan, spent two months in Belfast's Crumlin Road jail. It resulted in them both losing their jobs, so, on release, they set up an auctioneering firm.

O'Duffy, in February 1920, led the first attack on an RIC barracks in Ulster. In an entirely successful operation, they captured Ballytrain barracks. Later that year, he was back in Crumlin Road jail where he led a brief hunger strike which resulted in the release of all IRA prisoners.

O'Duffy was now the outstanding leader in the Monaghan-Fermanagh area and during the early months of 1921 organised a succession of ambushes and attacks on crown forces.

IRA headquarters in Dublin were hugely impressed with the dynamic young Monaghan man and Michael Collins and Richard Mulcahy, the latter then the IRA's chief-of-staff, appointed O'Duffy director of organisations, and a member of the GHQ staff.

Soon afterwards, O'Duffy joined the IRB and, with the signing of the Truce in July 1921, he was appointed chief IRA liaison officer with the British forces in Ulster. He established his headquarters at St. Mary's Hall in the centre of Belfast and operated from there in full uniform.

He was already a member of the Dáil and in autumn 1921 was appointed deputy chief-of-staff of the IRA.

AS might be expected, O'Duffy supported the Treaty and Collins appointed him chief-of-staff of the pro-Treaty section of the IRA. In that capacity he was involved in supplying arms to the IRA north of the Border and it was he who authorised the IRA offensive in the North in May 1922.

Meanwhile, negotiations were continuing between the pro and anti-Treaty sections of the IRA and IRB. But a civil war was inevitable.

War Council
O'Duffy participated in that with the same efficiency which had characterised all his previous activities. He was one of the three members of the War Council of the new Free State government. The other two members were Collins and Mulcahy.

In September 1922, he was appointed to command the newly formed and unarmed civil police force, An Garda Siochana.

Once again, O'Duffy did a remarkable job in within a matter of months, recruiting and training thousands of young men so that there was, by the spring of 1923, a broadly accepted Garda force in every area of the 26 Counties. He largely succeeded in keeping the Garda distanced from the worst bitterness of the civil war and he boosted the force's morale by promoting excellence in sport - especially in Gaelic games and in boxing. Throughout all of those years, O'Duffy was a member of the Central Council of the Gaelic Athletic Association. O'Duffy was still only in his early thirties and with a remarkable record of achievement. He made a success of everything he tackled. Indeed, when a mutiny broke out in the Free State army in 1924, it was to O'Duffy that the Cosgrave government turned. He was temporarily appointed GOC of the army so that he might sort things out. This he did in quick time.

Yet, 10 years later, here was the same man planning a military coup and the establishment of a Fascist dictatorship in Ireland.

Considering the course which Irish politics took in the interim, the growth of fascism elsewhere in Europe, and O'Duffy's own personality, it wasn't an altogether remarkable development. He was a very vain man, who gloried in public occasions and military ceremonials - especially when he was leading the parade.

He met Mussolini in 1928 while on a Garda pilgrimage to Rome. O'Duffy was much impressed with the Italian dictator.

A year later, O'Duffy was chief marshal for the celebrations of the centenary of Catholic emancipation and he held the same ceremonial office for the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932. A Eucharistic Congress in those days was the equivalent of a papal visit today.

In the Twenties and Thirties, the Catholic Church in Europe was concerned with the growth of Communism and soon O'Duffy was manifesting that concern. Furthermore, it was to be noted that most of the great Fascist leaders were Catholics, or at least nominally so.

Meanwhile in Ireland, the Fianna Fail Party had been formed by Eamon De Valera and it had attracted into membership most of the republican opposition to the Treaty. There was a growing fear on the part of the Free State establishment, of which O'Duffy was now a key figure, that Fianna Fail would win the general election of 1932.

On February 9 of that year, a meeting took place in Dublin at which was formed the Army Comrades' Association. The Irish Independent carried a brief report which said that the president of the new organisation was former Free State army colonel Austin Brennan from Co. Clare.

But the formation of that organisation had been preceded throughout the previous six months by a series of secret meetings in Dublin suburban homes and hotels. The organiser was another ex-army officer, Commandant Ned Cronin from Cork.

On St. Patrick's Day 1932, the Army Comrades' Association held in private a convention at Wynn's Hotel, Dublin, which was presided over by Dr. T F O'Higgins, the Cumann na nGaedheal TD for Laois-Offaly. He was a former director of army medical services and the brother of Kevin O'Higgins, the Free State Minister who was assassinated, presumably by elements in the IRA, in 1927.

Dr O'Higgins was nationally known as a spokesman for wealthy and powerful native Irish families who played a key role in the policy making of the Free State government.

That convention virtually coincided with Fianna Fail's triumph in the 1932 general election and, with dependence on Labour votes, their forming a new government.

Prisoners Freed
Democracy as now on a knife-edge. Would the apparatus of the Free State, which had functioned for a decade, accept the democratically elected Fianna Fail government which, in the election campaign, had been supported by the still quite strong IRA? One of De Valera's first acts on gaining office was to release all republican prisoners and huge celebration rallies welcoming them home were held throughout the country.

The entire situation was being compounded by rising unemployment and that particular mix of Fascism and right-wing Catholic fervour.

There were riots in several counties, arising out of clashes at public meetings between Fianna Fail supporters and IRA activists on one side and, on the other, pro-Free State elements led by members of the Army Comrades' Association which was then emerging as a well-drilled force, with each man wearing a white ribbon in his buttonhole.

In January 1933 De Valera called a snap election and was returned to power with a secure majority - freeing him from dependence on Labour support in the Dail. Within days of resuming office, De Valera dismissed the Garda Commissioner, General Eoin O'Duffy. Soon afterwards, O'Duffy was chosen as leader of the Army Comrades' Association, which he promptly renamed the National Guard. He declared its basic philosophy derived from the papal encyclical Quadragesimo Anno and from Mussolini's theory on the corporate state. O'Duffy had as his 'think tank' Br Michael Tierney and Dr J J Hogan, two of the leading academics at University College, Dublin. Tierney was subsequently to be a long-term president of the university and Hogan was to succeed him.

Soon the National Guard was marching all over the country and sporting blue shirts - hence the name. Blueshirts they were known and are remembered.

Coup Planned
The authority of the state was being seriously challenged. It was obvious that O'Duffy was planning the overthrow of the democratically elected government. It was presumed that he had very considerable backing within the army and at least some backing in the Garda which he had personally moulded for a decade.

O'Duffy announced a massive Blueshirt parade to take place in Dublin on August 13, 1933, to commemorate Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and Kevin O'Higgins. De Valera named the parade. O'Duffy backed down and called it off. If he ever had a moment, he had now lost it. De Valera moved again a fortnight later and proscribed the National Guard. Once more O'Duffy backed down.

A few weeks later (September 1933) Cumann na nGaedheal, the party which had ruled the Free State since its founding, merged with the Blueshirts and the minute National Centre party to form a new party to be known as Fine Gael. O'Duffy was its leader.

It wasn't a happy merger. Committed democrats within the new party found O'Duffy's Fascism hard to take and some, like Professor J J Hogan, resigned. Meanwhile, De Valera continued to establish his rule. The state continued to function - despite having to contend with an economic war with Britain. O'Duffy became more shrill and more extreme. In September 1934 he was forced to resign from the party and was even pushed out of the Blueshirts which, while outlawed, still existed.

But the threat to democracy was over. So was O'Duffy's dream. He now launched a new party, the National Corporate Party, but it made no impact. When the civil war began in Spain in 1936, O'Duffy sought to revive his fortunes by supporting Franco. In this regard, he had the backing of certain sections of the Catholic Church in Ireland. But the Irish government maintained a policy of neutrality and passed legislation which made participation in the war in Spain illegal.

Still, O'Duffy raised a Brigade of 700 men and they made their way to Spain. But, by now, O'Duffy, although still only in his mid-forties, had lost much of his organisational genius. His group was ill equipped and ill trained. Franco forces attacked them by mistake and killed tow of them. After six months, all but nine of O'Duffy's Brigade voted to return home. They were back in the summer of 1937.

After that Eoin O'Duffy took no further interest in politics. His health disimproved and he died on November 30, 1944. With considerable magnanimity - and in recognition of the fact that he held the most senior ranks in the Garda and in the army - De Valera gave him a state funeral.

Irish Democrat July 1983

Frank Edwards RIP

The death of Frank Edwards after a long illness removed one of the 'old guard' of the Irish 'left'.

Born in the North, he was raised in Waterford and is always associated with that city.

A member of the Communist Party of Ireland since its formation 50 years ago, he fought in Spain in the International Brigade.

A teacher by profession, he suffered much from unemployment as a result of victimisation, but lived to see the more liberal Ireland of the past two decades.

His main activity for a number of years was promoting good relations between Ireland and the Soviet Union. For a number of years relations were broken off. There can be little doubt that the present more cordial atmosphere in which two Irishmen have been awarded the Order of Lenin (no Englishman ever had it) can in no small measure be traced to Frank Edwards's unremitting work.

He is survived by a wife and son whom the Irish Democrat offers condolences.

Irish Post, 9th July 1983

O'Duffy could have been the saviour of Ireland

Having read Micheal O Callanain's article, O'Duffy's Broken Dream, in your issue of June 18, I would suggest:

Firstly, if O'Duffy and his followers had the many years in government which De Valera and Fianna Fail enjoyed, the reunification of Ireland would be nearer fulfilment.

Secondly, that reunification would be based on sound Christian principles, as well as an efficient and just, corporate, economic system which would protect the traditions and culture of Ireland's gaelic nationhood, while leading Irish society towards a path of faith and combined action.

This would be so different to the materialistic chaos and evils which assail modern Ireland, where self-interest and subversion are the order of the day. This is the tragic legacy of the misrule and corruption of so-called democratic politicians and so-called socialist organisations. It is to the credit of Eoin O'Duffy that he was the foe of both.

Martin Glynn
51c High St

Irish Post, 23rd July 1983

The Blueshirts saved Ireland

Pearse, MacSwiney, Sands and Finucane were men of principle and gave their lives for principle. Those people who left a country they would not work for and settled in a country they would not defend are not in the same class. Those who simply sold their talents for money are not entitled to criticise any such people. Silence would be golden on their part.

But I am much more concerned about Michael O Callanin's article of June 18 on General Eoin O'Duffy and the Blueshirts. In my view, it was a complete misrepresentation of the situation. The facts need to be stated.

There was a threat to democracy. There was a threat to the institutions of the state. There was an attack on the freedom of speech. All of these came from the Republican elements. Their opponents' meetings were broken up; President Cosgrave was stoned; ex-national army officers were attacked in their own homes; and, among the very many outrages committed, perhaps the murder of the aged Admiral Somerville on his own doorstep is the best remembered.

De Valera, who always encouraged disorder when it was to his political advantage, not alone took no action but added fuel to the flames by allowing his newspaper to comment that these atrocities represented the justifiable anger of the people.

The sacking in 1933 of O'Duffy from his post of Garda Commissioner added to the disquiet. The sacking was demanded by De Valera supporters at a march and rally outside the Dáil. 'O'Duffy must go' screamed An Phoblacht.

The Blueshirts were not Fascists. That's a myth propounded by second-class historians. Neither was it their intention to take over the state. Their terms of reference, as stated by Mulcahy, O'Higgins, etc., were to support the institutions of the state - to support law and order, and defend free speech. O'Duffy, a law and order man sacked for political reasons, became the natural leader of the Blueshirts. Mulcahy, O'Higgins and the rest were the men who had created the state and its institutions, in spite of armed opposition supported by De Valera. Their opponents were jealous of their reputations as democrats.

The Blueshirts were unarmed and remained so. The bulk of the membership was drawn from the farming community whose livelihood was being destroyed by the 'Economic War' embarked upon by De Valera as a consequence of his attempts to justify his political past. That 'war' was denounced by the then Cardinal primate, Cardinal McRory, as a 'sin and a shame' and the farmers were as interested in Fascism as they were in the square root of minus one.

De Valera's reaction were to confiscate the hand guns of the opposition leaders (retained as souvenirs of the Anglo-Irish war); to accuse O'Duffy of being involved in the murder of Kevin O'Higgins (an accusation he was forced to withdraw); and to engage in clumsy attempts to ban the Blueshirts without banning the Republicans at the same time.

That Blueshirt parade arranged for Dublin on August 13, 1933, to commemorate the founders of the state, Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and Kevin O'Higgins, was not banned. It could not be. The Blueshirts had committed no crimes. They had robbed no banks and had not shot anybody. It was called off because of the usual threats of Republican disorder and because O'Duffy was a law and order man.

De Valera then produced his version of the Gestapo - a special police force known as the Broy Harriers - who distinguished themselves rapidly by planting ammunition in Commandant Ned Cronin's office in an attempt to silence his caustic and accurate comments which infuriated the government, and by opening fire on a demonstration of farmers in Cork, killing one of them.

By focusing attention on the law and order issue and exposing the consequences of the 'Economic War', the Blueshirts prevented the slide into the sort of disorder we see in Ireland today.

No doubt the Blueshirt potential still exists. But where among Ireland's disgraced politicians are to be found me, of the calibre of Mulcahy, O'Higgins, O'Duffy and the rest?

Martin Glynn's excellent letter of July 9 indicates what might have been.

D Purcell
39 Tiverton Avenue
Weeping Cross

I was depressed to read in your issue of July 9 that the Fascist dreams of Eoin O'Duffy are still in existence. I refer, of course, to Martin Glynn's letter.

The late unlamented O'Duffy was a staunch supporter of Franco in Spain, Salazar in Portugal and, of course, Mussolini in Italy.

I was reared in Northern Ireland in the iron grip of English imperialism, but I'd much prefer that evil than an Ireland under a fascist dictatorship. Anyone who had any doubts about the benevolence of Fascism should address their minds to Pinochet in Chile or Rios Montt in Guatemala.

The Ireland of James Connolly is the one where should all be directing our thoughts to and, hopefully, its realisation is ever nearer.

John F Kettle
7 Beckett Close

Irish Post, 3rd September 1983

Socialism destroyed Ireland

General Eoin O'Duffy was no Fascist, as J F Kettle (July 23) would have us believe. The word Fascism is normally used as an insult. The word provokes an element of fear and prompts a recollection of Hitler.

General O'Duffy was a Catholic and saw it as his true duty to fight on the side of Franco in his struggle against the enemies who were destroying Spain. People nowadays seem to forget that over 6,00 religious, including priests and nuns, were murdered by the Republicans. People would have you believe that it was as imply struggle between the Fascists and those wanting a democracy. Obviously, General O'Duffy saw that it was a strange kind of democracy that was imposed on Spain.

After his victory, Franco soon put Spain back on the map and, for 40 years, gave it table government. Had the Republicans won this certainly wouldn't have been the case.

If General O'Duffy had gained power in Ireland, our country today would be truly united and not in a mess as it is now. It was socialist ideology which destroyed Irish nationalism.

Under O'Duffy, Ireland would have developed to hits full potential. But instead we now have a country submerged in a crime wave and crippled for generations to come by foreign debt. The Irish no longer are in charge. The country is now run by the debt collectors.

P J Daly

Irish Post, 3rd September 1983

Ireland's very own Gestapo

Irish Post, 10th September 1983

The excitement of fighting

I agree with Liam O Lochlain (July 30) that the saga of those who served in Britain's armed services during the 1939-45 war should be brought to a close.

I served in the British Army from 1941 to 1946 - in two Irish regiments and two special service units where the Irish were outnumbered only by the Scots. In all, I spoke to at least 1,000 Irish officers, NCOs and privates and they were in the army for a whole lot of different reasons.

Firstly there were the regulars (professional soldiers) and they came mainly from Northern Ireland. Then there were those who joined for financial reasons. Their wives and families or parents were in Ireland. Their remittance was increased by 50% by the British Paymaster.

Then there were those like the late Paddy [Jim] Prendergast, who had fought Fascism in Spain, and Paddy O'Connor, who hated Fascism under any name or shape. No doubt, I met a few crusaders, but the vast majority of Southern Irishmen were in the British Army for the sheer excitement of actually fighting.

This is borne out by the fact that these men could have earned about four ties their army pay by working in factories or helping to rebuild or repair roads, railways and such like.

Never once did I meet a Southern Irishman, officer or other rank, who claimed he was fighting for Ireland. When one thinks about it, this was not surprising, because the only men who fought for Ireland fought against the British.

Proinsias MacCaba
Ex-Captain Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
31 Daleside

Irish Post, November 5 1983

Letter: O'Duffy meant an end to neutrality

In two recent letters (September 3 and October 1) A J Travers has sought to argue that Eamon De Valera was a dictator. 'Yes, Ireland had a dictator in the Thirties, but it was not Eoin O'Duffy. It was Eamon De Valera,' he wrote.

I feel obliged to contest this. When De Valera came to power in 1932 - a decade after the Civil War had ended, the wounds of that conflict still remained. He sought to heal and to revive a sense of nationhood. Part of his programme was to cut the remaining links with Britain. After all, it was the signing of the Treaty which had caused the Civil War.

Over the next five years, De Valera took various steps towards establishing greater independence. These included abolishing the oath of allegiance to the British monarch and scrapping the post of Governor General. Eventually in 1936 when Edward VIII abdicated, Dev removed the remaining link with the crown. He achieved a republic in fact, but not in name, with his 1937 Constitution. He felt it was better to wait until Ireland was reunited before declaring it a republic.

It's nonsense to compare Dev with Hitler, Mussolini or Franco. Dev was throughout his long political life a committed democrat. He was democratically elected to every office he held. Elections duly took place at the prescribed time and, invariably, he was re-elected.

We know what happened in Germany under Hitler. The same could have happened in Ireland had General Eoin O'Duffy succeeded. He might have done to Ireland what Hitler did to Germany and Mussolini to Italy. De Valera saved democracy in Ireland. By democratic means, and with a firm hand, he prevented the Fascists from gaining control.

A J Travers, in seeking to contest Michael O Callanain's excellent article of some months ago, made the assertion that the Blueshirts were unarmed and thus incapable of challenging the armed forces of the state. If Dev had not moved against the Blueshirts, could not O'Duffy, in the ears immediately prior to the War and during the War, have turned to his Fascist friends for arms and supplies? There can be no doubt that Hitler would gladly have supplied him. A Fascist takeover in Ireland would have been of immense strategic value to the Germans during the War. Had they taken over, or even intended to take over, Britain would, of course, have had no alternative but to invade the 26 Counties.

De Valera will be remembered as a protector of democracy. He set about shaping the country into what it should be. He wanted an Ireland self-sufficient in food, with a decentralised manufacturing sector providing as much as possible of the country's needs in the area of manufactured goods. He wanted to provide work at home for Ireland's people.

In arguing that Dev was not a dictator, I am not suggesting that O'Duffy was one. He most certainly wasn't, because he did not achieve power to become one.

Colin Hennessy
London NW2

Irish Democrat, September 1984

Monument to Tom Patton

[CC – his name was Tom PattEN]

We extract the following from the Irish Workers’ Voice, published at 43 east Essex Street, Dublin. The Pattons were a Protestant family who lived right on the tip of Achill Island where Dooega Head drops nearly a thousand feet into the Atlantic:

“Forty-eight years ago a 25 year old Irish emigrant in London set out from there to make his way to Madrid to defend the Spanish Republic from the revolt of the Fascist Generals. He died in the battle in Madrid 1936, this becoming the first Irishman to die in Spain’s war and as well strangely enough the first English speaking volunteer to fall in the defence of the capital in Republican Spain. Strangely enough because Tommy Patton was a native Irish speaker from Achill in Co. Mayo and now there are plans to erect a memorial inscribed in Gaelic and Spanish, a few hundred yards from his family home near the cove of Dooega.”

Tommy was one of a family of 14 and like many such Irishmen and women had to emigrate to Britain seeking work. He and his brother worked on the building sites in Blackpool and later Tommy worked at the building of the Guinness brewery in Park Royal, London. He became an active member of the London branch of the Republican Congress, the Irish united front, anti-fascist and national independence movement which later developed, and still exists as the Connolly Association.

Reports have now reached Ireland of a moving memorial fund raising meeting in New York’s Washington Square’s Methodist Church which was once a refuge for slaves who escaped north, a fitting place indeed for the international gathering which came together to honour the memory of the anti-fascist fighter from Achill. Gerard O’Reilly, one of the founders of the American Transport Workers’ Union and a close friend and confidant of Frank Ryan was one of the many speakers. The press release of the memorial meeting said he ‘embodied in his presence the Irish Republican and American labour movement’. The continuity of these ideals in both the Irish and International context were carried though the second part of the programme with messages of solidarity from the international community, Puerto Rico, Central America, and the African National Congress.

In the interim the Rev. Paul Abels of the Methodist Church joined with Fr Pat Moloney in a short invocation. The pastors touched the hearts of many gathered to whom prayers may have been a distant memory. We will inform our readers of fuller information of the progress of the memorial erection, date of unveiling, etc as soon as such comes to hand.

Irish Post, 1st October 1983

Franco hardly needed O'Duffy's help

I would like to thank PJ Daly (September 3) for solving a problem that had perplexed me for many years. You see, I was born in the late Fifties - long after the demise of Eoin O'Duffy and consequently I've never quite understood what he had in store for Ireland. Thanks to PJ Daly, I now know. We'd have ended up like Spain.

The Spanish Republic existed between 1931 and 1936. For two of those years it was ruled by a right-wing coalition whose record was one of reversing the long-overdue reforms carried out by its predecessor, a republican government. It wasn't very popular, understandably, and in February 1936 the Spanish people elected another republican government.

Despite what PJ Daly says about 'imposed democracy', that government was democratically elected in elections witnessed by the world. Franco, with substantial help from Hitler and Mussolini, overthrew that government. The rest is blood-soaked history.

The best thing that can be said about O'Duffy's self-styled crusade to Spain is that it ended ignominiously. He had as little effect in Ireland. Besides, Franco hardly needed him. He had the best. Hitler's Condor Legion saw to Guernica among other things.

There are many enlightened books about the Spanish Civil War which PJ Daly should consider reading. Perhaps the most suitable in High Thomas's history - not because it is the best but because Mrs Thatcher referred to Thomas as her favourite historian. Thus his book can hardly be considered left-wing propaganda.

Finally, PJ Daly remarked that the term 'Fascism' is normally used as an insult. That's putting it mildly. The concept it embodies is an insult to the whole of humanity - from Hitler to Pinochet. As soon as they were rid of Franco, the Spanish people elected a socialist government.

Franco certainly deserves to be remembered - for having subverted democracy for almost 40 years, longer than did Hitler or Mussolini.

Peter Woods
54 Broomwood Road
London SW11

Before P J Daly (September 3) wrote about the Spanish Civil War, he should have endeavoured to learn something about it. Yes, General Eoin O'Duffy was a Catholic, but he was also a Fascist. De Valera didn't sack him for nothing. O'Duffy, the Army Comrades Association, and the rest of the Blueshirt element were a danger to the democratically elected Fianna Fail government. In acting against them, De Valera saved democracy. Had they succeeded we would, no doubt, have had a regime like that of Franco and it might have lasted as long.

Yes, mobs did damage and burn some churches in Spain prior to July 1936. But Franco overthrew a democratically elected government and then went on to bomb defenceless towns. In doing so, he destroyed more churches and killed more priests and nuns than ever were threatened prior to his intervention. He also, of course, slaughtered countless thousands of innocent people and he had no hesitation about getting Hitler and Mussolini to help him to do it.

I know because I was there at the time, a member of the International Brigades.

O'Duffy's involvement in the Spanish Civil War was an utter joke. His men returned home in ignominy and little was heard of O'Duffy again.

Breandan O Maolrunaidh
92 Fifth Avenue
London W10

P J Daly's letter of September 3, relating to General Eoin O'Duffy and the Franco comparisons made interesting reading.

It is true that many people completely overlook the fact that atrocities were committed on both sides during the Spanish Civil War. Franco certainly provided the firm government which had been demanded by many of the population. His methods were far from popular. In fact, it was difficult to find many Spaniards in latter years who were wholeheartedly supporters. In 1974, I was introduced to frightenly passionate left-wing revolutionary, 'El Commandante del mil hombres', and was left wondering how many years of peace and stability were left in Spain if Franco remained in power.

Under Franco there was (according to one's viewpoint) either respect or fear of authority; no strikes; no drug taking or peddling; no violence on the streets; and there was respect for family and Church. Everything was in complete contrast to the shambles in Ireland today.

P J Daly, makes a telling point with regard to socialist ideology: somebody once said that ideology was all very well provided one can just read about it without having to experience it!

Bernard W Wheeler

Irish Post, 15th October 1983

The Blueshirts' Unwitting Ally

You have recently published many letters with reference to the Blueshirts, General Eoin O'Duffy and Eamon De Valera. A better understanding of the events of the Thirties can be had by reference to Dev's upbringing in a cottage outside the village of Bruree in Co. Limerick.

In those days there was a much-to-be-deplored social barrier between the farming community and the cottiers. De Valera carried into adulthood a resentment amounting to a hatred of farmers.

When he formed his government in 1932, he immediately challenged the payment of annuities to English interests. He was ham-fisted in the handling of this with the result that the British government imposed restrictive tariffs on Irish farm produce. Over the next four years, no cattle could be sold to Britain and the farming community was brought to its knees.

Cynically, Dev brought in a free beef and boots scheme - forcing the farmers to slaughter their animals and sell their skins for 30 shillings [£1.50]

It was during that period that the Blueshirts were formed and they were 90% of farming families. Their only aim was to save their livelihood. They knew nothing of Fascism and cared less for it.

Pat Liston
47 Elborough St
London SW18

Irish Democrat, [Nov] 1984


Tommy Patten was the first Irish volunteers to die in defence of the Spanish Republic against Franco Fascism. He gave his life outside the gates of Madrid in December 1936.

He was a native Irish speaker and an IRA veteran from Dooega, Achill, Co. Mayo, and a monument to his memory was unveiled by Sean Fitzpatrick of the National Graves Association on 28th October last.

The unveiling took place after 11.30 am Mass, the celebrant being Father Sommerville, who afterwards blessed the monument. It is erected about three-quarters of a mile from the Church on a hillside overlooking the beautiful bay of Dooega and Tommy Patten’s old homestead.

In the September issue of the Irish Democrat we mistakenly referred to Tommy Patten as being a Protestant. In fact he was a Catholic and we are glad to make the correction.

The parade to the monument was led by the national flag carried in front of a piper’s band, followed by Tommy’s relatives, chief among whom were his brothers Owen and Willie, Tommy’s sister, Owen’s wife and son, young Tommy Patten, and other nieces and nephews.

Then came representatives of the National Graves Association, and the flag of the Connolly Column, 15th International Brigade, carried by Packy Early, that staunch republican and trade union activist from Leitrim, now living in Dublin. Beside the flag walked Michael O’Riordan and Peter O’Connor, ex-members of the International Brigade, and behind them came several hundred members of the general public from the area.

The monument is a fine piece of workmanship, carried out by local labour. Tommy’s picture is imbedded in the monumental slab. The inscription on the slab is in three languages – Irish, Spanish and English.

The unveiling was presided over by Michael Geraghty, from Swinford, Co. Mayo, who introduced Michael O’Riordan who spoke on behalf of the International Brigade and laid a wreath at the foot of the monument. Wreaths were also laid by Owen Patten on behalf of the relatives and a young lady on behalf of the Republican movement. The main oration was delivered by a young Achill man, Gabriel McNulty.

The weather that Sunday morning looked very threatening with an overcast sky, but just before the march the sun came out and it was a brilliant afternoon.

Peter O’Connor of Waterford, who fought in Spain with Tommy Patten and who was a close friend of his and present at his wedding writes:

“For me personally to be present that Sunday was an honour and a privilege. It was a moving and unforgettable experience for me to meet with Tommy’s relatives, especially with his brother Owen whom I had known in London in 1935-36. Meeting him again for the first time since then brought back memories of those trying but glorious years when Tommy, Owen, Sean Mulgrew, the three Power brothers – Johnny, Paddy and Billy – Alan McLarnon and others were together in the London branch of the Republican Congress. Together with Tommy’s brothers and sisters and some of his old friends and neighbours who were present last Sunday, I was privileged to have known Tommy as a friend and comrade. He was such a wonderful human being, full of joy of life, hating oppression and injustice and finally giving his young life – he was only 26 – for the cause he believed in so passionately.


It was from the London branch of the Republican Congress a few years later that people came together to form the Connolly Club and its paper, Irish Freedom, from which came the present day Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat.

Peadar O’Donnell dedicated his book on Spain - Salud!” - to ‘a boy from Achill’. He had the job of giving the news of Patten’s death to his parents. Tommy Patten’s name is listed among the heroes of the Spanish Civil War in Christy Moore’s recently released song, ‘Viva La Quince Brigada.’

Irish Post, 29th June 1985

George Gilmore dies in Dublin at 87

The death has taken pace in Howth, Co. Dublin, of George Gilmore who was for many years a major figure in Irish republican and socialist politics. He was 87.

A Protestant, he was born in Belfast but later raised in Dublin. His father was a leading Dublin accountant. As a boy, George Gilmore joined na Fianna Eireann and he was active throughout the War of Independence. He took the republican side in the Civil War and remained in the IRA until 1934.

In 1926 he led a raid on Mountjoy Prison in Dublin and released 19 republican prisoners.

Together with Peadar O’Donnell and Frank Ryan, George Gilmore left the IRA in 1934 and established the Republican Congress, whose objective was to establish a workers’ republic. During the Spanish Civil War he was active in organising support for the republican side.

George Gilmore was not politically active during the past 40 years but he continued to write articles on republicanism and socialism.

He is survived by his brother, Charlie.

Irish Post, 5th October 1985

Spanish Salute

British and Irish veterans of the International Brigades, which fought in the Spanish Civil War, gather this Saturday, October 5th, in London, for the unveiling at 12 noon in Jubilee Gardens, on the South Bank, of a memorial for 526 from Britain and Ireland who died in Spain.

The memorial will be unveiled by Michael Foot and among the speakers will be Enrique Tierno Galvan, the Mayor of Madrid.

In all, 2,100 men and women from Britain and Ireland fought with the International Brigades.

There are now only 140 survivors and most of them are expected to be present for the unveiling of the rather splendid 13 foot memorial which is in the form of a wounded figure, representing the Spanish Republic, being supported and protected by other figures, representing those who came from overseas to help. The work is by the London based sculptor, Ian Walters.

Irish Post, 2nd November 1985

Spanish memorial unveiling an unforgettable experience

Thanks to Fionn Mac Cool’s column of October 5, I was alerted to that Sunday’s unveiling in London’s Jubilee Gardens of the memorial to the 526 people from Britain and Ireland who died fighting for the republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

The unveiling was an unforgettable experience and it brought back so many memories. The world will never fully appreciate the magnificent gesture of those people who came from all over the world to make a stand against Fascism and for freedom for the people of Spain.

The rest of the world stood by and let Fascism triumph. Had Britain sold arms to the Republican government, Franco would have been beaten and the events of World War 2 might have been different.

The memorial, by Ian Walters, captures the spirit of those who came to Spain’s aid. In addition to the 526 members of the International Brigades who died, thousands more were wounded or maimed.

I could write so much about those days. As I viewed that sculpture, many memories came flooding back – faces, sounds, cries of pain and, at times, laughter. It is all a long time ago. But I am proud to have been part of it.

Brendan Moroney
Queen’s Park

I have read in your newspaper that a memorial has been unveiled in London by Michael Foot commemorating those who fought on the Red side in the Spanish Civil War. I suppose it was quite laudable.

I don’t, by any means, wish to endorse Fascism. I remember at that time in Ireland heavy pressure being brought on me to join the Blueshirts, which I refused. But I do know that, prior to the civil war, there was great unrest in Spain which had a totalitarian government. Russia saw the opportunity and started the revolution. I remember a notorious Red agent, Bela Ku, being brought from Mexico where he was a Communist [2 lines missing] regime for a few years as the result of another bloody revolution.

Incidentally Pope John Paul has authorised the investigation into all those who were murdered by the Reds in Spain and Mexico – including Bishops, priests, nuns and hundreds of lay people – with a view to beatification and canonisation.

In Spain, the Nationalists weren’t doing too well until Franco took over. This pleased the Catholics in Ireland and everywhere.

It was, of course, a ‘preview’ of World War 2. Germany and Italy helped Franco, while England and Russia helped the Reds. In the end Franco and the Nationalists won.

I know that Franco wasn’t very popular. But we must admit he did a fairly good job. He kept Spain on the straight road.

In Ireland at the same time, the thought of anyone going to help the Reds was abhorred. General Eoin O’Duffy sent a detachment to help the Nationalists, which ended in failure.

I wonder what would have happened if a Red regime, under the influence of Russia, had established itself in Spain?

P McPartlow
65 Southgate Road
London N1

Irish Democrat, June 1986

Doyen of Orange Socialists

During the dreadful pogrom of July 1920 when Catholics were set upon and driven out of the Belfast shipyard, Midgley was one of the socialists who stood firm against the outrage. His subsequent degeneration described here by Jack Bennett shows the demoralising effects of counter-revolution.

The Politics of Frustration: Harry Midgley and the failure of Labour in Northern Ireland, by Graham Walker, Manchester University Press, £22.50

Harry Midgley, if he is remembered anywhere at all nowadays, must be remembered chiefly as one of the most nimble political turncoats of his times. He showed a remarkable agility in somersaulting across formidable ideological obstacles whenever it suited him.

The younger generation of Irish socialists today, who may know little of Belfast's politics in the forties and fifties, might find the story of Midgley's degeneration from a Labour leader and socialist orator into a ranting Orange rabble rouser just a curiosity.

But it is a story that should be instructive as well, and this book stops a little short of being an instructive analysis of the causes and influences which produced the Midgley phenomenon and which led to that 'failure of Labour' enshrined in the title.

The author, careful and meticulous as he is, ends up conveying a rather superficial impression that Midgley and the labour movement generally were merely the hapless victims of a fortuitous sectarianism among which they unfortunately found themselves.

Despite that, it is a very fair book. It is painstakingly honest in balancing both facts and opinions about Harry Midgley. The history it outlines, and the evidence and material it presents, should enable anyone with average wit and a bit of experience to draw correct conclusions. The price, however, makes it another one of those books which will have to be ordered from the local public library.

Midgley had his first taste of Labour politics as a youth in Belfast just before the First World War, and like many in those days, naturally enough, was close to James Connolly's ideas. However, he joined the British army, went to war, returned and became a leading figure in the labour movement throughout the twenties and thirties.

His war experiences did not make him an anti-imperialist, as his book of poems, 'Thoughts from Flanders', shows. His revulsion was not against the monstrous crime of that inexcusable slaughter, but rather, like Kipling, against the 'blunders' and the 'stupidities' of the Top Brass who sacrificed the ordinary Poor Bloody Infantry (PBI).

He clung to the self-justifying delusion that the war itself was something noble and for a good cause. Corporal Hitler on the German side emerged from the conflict with similar thoughts.

Midgley was first elected to Stormont as a Labour MP for the largely Catholic constituency of Dock in Belfast in 1933. He was noted especially for his flamboyant oratory. He was a powerful gabbler. He was extraordinarily articulate and fluent. When he got to Stormont, he was the terror of newspaper note-takers who could never keep up with his rapid flow of speech.

This was all very great while it was all for the cause of socialism. It was the era of bandwagon hustings and passionate speechifying, and Midgley gathered a tremendous popular following in working class areas, particularly in Catholic ones.

People as far apart as my own father, from a respectable Protestant background, and my wife's father, who was in the old IRA republican socialist tradition, were once great admirers of Midgley's, and my wife's earliest childhood memories are of being dragged around by her father's hand to follow Midgley's bandwagon through all the dark side streets of Belfast.

But in later days, when Midgley became a British Empire Loyalist in Labour disguise, the weight of his wordiness was found wanting. His flowery rhetoric became even more inflated, floating off into meaningless realms of the absurd. It was seen to be what it mostly always was - so mush hot air from a windbag extraordinary.

My own first contact with Midgleyism was in the early forties as a raw youth just left school. Midgley had already ditched the Labour Party and formed his own pro-British Protestant Commonwealth Labour Party. Being inexperienced, as I now recall, I stood incredulous and appalled that anyone could possibly be taken in with the lofty flights of unadulterated guff and transparently empty crap he was wont to spew out at machine-gun rate ad nauseum.

When older and wiser, I realised his words persuaded no one. They were mere fodder to feed a following whose politics suited the general burden of the message. But talking about the 'politics of frustration', the title of this book, the book itself brought back vividly the pains of frustration caused by the Midgley humbug.

Excuse just a few quotes:

Highest ideals spring from the conviction that men the world over are brothers and that we must work for the brotherhood of nations on the basis of Justice, Honour, Truth and Love…

The best way of implementing all that is best in the human race is to strengthen and enlarge the British Commonwealth and so bring about a new world based on a proper foundation.

Various Protestant denominations (must) dedicate themselves to the God of their fathers who had brought them out of the land of spiritual bondage into the light of a free, democratic and progressive way of life…marching with songs and victory on their lips, in their hearts a prayer for Deliverance from Tyranny and Wrong, and determined by their votes to preserve their Free Institutions….

And so on and so on....Was it Marx or Lenin who shrewdly observed somewhere that the more sordid, grubby and mercenary a political cause becomes, the greater is the compulsion to dress it up in the verbiage of hi-falutin idealism?

Reagan springs to mind at once as a good illustration of the point, and just as fine an example is provided in the career of Harry Midgley, the Belfast labour movement's own frightful Chadband of hypocritical Biblical baloney.

The book provides some clues only to the transformation of this once socialist orator, who denounced sectarianism in his early days, into an active promoter of sectarianism in a new, gaudy 'socialist' dress. But the author stands back from spelling out the obvious political lessons and hangs fire on probing the root causes of sectarianism.

Within the sectarian framework of the six-county partition set-up, Midgley's personal tragedy and failure lay in the fact that he was, like William Walker before him and Gerry Fitt after him - and several other notable ' Labour' failures - nothing more than the classical 'municipal socialist.'

In other words, he wasn't much of a socialist at all. Like Walker, Fitt, David Bleakley, Billy Boyd and a lot of others, his notion of socialism was limited to things like free books and milk for the children of the poor, more generous dole payments, fair play for all and so on and so on.

It is doubtful if he, or any of those others, ever applied themselves to the reading and study of a serious work of socialist politics or economics. Midgley got much of his woolly notions from reading socially-conscious novelists like Upton Sinclair and his 'socialist' vocabulary was loaded with such terms as justice, mercy, truth (terewth) and love, and uprightness and upliftment, etc.

Being thus, in a sense, politically illiterate, Midgley and the others became the victims of political circumstances they did not understand. The only way to 'advance the cause of the workers' was to get elected. And to get elected, it was necessary to indulge in the most squalid and calculated sort of opportunism.

In the end nearly all Labour Party candidates followed Midgley in waving the Union Jack, singing the British national anthem at meetings, pledging loyalty to royalty and other such anti-socialist rubbish. The very sectarianism which was the cause of Labour's weakness, instead of being confronted and attacked, was adopted and 'adapted' on the principle, 'if you can't beat them, join them'

It was denied, of course, that this behaviour was sectarian. But herein lay the 'failure of Labour in Northern Ireland'. Its politicians attempted to pose in the garments of the enemies of socialism in order to get elected. They were not needed in that role because others could beat the big drum better.

The 'getting elected' imperative was always doubly frustrating, for it implied a degree of careerism. Midgley was certainly obsessed with the necessity of 'getting on' in his career. Walker's book brings out clearly this streak of personal ambition. There were many other people in the Labour and Communist Parties in Belfast in the thirties and forties who scorned to betray their principles for personal advancement.

The story has long been bandied about in Belfast that Midgley began to turn to Unionism because of 'disillusionment' after his defeat in the Catholic Dock constituency in 1938. He took a very strong stand against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, and clashed with the Catholic clergy over it. No doubt this did contribute to his defeat at the polls, but he whole story was not so simple or so pure or so righteous.

Here is where the scholarly researcher is at a disadvantage. All the written records, all the newspaper clippings, all the interviews with old survivors, all the recollections cannot quite provide a true whiff of the smell of the political climate of the times. And there were many, indeed, who sensed and assumed, from what their noses told them, that Midgley had already begun to calculate the advantages to his career of a side-step in the Protestant direction.

That is why he was not only anti-Franco, but became virulently anti-Catholic and anti-nationalist as well - despite the fact that the real opposition to Franco in Ireland, those fighting volunteers who joined the International Brigades, consisted largely of republican, communists and other 'anti-British' elements.

He raved on as if he thought the Catholic bishops were to blame for Franco's victory, which they weren't. But by some perverse reasoning process, he became more and more pro-British even though the British Government did, in material fact, contribute to Franco's victory. This irrational and contradictory stance can be attributed only to brainlessness or dishonesty, or a mixture of a little of each.

The author of this book does, indeed, point up the incipient sectarianism in Midgley's makeup, and mentions his position as chairman of Linfield football club, Belfast's equivalent of the Glasgow Rangers. He only needed scratching for the poison to suppurate.

The author notes that in 1953 Midgley was 'studying' an extraordinary book, 'Communism, Democracy and Catholic Power', by one Paul Blanshard, who was later to write 'The Irish and Catholic Power.'

With astonishment I noted that the author describes Blanchard's work as 'scholarly'. It is about as scholarly as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or as the raving looney rantings of the British Israelites.

Blanchard's books were a mishmash of anti-intellectual fantasy and drivel, fodder to feed the mindless and irrational prejudices of the anti-Catholicism epitomised by Ian Paisley. And, in fact, Paisley's publications used to reprint long excerpts from Blanchard's 'works' with glee.

So there's another clue to Midgley's degeneration. In those days few people had heard about the WASP's in America, but if Midgley had survived he might have joined them, obsessed as he publicly showed himself to be with the virtues of White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism.

And again the author does note that Midgley shared that shabby Protestant superstition, which is to be found in sections of the English labour movement and was propounded by the likes of H G Wells, that Protestantism is inherently 'progressive' while Catholicism is by nature 'reactionary.' It is a theory which hardly fits in with any detached look at the realities of global politics today.

The main fault to be found with this useful book is its rather superficial examination of the 'politics of frustration'. It talks lightly of was of 'minimising the importance of the national question' as if the national question has nothing to with the fact that there IS a national question. Fatuous suggestions about the British Labour Party moving to 'overcome sectarian questions' are seriously considered, though mercifully with little enthusiasm.

The real failure of Labour in Northern Ireland was not to face up to the fact that the six county area was cut off from the rest of Ireland for sectarian reasons and its existence upheld a sectarian cause. Their failure lay in adopting that sectarianism as their own and playing blind to the explosive national issue that was smouldering underneath their noses.

By contributing their own share of myth to the fantasy about some 'loyal British Ulster,' the Midgleys, the Bleakleys and the Billy Boyds and all the rest of the Protestant lay-preacher band of Labour ballyhoos contributed also to the catastrophe that has now exploded to shatter those former fantasies and delusions.

And for all their Biblical posturing and lay-preaching pastimes, none of them dreamed, I'm sure, that they would contribute to the fulfilment of the prophecy of the prophet Jeremiah (1:40):

Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land

Jack Bennett

Irish Democrat , July 1986

Mr George Gilmore RIP

George Gilmore, who died last Thursday morning at the age of 87, was one of the most outstanding Irish republicans of his time. He was active in the War of Independence from 1916 onwards, mainly in the South County Dublin battalion of the IRA. Along with his brothers, Charlie and Harry, he took the anti-Treaty side after the IRA split.

He was secretary to Sean Lemass in the mid-1920s, when the latter was titular Minister for Defence before the founding of Fianna Fail. In the late 1920s and early 1930s George Gilmore took part with Peadar O’Donnell in the leftward movement of the IRA towards politics and involvement with the labour movement. After leaving the IRA he was one of the leading figures of the Republican Congress of 1934 and along with Frank Ryan was joint secretary of the Congress for a time.

Perhaps the happiest political memory of his life was the occasion when the Congress succeeded in bringing a few busloads of Belfast Protestants, including one bus from the Shankill Road, to the 1934 Wolfe Tone commemoration at Bodenstown. Unfortunately, the Congress contingent was attacked by some elements from the IRA who tried to take their banners off them. As he used to say: “It will be a long time before ‘Come on the Shankill’ will be heard at Bodenstown again.”

In the 1930s he was also to the fore in organising support in Ireland for the Spanish Republic, under assault from fascism, and in setting up tenant leagues to improve the lot of Dublin’s slum-dwellers. In his work his close companion was Cora Hughes, the 'gold-haired girl’ of one of Yeats poems, to whom he was engaged. Cora Hughes was Eamon De Valera’s goddaughter and although Gilmore and De Valera were politically at odds they had a personal link in their common affection for her. Sadly, she caught TB and died and George Gilmore never married.

Of Protestant background, his father’s family came from the Parish of Seago near Portadown ‘one of the most Orange parts of Ireland’ as he used to call it. In his youth he used to spend part of each year at Carrickblacker, where his grandfather was land-steward. This was the estate of the Blacker family, which had always been prominent in Orangeism. But the area also contained several Protestant families whose political traditions went back to the republicanism of 1798.

Gilmore always judged Irish politics from the perspective of Wolfe Tone republicanism, in which the Protestant people were to the fore, and abhorred anything which savoured off sectarianism or Hibernianism. He saw the socialist republicanism of Connolly, with its view of the Labour and Trade Union Movement and those who were socialists in politics being to the fore in the struggle for full national independence and self-development, as offering the most hopeful political vision for modern Ireland.

He wrote several pamphlets expressing this view. In recent years he saw the peace movement, and such organisations as Irish CND as offering what he regarded as one of the few hopes of transcending politico-religious sectarianism in the North, and bringing both parts of the country together in recognition of their common interest in countering the drift towards a third world war, which he felt threatened. George Gilmore was a person of incisive intellect, powerful character and great kindness. He had a strong artistic sensibility and loved beautiful things. He used to try to go to France and Italy whenever he could, especially to revisit the glories of Chartes Cathedral. The cottage in the fields above the cliff walk at Howth where he lived for the past 25 years was set in a place of natural peace and beauty, in the part of Howth preserved from ‘development’ by An Taisce and from it he could see the Mourne Mountains of his beloved North.

As Peadar O’Donnell said after visiting him recently in the nursing home where he was during his brief illness: “We had four glorious years and George was one of those who really made them great.”

Signed AC
[CC – I assume this is Anthony Coughlan]

Mr Gilmore was buried on Saturday June 22nd in St Fintan’s (old) cemetery, Sutton, after a funeral service in St Mary’s Parish Church, Howth. Prayers in Irish were led by Canon Frank Blennerhassett, Rector of Howth.

The chief mourners were Mr Gilmore’s brother, Charlie and his nieces, Anne and Susan, and the oration was delivered by Mr Anthony Coughlan who said that George Gilmore looked at every political question from the standpoint of Wolfe Tone Republicanism.

Among the other mourners were Mr Ciaran Kelly, the sculptor; Proinsias Mac An Beatha the founder of Inniu, Mr Paddy Lynch, the former chairman of Aer Lingus; Mr Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Labour; Mr Tomas MacGiolla, the Workers Party leader; Mr Matt Merrigan, president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions; Mr Peadar O’Donnell; Dr Noel Browne, the former Minister for Health; Mr Michael O’Riordan of the Communist Party of Ireland; the Rev. Terence McCaughey of Trinity College; Mr Justin Keating, the former Minister for Industry and Commerce; Mr Tony Meade of Trocaire; Mr Paul McLiam of the ITGWU; and a number of former comrades of Mr Gilmore, including Con Casey, Mr Hughie Doyle and Mr Packie Early.

Also present were Ms Mairead Reynolds, representing the National museum; the Rev. Canon Moynan of Swords, Co. Dublin; Aodagan O’Rahilly; Mr Sean Nolan; Mr Lino Sidoli; Deasun Breatnach; Mrs Michael Price; Mr James Connolly Jnr; Peter O’Connor and Sean O’Rourke.

Irish Democrat , August 1986

The Spanish War Remembered
Meeting in Buswells Hotel

Little over 200 veterans of the International Brigade that fought for the Spanish Republic in the thirties still survive. Three of them, Michael O’Riordan, Peter O’Connor and Bob Doyle (an old and respected member of the Connolly Association) enthralled their audience at a meeting in Buswell’s Hotel, Dublin, that must have been one of the longest in Irish history. It began at 2.30pm and people were still coming in six hours later.

Mr Doyle reminded people that some 500,00 lives were lost in Spain, and that after the Fascists [won] no fewer than 100,000 were executed by the Franco forces. He said that the support given by the Spanish Catholic hierarchy was one of the most barbaric misdeeds in the history of Christianity in any generation.

A similar wave of hysteria was whipped up in Ireland by the Blueshirts, Fine Gael and the Hierarchy. Free State politicians who had lost their seats in previous general elections threw themselves into General O’Duffy’s Blueshirts and Paddy Belton’s Christian Front.

The aim was to pressurise De Valera into supporting Franco, and with this object the war was represented as one between the ‘nationalists’ as they called the Fascists, and ‘reds’, although at the outbreak of the war the Spanish Republican government contained no communists at all. De Valera was portrayed as a ‘crypto-communists’ because he refused to accept the Christian Front anti-thesis ‘For God or Communism.’

Between July and Christmas 1936, nearly every County Council in Ireland passed resolutions supporting Franco. In October the Catholic Hierarchy issued a pastoral letter in the same sense and church collections raised £43,000, the equivalent of half a million in today’s money.

In November the Fine Gael leader, W T Cosgrave, proposed in the Dail that Ireland should defy international law and recognise Franco’s government as the legal rulers of Spain. De Valera stood firm. Labour said not a word.

Most of the organised Labour movement was intimidated. In Larkin’s Workers Union of Ireland, Jack Kearney was told not to speak at anti-Franco meetings. If that was the situation in Larkin’s union, the others can be imagined.

One of the few to stand out against the tide was John Swift of the Bakers’ Union, who was present at the Buswell Hotel commemoration. While Party leader William Norton write to the Pope assuring the pontiff of his true Catholicity, John Swift raised money for the Republic.

Bobbie Edwards, widow of Frank Edwards, was also present, and recalled the difficulty of getting a hearing in those days. Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington and others held a meeting in the Gaiety Theatre for a Basque priest, Fr Ramon Laborda. That great republican Fr O’Flanagan who opened the first Dail was in the chair. Fr Laborda spoke of the massacre of Basque priests by the Franco forces. The newspapers referred to him as Mr Laborda, concealing the fact that he was a priest.

He admitted that some churches and religious houses had been destroyed by Republican forces. This was because the Fascists had used them for military purposes. “I do not condone this,” he said, “but I am saddened that Catholic Ireland should take the position it does. It can only be because the people have been deceived.”

One of the speakers at Buswell’s recalled telling Brendan Behan about the few hundred that went to Spain with O’Duffy with the intention of fighting for Franco. The Nazis sent a ship to Galway specially to pick them up. Two were killed by their own forces, only three in real action, and on the way home they were joined by Irishmen who had been in the pro-Franco Foreign Legion. “They made history all right”, said Behan, “they must have been the first army ever to come back with more men than they took out!” On the other hand nearly a hundred Irish International Brigadiers lost their lives.

Another speaker at Buswell’s was Professor Thomas O’Neill of University College Galway, the official biographer of De Valera. He recalled that there were three Irish groups in Spain; the International Brigade, the O’Duffy group, and also observers from the Irish army sent by De Valera to oversee the working of the ‘non-intervention’ policy of Britain and France. This was a breach of international law, as it prevented the legal government from importing arms, while Hitler and Mussolini poured in war material to strangle the Republic.

Professor O’Neill said De Valera’s attitude to international affairs was profoundly influenced by the Spanish struggle. He had tried to get international sanctions to halt Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. The outcome in Spain disillusioned him with collective security and he determined to keep Ireland out of the coming world conflagration at all costs.

Among others who spoke Michael Farrell described the unbelievable shenanigans of Belton and O’Duffy which ultimately made them an embarrassment to Fine Gael. He reminded those present that Desmond Fitzgerald, father of the present Taoiseach, was an active Blueshirt in those days.

Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners sang ballads about the war, and Charles Donnelly, the poet, was remembered in verse by poets Pearse Hutchinson and Michael Smith.

Mr Anthony Coughlan, who was recently in Spain, spoke of the political loss to Ireland incurred by the deaths of so many brave republicans, also of the tragedy of 40 years of Fascism in Spain, which had deprived the people of decades of democratic development and left them a prey to illusions about the EEC and NATO which showed in last March’s referendum result.

Finally, Fergal Goulding, of the Connolly Youth movement [youth wing of the Communist Party of Ireland], said he had spent a year in Nicaragua picking coffee. If there was a United States invasion of that country another International Brigade might be necessary. And this might happen as the spirit of the war for the Spanish Republic lives on.

Irish Post 6th Sept. 1986

Brigade Salute

Achill Island plays host this weekend to an international gathering commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War. Guests will be present from the United States, Nicaragua, Britain and Germany, as well as from all over Ireland. Present too will be three of the diminishing band of International Brigadiers who fought for the Republic in Spain.

Achill has been chosen as the venue for the commemoration because there, at Dooga, stands the only memorial on Irish soil to an International Brigadier. He was local man – Thomas Patten – one of the 61 Irish International Brigadiers who gave their lives in Spain. Five of them were from Connacht. In addition to Thomas Patten, they were David Walsh from Ballina, Michael Kelly from Ballinasloe, James Meehan from Galway and Joe Kelly from Roscommon.

The commemoration will begin on Saturday at 8.00 pm in the Achill Sound Hotel with the showing of a film about the Spanish Civil War. This will be followed by a social.

The main commemoration takes place on Sunday. Following 10.00 am Mass, the parade, with bands, will assemble and march to the Tomas Patten Memorial. Speakers will include Karl Kormes of Germany who was imprisoned with Frank Ryan in Spain; Michael O’Riordan, an International Brigadier; Bill Alexander, the British commander of the International Brigades; and Alderman Declan Bree, chairman of Sligo County Council.

Afterwards there will be a festival of Irish music and song.

Irish Democrat September 1986

“I remember”

By Peter O’Connor

Edited extracts from Peter O’Connor’s reminiscences given at the now famous Boswell Hotel meeting in Dublin when veterans of the Spanish war told their stories.

Peter O’Connor comes from a republican and trade union family. He remembers the say when his brother Francis, one of the youngest members of the Flying Column, Waterford East Brigade, came into town in one of the Crossley Tenders, carrying a Thompson machine gun as the Republicans took over the barracks from the crown forces.

His eldest brother Jimmy, also a member of the garrison, was Captain of Fianna Eireann, before transferring to the IRA, and Peter’s mother’s brother Peter Bergin, was also in the movement.

On the trade union side it was a family of carpenters. His father was secretary of the Waterford branch of the ASW (now merged with UCATT) for many years. All the family knew of and supported the teachings of James Connolly, and Peter’s father described imperialism as the ‘destroyer of natural good.’

Peter joined the Fianna at the age of nine or ten and remained a member until he transferred to the IRA at the age of 17. His brother Jimmy was Battalion OC at the time. Aileen Walsh, later married to Frank Edwards the adjutant, was Captain of Cumamn na mBan. She is usually known as ‘Bobby’ Edwards.

It was in 1931, after coming out of hospital in Dublin, that Peter O’Connor bought a copy of the ‘Irish Workers’ Voice’ and found in it the political content he had missed in the IRA. Later he wrote to the paper to ask them to send someone to organise the unemployed of Waterford. They sent Sean Murray. One of his meetings was chaired by Davy Walsh of Ballytickle whose son is at present a Workers’ party councillor. During this time a Workers’ Study Club was opened at Coffee House Lane, the premises being occupied today by Mrs Tobin who runs a cafe and boarding house. Some of its most prominent members were Frank Edwards, Jimmy Barray, Jackie Hunt, Maurice Quinlan, J B O’Shea, John O’Dwyer, Margaret and Nara Murray, Fred O’Shea, Tom Coughlan, Johnny Power, Johnny Carr and the four members of the O’Connor family.

Peter O’Connor described the deportation of Jim Gralton, the great Leitrim humanitarian and socialist as one of the most dastardly acts carried out by De Valera’s government. This was in 1933 and a Gralton Defence Committee was set up by Donal O’Reilly, Sean Murray, Peadar O’Donnell, George Gilmore, Mrs Despard and Seamus McGowan. The Waterford study group constituted itself as the local Gralton Defence Committee. Gralton died in New York in 1945.

The O’Connor’s were active in the building workers’ strike of August and September 1934 and two of them were among the 10 workers prosecuted for unlawful assembly and assaulting the police. The trial took place in October. In the meantime the Republican Congress was formed.

But there was no work. Peter O’Connor and Bill Power stowed away on a little coal boat called the ‘Walnut’ and were very well treated by the captain, a Newryman, when he found them. They arrived at Newport, Monmouthshire, on Armistice Day, 1934, and hitchhiked to London.

“We reached London”, said Peter, “late at night and stayed at a Salvation Army hostel. We paid for our breakfast the next morning by breaking sticks, as when we left Waterford we had 7 shillings and 5½ pence (37) between us. A very kind English lady, a Mrs Gosling, who lived at 309 Chapter Road, Willesden, took us in and gave us a room to sleep in. I often recalled to many kindnesses shown to us by Mrs Gosling, and after the war I went to see her to thank her only to find that she and her husband had been killed in the London blitz. There was no trace of the home.

“We tramped the streets of London looking for work and eventually got started at Woolf’s Rubber factory. We stayed with Mrs Gosling for about a year.

“We immediately threw ourselves into the work of the Republican Congress which had established a London branch, and worked with Sean Mulgrew, Tommy Patten, Mick Kelly, Alan McLarnan, Leslie Dalken and Frank Corrigan. We used to sell the Republican Congress paper outside Linacre Road Catholic Church where Father Fitzgerald was always very friendly to us.

“At the time of Frank Edward’s dismissal from Mount Sion School in Waterford, Bishop Kinane issued a pastoral to the effect that no Catholic could lawfully belong to the Republican Congress. This was featured in the English press at the time. In correspondence with the London Council of the Congress, Father Fitzgerald stated that he respectfully differed from his Lordship and wished the Republican Congress well. By now he was parish priest of Willesden Green.”

Woolf’s rubber factory was a non-Union job. Conditions were pretty rough even when they moved to new premises in Southall. Peter was joined by two more of the power brothers and with Jimmy O’Leary began to organise secretly. As a result Peter O’Connor was awarded the Bronze Medal of the TUC. The Union was the National Union of General and Municipal Workers. The chairman of the branch was a Welshman called Jones, and the Secretary was Thomas Stearne who lived at 7, West End Road, Southall.

Peter O’Connor severed his connection with the IRA as a result of the Bodenstown affair of June 1934. A group of Protestants from the Shankill Road, Belfast, carrying the Republican Congress banner, were attacked and prevented from laying a wreath.

“This action on that day,” said Peter, “confirmed the views I had held for a long time that by concentrating on the military aspect of the fight for freedom to the exclusion of the politics of revolution, a large and sincere section of the working class would become disillusioned, thereby postponing the final reckoning.”

On Saturday,19 December 1936, Johnny Power, Paddy Power, Jackie Hunt and Peter O’Connor, all from Waterford City, left Victoria Station, London, en route to Spain to join the ranks of the International Brigade in defence of the Spanish Republic. Their companions were English, Scottish and Welsh workers led by Peter Kerrigan of Glasgow.

“We crossed the channel and arrived in Paris at 9am, Sunday 20th December. We left for Figueras, the Spanish border town at 7 pm on the 21st, and travelled by bus on an unapproved road over the mountains, guided by a Frenchman from Perpignan. It was bitterly cold, frost glistening everywhere, and we travelled part of the way without lights, but finally reached Spain where we burst into revolutionary song.”

The party went on to Albacete where Peter spent Christmas day on guard duty in the Bull Ring. Albacete was the most demoralising place in Spain, a haven for deserters, spies, fifth columnists and rumourmongers. They were glad to be out of it.

But hardly had they arrived at the training base of Madrigueras when Peter O’Connor went down with typhoid fever. As a teetotaller he would not drink the wine. But the water was not wholesome. He [was hospitalised and] remained there until January 2nd, 1937. “On 12th January all the Irish comrades were summoned to a meeting to decide whether we would remain a section of the British battalion or join the American Lincoln Battalion who were based at Villaneuva de la Jura….About 45 attended and by a majority of five decided to join the Lincoln Battalion. The main reason given by those who wanted to join the Americans was because of the wrongs done to the Irish nation by the English in the past.

“Those of us who were politically conscious, particularly Charlie Donnelly, Johnny and Paddy Power and myself, pleaded passionately for a distinction to be made between antifascists from England and British imperialism….It was an understandable political mistake. I have nothing against the comrades who voted to join the Lincolns, except that some of them may have a little too much vino and did not follow the arguments for and against.”

The Irish column joined the Lincolns at their base on 20 January 1937, and on January 29th Peter O’Connor was appointed Group Leader of the James Connolly Unit attached to the Lincoln Battalion. On February 9th he was again struck down by typhoid, but though not fully recovered moved up to the Jarama front on February 16th. As they were moving forward in single file, Peter spotted and exchanged greetings with Mossy Quinlan of South Parade, Waterford, who was with a British unit. He [Mossy] was killed in combat shortly afterwards.

On February 19th there was a heavy artillery bombardment, and the brigadiers were glad of the presence of Bill Henry from Belfast who had been in the British army during the first world war. His coolness under attack was a source of encouragement. The first casualty was C Edwards who was killed. [If anyone can identify this soldier, I'd appreciate the information, C Crossey, 20/1/5]

“On 23 February our battalion took part in the first attack on the Fascist’s lines. It was very dark and the olive groves were lit up with rifle and machine gun fire. We advanced too far but we dug in where we were Paddy Power was just near me. We were in a trench cut off from the main lines. It was here that Charlie Donnelly, Eamon McGrotty and the Rev. R M Hilliard were killed and Alan McLarnon from Dublin was wounded.”

The Unit held its ground until February 26th without food. Finally they fought their way back to the main line. On 7th they attacked again led by Eddie O’Flaherty and Paul Burns. Jackie Hunt from Waterford was wounded in the ankle and Bill Henry the great Belfast Protestant was killed together with T T O’Brien. But the line was held and the road to Madrid was barred. It was during this time that Charlie Donnelly’s body was found. He had deep wounds in his right arm and side. Johnny Power, Paddy Power and Peter O’Connor, carried his body down the hillside. He had been killed on February 23rd, and was “one of the best known and lovable comrades and a great Irishman.”

“On March 20th I received a letter from my brother Jimmy informing me of my father’s death. He told me that when my father heard that I had gone to Spain to fight Fascism he said he was glad I had the courage of my convictions.

“On Easter Monday, March 29th, we held a unique concert in the front lines to commemorate the 21st Anniversary of the Rising of 1916. Irish, American, English, French, Belgian, Bulgarians, Greeks, Czechoslovaks, Spanish and Russian all took part and I read the proclamation.

“On April 5th in one of our attacks on the fascist lines, Hugh Bonar from Falcorrib, Dungloe, Co. Donegal, our Ass. Section leader was killed by my side. He died instantly with an explosive bullet in the head…. On the 18th I as appointed to take his place as Ass. Section leader.”

The Connolly unit had five days of well-earned rest on leave in Alcal de Henares and took part in the May Day parade. But on May 4th leave was suddenly cancelled and they returned to the front. On May 12th a memorial meeting for James Connolly was held in the front line.

“On June 1st, Mick Kelly and I were given permission to travel though the lines for the purpose of collecting money for the ‘Irish Democrat’ (Dublin) which at that time was in bad financial straits. We went through the trenches held by the British and Dimitroff Battalions and collected a total sum of 3,455 pesetas and a Scottish pound note. I still hold the permit for that collection signed by M W Hourihan, Battalion Commander and Paul Burns our Company Commander.”

On June 28th the Lincoln Battalion was ordered to stand before what was likely to prove one of the decisive engagements of the war. The three Power brothers were all present, and as heavy casualties were expected, Peter O’Connor and Johnny Power got in touch with Frank Ryan and insisted that Paddy and Billy should be sent home. They went under protest. The big offensive began on 6th July 1937 at 5 am. The Fascists were routed and the battalion moved forward all day. Johnny Power and Paul Burns were wounded in both legs. George Brown, Manchester trade unionist and working class leader was killed.

But for a second time the Battalion had advanced too far and was in danger of being cut off. They were ordered to all back and came under very heavy crossfire. Mick Kelly from Ballinasloe was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Peter O’Connor was now the only Irishman left in the line. He told Frank Ryan that all the others had been killed. It was then that the slow retreat took place in scorching heat and under immense aerial artillery, anti-tank and anti-aircraft bombardment. German Junker aircraft constantly raked the terrain with machine gun bullets.

It was at the end of this episode that Frank Ryan ordered Peter O’Connor to return home. He was back in Albacete on August 31st, and went to see the British Consul General, who happened to be an Irishman from Tipperary. Emergency passports were provided and on September 7th he left Paris for London where he called on his old friend Sean Mulgrew.

“Sean was one of the stalwarts of the Republican movement. He was one of those imprisoned with Frank Ryan and George Gilmore during the Cosgrave Coercion act of 1931 and released when De Valera came to power in 1932. He was an active member of the short-lived Saor Eire and Republican Congress. He died suddenly at Heathrow airport in 1979 when boarding a plane to visit his daughter and sister in America.

“I left London on Saturday and arrived home on Sunday 19th September 1937 after an absence of just three years, but what an eventful three years. I was returning home with the pledge of the International Brigade firmly in my mind. ‘We are returning to our respective countries not for celebrations in our honour, not to rest, but to continue the fight we helped to wage in Spain. We are merely changing the fronts and our weapons.’“

Irish Post, 16th January 1988

Spanish Link

The funeral took place on Tuesday, at Putney Vale Crematorium in London, of Joe Monks, one of the last of the Irish veterans of the International Brigades who fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He was 73 and died suddenly at his home.

A native of Inchicore, Dublin, Joe Monks was an active Socialist in Dublin for several years before travelling to Spain in December 1936 with a group led by Frank Ryan and Frank Edwards. He took part in several battles and was wounded in action. Later he wrote a book entitled With the Reds in Andalusia.

Joe contacted this newspaper in its early years to elaborate on some point we had made on Irish participation in the Spanish Civil War. Thereafter, he remained our prime contact and source of information on the subject. Little was published on the Irish in Spain without first checking with Joe Monks.

Whenever an Irish veteran of the Brigades died, whether in Britain or in Ireland Joe would unfailingly telephone to alert us of the passing and provide details.

He is survived by his wife, Shiela, and their children, Joe, Grainne and Anna Mary.

Irish Democrat Feb. 1988

Joe Monks RIP

About 80 mourners including fellow members of the International Brigade assembled at Putney Vale crematorium for the funeral of Joe Monks, who died suddenly on January 6th at the age of 73.

Tributes were offered by his son, Joe Monks, junior, by Michael O'Riordan from Dublin and by Bill Alexander of the International Brigade. The ceremony was enriched by the notable violin playing of cousin Philip Robinson, who played Boulavogue and the Coolin.

Speakers emphasised Joe's deep political and social commitment, to Irish republicanism and to socialism, which led him to fight in Spain. He was a man of broad cultural interests and will be sadly missed. He is survived by his wide Sheila, son Joe and two daughters, Grania and Anna Mary.

The Connolly Association was represented by Jane Tate and Flann Campbell.

Irish Democrat March 1988


I was shocked and saddened to read in the Democrat (February 1988) of the death of Joe Monks. I first met Joe in the build up for the Republican Congress in the early thirties. Joe, along with Alec Digges, Charlie Donnelly, Cora Hughes, Miriam James, myself and others, were busy organising in the Dublin area. It was a very exciting time. Nora Connolly-O'Brien, in her book, "We Shall Rise Again" wrote of the period: 'Then the Republican Congress came along, when there was a vacuum for a new political movement in Ireland. It was socialist as well. The Republican Congress was very strong. It was a grand time.'

I was with Joe when the Workers' College in Eccles Street, was attacked by the Fascist/'religious' mobs in March 1934. Joe, with four others, all armed, were stationed on the roof to forestall any attack by Blueshirts at roof top level.

On 16 December 1936, the first contingent of Irish volunteers, in which Joe was included, crossed from northern France into Catalonia to join the International Brigade. Joe was on active service for two years, until December 1938, mainly in the Cordoba sector.

On his return to Dublin, Joe (now known as 'Spanish' Joe to distinguish him from another Joe Monks) resumed his place in the leadership of the Republican Congress fighting gallantly against the growing Fascist menace.

Years later in London we sometimes met on Socialist 'duties' or at social events, when we talked of old times. Joe was a man of letters. He wrote a booklet on the Spanish war, 'With the Reds in Andalusia'. He had a whimsical sense of humour, and some months ago he asked me to co-operate on some research he was doing for the publication on such diverse characters as Major Sirr, the bane of the United Irishmen, who spoke Gaelic, and had a great concern for 'the language', and James Fitzharris (Skin-the-goat) the jarvey of the Invincibles; and Parnell, whose tenants were the first to obey the 'No Rent' call.

Joe was a man of enlightenment, of courage, and of great humanity. The cause of International Socialism has lost a gallant fighter.

Patrick Byrne

Irish Democrat, April 1988

Bill Scott, RIP, remembered by Patrick Byrne

It is my sad duty to bid farewell to another of the vanishing band of Republican Congress veterans of the thirties, Bill Scott, who died recently, aged 80 years.

Bill, a staunch Socialist, came from a Dublin Protestant family, cast in the mould of Tone and Emmet. His father was 'out' with Connolly in Easter Week 1916, and remained loyal to the Republic in the years that followed.

The Republican Congress arose from a deep division in the IRA of that period. The Congress tried to align all progressive forces in a united front against fascism, and for a Socialist policy, away from the right wing obscurantism of the IRA leadership, excepting, of course, Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and George Gilmore, who were to form the leadership of the new movement. This was still militaristic, and the five Dublin branches were based on Battalion areas. As I was in the northern area, and Bill in the south, we rarely met. On one occasion where we did meet, which I will never forget, prompt action by Bill averted trouble for a section of the born-again Citizen Army, of which I was in charge, where about to engage on sabotage during a strike. Bill suddenly appeared like a fairy godfather telling me to "get to hell out of it with my merrie men" as the place was swarming with the Special Branch.

Bill was the first Irishman to arrive in Spain after the Franco rebellion. He first served with the Thaelmann (German) Battalion, and later joined the Irish Battalion under Frank Ryan. [Note by C Crossey - this last detail is NOT correct, Dec. 26 2004] I last met Bill about five years ago in London at the funeral of another veteran, Jim Prendergast. He told me then of the engagement in March 1938 when Frank Ryan was captured. An Irish detachment, attached to the British battalion, were advancing to secure Gandesa to avert the division of the Republican front in two. They sang as they marched along in the moonlight - into a terrible ambush by Italian fascists, using tanks.

Bill Scott was a warm-hearted, quiet, courageous man, who like Cromwell's Republican troopers 'knew what they fought for, and loved what they knew.' His personality was akin to that of Kit Conway, Charlie Donnelly, Alec Digges, Jack Nalty and others of that brave band, who were my comrades in the great enterprise of the Republican Congress.

Farewell, Bill, the good fight for Socialism goes on.

Patrick Byrne.

Irish Post, 29th October 1988

The good fight!

50 years ago this Friday, October 28, the famous Ramblas of Barcelona were the scene for the Last Parade of the International Brigade. Thousands of volunteers from all over the world marched through the town in an emotional farewell from Spanish republicans.

An estimated 48,000 volunteers had gone to Spain in the period 1936-38 to fight in the side of the democratically elected republican government against Franco's fascist revolt. Among those volunteers were many Irish - among them the legendary Frank Ryan; Paddy Roe McLaughlin from Donegal and the three fighting O'Flaherty brothers, who came via the United States; and Tomas Patton of Achill and William Barry of Dublin who came via Melbourne. Others were to come via Liverpool - among them Paddy O'Daire, Tommy O'Brien and Frank Deegan.

Frank, who is now 77, missed that Barcelona parade, because he was recovering from his wounds after being blown up by a hand grenade on the last day of the fighting somewhere on the Aragon front, under the command of Johnny Power of Waterford. He hopes this weekend to make amends for that absence of 50 years ago.

To mark the anniversary of that Barcelona march, the surviving 'Brigadistas' have been asked back to parade again before the unveiling of a memorial in their honour.

"Men like me who fought in the civil war are not going to be around for much longer," he told us. "It is only right that there is a memorial to remind people of what we did."

This weekend's event, entitled The Last Parade, is being organised by the International Brigades veterans from America. Among the sponsors are Gregory Peck, Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte.

Frank Deegan, who live in the Anfield area of Liverpool, is still very much an activist for just causes - latterly being involved in the struggle for a decent living for pensioners, in which he finds himself shoulder-to-shoulder with that other Spanish Civil War veteran, and the veteran of many a union battle, Jim Larkin Jones, more commonly known as Jack Jones.

Over 12,000 volunteers died in Spain, out of that total of 48,000. Despite the heavy losses, Frank still feels that going to Spain was the right thing to do. "World War 2 might have been avoided if Franco had been defeated," he maintained.

The original parade was addressed by Dolores Ibarruri - La Passionaria - who told the departing Brigadiers: "You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality."

Irish Post, 12th November 1988

Another Spanish Veteran

Your item on the Spanish Civil War, headlined the Good Fight, in the Fionn Mac Cool column (The Irish Post, October 29), made interesting reading.

However, I was rather disappointed that there was no reference to London-based Clareman, Brendan Moroney, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and, if memory serves me right, took a prominent part in the fighting around Barcelona, with Harry Kennedy and a Waterford man, Frank Edwards.

I sincerely hope that Brendan Moroney will at some future date afford your readers some details of his part in the war.

Mick Morrissey
12 Star Cross St.
London NW1

Irish Democrat, September 1991

Charlie Donnelly

Republican Congress veteran Paddy Byrne remembers Charlie Donnelly, editor of the forerunner of the Irish Democrat, who died fighting fascism in Spain.

In my pamphlet, Memories of the Republican Congress, you will read: 'Other young leaders in Dublin, where I was mainly engaged, were Charlie Donnelly, a gifted speakers, and a poet of great promise (later killed in Spain).'

It is not easy to recall events that occurred over 50 years ago, even though they relate to stirring and dangerous times: the fight against fascism in Ireland, manifest in the Cosgrave party - whatever it was called then - with its military wing the Blueshirts, and following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the 'Christian Front', and the full weight of the un-elected Upper House of bishops at Maynooth.

An Irish battalion was raised, under the leadership of Frank Ryan, to fight for the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic. Charlie went with the battalion to Spain, and made the supreme sacrifice on 27 February 1937 at Jarama.

An Irish 'brigade', led by ex-police chief Eoin O'Duffy went to fight for Franco. They sustained six casualties from the guns of their allies, the Moors, but returned to Ireland from the war with more men than they had going out - the first army in history to do so! (They brought back with them deserters from the Spanish Foreign Legion.)

In the early days of the Republican Congress in 1933-35 I spoke many times with Charlie on platforms, from a mass rally in the Central (Methodist) Hall in Abbey Street, Dublin, to smaller gatherings all over the city where our 'platform' was usually a borrowed kitchen table or chair and on one occasion the horse-trough outside Kevin Street police station.

During one election campaign, we spoke at 18 meetings in a week, from Balbriggan back to James Street (outside the 'Union'). We held meetings all over the Dublin slums - the worst in Europe - and organised a huge demonstration of slum dwellers numbering several thousands to march to the Mansion House. Charlie was the organiser, and charged to confront the Lord Mayor on his doorstep. The procession assembled in St Stephen's Green. One contingent had a papal flag as their banner, another a tricolour and another a Union Jack.

The flags presented a problem. Some of our members would not march behind a sectarian papal flag. Others objected to the Union Jack, and others said they would be damned if they would march behind the tricolour - 'a capitalist dishcloth'. I was chairman of the Dublin United Tenants League, and so in charge. I ordered that all the flags form a colour party, and march behind the Republican Congress banner. With Charlie's help discipline prevailed, and off we went to the Mansion House where Charlie addressed the people from the steps. Dublin had never seen such a demonstration before.

Then there was a mass picket organised to go to a firm in Dorset Street, Dublin, called the Bacon Shops, where conditions for the staff were appalling - 12 shillings and less per week [60p]. It was a non-union house. About 500 or 600 arrived on the picket, blocked the street and held up the traffic. Swarms of police descended on us, and succeeded in arresting 200 of our members, including Charlie. In his 'speech from the dock', Charlie told Justice Little: 'A picket becomes too large for legality as soon as it becomes effective.' They were all sentenced to a month's imprisonment in Mountjoy. The Republican Congress paper came out with a large poster: 'Little man, you've had a busy day', a popular song at the time.

The formation of the Congress was a revolt largely against the backward, conservative, reactionary leadership of the IRA. At that time it was a large, well-organised movement, with considerable support throughout the country. Among the leadership, however, were some progressive men, principally Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan, George Gilmore, Mick Price and others. Hey produced a socialist line, and split the IRA from top to bottom. Those of us who followed them were still under the influence of the Fenian physical force tradition. So we resurrected the old Irish Citizens' Army and dug up some ICA veterans (Connolly's men) to give it legitimacy and colour. Charlie was an active organiser, and became an officer in a company. We often met on parade. But we soon realised that we were not in that stage of revolution, gave the IRA their guns back and got down to real political work. Six branches were formed in Dublin, one a branch composed of ex-British army men, chaired by Captain White.

They say that one picture is worth a thousand words. It is so hard to convey the image of a person in cold print. When I first met Charlie, way back in 1934, he was very young, enthusiastic man, full of life and energy (I was only 26 myself). He appeared to be studious, a literary man, well read in Marx and Connolly, a dedicated socialist, as we all were. He was a fine speaker, and in command whether addressing a Congress meeting of slum dwellers or a hostile crowd, which was a normal 'industrial hazard' for us at that time.

The Congress sustained heavy losses in Spain, 72 fatal casualties. On the Dublin executive committee, five members were killed in Spain, a loss from which we never recovered. Charlie Donnelly, Kit Conway, Jack Nalty, Dinny Coady, Gene Downey and Frank Ryan who died later in Dresden in 1944. [If he means Eugene Downing, Eugene was not killed in Spain but lost his leg after being wounded, C Crossey.]I lost touch with Charlie after he left for London. I knew he had gone with Frank to Spain.

I was shocked and distressed to learn that he had been killed in action at Jarama.

Irish Democrat, December 1993

Fighting Fascism

Review of Even the Olives are Bleeding, written by Joseph O'Connor, reviewed by John J O'Dowd. New Island Books, £6.95 paperback

Charlie Donnelly died in 1937 fighting against fascism in Spain at the age of 23. He had been a writer and political activist in Ireland and Britain.

In Dublin he had been involved with the Republican Congress and in London he helped bring out Irish Front as a monthly bulletin of the London Branch of the Congress. This was the precursor of Irish Freedomm the monthly newspaper that later became the Connolly Association's Irish Democrat.

This short book, according to its author, is an attempt to provide a detailed and comprehensive introduction to Donnelly's life, poetry and politics.

Of six chapters, five cover the period 1931 to 1937, from Donnelly's entry to UCD as a student until his death. The author failed to show adequately how the political developments of the period related to and influenced Donnelly's literary development. The book contains a fair amount of rather pretentious academic writing and there are some basic factual flaws.

Some of Donnelly's poems are reproduced, which is a good thing, and the bibliography fives useful information on Donnelly's writings. Overall, though, the book is disappointing as an account of Donnelly's 'Life and Times.'

Irish Democrat, June/July 1994

May Day in Waterford

Ken Keable

Waterford City chose to mark the Irish Republic's first ever May Day Bank Holiday by honouring its heroes of the Spanish Civil War. A plaque bearing the names of the 10 Waterford men who fought in the Connolly Column of the International Brigade was unveiled by Peter O'Connor, their last surviving member, at an event organised by Waterford Trades Council.

The unveiling was preceded by a march along the route taken by the returning men of the Connolly Column, from the railway station along the Quay to Henrietta Street, where they had been welcomed and entertained by ex-members of the IRA and Cumann na mBan.

International Brigadier Peter O'Connor told the packed meeting, including relatives of his comrades: "The great lesson of Spain was that of unity, where comrades of every religion and none united in a common cause to defeat Franco fascism. We need to strive for that unity today if we are to be successful in gaining the freedom of our country. I believe we cannot be successful in that task unless we join forces with the British working class. We must make common cause with our comrades across the water. Our enemy is not the British people, but the system of British Imperialism and monopoly capitalism which is the enemy of all peoples struggling to be free."

With some emotion he thanked his wife, Biddy, a staunch Catholic, for standing by him "through all the vile propaganda about the Reds in Spain burning churches, murdering priests and digging p the skeletons of nuns." Other speakers included Michael O'Riordan, former secretary of the Communist Party of Ireland, who pointed out that two of the first Irishmen to be killed in Spain were a Protestant minister from Belfast, Rev. Bob Hilliard, and a Christian Brother, Eamon McGroarty. [Eamon McGrotty, CC].

Pausing in Henrietta Street, Waterford Trades Council spokesman Jim Kelly told the marchers: "The men who fought in Spain did not enlist against a background of popular support. Hey went against a background of reaction and despair. The Irish anti-fascist fighters lucky enough to survive the carnage in Spain came home to an atmosphere poisoned by anti-communist hysteria and witch-hunting. With the re-emergence and rise of neo-fascists throughout Europe we should remember the lessons of the 1930s. Fascism cannot be confined - it must be smashed wherever it raises its ugly head."

Irish Democrat, June/July 1994

International Veterans honoured in Spain

Ken Keable

Veterans of the war against fascism from as far afield as China, Cuba and the USA received emotional welcomes on their recent visit to Spain to mark the 60th anniversary of the formation of the International Brigades.

Among them were three surviving members of the Connolly Column, Irish brigadiers Peter O'Connor, Michael O'Riordan and Maurice Levine. The only other surviving member of the Connolly Column, Bob Doyle, was unable to make the journey.

Although the Spanish parliament unanimously to offer Spanish citizenship to surviving International Brigadiers, this was politely declined as it would have required them to relinquish their existing citizenship. However, the offer was welcomed as a vindication of the role they had played in Spain.

In addition to the many civic receptions and concerts in honour of the veterans, the Irish party was able to visit the battlefields of Jarama, Gandesa and Ebro, where the Connolly Column had fought. They were also received by the Irish Ambassador.

Asked by a young man in Guernica - whose grandfather had been murdered in the massacres which followed Franco's victory - why he had left Ireland to fight alongside government forces in Spain, Connolly Column veteran Peter O'Connor, replied, 'To fight fascism. The Spanish people were the first in Europe to resist fascism, and I want to say thank you for that.'

Speaking in Guernica, Michael O'Riordan recalled the words of the anti-fascist Basque priest, Ramon Laborda, who said it was a 'crime to link Christianity with such blood-thirsty brutes as Franco.'

Irish Democrat, August-September 1999

A Soldier of Liberty

Anthony Coughlan pays tribute to one of nature's gentlemen, International Brigadier Peter O'Connor who died recently.

Waterfordman Peter O'Connor, who died in June at the age of 87, was one of the last surviving members of the International Brigade which fought to defend the Spanish Republic against Franco and his Nazi and fascist allies in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

He was the last survivor of the ten Waterfordmen who fought in Spain.

He was lifelong friend of the Connolly Association and the Irish Democrat. Together with the two brothers, Johnny and Paddy Power, also from Waterford, he used to sell this paper's predecessor, the cyclostyled Irish Front, around the streets of Willesden in the 1930s. The late Desmond Greaves always stayed with Peter O'Connor when he visited Waterford.

Over the past decade Peter was a regular attender at the annual Greaves Summer School in Dublin, together with his wife Bridget, who predeceased him.

Peter joined na Fianna Eireann at the age of 10 in 1922. In 1933 he was a founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland and active in the Republican Congress of 1934.

In Spain he fought in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, in which 19 Irishmen were killed, among them the poet Charlie Donnelly, whose last words were: "Even the Olives are Bleeding."

Peter helped carry Donnelly's body from the battlefield. Later he became a member of Waterford Corporation and Council of Trade Unions. Over the past 60 years he supported all progressive political cause s in his native city.

The universal respect he was held in was shown by the big attendance at his funeral. In 1996 he and other former International Brigadiers were given the right to become honorary citizens of Spain by unanimous decision of the Spanish parliament.

Peter O'Connor was one of nature's gentlemen, a great and good man in every way. In his political memoir, A Soldier of Liberty, he wrote a concluding paragraph which is appropriate for his own epitaph:

You have to believe in something, in a cause that will make the world a better place, or you have wasted your life. I have always been inspired by the following quote from Lenin: 'Man's dearest possession is life, and since it is given to him to live but once, he must so live as to fell no torturing regrets for years without a purpose, so live as not to be seared with the shame of a cowardly and trivial past, so live that dying he can say 'All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world - the Liberation of Mankind.' "

Ken Keable adds:

Peter was always ahead of his time. In 1934 he was trying to do what the Sinn Fein leadership is trying to do now - turn the republican movement towards socialist politics. In a speech in Waterford in 1994 he said something well worth treasuring:

"The great lesson of Spain was the lesson of unity, where anti-fascists of every nation, where comrades of every religion and none, united in a common cause to defeat Franco fascism.

"We must strive for that unity today of we are to be successful in gaining the freedom of our country.

"I believe we cannot be successful in that task unless we join forces with the British working class.

"We must make common cause with our comrades across the water. Our enemy is not the British people but the system of British Imperialism and monopoly capitalism which is the enemy of al peoples struggling to be free."

Other newspaper reports are available here.

Home Page.