Memoirs of

Various Irish participants

One who came back...PADDY MacALLISTER

Obituary of Peter O'Connor

These 2 pieces are reproduced from Unity, on June 26th and July 3rd 1999. Unity is published by the Communist Party in Northern Ireland.

Obituary of Ewart Milne

Article from the Times, 17th January, 1987

 

The Irish boys of the Old (Lincoln) Brigade

Article from Irish Echo, May 1-7, 1996, New York

 

Spanish Civil War veterans "vindicated" after 60 years

Article from Irish News, 6th December 1996

 

Obituary for Joe Monks

Article from Irish Workers Voice, Dublin, 18th January, 1988

 

Fred Doyle

A report of his visit back to Spain and his campaign to erect a memorial to the fallen of Jarama.

Article from Irish Post, London, 16th October 1993

An additional piece on this visit from Fortnight, a magazine produced in N.Ireland.

 

Obituary for Peter O'Connor

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One who came back...PADDY MacALLISTER

This extract is from a pamphlet produced by the Belfast Executive of the Republican Clubs in 1977. The Republican Clubs are now known as the Workers Party. The pamphlet is called, "No Pasaran! The story of Irish volunteers who served with the International Brigades in defending the Spanish Republic against International Fascism 1936-1938".

One volunteer who did survive and return to Ireland, was Paddy MacAllister, from the Lower Falls in Belfast. Paddy still lives there and vividly remembers his experiences in Spain. Born in 1909 in Lincoln Street, he came through the Fianna to the IRA which he joined in l926. But unemployment at home forced him to emigrate to Canada in 1928, and there he worked at a variety of jobs, for several years, Then in the thirties as the depression worsened in Canada, Paddy MacAllister became involved with the relief-strikes of the unemployed in Vancouver, at a time when Protestants and Catholics in Belfast were uniting in the same fight, For these activities, Paddy was jailed twice in Canada, ending up doing three months in the county jail. In these circumstances, his socialist politics developed rapidly, and in 1937, MacAllister left for Spain, along with a group who intended joining the Inter-national Brigades.

They sailed from Vancouver to Dieppe, and then transferred by train to Perpignan, where they waited to cross the Pyrenees in to Spain, Setting off at 8.00 at night, they walked for around 12 hours across the mountains, Paddy remembers particularly that they weren’t allowed to smoke or talk, and had to walk in single file as they were smuggled across the mountain border from France into Spain. Remembering the long climb, he says. "Every peak I saw, I thought was the last one, but there always seemed to be another in front, higher than before",

Finally the volunteers arrived at a training-base in Figueras, where they were issued with a uniform of sorts. All those who had come from Canada were assigned to the recently formed Mac Kenzie-Papineau Battalion of the 15th International Brigade, The Battalion was named in honour of two Canadians involved in the 1837 revolt against the British Government in Canada, The new recruits spent a couple of months at Figueras, where they were trained in weaponry drilling and fieldcraft. Paddy remembers that the weapons-instructor was a Russian soldier, who trained them on Soviet rifles and machine-guns, while the Political Commissar at the base was an Irishman, Jackie Powers from Waterford, whose job was to look after the welfare of the men, and to ensure that they understood the political relevance of their actions, Thus every unit in the Brigades had a political commissar attached, who held equal rank with the unit 0/c, At Figueras, one of the training sergeants was Paddy 0’ Sullivan, who had served in the Irish "Free State" Army, and who was later to be killed in the Sierra Pandols, towards the end of the war. MacAllister remembers him as "a real professional".

When the Fascist offensive started on the Aragon front on the 9th March 1938, the Canadian group were moved up, Paddy remembers that they were driven backwards and forwards across the country by lorry several times, "probably to give the Fascist spotter-planes the idea that there were more Republican re-enforcement’s than there actually were", On the first day of action, their sergeant was killed by a bullet in the head, Gradually the Republican troops were forced to retreat, and the contingent MacAllister was with ended up ‘"digging in’", along the banks of the Ebro river, where they stayed until July, During that month, the major Ebro offensive was launched by the Republican Army, and Paddy remembers crossing the river in a flotilla of small boats. As the Republicans advanced, at first they encountered little resistance, and they captured numerous Fascist soldiers. During the advance, however, a bomb hit a vine-yard beside the group, and although Paddy MacAllister wasn’t wounded, five others near him were killed instantly, Among the casualties was Jackie Patterson, a Protestant from Dee Street on the Newtonards Road, Belfast, MacAllister had first met him when both men were active on the relief committees in Canada, Paddy also remembers meeting Jim Straney from Ballymacarret who had been in the local IRA unit, and who was then with a different battalion in the 15th Brigade, Straney had only recently arrived in Spain, and MacAllister remembers having a long talk about home. Jim Straney was killed in action the next day.

In general, Paddy recalls, their equipment "wasn’t great", and for example, the rifles they had tended to over-heat after a short time firing Just before he left Spain, a new shipment of Czech weapons arrived, which Paddy considered to be "very neat’" and which he regrets he never got the chance to use in action. The men at the front got the best of the food that was available, but Paddy remembers a diet of "beans, beans and more beans", and because the local water was disease-laden, the volunteers had to slake their thirst with local wine, which "wasn’t bad, but doesn’t compare with Guinness". Then on the retreat from the Ebro, Paddy and his group had nothing to eat for several days, and he still remembers a hastily-roasted leg of rabbit, presented to him by a French officer in the Brigades," as the nicest thing I’ve ever tasted,"

As the advance continued, there was a major battle in the Gandesa area, and in the end the Republican offensive was turned into a Republican rout, many of MacAllisters’ comrades were slaughtered, and he himself was cut off in a small gully in the Sierra del Caballs with several others. As they attempted to get away, MacAllister was hit three times, and although two of the hits were spent bullets and only stunned him, the third hit him in the arm, It was two days before he could get hospital treatment, and during that time, part of the bullet was sticking out of his arm. When he was finally admitted to hospital, Paddy read of the decision to recall the International Brigades, and thus, still recovering from his wound, he arrived in Belfast on Christmas Eve, 1938.

Today, he looks back on his experience in Spain all those years ago, and he says. "I don’t regret it. I’d go again, but I’d be better prepared". His most prized possession is his Brigade identity card, which details his service. Nowadays, in retirement after 23 years in Belfast shipyards, he is a firm supporter of the civil rights movement, and recall that in the days when the barricades went up in the Lower Falls in 1969, he did his stint as a vigilante like everybody else, Certainly the British Army take no chances with the 68 year old veteran of Spain, he has been interviewed by them several times since the start of the troubles. And as Paddy says…"The fight is the same today as it was in the thirties…it’s a class struggle. Religion shouldn’t come into it".

 


Ewart Milne obituary

 

This note is taken from the Times, 17th January 1987, p22.

Mr Ewart Milne, Irish poet, sailor and farmer died on January 14 at the age of 83.

For a quarter of a century his poetry was underrated and neglected; but more recently it has begun to attract the attention of the discerning, and the best of it will certainly be remembered.

Charles Ewart Milne was born in Dublin on May 25, 1903, and educated at Nuns Cross National School, Wicklow, and Christ Church Cathedral Grammar School, Dublin.

He left school in no mood to be part of the civil strife affecting his country, and in 1920 signed on as a cadet with the elder Dempster Line. He spent much of the next 15 years voyaging all over the world. Once during this period he thought of schoolmastering, but after a year as a student teacher went back to sea in 1925.

He began writing seriously in 1930. He tried his hand at short stories and plays, but came to the view that he was a poet. As he had wanted to escape from the complexities of Irish politics, so, as a poet, he set himself against the Celtic Twilight school which had dominated his youth. And his early efforts appeared in an anthology entitled Goodbye Twilight. Notwithstanding this intention, echoes of early Yeats are detectable occasionally.

In 1935 Milne left the sea and began to be interested in politics. Like most contemporary intellectuals he became a socialist. These convictions took him, in 1936, to Spain where he drove an ambulance for Medical Aid during the civil war.

But his idealism soon suffered a check. He felt the pure core of socialism to be under attack from military and political expediency, and he quarrelled with Auden over what he saw as the latter's cynicism about means and ends.

He continued with his work, though in a spirit of disillusionment and left Spain only when Spanish Medical Aid was wound up after the fall of Barcelona.

He returned to Dublin……….His most recent book, Drums without End (1985) was not verse, but a series of recollections of the Spanish Civil War.

As he got older he moved away from his commitment to socialism without ever believing in capitalism.

 


 

This obituary for Joe Monks was published in Irish Workers Voice, issue 1606, 18th January 1988. It was a weekly paper produced by the Communist Party of Ireland in Dublin.

 

An anti-fascist dies

The chapel of London's Putney Vale Crematorium on January 18 was filled with Irish people, English Trade Unionists and British international Brigadiers mourning the death of Joe Monks who was one of the first group from Ireland who fought in the defence of the Spanish republic against domestic and international fascist aggression.

Aged 73, his decision to go to Spain along with Frank Edwards and others was a logical one for him, born as he was into a Dublin working class family which was committed to the cause of Irish national independence and Connolly's concept that a free and independent Ireland could only find its fullest expression in a united Socialist Ireland. Joe believed that the "cause of Labour was the cause of Ireland: the cause of Ireland was the cause of Labour" and that the cause of Labour was an international one.

There can be no doubt that his Aunt Mary Donnelly, well known radical republican historic writer of the late twenties helped to shape the mind, outlook and political ideology of her nephew who late went to Spain in December 1936. He was a defender of Connolly House, headquarters of the Irish Revolutionary workers and Small Farmers Groups (the founders of the Communist Party of Ireland) when it was attacked in March 1933 by an incited hymn-singing mob.

Joe Monks was born and reared in Inchicore in Dublin City West, a district centred around the railway engineering workshops. It was remarkable that from two adjoining streets in that area came six of the 145 Irish volunteers against fascism in Spain. Two of that group, Tony Fox and Mick May, fell at the Cordova front on December 1936 and a third, Liam McGregor, was killed on the last day of the last battle of the 15th International Brigade on the river Ebro.

The funeral service took the form of the playing by violinist, Philip Robinson, of Boulavogue, the melody of the struggle of the United Irishmen in the 1798 Rebellion and the haunting lament of the Coolin. Paul Sheenan and Jimmy Jump, one Irish and the other a British ex-International Brigadier recited their poems. The ere was the record by Christy Moore singing his "Viva La Quince Brigada", the combined mourners sang "There is a valley in Spain called Jarama". Orations were delivered by Michael O'Riordan and Bill Alexander, Secretary of the International brigade Association.

 

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The Irish boys of the Old (Lincoln) Brigade

Jack Holland in the Irish Echo, May 1-7, 1996, published New York.

A glorious spring day greeted the veterans of the Lincoln Brigade as they arrived at the New York Sheraton for the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the unit that crossed the Atlantic to fight fascism in Spain all those years ago. The veteran Irish activist George Harrison had been looking forward to the day for quite some time. Though not a member of the brigade himself, he has attended more than half their yearly reunions, and has helped them organise the events.

This year he booked a table for ten guests. Among those seated next to us were Frank Durkan and his wife, and Cuba's first secretary to the UN, Mario Medina, along with his wife. Unfortunately, one of the Brigade's most ardent supporters, Paul O'Dwyer, could not be there due to frail health.

The 60th Anniversary was special. It could celebrate the fact that the Spanish government plans to confer honorary Spanish citizenship on all those who fought for the Spanish Republic in the International brigades, of which the Lincoln Brigade was an important part. Surviving members of the 40,000 strong brigades have been invited to Spain for the ceremonies, which are scheduled to take place next November.

It was the citizens of the United States who provided one of the biggest contingents to the brigades. Approximately 3,000 Americans went to Spain, most of them as members of the Lincoln brigade. Nowadays, as ethnic conflicts and wars inspired by religious fanatics' rage across the planet, it is hard to find a cause to which reasonable men and women can give their allegiance. But Spain was one of those causes, inspiring people from al walks of life who were horrified at the rise to power of Hitler and Mussolini. They saw in the rebellion of Francisco Franco in July 1936 a drastic extension of the threat that fascism was offering to the civilised world.

The imperial Ballroom of the Sheraton Hotel in New York seemed a long way from the world of aerial bombardment, jack-booted storm troopers and concentration camps. Under rather special chandeliers some 900 people sat down at table, the biggest gathering that the veterans had so far enjoyed. Among them were 49 veterans of the brigade, nearly all of them in their 80's. Harrison knew almost all of them, among them Lennie Levenson.

Levenson spent 18 months fighting in Spain, the last four of them in a special machine gun battalion, one of whose tasks was to hold bridges against the advancing fascists. He became an arms instructor. When World War 2 started, he tried to sign up as an instructor. He was told that he did not have enough teeth. He replied: "What'd you want me to do, bite the Japs?"

Levenson, sprightly in his 80's, had fought alongside Paddy O'Daire. The Donegal born O'Daire was an appropriately named Irish volunteer in the Irish contingent, the Connolly Column, named in honour of James Connolly, the military commander of the Easter Rising and revolutionary socialist. According to Levenson, Paddy was "the toughest soldier there." O'Daire had been deported from Canada because of his involvement in a strike, and had then gone to Spain. After the war ended, he joined the British army and - unusually for a non-commissioned officer - had been promoted up to the ranks to major.

O'Daire was one of some 200 Irishmen who fought in Spain in the Connolly Column. Unlike their American equivalents, these men faced tremendous opposition in Ireland. Franco claimed to be defending Catholic values against the "Red Menace" and this created a lot of sympathy for him in Ireland. It was Cardinal MacRory who encouraged Eoin O'Duffy, the former Blueshirt leader, to go to Spain to meet with Franco. Somewhat extravagantly, O'Duffy promised the fascist dictator 20,000 Irishmen to fight for his cause against "the new paganism." In the end, about 700 volunteers went to Spain under O'Duffy. Though it was more than three times the number who joined the fight for the Spanish Republic, the Blueshirts were more of an embarrassment than anything. In one action in which they did engage, they succeeded only in firing on their own side. Not long afterward, they slunk back to Dublin.

On the other hand, the Connolly Column volunteers - the comrades of the Lincoln Brigade - contributed some of the bravest and ablest fighters, including Frank Ryan, who had been one of the leading members of the IRA. Frequently, they faced opprobrium from their parish priests and their neighbours if they were fortunate enough to get home alive. Many from the Connolly Column died in Spain, as did many of the Lincoln Brigade - some 300 from the New York area alone. That Sunday, at the luncheon, they were never very far from the minds of those who survived.

What tales they had to tell. At the end of the event, there was a recital to accompany readings from letters written by Lincoln Brigade members to their loved ones back in the U.S. Among the things they recounted were the first descriptions of aerial bombardment, as German and Italian dive-bombers practised on Spanish civilians and introduced the modern world to a horror it has had to live with ever since.

"These ghostlike walls," wrote one of the aftermath of such an attack, "household furnishings perched on the edges of broken floors; kitchen utensils; the blood which stains the walls from which human flesh had been scrapped…Such barbarism can never rule the earth."

The tragedy was that these sights would become all too characteristic of modern warfare and of the world in which we now live.

 

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Spanish Civil War veterans "vindicated" after 60 years

 

By Brendan Anderson, Irish News, Belfast, 6th December 1996

 

One of the few remaining Irish survivors of the Spanish Civil War will be in Belfast this weekend to talk about his role as a volunteer in the International brigades.

Michael O'Riordan, who works in a Dublin bookshop, had little time to celebrate his 21st birthday in Barcelona, with one of the bitterest conflicts of the century raging around him.

Mr O'Riordan was one of the 133 Irishmen who fought with the International Brigades, in support of the Spanish government which was eventually overthrown by Franco's right wing army.

The republicans may have been defeated then, but almost 60 years later, this time on his birthday, Michael O'Riordan and his former comrades were back in the city, this time hailed as heroes.

"Even apart from being received in the Spanish parliament, the response of the ordinary people who turned out to greet us was very, very emotional. It was a vindication, it took a long time to come but it was worth waiting for.

"Danger there was, and the fact that we were outgunned completely did not help. The American army carried out an assessment of the Spanish war and it was estimated that, in troops, guns, tanks, even food, the fascists had a 7-1 advantage."

Mr O'Riordan said he never referred to the conflict as a "civil war" because he believes it turned into an invasion with the arrival of German troops and planes and Italian tanks.

"There was a difference of calibre in the two sides. In one famous battle at Guadalajara, the Italians were cock-a-hoop and said they did not need any help to fight us. Well, there were anti-fascist Italians in the International Brigades side and they beat the hell out of them."

He did not fight against fellow Irishmen of the Irish Brigade who fought on Franco's side, but he said he did not hold them in high regard.

"They were regards as a bit of a comic opera and soon there was a mutiny in their ranks and they quickly returned home," he said.

Among the many Irish members of the International brigades who did not return home was Jim Straney from East Belfast's Short Strand area.

"I knew Jim Straney very well. He was killed on the last day of fighting on the Ebro front. We took the offensive by crossing the Ebro, and that surprised the Franco forces, but then the whole weight was shifted against us. We had very little tanks or aviation, they had tons of it", he said.

Michael O'Riordan will give a talk on Homage to the International brigades in Spain on Saturday in The Place, Northern Visions, 4 Donegall Street. The film, To Die in Madrid will also be shown. Music is by Maggies Leap.

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This obituary for Joe Monks was published in Irish Workers Voice, issue 1606, 18th January 1988. It was a weekly paper produced by the Communist Party of Ireland in Dublin.

 

An anti-fascist dies

The chapel of London's Putney Vale Crematorium on January 18 was filled with Irish people, English Trade Unionists and British international Brigadiers mourning the death of Joe Monks who was one of the first group from Ireland who fought in the defence of the Spanish republic against domestic and international fascist aggression.

Aged 73, his decision to go to Spain along with Frank Edwards and others was a logical one for him, born as he was into a Dublin working class family which was committed to the cause of Irish national independence and Connolly's concept that a free and independent Ireland could only find its fullest expression in a united Socialist Ireland. Joe believed that the "cause of Labour was the cause of Ireland: the cause of Ireland was the cause of Labour" and that the cause of Labour was an international one.

There can be no doubt that his Aunt Mary Donnelly, well known radical republican historic writer of the late twenties helped to shape the mind, outlook and political ideology of her nephew who late went to Spain in December 1936. He was a defender of Connolly House, headquarters of the Irish Revolutionary workers and Small Farmers Groups (the founders of the Communist Party of Ireland) when it was attacked in March 1933 by an incited hymn-singing mob.

Joe Monks was born and reared in Inchicore in Dublin City West, a district centred around the railway engineering workshops. It was remarkable that from two adjoining streets in that area came six of the 145 Irish volunteers against fascism in Spain. Two of that group, Tony Fox and Mick May, fell at the Cordova front on December 1936 and a third, Liam McGregor, was killed on the last day of the last battle of the 15th International Brigade on the river Ebro.

The funeral service took the form of the playing by violinist, Philip Robinson, of Boulavogue, the melody of the struggle of the United Irishmen in the 1798 Rebellion and the haunting lament of the Coolin. Paul Sheenan and Jimmy Jump, one Irish and the other a British ex-International Brigadier recited their poems. The ere was the record by Christy Moore singing his "Viva La Quince Brigada", the combined mourners sang "There is a valley in Spain called Jarama". Orations were delivered by Michael O'Riordan and Bill Alexander, Secretary of the International brigade Association.

 

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Faithful to the fallen

Spanish Civil war veteran Dubliner Bob Doyle is still fighting for justice for those he left behind. His remarkable story can be seen this Saturday on BBC 2. Here he talks to MARTIN DOYLE.

 

Every now and then television profiles an individual with such integrity, vigour and vitality that we stop to question how much we are putting into and getting out of life. Hannah Hauxwell of the Yorkshire Dales is one example. Dubliner Bob Doyle is another.

Seventy-seven years old, this veteran, who fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, was handed a camera by the BBC last year to film his struggle to achieve a memorial to the members of the international brigade, among them 19 Irishmen, who died at the Battle of Jarama, near Madrid. The result, Video Dairies: Rebel Without a Pause, can be seen this Saturday, October 16, on BBC 2.

I first met Bob, who now lives in Neasdon, north London, early this year. Having arranged to meet him outside a tube station, I was taken by surprise when he arrived, not on board public transport, but astride a Honda moped. Though surviving on a pittance of a pension, together with his Spanish wife Lola, who is 10 years his junior, Bob's lust for life and fierce devotion to justice is as strong today as when, aged 20, following the example of Frank Ryan and Kit Conway, he went to fight Fascism in Spain.

 

Nothing left

Bob was captured by Mussolini's troops, the Black Flashes, and imprisoned in concentration camps, first in Burgos, where he was interrogated by the Gestapo, then in San Sebastion. There is nothing left of the prison camp in San Sebastion, not even a brick, but the Burgos jail is now a monastery.

Bob makes an emotional journey back to Burgos, where he finds himself one lunchtime across the table from a Spaniard whose uncle was a Major in Franco's army and whose sympathy lay too with the dictator. Disbelief that Bob could have been a Republican prisoner of war - "All the Reds were shot"- leads to the conversation stopper: "This country is going to hell with democracy."

Bob's quest to see recognised the sacrifice of the 5,000 members of the International Brigade who died at Jarama came about when he learnt from a former comrade, Frenchman Francois Mazou, that all the burial sites and simple memorials to the fallen had been destroyed. The remains of the dead had been disinterred and thrown unceremoniously into a pit which henceforth became a rubbish dump.

Though their bodies might lie on waste ground, to prove that their lives had not been wasted and that their deaths were worthy of remembrance, Mazou commissioned and put in place a memorial stone and in 1990 the municipality of Madrid approved in principle the creation of a site of national importance in Jarama, but today things are seemingly no further forward.

Bob Doyle was accompanied on his trip to Spain to meet with local politicians by Cluna Donnelly, whose uncle, the poet Charlie Donnelly, is among those buried in the unmarked mass grave. It is a moment of deep emotion for her and the viewer when she reads a tribute to him near the site of the grave.

But before Bob and Cluna made the emotional trip to Spain, there was a wealth of preparation to be made, and a cheerful, at times hilarious, mood is struck, thanks in part to Bob's apprenticeship with the video camera, in part to some clever editing in the BBC cutting room, but above all to the characters Bob meets as he goes about his business.

The Video Dairy is not Bob's first time in front of the camera. His son Julian was a cameraman on the Monty Python films and Bob featured as an extra in the Holy Grail. His "starring role", he says, was as a human doorbell in Jabberwocky. But Bob behind the camera is a different matter. Filming a meeting of Mirror Group pensioners - "I couldn't manage without the 64p a week I get from Mirror Group" Bob ironises, wryly recalling Robert Maxwell once addressing him as Brother Doyle as they negotiated a pay deal - the strobe button comes on by mistake. On another occasion he is forced to leave the camera and his hopes for a more humanitarian future society to chase a cat out of his garden.

 

Huge success

As Bob prepares for a Spanish-Irish fundraising evening, he goes to visit a local wine merchant, who keen for him to "recuperate" some money from the do, first dissuades him from spending money on cognac for the punch, then warns him off buying Spanish cheese. "You don't want Spanish cheese. That'll cost you an arm and a leg. Nobody will appreciate it anyway. Give them cheddar." In the end, the evening is a huge success, with Spaniards and Irish rallying together to sing the Internationale, an emotional moment evoking the dawn chorus of socialism.

One event in the diary that has got nothing to do with the Spanish Civil War and everything to do with the Irish experience in Britain is a scene in a pub in Neasden, where Bob is quietly having a pint. Suddenly one of the young me drinking in the bar starts shouting at that Paddies coming over here to work on building sites should clear off home after what the IRA did in Warrington.

Whatever about IRA atrocities provoking or permitting such outbursts of anti-Irish racism, Bob reveals to me something not shown in the video dairy - out of picture< Ireland are thumping England in a televised Five Nations rugby match, perhaps the real cause of the Englishman's ire. Still, it is a rare moment of television, one worth recording and sending to the Commission for Racial Equality to chew over.

"Memorials are important," says Bob Doyle, "because they remind people of the significance of historical events. With fascism and racism on the rise today, it is important history isn't swept under the carpet." At a speech at the memorial in London's South Bank to those who fell fighting Fascism in Spain, he declares: "Today in a world which is witnessing a resurgence of the Nazi ideology we salute with pride our International brigade comrade who gave their lives in defence of the Spanish Republic. We pledge our continuing struggle until their dignity in death is restored."

Significance

As the BNP picks up a council seat in London's East End, and racism and fascism spread though-out Europe, the actions of the International brigade take a sharper contemporary significance. "The threat of Fascism is greater today than in the 1930's", Bob believes. "The struggle against fascism is not finished."

Looking back on his long, eventful life, the veteran has reached this understanding: "In the twilight years of my life I recognise more and more the proudest thing I ever did was to participate in a noble, worthwhile struggle and it's the last thing I'm going to do."

Bob believes that his video dairy is going to stir things up for the local authorities in Spain,. While there he met the priest in charge of the cemetery which adjoins the war grave, who assured him that he had no objection to a memorial. He has already persuaded politicians such as Edward Heath and Dick Spring to write to the Spanish authorities and is appealing to Irish post readers to do the same.

Letters should be addressed to Don Joaquin Leguina, Presidente, La Communidad Automama de Madrid, Puerta del Sol 7, 28013 Madrid, and Don Jaime Lissavtzky, Presidente de la Consejeria Cultural de la C A M, Plaza de Espana 8, 28008 Madrid, specifying the war grave in the Morata de Tajuna cemetery.

* Video Dairies: Rebel Without A Pause is on BBC2 this Saturday, October 16, at 11.20 p.m.


Article taken from the Irish Post, London, 16th October 1993.

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Ideals indecently buried.

 

Eugene Egan in Fortnight June 1993

 

In 1937, Bob Doyle left his native Dublin to fight on the republican side in the Spanish civil war. He joined the Connolly Column, the Irish unit of the International Brigade, which was attached to the British battalion. Now 76, last month he returned to Spain to campaign for a memorial to the brigadiers who died at the battle of Jarama.

According to Mr. Doyle, the bodies of his comrades were dumped in an unmarked mass grave in Morata de Tajuna. His journey back to Spain was recorded by BBC's Video Dairy, for broadcast in October.

Nineteen Irishmen died in the battle of Jarama. Many were IRA veterans, who fought with distinction - it was the death of one of them, Kit Conway, that led Mr. Doyle to Spain to join the struggle.

"I shared a room with Kit Conway in Dublin. At the time we were both in the Republican Congress. He was a man I admired, so when I heard he was killed in Jarama I made my own way to Spain to avenge his death and take his place," he said.

Mr. Doyle, one of the few survivors of the Connolly Column, also wants to highlight the fact that tens of thousands were executed after the war ended. As far as he, and many others, are concerned, Franco's reign of terror was a second Spanish Inquisition.

"One must remember that 172,000 people were executed by Franco's forces between 1939 and 1952. This happened to anyone who was associated with a strike, lockout or trade dispute, yet very little concern was expressed about atrocities. People did not realise the true extent of the terror in Spain.

"Nobody was punished for these executions. In 1947 I returned to Spain, having married a Spanish woman, and tried to visit places where executions had taken place. But I was prevented from doing this by the Spanish authorities," Mr. Doyle explained.

He does not want to see the efforts of those who died swept under the carpet. He is determined that those whose remains were thrown into a mass grave are given a decent resting place. But he has met a negative response from the Spanish authorities, who would rather keep the matter quiet.

The former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has written to the Spanish premier, Felipe Gonzalez - facing elections this month - in support of the campaign. The Irish Labour leader, Dick Spring, has added his support too.

The International Brigade consisted of volunteers from 62 nations. When asked why he had gone to Spain when many Irish republicans took the view that there was fighting to be done at home, he said: "It provided me with an opportunity to avenge Kit Conway's death and I felt an obligation to assist my Spanish brothers and sisters.

"Kit Conway was the battalion instructor for the IRA in Dublin and at that time we were fighting on many issues that affected the working class. We fought against people being evicted from rat infested basements. We supported the rent strikes and the rights of trade unionism and organised demonstrations against unemployment.

"With the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, we were able to identify with the struggle of the Spanish people. We thought that what was happening in Ireland and Spain was all part of the same struggle against imperialism and fascism. Having a broad international outlook we could no longer stand by and look on at the murder of democracy and the achievements the Spanish people had won."

Mr. Doyle was captured in March 1938, with the Irish unitís leader, Frank Ryan. They were taken to a concentration camp, and then to the main prison at Burgos and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to ten years imprisonment, while Mr. Ryanís was reduced to 30 years.

The prisoners were systematically beaten and deprived of food. Eleven months on, however, Mr. Doyle as released in exchange for Italian prisoners held by republicans.

He brought home to Dublin the names of 16 priests he claimed had been executed by Francoís forces, but they were never published in the Irish papers. Unable to find work in the hostile climate of the free State at the time, with the outbreak of World War 11, he joined the navy as a seaman.

After the war, Mr. Doyle settled in London, where he met his Spanish wife, Dolores. For the next 37 years he worked in the London printing trade and was active as a shop steward in his trade union.

The rise of fascism and racism in Europe disturbs him and has given his task an added urgency. He said: "The threat of fascism is greater today than in the 1930s. Because there is hardly a country in the world that is not facing the same problems, such as mass unemployment and poverty, which fuel fascism. The consequences of ignoring the fascist threat in Spain were the holocaust and the outbreak of World War 2.

"The struggle against fascism in not finished. The executions and the dumping of peopleís remains in mass graves are not going to go unchallenged. If history is allowed to be swept under the carpet, then it could be said that the efforts of those who fought against injustice had been in vain."

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Tribute to Peter O’Connor

Peter O'Connor died on June 19th 1999.

The first obituary note here was taken from Unity, the paper produced by the Communist Party of Ireland, July 3rd 1999. The second piece was actually printed earlier, June 26th.

 

OVER three hundred mourners attended the funeral of Peter O’Connor at Ballbricken Cemetery, Waterford on Monday June 21. The coffin was covered with the banner of the Irish Connolly Column of the International Brigades.

Amongst the many floral tributes was one huge wreath bearing the crimson, gold and violet of the Spanish Republic. Heading the funeral procession was a piper playing the appropriate air, The Minstrel Boy.

At the graveside, Ken Keable played a lament on the flute, which was followed by the song Comrades, by Pauline Humphries. Michael O’ Riordan gave the graveside oration.

Amongst those in attendance at the funeral were representatives from the Waterford Trades Council, Michael O’Reilly, Irish Secretary of the ATGWU, a delegation from the Communist Party of Ireland. Peter remained a member from the day he participated in its foundation in June 1933 to the day he died.

Cultural figures such as Anna Manahan, the stage and TV artist, Jim Nolan the playwright, John McGrotty, brother of Eamom McGrotty, one of the 19 Irish antifascists who died in action at the battle of Jarama in February 1937, Sean Edwards, son of the late Frank Edwards, another of the 10 from Waterford who fought in Spain, were among the mourners.

A measure of the respect that the people of Waterford had for Peter is shown by the decision of the town’s leading book centre to give a two-week exhibition of his book and memorabilia of the Spanish anti-fascist war.

In the next columns we print the text of Michael O’Riordan’s tribute to his fellow comrade, Peter O’Connor

"Dear Teena and Emmet, daughter and son of Peter, his six grandchildren and other relatives of the O’Connor family.

Dear Comrades and Friends.

This is a sad occasion and at the same times a historic occasion. We have laid to rest in this grave a great but most modest man, the last of 10 Volunteers from Waterford who in the years of 1936-39 defended, against gigantic odds, the democratically elected government of the peoples of Spain.

The odds were indeed gigantic and not only in Spain itself where the forces of reaction were aided by German Nazi, Italian Fascist and Portuguese forces.

They were gigantic in Europe and the USA when the forces of the so-called democracies tied the hands of Republican Spain behind its back by a movement of appeasement to the forces of Franco, Hitler, Mussolini and Salazar.

Responding to the call against Fascism there came to help the Spanish Republic, 40,000 Volunteers from 53 different countries. 5,000 of them died in battle in Spain and many, many more in the anti-Fascist Resistance Movements that fought in World War II. And of the 145 who formed the Irish Connolly Column of the Fifteenth International Brigade, Peter O’Connor was one of the first to volunteer.

The odds in Ireland against Irish people supporting the Republic against Franco were also gigantic. There was a hysterical campaign which sought to present the Franco forces as a Crusade to defend religion.

There was the organization of an "Irish Brigade" which embarked on a comic-operatic military operation to support Franco.

Despite those odds, Peter answered the call of Frank Ryan to fight for the Spanish Republic as an Irish response to the call for an international action of solidarity and as a patriotic one to restore the good name of the Irish people which had been besmirched by the religious hysterical reaction of support for Spanish Fascism.

The war was not a religious war, but only one Irish priest spoke out in favour of the Spanish Republic.

He was that great Irish Republican, Fr. Michael O’Flanagan who declared: "The fight for Spain is a fight between the rich privileged classes in Spain against the rank and file of the poor oppressed people of’ Spain. The cause being fought for in Spain was nearer to us than we realised."

 

Waterford was proud of Peter

Peter O’Connor was proud of Waterford and the attendance here today shows that Waterford was proud of Peter. He was proud that there were 10 Volunteers in the International Brigade from Waterford - the greatest single contribution from any county in Ireland. Peter recorded the names in his autobiographic book. A Soldier of Liberty, and I know that he would wish their names to be mentioned on the occasion of his own funeral which now marks the death of all the Waterford 10.

They were:

Maurice Quinlan, South parade, killed in action on the Jarama front, February 1937.

The 3 brothers from the Power Family, Johnny, Paddy and Willie, all of Waterpark Lodge, Newtown.

Jackie Lemon, Olaf Street.

Jackie Hunt, New Street.

John Kelly, Grady's Lane, off Barrack Street.

John O'Shea, Kilmeaden, Co. Waterford.

Frank Edwards, Barrack Street, and finally, Peter O'Connor, Parnell Street.

He and they were bound together in a comradeship of Heroes as sung by Christy Moore in his ballad, Viva la Quince Brigada - long may their memory live on!

Today we say our last farewell to peter O'Connor who died at the age of 87 years but who began his political life 77 years ago when he joined Fianna Eireann at the age of 10. He developed as an activist in the republican Movement, in the Labour and trade Union Movements, as a foundation member of the Communist party of Ireland in 1933, in the united front of the republican Congress in 1934 and as a Labour Councillor.

He was later on involved in the solidarity activities of the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement and with Cuban Solidarity. Al together an amazing saga of continuous struggle over 77 years!

Peter was influenced by great people and they were by him: Frank Ryan, Sean Murray. George Gilmore - and his own father and three brothers, a truly remarkable family. Today we salute all of then who are represented here today by Peter’s sole surviving sister Bridget.

 

A Soldier of Liberty

Peter’s autobiography, A Soldier of Liberty, deals with his time in Spain and particularly with the Battle of Jarama, February 1937, in which nineteen of our Irish comrades fell in battle.

Amongst them was Charlie Donnelly whose last words were Even the Olives are Bleeding, uttered on February 23rd.

His body lay on the battlefield until March 9 when Peter and two of the Powers Brothers. John and Paddy went out to retrieve it. Amongst the dead were also Eamon McGrottv, a former Irish Christian Brother from Derry and the Church of Ireland clergyman, the Reverend Robert Hilliard, a native of Kerry. who ministered in Belfast.

A remarkable unity in death of Catholic and Protestant, in the tradition of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen.

For his defense of the Spanish Republic. Peter was awarded the Hans Beimler Medal, this being the name of a foremost German Anti-Fascist who was killed in Madrid while serving in the International Brigade.

In addition, he was decorated in Madrid with the 50th. Anniversary Medal marking the formation of the International Brigades.

On May 1 1994 Peter unveiled a beautiful Waterford Crystal Plaque bearing the names of Waterford International Brigadiers.

The final vindication of courageous stone against Fascism came when he and the other International Volunteers were the recipients of the right to become Honorary Citizens of Spain by the unanimous decision of the Spanish Parliament in 1996.

In A Soldier of Liberty, Peter wrote a concluding paragraph, which it is right that I should now read, as it is, in fact, 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 given to him to live but once, he must so live as to feel 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'."

Peter O’Connor so lived his life.

Salud y victoria!"


 

Salute to Peter O’Connor

Peter O’Connor, founder member of the Communist Party of Ireland in 1933, who fought under the command of Frank Ryan in the Connolly Column of the International Brigade in the defence of the Spanish Republic 1936-1939, died in his native Waterford on Saturday at the age of 87.

Michael O’Riordan, his fellow member of the International Brigade represented the Party at Peters funeral.

In the mid-1950s he was co-opted on to Waterford Corporation to succeed his brother, James, who had been a member of the Corporation previously. In the following election Peter retained the seat. He remained politically active and was involved in many campaigns right up to the time of his death.

Peter was proud on May 1, 1994 when Waterford honoured its participants in the Spanish Civil War. An event was organised by the Waterford Council of Trade Unions and Peter as the last surviving member of the 10 Waterford Brigaders unveiled a plaque being the names of the men from Waterford who fought in the Connolly Column of the International Brigade.

Those of us who knew Peter will remember him for his strong beliefs in Socialism and a just world for all. He carried out his tasks in a quiet, unassuming manner, but at the same time with great determination.

In the conclusion of the publication, Soldier of Liberty, in which Peter relates his experiences fighting Franco's fascism in Spain he says: "You have to believe in something - a cause that will make the world a better place, or you have wasted your life."

Peter lived his life to the full he could truly say, to use an appropriate quotation: "All my life and all my strength were given to the finest cause in the world - the Liberation of Mankind."

He will be sadly missed.

 

Salute Peter!

 


For additional information there is a piece in the Irish Times, 21st June 1999.

http://www.ireland.com/scripts/search/highlight.plx?TextRes=Peter%20O%27connor&Path=/newspaper/ireland/1999/0621/hom25.htm

 

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