This page was only published with the consent of Raymond Quinn, the author, and the valuable help of Giddy. Thanks to both of them.

Extract from:

A Rebel Voice, A History of Belfast Republicanism 1925-1972 by Raymond J Quinn.

This was published by the Belfast Cultural and Local History Group, Belfast 1999.

ISBN 0953524108.

It costs, £10 and is available from RJ Quinn, 573 Antrim Road, Belfast BT15.


Return to contents page




Around thirty men from Belfast went to fight in Spain, ten of whom died in action. In terms of figures it was a small minority, but Catholic and Protestant Socialist Republicans fought and died together in war, something that had not happened since 1798. Unfortunately it took a foreign war to achieve it. From Ballymacarrett alone, six went to fight in Spain. Four against Franco, three of whom were killed, Liam Tumilson. Ben Murray and Jim Straney.




What was the driving force that compelled working class Catholic and Protestant men from the North to fight and die on the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War?


Two weeks before Christmas in 1936, many Irishmen left their homes and families to begin the long journey to Spain to join the International Brigades fighting on the republican side in the civil war. The volunteers, many of them ill-prepared for the appalling conditions and carnage that was awaiting them, had nothing materially to gain by taking part in the struggle; their participation was based purely on ideology, a belief that they were fighting against the tide of fascism sweeping Europe. The majority of the Irish contingent came from the Free State, but among their ranks were also many Northerners. They were not, as one might expect, solely those who held republican aspirations for the whole of Ireland, but a surprising mix of people whose backgrounds were Catholic and Protestant, nationalist and unionist, who were joined by a common bond of socialist ideals and disillusionment with the society they were leaving behind.


The 1930s was a time of strongly conflicting ideologies - conservatism versus socialism, right against left, fascism squaring up to communism. Working class Catholic men living in Ireland found themselves torn between the conservative church, to which they were bonded by faith and religion, and the attractions of socialism, which the keenly-felt inequalities of daily life led many of them to adopt.


The carnage of the First World War and the failure of the system to keep the promises of a better life to those that survived, had seen the rise of working class politics in the 1920s. While Europe witnessed the grip of fascism exerted in Germany and Italy, in Ireland it was the same old story - politics and religion remained inextricably bonded. However, during a period of increased working class deprivation from 1932-34, Belfast saw - perhaps for the first time - a real chance for Protestant and Catholic people to bond together in the common cause of bread and butter issues. The spread of socialist ideals proved to be a rare unifying factor against a background of outdoor relief riots, unemployment and depression.


But as in so many other cases, religious division won the day. Both the Stormont government and the Catholic church would not allow what they considered to be left wing communist politics to take preference over faith, belief and loyalty; even the I.R.A. would not rally to the socialist banner.


In Belfast, the majority of the I.R.A. justifiably saw themselves as "national republicans". They were anti-Communist and the movement would not involve itself in the 1932 outdoor relief riots as a matter of policy. Many members did play a role in the agitation, but they were acting as individuals rather than as I.R.A. activists. Tony Lavery and John Reaney, two volunteers from the Lower Falls, were both very active on the barricades during the ODR October riot. This position, however, later came to be viewed as tactically wrong and policy changed when the I.R.A. some 700 strong in Belfast in 1933, did become involved in a rail and transport strike that year. To be fair, on balance the Republican movement could not involve itself in a "Workers Union", as the sectarian nature of the Northern State discriminated against Catholics and the I.R.A. was the only line of defence that community had against a religious pogrom and state inspired attack.


In the South, Fianna Fail took power, and although still professing itself as a republican party, it moved away from the concept of armed struggle and proscribed the I.R.A. Within the movement itself there were those who wanted to push the organisation’s burgeoning socialist leanings to the left, but their motion was defeated at the 1934 General Army Convention in Dublin. The I.R.A. was a nationalist movement, it was argued. The military element was always primary, with social and economic questions taking second place. The people of Ireland would determine what social or economic programme would evolve upon the establishment of a Republic. Following the failure of their socialist motion at the 1934 convention, three leading I.R.A. men resigned and formed what was to become known as the Republican Congress. It started well, receiving support in the South but made little impact on the I.R.A. in the North. Nevertheless, it was the Republican Congress that prompted Irish volunteers to form the Irish Brigade. In all, some 200 Irishmen would fight in Spain with the International Brigades.


The Spanish Civil War provoked a very hot debate. Fighting had broken out following a military uprising against the Socialist Popular Front government in July 1936. The coup was led by General Francisco Franco and was backed by the church and the wealthy of Spain. For the left, Spain had been the last bastion of power in Europe, amid the growing power of Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s fascists in Italy. There were also fascist governments in Hungary. Greece and Portugal. Even in the democracies of Britain and Ireland, ultra-right movements were emerging as their governments clung to a policy of nonintervention.


One of the founders of the Republican Congress. Frank Ryan was urged by his friend and comrade in arms, Charlie Donnelly, from Killbrackey near Dungannon, to support the cause of the Spanish republicans. Donnelly visited Ryan in Dublin during 1936 before leaving for England, where he had already spent some time developing a sophisticated and rigorous line in political thought. He was completely absorbed by the Spanish conflict, a cause for which he would give up his life within a year.


In September 1936. Cardinal MacRory, Archbishop of Armagh, publicly denounced Ryan and the Republican Congress for sending Donnelly’s suggested message of support to the Spanish Republicans, whom he denounced as "an evil regime." An outraged Ryan in an open letter replied; "May I assure your eminence that as an Irish Catholic I will take my religion from Rome, but as an Irish Republican I will take my politics from neither Moscow not Maynooth ".


Soon Ryan began to organise men to send to Spain, and the Irish contingent left Dublin, Belfast and Rosslare between December 12 and 14, 1936, travelling through London and France to Spain. Their route would have been through southern France by train, probably to the French Catalan coastal town of Perpignan, and from there down the Mediterranean coast to Madrigueras, a village near Albecete.


Charlie Donnelly, having returned to London from Dublin, left the English capital on December 23, 1936, and joined the contingent 15 days later, travelling to Spain on his own. By the time he reached them, 11 of the group had already been killed in the first few weeks of fighting.


If the urgings of the Republican Congress had led many from the South to sign up for the Spanish cause, it was the outdoor relief riots of 1932 that were to prove the deciding factor for some of the Protestant working class in the North. Disenchanted Protestants reasoned that if this was what the state could do to its working class citizens, then a socialist agenda would be their standing in life. They were not victims of republican propaganda, nor did they convert to Catholicism or nationalism. They were committed to a working class cause, which they believed in, and one for which they were prepared to fight.


One such man was William ‘Liam’ Tumilson from Thorndyke Street, off Templemore Avenue in East Belfast. The outdoor relief riots had been the turning point for him and he embraced socialism. In reality they were very young men with strong ideals. Tumilson subsequently joined the I.R.A. in the Short Strand district and struck up a friendship with Jim Straney from Thompson Street in that area of the city (not the Falls Road, as previous records have stated, although the family home originated in John Street at the foot of Divis Street). Straney had joined the I.R.A. in the Short Strand with several other local men through the Fianna in 1929, among them Jack Brady from Kilmood Street and Willie O’Hanlon from Woodstock Street. Whilst Jack Brady would become a leading republican in Belfast in the 1930s, Jim Straney and Willie O’Hanlon would end up on the battlefields of Spain. Liam Tumilson joined Republican Congress in 1934 and therefore would have been stood down from the I.R.A. as it dismissed any volunteers who went to Spain. It believed they had a duty to remain in Ireland. The men who went were still strongly bounded to Republicanism, but ‘Socialist Republicanism’.


Another Ballymacarrett man to volunteer was Ben Murray from the Newtownards Road. Ben Murray was a committed socialist who had been active during the outdoor relief riots. Both were later killed at the Battle of Aragon in March 1938. Of those men who volunteered for Spain from the east of the Lagan, only Willie O’Hanlon, and Fred McMahon, who served as a paramedic, would return. Fred served with the Scottish Ambulance Unit and was captured along with another Belfast man Joe Boyd on 8 November 1936. Fred McMahon says that in relation to the Spanish Civil War "the average trade unionists tended to be apathetic. There were a few of the keen trade unionists, the shop steward type who were pro-Republican ". He agrees that many Catholics began to oppose the Republicans because of the Catholic church’s support of Franco. He says - "there were quite a few Catholics and Protestants, but mainly Catholics, who were pro-Republican at the start, and then the media thumping into them about the patriots, and thumping the atrocities by the Republicans, which undoubtedly took place, they take place at all wars, and glossing over the atrocities by the fascists and some of the vicious bombing, Guernica particularly, the most sickening bombing before the war the most sickening massacre ". One must also bear in mind that "the Irish News is a Catholic paper, and it represents the Catholic majority, and it called the insurgents, that’s Franco‘s troops, patriots. Most of the Catholic population, and the church certainly, was pro-Franco, and very violently so. And yet, peculiarly enough, I met some churchmen behind Republican lines. I met a couple of Redemptorists, and they were very pro-Republican".



McMahon himself says simply, "I was an anti-fascist - that’s why I went to Spain - I was violent thy anti-fascist".


Jack Macgougan, the secretary of the N.I. Socialist Party in Belfast at that time, did not actually get to Spain but remembers how their efforts at organising solidarity were ""more or less diverted into aid for an ambulance. Two people went, Fred McMahon and Joe Boyd, both from the Socialist Party". It is ironic that socialists, communists and republicans were able to forge a common front against fascism in Spain yet remained divided against another enemy - imperialism and unionism at home.


The Republican Congress was one of the main organisations active on the question of Spain. John Lowry, also the N.I.S.P., recalls: "Peadar O’Donnell coining to Belfast amid there was a paper started, I can’t remember the title of that paper but 0 ‘Donnelly was a leading figure in that paper and there was some contact between O’Donnell and some members of the Socialist Party. At the time of the Spanish War 0 Donnell had courage enough to stand on the side of the Spanish republicans and I remember a rally being organised in the Ulster Hall, where a Basque priest, called Father La Borda, was pro-republican and he addressed us, I’m not sure if he spoke English. But O’Donnell was there and it was a very good audience that listened to him ".


In 1934, Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney carried the banner of the Shankill James Connolly Socialists to Bodenstown. Two lorry loads of this club, made up of men from the Shankill and Ballymacarrett, led by Bill McMullan, made their way South for the annual republican commemoration. However, during the procession they were attacked by members of the East Tipperary I.R.A., apparently for breaking a rule that year that no banners were to be carried, unless authorised by stewards.


The first Irish volunteers to fight in the Spanish Civil War saw action on the Cordoba front in December 1936. An Irish unit marched with the IXth French Battalion and No. 1 Company of the British Battalion, a total of 145 men whose objective was to capture the town of Lopera. Nine Irishmen died during this action, all of whom were from the South.


As more volunteers arrived, a training programme was put into place, and the Irish found themselves at Madrigueras, near Albecete, along with the British Battalion. Whilst here in training, it was decided to amalgamate the Irish into the British Battalion, but this caused objections amongst hard-line I.R.A. men who had fought during the War of Independence. These objections were seen as being wrong, since everyone was supposedly fighting for a common cause, but in the end a vote was taken on the matter. The result of the ballot was that the Irish volunteers remained a separate unit by a margin of five votes. However, as forthcoming battles would soon bear out, the distinction was largely irrelevant.


Having decided not to amalgamate with the British contingent, the Irish moved to the village of Villanueva de la Jara in January 1937 and joined the American Lincoln Battalion.


A few weeks later, on February 6, 1937. Franco’s army advanced into the Jarama valley in an attempt to capture the road between Madrid and Valencia. Jarama was to become one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, lasting for a month. The opening action of the Republican forces involved the British Battalion under confused leadership taking on overwhelming opposition.


Within a week, the Lincoln Battalion received orders to cut short its training and move immediately to join the battle. The more experienced men in the Irish column had already gone to the front, and indeed some of them had been killed, including Bill Beattie from Wilton Street on the Shankill. Bill had been a former British soldier, with service in the First World War serving in the 2nd Battalion Royal Ulster Rifles for 8 years. He proved to be a tower of strength to his comrades before his death. Many others, including Frank Ryan, were wounded. The Lincoln's arrived at Jarama on February 23 with 450 men divided into two infantry companies - a machine gun unit and a group of paramedics and doctors. Both sides were dug into trenches at opposite ends of the valley. The terrain was rough and sparse, dotted with twisted olive trees and vines. Conditions were appalling, the trenches were filthy and both food and basic medical supplies were scarce.


Despite the poor conditions, moral was high and the volunteers fought as strongly as the ideals they held. Perhaps it was those ideals that encouraged their spirits to fight, for in reality their defence lacked good military tactics and thinking. Nevertheless, they held up Franco's offensive, but at great cost.


Peter O'Connor, an Irish volunteer from Waterford and a member of the republican Congress says:

On 23rd February our battalion took part in the first attack on the fascist lines. It was very dark and the olive groves were lit up with rifle and machine gun fire. We advanced too far, but dug in where we were. Paddy Power was just near me, in a section of a trench cut off from our main lines. It was here that Charlie Donnelly, Eamon McGrotty, and the Rev. M Hilliard were killed and Alan MacLarnan from Dublin was wounded. I made the following entries in my diary for 26th and 27th February 1937: 'We were holding the line. We did not get anything to eat since the morning of the 23rd. it is now 26th February and all our canteens are empty. We fight our way back to the main line.

The 27th February, and we attack again, led by Eddie O'Flaherty and Paul Burns. Jackie Hunt from Waterford is wounded in the ankle, and Bill Henry, that great Protestant working class comrade from Belfast, was killed in the vanguard of the attack, together with TT O'Brien. We hold the line and consolidate our positions. The road to Madrid is safe. We settle down to a stint of trench warfare, making the dugouts more livable. Our main position is among the olive groves on the hills overlooking the villages of Marata and Chinchon, where we settle down to repulse attacks and counter attack.'

In the Jarama trenches, Liam Tumilson had become friendly with Donegal man Paddy 'Roe' McLaughlin. McLaughlin was a veteran of the war of Independence, originally from Main Street, Moville and had volunteered from America in the hope of teaming up with his old friend, George Gilmore. Gilmore was one of the founders of the republican congress. The banter between Tumilson and McLaughlin was always good. It was a sign of buoyant moral despite conditions. Tumilson wrote home to Belfast in march from the trenches: "Still determined to stay here until fascism is completely crushed. Impossible to do other than carry on with the slogan of Cathal Brugha, 'No Surrender.' "


On March 14 1937 Tumilson was killed by a snipers bullet whilst in charge of the 'Liam Mooney Machine Gun company'. Paddy McLaughlin, who survived the war, saw his friend die.


Jarama also claimed the lives of Dick O'Neill from the Falls Road, and fellow Belfast men Billy Henry of 31 Bradford Street, Old Lodge Road and Danny Boyle. Also killed was Eamon McGrotty from Derry who died on the 26 February, 1937. In his last letter home to his wife. Rosina, Bill Henry wrote: "There are some great comrades here with me, with whom it would be an honour to go to the happy hunting ground". Bill had survived the Great War, and was 36 years old when he died. He was a member of the N.I. Labour Party and the Irish Distributive Workers Union, being a Belfast dealer.


Another to be killed at Jarama was Charlie Donnelly, whose body lay on the battlefield for 10 days before being recovered by three of his fellow Irishmen, Peter O’Connor and Peter and Johnny Power. Donnelly was buried in an unmarked grave on the battlefield with other volunteers.


Liam Tumilson was buried near the town of Morata. His death resulted in his friend, Jim Straney, arriving in Spain to carry on his stand. A year later, in August 1938. Straney was also killed, during the advance on Gandesa. He died on Hill 481, ‘the pimple’ as it was called, along with two other Northern men, George Gorman from Derry and James Haughey from Armagh. Jim Straney was a young man with strong Republican ideals. He was an active member of his local I.R.A. Company in the Short Strand before going to Spain. During his visits to the family home in John Street, he would often produce a new gramophone record for his aunt who was a keen dancer, but instead of her hearing the latest sound in dance music, it would be a rebel song telling of the struggle, or the 1916 rising. He would often stand his two year old nephew up in the cot when the National Anthem would he played on Radio Eireann. The Straneys were a close family, and the youngest children SeŠn and Maureen looked up to their older brother, as children do. When he decided to volunteer for Spain, he waited until he was in England before sending a letter home. as he knew the effect it would have on his father, who would certainly have tried everything in his power to dissuade him from going to fight in the Foreign War. When Jim was killed in 1938, it broke his father’s heart, He had been saving and working on a cottage in Killough for his son, one Jim often used as a safe haven for himself and his comrades. when he was in the I.R.A. However, Jim’s death left his father with no heart for the cottage and it fell into decay, as his father died in July 1942. He was buried in Milltown cemetery and although his son lies buried in Spain, his name adorns the headstone along side his fathers.




Whatever their hopes, to die old wasn’t one

Stevenson, Stockdale and Straney

from Scotland, Leeds and Belfast.

One died in hospital, two at the Ebro

Death made that sure when battle was done.



Martin Green (whose father fought with the British Battalion in Spain)


The last engagement for the Irishmen of XV Brigade was on the banks of the River Ebro. After this, they marched to Marsa, later to Guiamets, and then finally to the demobilisation center at Ripoli. Franco’s National Army, which heavily outnumbered and outgunned the Republican forces, claimed the victory, but at a high price.


The Spanish Civil War was quickly overshadowed by the outbreak of World War Two, when fascism swept across the remainder of Europe. The Nazis had sent 26,000 men to help Franco and the Luftwaffe had used Spain as a ground to implement and improve its bombing techniques, which would be put to further devastating use in Poland in 1939.


The Belfast men who had fought in Spain began to come home in mid-December 1938. The first six to return were Willie O’Hanlon from the Short Strand, Hugh Hunter from York Street, Bill Lord from Carrick Hill, Willie Fulton. who had joined in Australia, Robert Boyle and Jim Larmour. In total, more than 30 Belfast men had gone to Spain, ten of who were killed out of a total of 59 Irish casualties.


Little has been written about the Northern men who went to fight in this foreign field, compelled by the strength of their beliefs. Upon reflection, however, what European conflict have Irishmen not fought in? They drift into the annals of history, just names within volumes of print.


What is sure. however, is that whether it was the Jarama Valley, Brunette, Aragon or the Ebro, rooted among the olive trees is a small piece of Ballymacarrett and the Shankill, Belfast blood that ran free on the dry. stony ground of Spain.








While Frank Ryan led Irishmen out to Spain in their crusade again Fascism, many of their fellow countrymen were also taking a stand in Spain in support of Franco’s Nationalist Army.


These volunteers were led by General Eoin O’Duffy and totaled over 700 men. They were mostly inspired by religious ideals, and by a fierce desire to defend the Catholic church. They outnumbered their socialist counterparts some three to one, and half their number were former I.R.A. then Free State soldiers. although there was a notable minority within their ranks, that had remained republican during the Civil War and loyal to the I.R.A.. For such men, the need for unity in the Catholic cause overcame the considerations of party politics.


Despite much potential sympathy for an oppressed republican peasantry in Spain, it was the religious persecution which struck home sharpest in Ireland. The social revolution in Spain had engulfed many groupings on the Popular Front left, among them Anarchists and Communists who saw the Catholic church as a major target. In the regions of Catatonia and Andalusia there was intense anti-clericalist feelings and during the second half of 1936, thousands of churches and other religious buildings were damaged or burned. Hundreds of priests and nuns were murdered, as were six bishops. Franco’s Army later took a bloody repression on the rural communities of Andalusia during his march toward Madrid for their frenzied attacks against the church.


It is therefore not surprising that the majority of people in the Free State were outraged at the fate of the Spanish church at the hands of the ‘Reds’. The influence of the Irish hierarchy with the press ensured the atrocities were given maximum coverage overshadowing the campaign of reprisals being carried out by Nationalist troops.


It was against this background that the right-wing General Eoin O’Duffy began to recruit volunteers to fight in Spain.


Eoin O’Duffy was born at Laragh, near Castleblaney, Co. Monaghan in 1892. He joined the Volunteers in 1917, and within a year was in command of the Monaghan Brigade. When the I.R.A. began its campaign against the British, his unit was the first to capture an R.U.C. barracks at Ballytrain on 14th February, 1920. Having risen through the ranks, he was appointed liaison officer for Louth and the Ulster Counties after the truce. In this capacity he set up his H.Q. in St. Mary’s Hall. Chapel Lane amid the pogroms that plagued Belfast. It is probably during this time he would have first met SeŠn Cunningham who was O.C. of B. Coy, 2nd Battalion, covering the Short Strand/Ballymacarrett area. Cunningham would later serve on his staff in Spain.


During the Civil War, O’Duffy was appointed G.O.C. South Western Command, during which time he survived two ambush attempts. He retired from the Army to become Chief Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. When De Valera took power he was dismissed from the Guards in 1933. and he embarked on a brief but stormy political career. He will be remembered for forming and leading the Fascist Blueshirt movement during the 1933/34 period.


He started calling for Volunteers to go to Spain on 10th August 1936, and the first party of ten left Dublin for Lisbon via Liverpool on Friday. 13th November, 1936. Nearly all the ten were former I.R.A. Volunteers who had become Free Staters during the Civil War, and had fought against the Republican forces, all holding officer rank.


Before the year was out, hundreds more followed, the largest departure being in December when between 500 and 753 left Galway on 13th December.


In Spain, the Volunteers were formed up into the XV Bandera Irlandesa del Tercio of the Spanish Foreign Legion. A ‘Bandera’ was an infantry battalion made up of about 600 men. The term ‘Tercio’ came from the renowned Spanish Infantry of the 16th century. In total there was 18 different ‘benders’ fighting within the Nationalist Army.




The most highly decorated Belfast Volunteer was George Caughie. MCM, MBE. He was the master-armourer. SeŠn Cunningham of Clyde Street, Short Strand had been a Sergeant-Major in the British Army in First World War.


When the Belfast pogrom broke out in July 1920, B. Coy, 2nd Battalion, Belfast Brigade I.R.A. was raised in the Short Strand to defend the besieged Nationalist enclave. There was over forty local men who were ex-soldiers and many of these helped in various ways through training or actual armed defence. One of these was SeŠn Cunningham, and he later became 2 I.C. and then O.C. of the I.R.A. in Ballymacarrett In 1922 he became O.C. of the 49th Battalion, Free State Army in Dundalk. He was later transferred to Collins Barracks in Dublin, and in November 1923 became O.C. of the 21st Battalion. In 1927. Commandant Cunningham’s Battalion played a major role in the Military Tattoo at Lansdowne Road. He retired two years later in 1929.


In Spain he held the rank of Captain in Charge of the Bandera’s heavy machine gun company, and on one occasion was personally complimented by General Franco. He later served on O’Duffy’s H.Q. Staff at Salamanca. Having survived the war in Spain he would eventually return to his native Belfast settling in Cavendish Street on the Falls Road. He died on the 11th March, 1963.


Other Belfast men known to have fought with the Nationalist Volunteers are John Jones and Peter Fanning both of whom were I.R.A. Volunteers when they went to Spain. Jones lived at the top of the Whiterock Road in the cottages and Peter Fanning on the Springfield Road.


They also survived Spain and Willie John McCurry remembers with some humour being part of a three man IRA court-martial board which was instigated after their return, more as a formality than anything else. It was very much a laid-back affair. the presiding officer telling them how "he would have let them off had they fought on the Republican side".


Jimmy Drumm remembers a similar occasion when as a young volunteer in 1938 he was sent over to Ballymacarrett to sit on the court-martial of Jim Straney and Willie O’Hanlon who fought on the Republican side in their absence. Joe Boal was also present and yet again it was only a formality. A young Jim Straney would never return from Spain killed in action and this deeply committed Republican is rightly honoured on the I.R.A. Memorial in Short Strand. Three others known to have served with O’Duffy’s Brigade from Belfast are Brendan Kielty, John Cleary and Patrick Ward.


The Nationalist Volunteers found themselves at Caceres were they underwent a fairly comprehensive training programme lasting six weeks. They were much better ‘kited out’ than their Socialist counterparts. Unfortunately, they were not to operate as an integral force and were distributed among various army groups to be used as need arose. Therefore, it became an isolated and under-strength infantry battalion dependent on external Spanish units for all support services. Language difficulties made liaison between the Irish field officers and the Spanish general staff poor.


Poor leadership from O’Duffy who spent most of his time behind the lines at his H.Q., lack of direction and focus eroded morale and the Bandera was stood down by Franco on 13th April 1937 following unfavorable reports from Spanish liaison officers, the previous month. It was never given a proper organised chance to prove itself and the Brigade returned to Dublin in June 1937 to a warm welcome.


However, events in Europe with the outbreak of World War II highlighting the true face of fascism and all it entailed saw attitudes in Ireland turn to indifference and eventually to ridicule. O’Duffy himself sank into obscurity and became ill, dying in late 1944 at the age of 52. Frank Ryan died the same year, but while he has become part of history and legend, Eoin O’Duffy, and the men of his Brigade became an embarrassment. They had espoused to the winning side, but their defeated opponents in war won the struggle for the hearts and minds of the millions outside of Spain, and in doing so also won the judgement of history.





There’s a valley in Spain called Jarama,

It’s a place that we all know so well,

For its there that we gave of our manhood,

And most of our brave comrades fell.


In October 1994, a memorial was unveiled at the village cemetery of Marata de Tajuna where the remains of soldiers of the Spanish Republic together with those of the Volunteers from many countries who had joined the International Brigade, are buried. Nineteen of those are Irishmen which includes the four Belfast men - Bill Henry, Danny Doyle, Dick O’Neill and Liam Tumilson.


The grave remained virtually unmarked for 57 years, neglected under the Franco regime. However, the present democratic Government rectified this and a memorial to the 5,000 who fell at Jarama was built. The ceremony was attended by Peter O’Connor of Waterford, a veteran of Jarama who in his speech said: "When the Republican .forces were in retreat at Jarama, it was the gallant leadership of Frank Ryan and Jock Cunningham of the British Battalion, which regained all the positions lost in the retreat."


He also went on to say:

I truly believe that if fascism had been defeated in Spain, and if France, Britain and America had supported the legally elected government at the time, then the Second World War would probably never have happened, thereby saving millions of lives .

Peter O’Connor was twenty-four years old when he fought at Jarama, one of five Waterford men to do so.

The monument consists of a large white marble slab, set in the wall of the cemetery, with the following inscription:


To the memory of the fallen heroes of Jarama who made the supreme sacrifice in the defence of Madrid and succeeded in keeping open the road to Valencia, 1936-39. No Pasaran.




Paddy MacAllister who died on the 16th September, 1997 was the last of the Belfast Volunteers who joined the government forces to fight General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. He left the Lower Falls as a young man in the Twenties to work in Canada where he became involved in trade union activity. In 1936 he joined the Irish Brigade in Spain and was wounded on the Jarama front. He returned to Belfast after the end of the War. Paddy was living in Ballymurphy when he died and he is buried in the Socialist Republican plot in Milltown. [CC. He is buried in the plot belonging to the Worker’s Party.]





There are four main memorials in Ireland to those who fought and died in Spain. In Dublin a plaque at the entrance to Liberty Hall on Eden Quay lists the names of all those who died, I have visited this memorial several times. On May 1st, 1994, Waterford honoured its participants in the War. In an event organised by Waterford Council of Trade Unions, Peter O’Connor unveiled a plaque at the A.T.G.W.U. building, Keyser Street, bearing the names of the ten Waterford men who fought in the Connolly Column.


A memorial sits on Dooega, Achill Island to Tommy Patten the first Irish causality. It was unveiled in 1987 and veteran Brigaders Joe Monks, Bob Doyle, Peter O’Connor and Michael O’Riordan, attended. Another memorial stands at Morley’s Bridge at Kilgaraven.


The only memorial in Belfast that I am aware of that lists the names of volunteers killed in Spain, is in the Short Strand district. The I.R.A. memorial unveiled by Gerry Adams, M.P., on June 25th, 1995, lists among its 19 names Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney both of whom had been I.R.A. Volunteers before leaving to fight in Spain.


I myself hope in the near future to have a plaque erected listing the names of all six Ballymacarrett Volunteers.





In relation to SeŠn Cunningham (Seosamh O Cuinnegain), despite what some, perhaps many readers may feel over his siding in Spain with O’Duffy’s Brigade, it should not be forgotten that this man had commanded B Coy 2nd Battalion, in Ballymacarrett during the 1920-22 pogrom. This period of history was for Belfast Catholics, the worst in memory and Ballymacarrett in particular fought for its very survival.


The large number of ex-soldiers who had fought in the Great War, and the strong I.R.A. Company which was commanded by SeŠn Cunningham. played a pivotal role in the defence of that area.


After the truce, the majority of the I.R.A. in the Short Strand/Ballymacarrett area were pro-treaty, as was the case in many other Company areas through out Belfast. Commandant SeŠn Cunningham deserves to be remembered with credit for that role during the pogrom, failing any sympathetic view for the stand he took in Spain.


See the lists of O'Duffy's people and the Republican sides supporters on this site.

Return to Contents page

Last updated, 29th March 2000