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A bird's eye view of the vineyard

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The Easter Rising and the fight in Spain

category international | rights, freedoms and repression | feature author Monday May 15, 2006 19:18author by Manus O'Riordan Report this post to the editors

James Connolly and Terence McSwiney remembered in Ireland and in Catalonia

featured image
Liverpool Brigade Veterans Jack James Larkin Jones(93)
and Jack Edwards(92) behind banner of Connolly Column
at fortress of Castell de Sant Ferran, Figueres, Catalonia

On Saturday, April 15th, 2006, British and Irish relatives and friends of International Brigaders marked the 70th anniversary of the formation of the International Brigades with a commemorative walk, led by Pauline Fraser, across the Pyrenees from France into Spain.

The ceremonies commenced in the French Pyrenean village of Las Illas, at the monument to mark the passing through that village in 1939 of the President of the Spanish Republic, the President of the Basque Republic and the President of the Generalitat of Catalunya - fleeing for their lives as refugees from the triumph of fascism in Spain. (In 1940 the Nazi German occupation authorities and the collaborationist Vichy French Government would hand over President Companys of Catalunya for subsequent execution by Franco’s Spanish fascists in Barcelona).

This monument also commemorates the same village as one of the routes through which International Brigade volunteers clandestinely entered a blockaded Spanish Republic from 1936 to 1938; as well as the route taken in the reverse direction in 1939 by a significant proportion of more than half a million Spanish Republican refugees.

At the opening ceremony at Las Illas, presided over by Manus O’Riordan, a wreath was jointly laid by the International Brigade Memorial Trust's founding President and Secretary - International Brigade veteran Jack Jones and Marlene Sidaway. Manus O’Riordan and the People's College Choir of Dublin led the singing of Christy Moore's tribute to the Connolly Column - “Viva la Quince Brigada” - while Cor Cochlion of Cardiff led the singing of the IBMT anthem “Jarama” and of the International Brigades anthem “The Internationale”.

Central to that opening ceremony - as well as to several more ceremonies held along the course of the route travelled that weekend - were the readings from the memoirs of International Brigaders themselves, recalling their own personal experiences of crossing the Pyrenees, and the poems that were likewise inspired. The 10 km route taken by this particular IBMT commemorative walk climbed up a mountain track from Super-las-Illas towards the French-Spanish frontier on the crest of a Pyrenean hill at Coll de Lli, before descending towards the Catalonian village of La Vajol.

On the following day, Easter Sunday, April 16th, a commemorative plaque - inscribed in French, English, Spanish and Catalan - was unveiled at the fortress of Castell de Sant Ferran in the Catalonian city of Figueres to mark the fact that it was here that so many International Brigade volunteers had first mustered after crossing the Pyrenees from France. A wreath was jointly laid by International Brigade veteran Jack Edwards and Dolly West Shaer, formerly founding Secretary of Friends of the International Brigades, whose joining forces with the International Brigade Association led to the establishment of the IBMT.

The following is the full English version of the vote of thanks delivered on behalf of the IBMT by Manus O’Riordan at the Castell de Sant Ferran ceremony, although several of its introductory paragraphs were in fact switched to the Las Illas ceremony of the previous day and - due to time constraints - some others were spoken in Spanish and Catalan only, with just a partial English translation given at the time.]

Dear representatives of the Generalitat (Government) of Catalunya and of Figueres City Council; dear comrades and friends;

It is a great honour for me to speak here as a member of the Executive Committee of the International Brigade Memorial Trust of Britain and Ireland.

Many thanks for this memorial plaque in honour of the International Brigades!

I regret that I do not speak Catalan, and I speak very little Spanish.

We are a group of English, Irish, Scots and Welsh. We are the children, grandchildren, relatives and friends of the International Brigaders who left their native countries 70 years ago in order to fight against fascism, in defence of the democracy of the Spanish Republic and for the rights of Catalunya.

In honour of those brigadistas we have arrived here in Catalunya from France, going on foot across those same Pyrenees that they themselves traversed between 1936 and 1938.

For us, the greatest honour is that we have been accompanied here by three of those heroes:

two English Brigaders - our President Jack Jones (aged 93) and Jack Edwards (aged 92) ; together with the Irish Brigader Bob Doyle (a lad of just 90 years!).

Apart from marking the 70th anniversary of the formation of the International Brigades, this year is a year of many other important anniversaries in the history of the struggle for freedom and democracy. Two days ago - April 14th - saw the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the birth in 1931 of the second Spanish Republic, while tomorrow will see the celebration of the same anniversary of the restoration of the Generalitat of Catalunya on April 17th, 1931. We are very much aware that the commemoration being held here today in the Castell de Sant Ferran takes place not only in a historic centre of the International Brigades but also in the same place where the Parliament of the Spanish Republic met for the very last time on Spanish soil on February 1st, 1939.

Today, Easter Sunday, my own native country of Ireland is also celebrating the 90th anniversary of the 1916 Proclamation of an Irish Republic and the Easter Week Rising that followed it.

The Vice-President of that Republic was James Connolly, the international socialist leader and General Secretary of my own labour union - originally the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, now known as SIPTU - as well as being the Commander-in-Chief of the Irish Citizen Army.

On May 12th, 1916, strapped to a chair, so severely wounded that he was incapable of standing up, James Connolly was executed by the British Government, a crime comparable to the murder by the fascists of the President of Catalunya, Lluís Companys, on October 15th, 1940.

In honour of James Connolly's memory, Irish International Brigaders who fought in defence of the Spanish Republic named themselves the Connolly Column. These are the words inscribed on that memorial banner in Republican colours being held by my daughter Jess and son Neil:

Connolly Column - 15 Brigada Internacional

In the wake of that Easter Rising, Terence MacSwiney - a leader of the Irish Republican Army in Cork - was arrested and transferred to a prison in Britain, where he married his fiancée and comrade-in-struggle, Muriel. Following his release, MacSwiney was elected a Member of the Irish Parliament - Dáil Éireann - in the 1918 General Election, and he was also elected Lord Mayor of Cork in 1920.

Arrested yet again and transferred to a London jail, MacSwiney fought for his own liberty and that of his country by means of a hunger strike. He died after 74 days - on October 25th, 1920 - but during those months the most profound solidarity with his struggle was to be demonstrated here in Catalunya.

The Catalan trade union organisation CADCI wrote of MacSwiney in its journal L’Acció :

This remarkable man, who from his prison cell displays, day after day, his unbending will to sacrifice his life on behalf of his ideal of nationhood”.

On November 1st, 1920, All Saints’ Day, CADCI commemorated MacSwiney with a mass demonstration in Barcelona and, as L’Acció reported:

The poet Ventura Gassol gave a magnificent reading of a most beautiful original poem exalting the towering deed of the Lord Mayor of Cork, producing among those present a deep emotion.

Based on the Catalonian folk song Lerida Prison, here is a short extract in Catalan from Gassol's 1920 poem of internationalist solidarity with Terence MacSwiney (“germá nostre”, “our brother”). [The poet speaks of how MacSwiney, his pale face frozen in the perspiration of death, has forced an opening through the walls of the great prison in which the heart of Ireland is overshadowed, and of how the spirit of MacSwiney has also inspired the people of Catalunya to open out from their own imprisonment.]

Al cor ombrós d’Irlanda
n’hi ha una gran presó:
que ja no hi queden presos,
que no n’hi queden, no.
MacSwiney, blanc de cara,
gelat encar de la suor de mort,
ha obert un esvoranc a les muralles,
i cel amunt se’ls va enduent a tots ...
Espirit de MacSwiney, germá nostre,
oh, si també ens obríssiu la presó !

The widow of Terence MacSwiney greatly appreciated that demonstration of solidarity by Catalunya. Initially in the Communist Party of Germany, and subsequently in the Communist Party of France, the same Muriel MacSwiney was active as an antifascist militant during the 1930s and demonstrated her own solidarity in defence of the Spanish Republic. In later years she also became a good friend of many International Brigaders, especially my father Michael O’Riordan.

The members of British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade were internationalists, not only in their defence of the Spanish Republic, but also in their understanding of the national question in both Ireland and Catalunya.

One can particularly speak of such internationalism with respect to Sam Wild, the British Battalion's last commander as it fought on throughout the course of the battle of the Ebro. That English commander of Irish ancestry had both the sense of history and the foresight to choose an Irish volunteer for a most important and symbolic act. On July 25th, 1938, in the final military offensive of the Spanish Republic, the British Battalion crossed the Ebro at Ascó. And on the other side of that river, on the Catalan territory liberated at that very moment from fascist occupation, this Irish volunteer raised up the national flag of a free Catalunya - la Catalunya lliure!

This Irish International Brigader - fighting with the flag of Catalunya in his hand - was born in Cork, the city of MacSwiney. Today the same brigadista, my father Michael O’Riordan, is ill in a Dublin hospital. But he has sent to this commemoration, to all the peoples of Spain, and especially to the people of Catalunya - his second fatherland - his greetings and his love.

The internationalism of the British Battalion was also demonstrated by the homage paid by all to the memory of the Irish socialist James Connolly. That Battalion chose as one of its anthems a song that had originally been written by Connolly himself for the Socialist Labour Party in Scotland (and first published in Edinburgh, in The Socialist, May 1903). Before, during and after the battle of the Ebro, Connolly's song was to be heard ringing out in the mountains, in the valleys and on the roads of Catalunya.

I shall now conclude by singing that anthem of the 15th International Brigade's British Battalion, James Connolly's own Rebel Song (and in which Liverpool veterans Jack James Larkin Jones and Jack Edwards both joined in):

Come workers sing a rebel song,
A song of love and hate,
Of love unto the lowly
And of hatred to the great.
The great who trod our fathers down,
Who steal our children's bread,
Whose hands of greed are stretched to rob
The living and the dead.

Then we’ll sing a rebel song
as we proudly march along
To end the age-old tyranny
that makes for human tears.
And our march is nearer done,
with each setting of the sun.
And the tyrant's might is passing
with the passing of the years.
We sing no more of wailing
No songs of sighs or tears;
High are our hopes and stout our hearts
And banished all our fears.
Our flag is raised above us
That all the world may see,
’Tis Labour's faith and Labour's arm
Alone can Labour free.


Out of the depths of misery
We march with hearts aflame;
With wrath against the rulers false
Who wreck our manhood's name.
The serf who licks the tyrant's rod
May bend forgiving knee;
The slave who breaks his slavery's chain
A wrathful man must be.


Our army marches onward
Its face towards the dawn,
In trust secure in that one thing
The slave may lean upon.
The might within the arm of him
Who knowing freedom's worth,
Strikes hard to banish tyranny
From off the face of earth.


Connolly Column memorial banner
Connolly Column memorial banner

O'Riordan delivers address
O'Riordan delivers address

author by iosafpublication date Sat May 13, 2006 22:25author address barcelona - catalonia - europeauthor phone Report this post to the editors

No voli la seva bandera. tret que vostè ho pugui defensar...
No vuele su bandera. a menos que usted lo pueda defender.
Don't open your flag if you are unable to defend it.

It really is a beautiful flag, and this is its year. I've written a lot on these pages about the 2nd Republic, it achieved so much, and all too often is only remembered as the bloody prelude to the 2nd World War. But before the war called for international volunteers to defend its legitimacy against fascism, Spanish nationalism, falangism, the RC church, and their Italian fascist and German NAZI allies, it proved an inspiration to many globally at the breadth of its ambition, idealism and true allegiance to the potential of any Republic before or since and the quality of its achievements.

(C/F which is why this year I called it "our Republic" and last year appealed for it to be "reclaimed", not just for the pretty flag, but what it really stood for, why it inspired internationally a generation many of whom were already disillusioned with the Soviet Union such as Emma Goldman. )

It is very important to remember that the detention of Lluis Companys the President of the Generalitat by the Gestapo in Vichy France (without legal basis under the terms of Vichy) , and his subsequent "extradition" (without legal basis in international law) to Franco, and his then execution constituted a war crime. & he was the only "head of state" to be thus treated in Europe of that time, & to remember the other 250,000 Spanish republican prisoners sent to Mauthaussen.

It is also important to remember, this 70th year of the Republic, that alone in the European states with history of dictatorship, Spain never formally and legally broke its succesion as a state to the illegitimate Franco regime, a regime condemned by UN resolution in 1948. Which is why republicans of all hues wish see passed the "law of memory" to formally end the illegitimate & symbolic "succession" of Franco-ism through the act which named (prince) Juan Carlos Bourbon as the successor to Franco. The republicans who built, maintained and defended the 2n republic did so democratically, legitimately, and morally - they did not lose to a "legitimate" regime or its "democratic primugeniture" but a "Coup d'etat", they were neither criminals nor terrorists.

If I had known about this event I would have jumped on a train gone north & attended, & brought my fl@gs and waved them too. you should post pictures of this on barcelona indymedia!

solidarity & keep true to the "republic"!

author by iosafpublication date Sat May 13, 2006 22:44author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I also think it is very important that Irish people realise, (as an addition to the last comment and the theme of "legitimacy and statehood" that the coup d'etat which ended the 2nd republic also proved to be the last act of the Irish Free State's "foreign policy" and the first act of the "Eire" state of 1937.
The decision taken by De Valera's "succesor regime" to the "republic" (we as Irish people must recognise was never achieved in pure republican senses) :-
.:. equality .:. liberty .:. fraternity without regard to class, religion, ethnicity, gender - proved to be the first act of neutrality or non-engagement , prohibiting the participation of the Connolly Brigade (or for that matter the fascist blue shirts who followed Eoin Duffy to the front).

The _very same regime_ which in 1936 saw De Valera in the Rolls Royce mark 1916, and claim legitimate sucession to the 1916 republic without daring to call it a "republic", is the _very same regime_ which in 2006 claimed an impossible attendance of 120,000 people for its 90 year anniversary of 1916.
The same regime which turned its back on republicanism in Europe as much as in its own territory.
don't forget that - please...................... ah sure I and others will remind you often enough.

author by R. Isible - 1 of Indymedia Ireland Editorial Grouppublication date Mon May 15, 2006 18:17author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Scot MacCreamhain's article:
Launch of biography of Cpt. Jack White:
Bob Doyle's memoirs published:
Review of Fearghal McGarry's biography of fascist Eoin O'Duffy

author by Luke - rather lackingpublication date Tue May 16, 2006 12:46author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Juan Carlos- not even the legitimate Monarch- sold out his country after Franco died to the greedy capitalists, pornographers and smug leftists. You also seem to forget that the forces of revolution spent as much time butchering each other as they did attacking Christian civilization. The second republic was a blood bath but then however much you complain that you are on the side of life there is one thing that always follows in the wake of Marxism- piles of corpses. In the end the revolution is war aganist God and His creation, the passion to destory is not a creative one.

Can any one remember what Spanish people were like when order still reigned in that nation? Look at them now- pale, drab, emptied out of joy and filled instead with "Novus Disordo" crsytal gazing, "self-esteem" bolstering drivel from the gutters of San Francisco and New York, obessesed with either anti-racism or their pay cheques. Dead before death! This is the legacy of the traitor Juan Carlos, of the "2nd republic", of the revolution.

I dont expect that this message will stay up for long. What those of us who still remember and hold the dear the legacy of Truth, beauty, justice and order handed to us by our forefathers and founded on the Will of the Most High know that it is often dangerous and mostly foolish to raise such things before barbarians incapable of understanding it. Words are twisted and then disregarded. This sounds uncharitable I know, definitely elitist, but if you ever wake up you will see that it is also fact.

Ion Mota-present!

author by Levitas - Sinn Feinpublication date Tue May 16, 2006 14:48author address author phone Report this post to the editors

The previous comment -speaks most forcibly and with an authentic tone as to the reality that was Spanish fascism- one can detect the right wing religious, elitist, anti-democratic, and subliminally racist undertones of the commentator. When the fascists were in power in Spain, the country was a reactionaries paradise. I'm proud Irish antifascists joined with thousands of others to take a stand against it. Viva La Quinta Brigada!

author by Don Manuel Azaña. - No Pasaràn, Madrid resiste!!!publication date Tue May 16, 2006 16:03author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Nice to see a small mention to the fate that waited the Spanish refugees who fled Spain crossing the French border in 1939. A fate that has been deliberating concealed by the WWII winners.
They gullibly thought that to leave their homes was always better than to be caught by the Fascist revenge and hate, but what they could never imagine it was what was expecting to them in France. The French “democratic” authorities put them in concentration camps where they died in hundreds of hunger and disease, and ultimately handed to the Nazis by the French “collaborationist” government. All of this, obviously, with the British and American acknowledge and consent.
And still, their fate wasn’t as gloomy as the one waiting for the hundreds of thousands of Madrileños, Valencianos, Andaluces, Castellanos, etc, who couldn’t flee before the collapse of the Republic, as the hopeful French border wasn’t as close for them as it was for the Catalonians. They were shot to dead in thousands, forced to work in the Franco´s work camps, humiliated, exterminated, beaten up, denigrated and condemned to live in the darkness and insulted by the ¨winners¨ of the civil war. In Madrid, thousands of women who had lost relatives fighting for the Republic, had to survive working as prostitutes or cleaning up at the house of the winners. Their sons had to join the Franco ´s Blue Division and fight and die in Russia under the swastika in order to “clean their family name” of bolshevisms suspicions.
And all of this went for long, and it was happening in Spain while the UN controlled by the WWII winners condemned the Spanish illegal military government but did nothing else. As in a previous note is pointed, that condemn happened in 1948. The same year America organized their “famous” Marshal Plan for the reconstruction of Europe, in which Spain was outrageously forgotten, what did nothing but reinforce the Franco’s National Catholic dictatorship. The world powers agreed a blockade too, what did little effect on the rich and the powerful in Spain, but a devastating effect on the poor, and among them, specially the “losers” of the Civil War.
Soon afterwards, the U.S realized that Franco could be a great ally against the new evil enemy, the Soviet Union, so the UN forgot all the previous condemnations and Spain was allowed to join the UN. An therefore, Franco’s Government was “legalize by factotum”. But that’s another story.

Ahí van marchando los milicianos
Van para el frente con gran valor.
A dar sus vidas se van cantando
Antes que triunfe Franco el traidor.
En el espacio van los fascistas
Bombas aéreas destrozarán
La bella urbe capitalina
Pero a Madrid . . . ¡No PASARÁN!
Matan mujeres, niños, y ancianos
Que por las calles suelen andar.
Esta es la hazaña de los fascistas
Que allá en la historia se ha de grabar
Si sangre de héroes regó los campos
Bellas simientes resurgirán
El cañón ruje, tiembla la tierra
Pero a Madrid . . . ¡NO PASARÁN!

There march the militiamen
With great valor to the front.
They go singing to give their lives
Lest Franco, the traitor. triumph.
The fascists are in the skies
Their aerial bombs may destroy
Our beautiful capital city
But to Madrid . . . They Shall Not Pass!
They kill women, children, and the elderly
Who are out and about on the streets
This is the deed of the fascists
Which will be inscribed in history.
Where heroes’ blood watered the fields
Beautiful seedlings will flourish.
The cannon roars, the earth trembles
But to Madrid . . . They Shall Not Pass!

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author by small asidepublication date Wed May 17, 2006 22:00author address author phone Report this post to the editors

football! its better than eurovision for sorting out world or historic problems. Juan Carlos bourbon did quite a job with his transition and especially with his role at the February 23rd 1981 attempted coup d'etat or even the March 11th 2004 bombings and refusal to sign Aznar's order suspending the elections. & it is interesting that few people pick up on the "law of parties" during the transition which allowed for multi-party and trade union democracy again. It was the PSOE (first to be legalised and the party of Zapatero) who fought tooth and nail against the legalisation of the CPE communists, even though they weren't going to win elections. I think Juan Carlos surprised many in the state he "inherited" with the progress it acheived & for that he really does get a lot of "republican" affection, as well demonstrated by the tearful hugs he gave and received (from/to) veterans at the republican commemorations he attended this year in France. But for many Spaniards their faith in "monarchy" is more as "juan carlistas" not as "bourbonists". Very historic stuff, it was the Bourbon Carlos V who first presented "Spain" as a united state. anyway......
For those interested in the US deal with Franco, which saw him "come in from the cold" even though his school atlases still displayed Germany with her "3rd reich" borders - here's an interesting piece :-
& for those more interested in Barca football or "cathedral choir chit chat" & a bit bored by history - here's another

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