It was standing room only as almost 200 people packed into the hall of the Teachers’ Club in Dublin on Friday 15 July to mark the 75th anniversary of the start of the Spanish Civil War.
On 18 July 1936 General Franco, supported by the Catholic Church and wealthy landowners, led a fascist revolt against the left-wing Popular Front government. Backed domestically by powerful institutions, Franco was also supported by the international fascist states of Germany and Italy.
Support for the Spanish Republic came from thousands of volunteers who joined the International Brigades, including over 200 from Ireland who joined the international fight against fascism. The éirígí-organised event celebrated the role of the International Brigades, remembering their sacrifice and honouring their struggle.
The meeting was opened by éirígí’s Siobhán Curran who commenced proceedings with a quote from Dolores Ibárruri’s farewell tribute to the International Brigades as they departed Barcelona in 1938:
“For the first time in the history of the peoples’ struggles, there was the spectacle, breath-taking in its grandeur, of the formation of International Brigades to help save a threatened country’s freedom and independence… Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Republicans – men of different colors, differing ideology, antagonistic religions – yet all profoundly loving liberty and justice, they came and offered themselves to us unconditionally…
“Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the welfare of that very cause for which you offered your blood with boundless generosity, are sending you back, some to your own countries and others to forced exile. You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of democracy's solidarity and universality in the face of the vile and accommodating spirit of those who interpret democratic principles with their eyes on hoards of wealth or corporate shares which they want to safeguard from all risk. We shall not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace is in flower, entwined with the victory laurels of the Republic of Spain – return!”
The meeting was addressed by historians Emmet O’Connor, author of Reds and the Green, a fascinating insight into the role of the Communist International in its attempt to establish an Irish communist party in the early decades of the twentieth century, and Harry Owens, who co-authored Brigadista with the late Bob Doyle. Both men provided fascinating accounts of the political conditions in both Ireland and the Spanish state in the mid-1930s. Emmet focused on conditions in Ireland and the profile of the Irish who joined the International Brigades while Harry Owens detailed the political situation in Spain and how the war progressed.
The meeting also heard an account of the very full life of Frank Ryan by éirígí members Ursula Ní Shionnain and Joe Keegan. Delivered in both Irish and English, the two éirígí member outlined his life as IRA volunteer, Irish language activist, radical journalist and socialist republican leader who led approximately 80 Irish volunteers as part of the Connolly Column, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of democracy. Ryan was a founding member of the Republican Congress, many of whose members joined the International Brigades.
Prior to their departure to Spain, Ryan outlined the reason why they were travelling –“It aims to redeem Irish honour besmirched by the intervention of Irish fascism on the side of Spanish fascist rebels. It is to aid the revolutionary movements in Ireland to defeat the fascist menace at home, and finally, and not the least, to establish fraternal bonds of kinship between the Republican democracies of Ireland and Spain.”
Those fraternal bonds remain strong and several dozen people from various parts of the Spanish state joined Irish republicans, socialists, anarchists, communists and anti-fascist activists on an evening that proved to be a fitting tribute to the memory of the International Brigades and the struggle against fascism.