In 1986, on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of Spain’s Civil War,
an Irish sympathiser of the International Brigades Volunteers organised a celebration in Dublin’s Buswell Hotel, across the street from the Dail, the Irish parliament, honouring the Irish who fought for the Spanish Republic, .
This was the first such event, set up by one of a generation which had not been born at the time of that war, and who had no political connections to any of the parties that those Irish volunteers had belonged to.
Folk singers like Ronnie Drew of the Dubliners, historians, poets, trade unionists and surviving Irish brigaders Bob Doyle, Michael O’Riordan and Peter O’Connor regaled the packed rooms of the hotel with a series of contributions which lasted over 6 hours, and showed the role of the volunteers as a key part of the Irish democratic tradition, running from the San Patricios who fought for Mexico in 1848 against US imperialism, the Citizen Army and 1916 in Dublin, right up to the Irish then working with the Coffee Brogades to support Nicaragua’s Sandinista government in their struggle with the US-backed Contra attacks.
Bob Doyle invited the organiser to the following November’s Madrid celebrations of the founding of the Brigades, where hundreds of surviving volunteers and their families came from all over the world; together with friends, they spent almost a week meeting and hearing the stories of these extraordinary struggles, and the men and women who took part in them.
Since then, Bob Doyle became the instigator of several more trips to Spain, and supported
events which were taking place in Achill later that year, in Barcelona in 1988 when a large statue was unveiled commemorating the last parade and withdrawal of the brigades, and finally the irish event which came from the broad Irish trade union attendance in Barcelona,which was the unveiling of the Liberty Hall palque by the Lord mayor of Dublin during the week-long May Day celebrations, when the President of Ireland, Ms Mary Robinson, met several of the brigade veterans.
One of these visiting veterans was a Frenchman, Francois Mazou, who had risen to become a colonel there, and returned after the Franco dictatorship to locate the graves of his comrades killed in the battle of Jarama, outside Madrid. He found the bodies had been dumped mostly in the local graveyard’s rubbish pit. After visitng us, an International lobbying effort began, writing letters to the Madrid regional authorities, and the town council of Morata de Tajuna itself, to have the pit restored as a proper communal grave. Governemnt ministers, party leaders, MEPs and several leading Irish clergymen were among the hundreds who wrote in supprt, and finally Foreign minister Dick Spring and ex-British premier Edward Heath wrote to the Madrid government ministers insisting on action, and it happened:
the International brigaders who died in Jarama are now commerorated by a fine memorial in the cemetary in Morata de Tajuna
The example of those Brigaders who fought fascism in Spain and who strove against the odds to have their comrades remembered has imbuded another generation in Ireland to keep their memory and ideals alive.