Che Guevara, proud son of . . . Galway?


CHE GUEVARA, “father of revolution, son of Galway” as one website puts it, might be 45 years dead, but he can still cause a strong reaction. There’s something about the bearded revolutionary that creates an enduring interest in his legacy here in Ireland.

While his image has adorned flags and posters in bedsits and student apartments from Belfield to Bishopstown, plans by Galway city Labour Party Councillor Billy Cameron to erect a statue to Guevara look set to test the limits of public sympathy for the Marxist fighter.

Libertas founder Declan Ganley says the statue would bring shame on the people of Galway, and he compares Guevara to Pol Pot, Stalin and Idi Amin.

While acknowledging that he receives “five or six” emails a day asking that plans to erect the statue be abolished, Cllr Billy Cameron says the plan will proceed, with public and embassy support. “Guevara is descended from two families who are tribes of Galway – the Blakes and Lynches. We’re honouring one of our own from a distance,” he says.

With regards to opposition to the statue, Cameron says: “Will we now go down to Clonakilty and request the people there take down the statue of Michael Collins? Will opponents to this ask the people of Ennis to take down the statue of Éamon de Valera?”

The organisers of the second annual Che Do Bheatha festival, due to be held in the seaside town of Kilkee this September, are adamant the dispute in Galway will not affect their event. Guevara is reputed to have visited the area more than 50 years ago. Organiser Tom Byrne emphasises that the festival, which involves talks, exhibitions and music, is not a celebration of Guevara himself, but rather his image. It was made popular by artist Jim Fitzpatrick, who worked in Kilkee at the time of the visit. “It is not a political thing here and is a fun celebration,” Byrne says.

Of the enduring ability of Guevara’s image, Byrne observes that it probably has as much to do with his youthful good looks, as it does his political beliefs. “I myself was a student in the 1970s. I wore the Guevara T-shirt and had the poster. It was a radical thing to do. He was a good-looking guy and the poster immortalised him. I don’t think any other image would have done the same for his legacy and that’s what we mark.”