Freedom fighters remembered

 

Comrades gathered in Liberty Hall, Dublin, this week to salute Michael O'Riordan at the reissue of his book, Connolly Column, which tells the story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic between 1936 and 1939.

"These men were in the vanguard of democracy," said journalist and broadcaster Cathal O'Shannon, who made Even the Olives are Bleeding, the 1976 documentary about the 200 Irishmen who fought against Franco. "We have to remember that the men who went to the International Brigades did so under circumstances of great difficulty . . . the men among whom Michael O'Riordan fought were defeated in battle but never in spirit."

Connolly Column "is a monument to those Irishmen who went to Spain - and they were astonishing men", O'Shannon added. They were "in some ways before their time . . . Michael O'Riordan remains the guardian of the gate of our memories, the keeper of the flame that honours the men who went to Spain".

Only two of the Irishmen who fought in the battle against fascism are still alive: O'Riordan (87) and Bob Doyle (89), a northsider from Dublin who travelled from London to attend the book launch, proudly wearing his black International Brigades beret.

The book gives an account of what the Irish soldiers did in Spain, along with some new elements, including interviews with O'Riordan and "a social history of Ireland in the 1930s, a history of Irish socialism of the period and the clear, gritty outspokenness of a man of huge socialist and republican ideals", said O'Shannon.

The experience of the Irishmen who went against the wishes of the Catholic Church, which was on the side of General Franco, "reminds me of Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible", said O'Riordan. "Everybody was poisoned against us."

Donal Nevin, former general secretary of Ictu, Labour party councillor Dermot Lacey, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Michael Conaghan, also attended the book launch.

Connolly Column is published by Warren & Pell Publishing