Visitors from around Ireland, the UK and Spain, gathered in Limerick yesterday to honour six men who volunteered to fight against Franco and fascism in the Spanish Civil War.
The Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust unveiled a commemorative piece of sculpture carved by artist Simon Donnelly at a ceremony marking the six local brigadistas who volunteered to fight for the fledgling democratic Spanish Republic.
Their leader, the charismatic Frank Ryan from Elton, never returned to Ireland while two others, Jim Woulfe from Athea and Emmet Ryan from Catherine Street in the city died in Spain where they fought alongside their comrades, Gerard Doyle, Paddy Brady and Joe Ryan, all from the city.
But yesterday with the red, yellow and murrey tricolour of the Spanish Republic flying high in the city as friends and relatives marched through the city centre to the County and City Hall on the banks of the Shannon, they were remembered with respect and admiration and no little sadness.
Ger McCloskey of the LIBMT spoke for many when he told the crowd how the six men were deservedly being honoured in their native city which at the time had shown little regard for them and had in fact strongly supported Franco to the point of sending him flowers when Barcelona fell.
“They were ordinary men involved in extraordinary events. There were no happy endings to their stories. Those who survived the war endured hard times and died largely forgotten -they had fallen through the cracks of history,” he said.
“But today, now and in this place, is our opportunity to remember them and remind ourselves that their selfless act in volunteering to fight fascism in Spain in the 1930s has a resonance today and for the ages.”
Among those in attendance was Frank Ryan’s niece, Charlotte Ryan Wetton who unveiled the limestone monument bearing the names of the six men and the bronze tri-star symbol of the brigades made from bullets gathered at the battles where they fought
“It’s very emotional for me - my father, Peter Ryan - Frank’s nephew - died in January and his big hero all his life was Frank Ryan so it’s very emotional to see him and his comrades honoured here in Limerick today in this way,” said Ms Ryan Wetton who lives in Kent.
Emotional too was Spanish member of the LIBMT, Cinta Ramblado, who spoke with an eloquence worth of La Passionara, Dolores Ibárruri when she told what it meant as a Spaniard to see those who had come to fight for democracy and freedom in her homeland honoured in their native place.
“I am overwhelmed by this - what a day and what a weekend of commemoration - I am extremely honoured to be here today as the daughter of Spanish republicans and as the granddaughter of disappeared republicans - this is immense for me, “ she said, her voice breaking with emotion
“I am also very grateful as a person of the south of Spain to these men who came to fight for me, for all of us and for the chance of having a better world - I believe they were real citizens of the world who fought for values that still remain today - I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart.
“And I think a day like today reminds us of the importance of these values and it also helps us restore the memories of those who fought against Franco and the forces that wanted to silence our memories and our hopes for ever - today we have won a battle in our own war for memory.”