Bob Doyle's Belfast Last Stand

Irish Political Review, March 2009


Bob Doyle lived his life as an activist to the very end. Three of his best speeches in recent years – short but succinct – were delivered in Belfast. The first of these, reproduced in full below, was delivered on the occasion of his Belfast book launch on September 16, 2006. The second, on October 13, 2007 - as he jointly unveiled the Belfast International Brigade memorial in Writers’ Square with fellow Spanish Civil War veteran and outstanding British trade union leader Jack James Larkin Jones - largely repeated the wording of the first speech. But his final speech, at the rededication of the Belfast memorial on November 8, 2008, was a powerful restatement of activist commitment to the very end, and is also reproduced in full. Suffering from pneumonia on that cold, wet and windy Belfast day, Bob died in London two months later on January 22, 2009, just three weeks’ short of his 93rd birthday. His cremation took place in London on February 10 and his ashes were brought back by his family to his native Dublin for a commemorative procession on February 14 from the Garden of Remembrance to Liberty Hall, where a celebration of his life took place.

Manus O’Riordan

[1] September 16, 2006:

Hello Everyone,

I have prepared something to say to you all, but I’m not as strong as I used to be, so I will read what I can, but please bear with me if I hand over to my comrade Harry Owens, should I need to. I’d like to tell why I’m here. Some of you may wonder why a 90 year old veteran of a war that happened a long time ago in a far off country is here speaking to you today. Some of you who know a little about the Spanish Civil War may see it as a glamorous episode in working class history, when young poets, like Byron in Greece, fought and died in a foreign land for a noble cause. Perhaps you have come to see me, a decrepit romantic relic. But I am not here to indulge in emotional memories, though I have many memories of comrades and events that affect me deeply. I am not here to make you sad with tragic recollections of a heroically fought war, or to make you happy with my survival into old age.

I am here to make you boil with anger; the powers that supported Franco in Spain are still active, and today their reach is global. The same US corporations that supplied the fascists with oil in Spain are today pilfering the oil of the Iraqi people.

The British government - that lied to the people while secretly giving financial credits and hypocritically allowing arms to be smuggled to the Spanish fascists - is the same government that lied about weapons of mass destruction and led the British people into a war that they did not want. Those who lie and cheat in order to hold on to power, who exploit child and slave labour in the third world to make yet more profits, who torture, murder and massacre in defence of ‘their interests’ - they are still in control.

When I am told that Spain was the last noble cause, I know that I am speaking to someone who doesn’t want to see the obvious truth. In 1936 there were many apologists for racism and oppression who did not want to see fascism for what it was. Today the fight against those who put profit before people is just as intense, and the stakes are higher than ever. We must make common cause with those in the third world who are now in the front line, as Spain once was.

No more Kenyan peasants must be forced off their land and into urban slums so that supermarkets can sell cheap roses and out-of-season strawberries. No more Congolese child soldiers must kill and be killed so that Nokia can sell ever cheaper mobile phones. Those who stand up to corporate global capitalism, like Chavez in Venezuela and Castro in Cuba, must be defended. Those whose greed would destroy our environment, with catastrophic consequences for humanity, must be defeated. It is indeed a noble struggle and

it will not be over until the liberation of the entire human race.

La lucha continua. [The struggle continues]

Watch it here:

[2] October 13, 2007:

It is grand that the efforts and the often heroic sacrifices made by our comrades in the past are remembered here today. It is right and fitting that we should honour the part that they played in the fight against fascism. But let us not fall into the trap of romanticising the past and isolating it from events today ...

So while we pay our respects to those who fought in the past, let their sacrifice also be an inspiration to us today. Let us honour their memory by carrying on the struggle against those who put profit before people: the on going struggle for the liberation of mankind.

La lucha continua.

[3] November 8, 2008:

Watch it here:

We are here in Belfast at a most significant moment to honour the memory of those who fought fascism and militarism beside the Spanish people. Despite the allied victory in 1945, Spain was abandoned to a fascist dictatorship for a further 30 years by the western democracies. This was no accident, no oversight by our governments.

It reflected exactly the policies and the interests of the classes which had earlier organised the arms blockade which brought about the defeat of the Spanish Republic.

Their post war policies showed they cared little about democracy in Europe. While they expanded their economic empires under the shelter of the NATO cold war alliance.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, these right wing forces have increased in violence and their policies have lost all pretence of defending democracy. Today NATO forces fight in Afghanistan, and US and British forces occupy Iraq.

Their multi-nationals use the World Trade Organisation and the European Union to force countries to open up for economic exploitation.

Now we are suddenly faced by capitalism’s worst crisis caused by their speculation and borrowing, and by the ruling that when banks made millions of profits, governments were told not to interfere. But now they have bankrupted themselves, we find there is no end to the public’s money which is given to bail them out.

Billions which were never there for education, for health or for the Third World, have been thrown into the ocean of debts. And more will follow unless we all, both my generation and those of all of you, act together.

Banking is too important to be left to private enterprise and the money which our governments are giving the banks is taken away from our public funds.

The last time this happened in the 1930s we ended up at war because we left it all to the Ruling Classes. This time we have to unite, and act to protect ourselves. The rich must pay for their own mistakes, and we must make our governments use our money for our own needs and that of the poor everywhere.

La lucha continua.

Bob Doyle (Feb. 12th 1916 - Jan 22nd 2009) - A collection of speeches, articles and obituaries – See the following link: on the website, “Ireland and the Spanish Civil War”