Articles and letters in the Irish Times Oct-Nov 2005

The Irish Times carried a report on the AGM of the IBMT which had been held in Dublin on October 15th. This provoked the usual response from Kevin Myers. He was in turn replied to on the letters page by the IBMT President and International Brigade veteran, Jack Jones.

President receives veterans of the International Brigade

Irish Times October 17, 2005
John Downes

Four surviving veterans of the International Brigade attended events in Dublin at the weekend to commemorate Irish volunteers who fought against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

The four veterans - Jack Jones (92) and Jack Edwards (91), both from Liverpool, and the last two surviving Irish members, Bob Doyle (89) and Michael O'Riordan (88) - were received by President Mary McAleese at Aras an Uachtarain.

Speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony outside Liberty Hall on Saturday, David Begg, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said Irish volunteers had gone to Spain to fight fascism at a time when many at home were indifferent, if not hostile, to their efforts.

"It took an extraordinary commitment on their part. What's commonly referred to as the Spanish Civil War was really a fight against fascism," he said.

Other participants in the ceremony included Siptu president Jack O'Connor, and Christy Moore, who sang his own composition, Viva la Quince Brigada, in honour of those who died in Spain.

Mr Jones, a former general secretary of Britain's Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "We did what we could."

At Frank Ryan's graveside in Glasnevin Cemetery yesterday, Manus O'Riordan, of the International Brigade Memorial Trust and son of Michael O'Riordan, rejected recent "sneering references" to Ryan as a "republican saint/Nazi collaborator . . . He warned against the development in Ireland of any sympathy for Hitlerism, and specifically denounced any anti-Semitic hostility towards Dublin's Jewish community."

Mary McAleese, meeting a delegation from the International Brigade MEmorial Trust, Aras an Uachtaran, Sat. Oct. 15 2005. The 4 International Brigade Veterans are, Left to Right:

Mick O'Riordan (88), Cork; Bob Doyle (89), Dublin; Jack Edwards (91), Liverpool and Jack Larkin Jones(92), Liverpool - the IBMT President.

Others here are - from the Left:

Martin Green, son of IB Vol. George Green, KIA on the Ebro, Sept. 1938; Geraldine Abrahams, daughter of Gerry Doran, a N. Irish volunteer; Manus O'Riordan, Micks son and Katie Green, George Green's grandaughter.

Photographer: Jim Jump

An Irishman's Diary - extract

October 19, 2005, Kevin Myers

"Meanwhile, the veterans of the International Brigade in Spain were honoured by both the President and various lefty-dignitaries. The president of Iirish Congress of Trade Unions, David Begg, declared that what "was referred to as the Spanish Civil War was actually a fight against fascism". If you want to know how confusing that fight could be, many of the self-same people gathered the next day at the grave of Frank Ryan in Glasnevin. And what did this fine fellow do a couple of years after the Spanish Civil war but eagerly clamber aboard a U-boat along with Sean Russell on a Nazi mission to Ireland. Very anti-fascist indeed.

One could equally say that the Spanish Civil War was a fight against Stalinist Communism, a force which in its lifetime probably murdered at least three times as many people as Adolf and his chums. Just imagine what victorious Spanish Stalinists - and a triumph for the International Brigade would not have been a victory for its na´ve, decent democrats, but for the servile and murderous comrades of+ Josef Djugashvili - would have done to Catholics, liberals, monarchists. If in doubt, take a look at the lands which Stalin conquered soon afterwards - the Balkan states and eastern Poland, hundreds of thousands of whose citizens were murdered between 1939 and 1941. The first mass trains to industrialised death camps in the east weren't Nazi; they were Soviet.

Who bothers to commemorate the opponents of communism who volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War for their faith, their hearth and their freedom? Of course, their cause is deeply unfashionable these days, but they were, like most of the volunteers of the International Brigade, honourable dupes of tyrants. In all decency, we should honour the memory of both sets of volunteers.

I make an exception to this generalisation. Mick O'Riordan has been a lifelong defender of the Soviet Union - through all the purges, the massacres, the Hungarian uprising, the suppression of Czech freedom, the vast tyranny which governed the fettered and unfree of eastern Europe. He remained an unapologetic defender of one of the worst and bloodiest tyrannies in world history, and on Saturday he was a special guest of the President.

How lovely. Maybe we can now dig up some antique defender of Adolf for a trip to the Aras, where he can reminisce about the happy days when he fought communism in the service of merely the second-worst tyrant in the world. However, I somehow or other think the David Beggs of this world will not be present for that. Why? Who can say? Professional left-liberals get strangely inarticulate, as if some boiling hot apple-pie is napalming itself onto the roof their mouths, whenever they have to explain why die-hard totalitarian communists are still politically chic, but die-hard fascists are not.

Never fear! We Anguishians celebrate our past too! For the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Blessed Legion of Perpetual Purity and Virginity into Infinity, by the Scottish nun Blessed Mother Maria Boniface Much Anguish, also occurred last weekend. From early adulthood, she bound her thighs tightly together and her devotion to personal purity amongst her community was such that Anguishian nuns always donned cactus-lined steel armour before getting into the bath, which was usually of vinegar, except in Lent, when it was of liquid mustard gas. At bedtime, a select tribe of devoted dwarf Nubian eunuchs manacled the sisters' hands to the ceiling above their beds, then hosed their bodies down with iced acid throughout the night.

So, while some people gathered to commemorate Michael Collins, the constitutionalist, and Arthur Griffith, the republican, and the International Brigade, defenders of democracy, with similar historical veracity we latter-day Anguishians gathered to celebrate the life of Mother Maria . And just as Michael Collins knelt at the constitutional feet of Burke, and Griffith drank deep at the kingless well of Robespierre, and the International Brigade feasted on Magna Carta, we latter-day Anguishians toasted the blessed memory of Mother Maria.

In other words, we weave politically congenial modern nursery rhymes from the hideous bloodshed of history; which is just fine, so long as no one mistakes the resulting farrago for the truth.

The International Brigade

Irish Times Letters page

November 9, 2005

[Note: This is a slighlty longer version that the one published in the paper. The parts in italics have been added back in for our readers interest.]

I am sure that this year's Remembrance Sunday services will not provide the occasion for any personal attacks by an Irish Times columnist on surviving veterans of the Allied forces in the Second World War, and that the "Irish Times" response would be one of indignation were any other Irish newspaper to act in such a vein.

Consider, then, my surprise at the vindictive and highly personalised attack by your columnist Kevin Myers ("Irishman's Diary", October 19) on the fact that the President of Ireland so graciously received a courtesy call from four International Brigade veterans of the Spanish Anti-Fascist War on October 15 - the veterans in question being the last two surviving Irish volunteers, Bob Doyle and Michael O'Riordan, and Jack Edwards and myself from Britain.

The International Brigade Memorial Trust is a body established by veterans and their families and friends in order to pay tribute to our fallen comrades from both Britain and Ireland. This year's wreath-laying ceremony at the Irish memorial plaque outside Liberty Hall was performed by Deirdre Davey, daughter of the Reverend Robert M. Hilliard of Killarney, who gave his life in defence of the Spanish Republic at the battle of Jarama in 1937. Our annual general meeting is held each year in a different city in these islands, but never before has it been subjected to such a newspaper attack, not even by those newspapers that historically had supported the British government's policy of appeasing fascism and denying to the democratically elected government of the Spanish Republic the means by which to resist the military onslaught of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler.

That "Irishman's Diary" attack on International Brigade veterans stands out in sharp contrast with the honourable and courageous role played by the "Irish Times" at the time of the Spanish war itself. Notwithstanding the substantial financial losses that were incurred as a result of a vindictive advertising boycott, your predecessor as editor, R.M. Smyllie, defiantly insisted on continuing to carry the eye witness reports from the "Irish Times" correspondent in Spain, Lionel Fleming, demonstrating that it was indeed a defensive anti-fascist war that its elected government was being compelled to wage.

Other "Irish Times" correspondents similarly distinguished themselves in conscienciously recording the true history of those Irish volunteers who had come to the defence of the beleaguered Spanish Republic. The 1980 biography of Irish International Brigade leader Frank Ryan by your former Washington correspondent Sean Cronin was to provide clear documentary evidence of Ryan's 100 percent support for de Valera's strategy during the Second World War of safeguarding Ireland itself from the horrors of both war and fascism. Furthermore, shortly before de Valera's own death in 1975, the former President had declared, in an interview with the late Michael McInerney, veteran political correspondent of the "Irish Times": "I am very pleased that you are writing the biography of this great Irishman. Frank Ryan always put Ireland first in everything he did or said, at home or abroad. He has earned his place in history".

When I was born in Liverpool in the momentous year of the Dublin Lockout of 1913, and my father named me James Larkin Jones in honour of his friend and former fellow worker on the Liverpool docks, I was also imbued with the Larkinite principle of "an injury to one is the concern of all", The planes that were to bomb the city of Coventry to smithereens in the eleven-hour-long blitz of November 1940 were the same Nazi German bombers that a British policy of appeasement had permitted to destroy the Basque city of Guernica in April 1937.

In defiance of my government's policy, I decided to fight in defence of the citizens of that Spanish Republic. Having survived the Spanish war and the Republic's defeat, I also went on to survive the Coventry blitz, sheltering with my wife and infant son in a cellar as, over our heads, our home was destroyed and our neighbours massacred, I had ample time to reflect on the fact that, for me personally, our visitors were no strangers. These again were the self-same Nazi planes that had bombed and strafed us International Brigaders on the Ebro front's Hill 481 between July and August 1938, as so many of my friends fell in battle and both Michael O'Riordan and myself were wounded. In a citation for the particularly outstanding bravery under fire that he had shown on that hill, our commanding officers said of Michael O'Riordan: "He carried his light machine-gun into every action, and when he was ordered to withdraw, he waited until the whole company had done so. He said that his weapon was worth a dozen men. When he was wounded, he refused to leave his position until others had to leave it. Even then he did not leave until he was ordered".

In a message to our agm on October 15 Ireland's Taoiseach, Mr. Bertie Ahern, paid the following tribute: "The willingness of those who joined the International Brigade to sacrifice all so that others could enjoy a democratic way of life is an inspiration to us all, and the fact that Spain is today a leading democratic nation in a strong and united Europe is no small tribute to them".

As Spain's democratically elected parliament had been defended by International Brigaders in 1936, so also did its democratic parliament of 1996 award the right to claim Spanish citizenship to Irish veterans Eugene Downing, Bob Doyle, Maurice Levitas, Peter O 'Connor and Michael O'Riordan, together with other International Brigaders from all over the world.

This was not due to any transient left-wing majority in that parliament. Quite the contrary. It was in fact under a government of the conservative Partido Popular that the Spanish parliament had voted unanimously to bestow such an honour on all surviving International Brigaders.

When all is said and done, the verdict of history that matters most to us International Brigaders is that of the Spanish people themselves.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Jones,
International Brigade Memorial Trust,
c/o TGWU Retired Members Association,
Transport House,