Brigadistas veteran, 91, to honour comrades

Newsletter, August 31, 2006 - DAVID YOUNG

THE last surviving Irish veteran of the Spanish Civil War will next month unveil a plaque in Belfast to the Ulster volunteers who fought alongside him 70 years ago.

Bob Doyle, 91, originally from Dublin, was one of hundreds of Irish men and women who joined the International Brigade in the 1936-39 war against the fascist General Franco.

Of those volunteers, 77 were from Ulster " Protestant and Catholic alike, with 20 losing their lives on the battlefields on the Iberian Peninsula.

Mr Doyle now lives in London but he's travelling to the Province on Saturday, September 16, as guest of honour at the unveiling ceremony in the John Hewitt Bar.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the onset of the conflict between the elected government and Franco's right-wing military rebels.

While Franco's attack on the left-of-centre republican government was backed by the military might of Hitler and Mussolini, no western government sided against him and it was left to Spanish freedom-fighters and thousands of Internationalist Brigadistas as they were known, from all around the world to resist.

It was a resistance that would hold for three years before Franco eventually swept to power in 1939.

Kevin Doherty, secretary of the Northern Ireland International Brigade commemoration committee, said the Internationals from the Province were from a diverse range of backgrounds.

"People from all across Northern Ireland fought", he said. "Protestants, Catholics, Jews and atheists. Though many were from a traditional trade union, left-wing background, there were others, like Joe Boyd, a milkman who had no political connections.

"He went out and served as an ambulance driver and was decorated for rescuing injured soldiers from both sides of the battlefield.

"Bob Doyle is a real character. He tried to get out to Spain a couple of times before he eventually made it.

"He first joined the Merchant Navy and landed in Spain, but he was deported. "He eventually travelled down through the Pyrenees mountains and joined the Internationals.

"He then fought on the front line and was captured and was brutally treated in a fascist jail. He's certainly got quite a story to tell.'

As well as unveiling the plaque, Mr Doyle will be launching a book of his recollections of the war.

Educational seminars on the role of the Ulster men who fought in Spain will be held in Transport House from 11am that morning.

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