Irish Political Review, March 2009

Bob Doyle and General Lister's Last Stand

I met Enrique Líster
And I took him by the hand
“Adelante! Comandante!
To the front, your last command!”

Though one commander, Alexander
- Captain Bill - tried to deny
Bob, Mick and Peter hugged their leader
- General Líster’s last goodbye.

[air: The Wearing of the Green: “I met with Napper Tandy and I took him by the hand”]

Bob Doyle, the last surviving Connolly Column veteran and Irish International Brigade combatant in Spain, died this January 22. I had sung the above verse in tribute to Bob in Dublin’s Liberty Hall on June 27, 2006, on the occasion of the launch of his autobiography, Brigadista: An Irishman’s Fight Against Fascism. This was only a month since my father’s death and I related how, after the death of Eugene Downing in 2003, both Bob and himself were both mutually and bemusedly aware that they were now seen to be engaged in the equivalent of a slow bicycle race as to which of them would be recorded as the very last Irish brigadista fighter. I accordingly introduced myself as the son of the runner-up and conveyed what had been my father’s death-bed best wishes: “Good luck to BobDoyle! He’s the last man standing!”

See pages 172-173 of Bob’s book for a description of his feelings about the 1994 Spanish event to which my verse refers:

“On Saturday 8 October, together with some 700-800 other men and women from many countries, I stood in the cemetery of Morata de Tajuña to watch and listen as a platform of representatives of the Comunidad de Madrid supported by other ‘important personages’ dedicated a memorial at the former rubbish tip where lie scattered the remains of the 5,000 Spanish Republican militia men and International Brigaders who were killed here in 1937 (including nineteen Irish brigadistas). The fact that I and others of the Jarama Memorial Association who had campaigned for many years to bring about this result were but a part of the crowd of onlookers, while on the ‘official platform’ there were those who bitterly opposed us, brought only a wry smile. Maybe it has been and always will be so. When the cause which the rebel has for so long held to his heart becomes ‘policy’ there is no shortage of important personages to jump on the bandwagon. This is the time for the rebel to move on to a new cause.”

See also pages 160-165 and 170-173 for the following account by Bob’s editor, Harry Owens:

“François Mazou (of France) … had been a political commissar in Spain and was wounded in Jarama … He’d recruited Bob and me into a new campaign of his own … In the small town of Morata de Tajuña, south of Madrid, where in 1937 he was based during the battle of Jarama, François had located the rubbish pit on the edge of the cemetery where the remains of the Republican war dead had been gathered and dumped under broken pots, dead flowers and assorted junk. Through his own efforts … from his tiny apartment in Pau across the border, François had achieved a lot … In London Bob and Walter Greenhalgh formed the Jarama Memorial Association to campaign for the restoration of the graves … A typed sheet in Spanish on plain notepaper from the Republican veterans’ association in Madrid (finally) announced the imminent unveiling of an inscribed plaque over ‘El Corral’ in Morata cemetery on Saturday 8 October 1994 …”

“Despite their (Honorary Secretary’s) condemnation of Walter’s and Bob’s Jarama Memorial Association as ‘redundant and divisive’, now that there was going to be a ceremony, the UK’s veterans’ association organised a large delegation and a speaker [International Brigade Association Hon. Sec. Bill Alexander, formerly Assistant General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain – MO’R]. By that time Bob had been excluded from Association membership … (but) the last Irish survivor from Jarama, Peter O’Connor from Waterford, was to speak for the Irish. Mick O’Riordan came. At the last moment François agreed to travel ... ”

“We strolled out to the edge of the town and got our first sight of the cemetery with a huge covered marble plaque ready to be unveiled, right along the top wall looking down on the graves of generations of Morata’s worthy families. Manus recognised an elderly man at the back being approached respectfully by people in the crowd. It was the legendary Republican General Líster, aged and feeble, on his own today. Gently, Manus approached and asked if he could bring him through the crowds. Líster assented and, for the last time, with Manus guiding, Líster ‘went to the Front’. [Líster was now in his 88th year and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. I brought the veteran General up front by one hand, while carrying his stool in the other, pushing through the gathering in order to seat Líster adjacent to the memorial itself, alongside the Connolly Column banner being held by Irish brigadistas Peter O’Connor and my father Mick O’Riordan, who warmly embraced their heroic frontline leader – MO’R] He died two months later (to the very day, on 8 December 1994). Peter’s speech recalled that his native Waterford had sent ten volunteers to Spain, five had fought in this spot and one, Mossie Quinlan, was buried here. He added the only lines spoken in all the day’s events recognising the key role of François … Bob and François were deeply moved. Both of them were here only as onlookers in the crowd …”

“After the gleaming plaque with its gold lettering had been unveiled, we had a huge meal in the El Cid, the local restaurant. It was a noisy banquet, packed with famous guests, visitors, local friends of François and their families, and the gravediggers who’d first helped him to locate the grave site. [As Enrique Líster had not been well enough to stay on for the banquet, and as Bill Alexander hadn’t met him at all that day, Bill insisted that no other veterans could possibly have met him, writing to one correspondent that ‘Manus O’Riordan was wrong’ in stating that General Líster had been present at the unveiling ceremony! – MO’R] ... Bob dined at a distance from the UK association. During the visit he never spoke in public, but when we got the next day’s papers there was his photo on the back cover of The Sunday Times, a lone veteran lost in the crowd, his head in his hand, by a tombstone at the emotional climax in the graveyard. The story in a picture.”

Manus O’Riordan, February 2009