Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Belfast's Shankill hails its republican heroes

Plaque honours seven locals who fought to stop Franco's fascists

Harry McGrath was killed in action during fight against Franco
Harry McGrath was killed in action during fight against Franco

The story of seven men from the Shankill who travelled to Spain to battle the tide of fascism sweeping Europe in the 1930s will be marked today.

The seven were part of the Republican movement who fought General Francisco Franco's rebel forces in the Spanish Civil War.

Four of the men were killed in action in Spain.

Today a plaque is being unveiled in their honour at Shankill Road Library. It is part of an ongoing attempt to highlight the contribution of around 320 Irish people who were part of the anti-fascist struggle.

The war, which raged from 1936 to 1939, saw Spain become a battleground for fascists and socialists from many countries, including Ireland.

Around 80 of the 320 Irish volunteers fighting for the Republicans against Franco were from Northern Ireland – 21 of them never returned.

Although Franco succeeded in overthrowing the Republican government, going on to rule Spain for the next 36 years, their heroic fight against fascism is slowly being marked in memorials and plaques across Ireland.

Ciaran Crossey chairs the International Brigade Commemoration Committee, which campaigns to recognise Ireland's civil war contribution.

Mr Crossey explained that concerns about a return to conflict sparked an international reaction against Spain's drift to fascism in the 1930s.

"By the late 1920s or early 1930s a whole series of right wing or fascist governments came to power across Europe," he said.

"There were a lot of people in the mid-1930s who felt it was dangerous and we were drifting towards another war.

"In Spain there was a left-of-centre government elected in February 1936, but a combination of big business and the military launched a coup, effectively led by Franco.

"There was an international reaction to try and stop the drift. People went to fight against Franco thinking we could stop this, but we didn't, and the result was that we ended up in World War Two."

Another 720 Irish nationals went to fight for Franco's forces under the command of Eoin O'Duffy, a leader during the Irish War of Independence who later led the Blueshirts movement.

"O'Duffy's crowd weren't really part of the story," added Mr Crossey.

"They were only there about five months and then they had to leave. They only fought once."

Instead, the IBCC is trying to recognise the others who tried to stop Franco.

Although they ultimately failed, Mr Crossey said it should not diminish their efforts.

"The Spanish Civil War ended on April 1, 1939 – five months later World War Two started," he added. "These people saw what was coming.

"The real failure would have been to sit back and do nothing."

Shankill Road Library has hosted meetings on the Spanish Civil War in the past, one of which drew the direct link between the Nazi bombing of Guernika, a town in Spain, with the Belfast blitz which devastated large parts of the Shankill.

Two nephews of one of the men killed in Spain will unveil the bronze plaque today.

Freddie and Tommy McGrath are two Shankill residents and nephews of Harry McGrath, who was killed by the fascists in one of the war's final battles.

Other members of the McGrath family are flying from Britain for the event.

Also flying into Belfast is Nancy Wallach, whose father Hy was a member of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion in Spain.

SPANISH CIVIL WAR ROLL OF HONOUR...

WILLIAM BEATTIE, Belfast. Killed in action: July 25, 1937

Originally from Wilton Street, William Beattie arrived in Spain in December 1936, serving with the XIV International Brigade. He rejoined his unit after being wounded and died at Brunete.

BILL HENRY, Belfast. Killed in action: February 27, 1937

Bill Henry arrived in Spain on December 22, 1936. He was made acting commander of the No.1 Company, Lincoln Battalion, and was killed at Jarama. He lived at Bradford Street, Old Lodge Road.

JAMES ISAAC HILLEN, Belfast

James Isaac Hillen arrived in Spain in December 1936, and served with several units. Wounded at Las Rozas and again at Brunete, he was repatriated on August, 1937. He lived at Tobergill Street.

WILLIAM P LAUGHLIN, Belfast. Killed in action: July 7, 1937

William P Laughlin, a married man from Conway Street, Shankill Road, was with the British Battalion at Lopera in December 1936 and fought in other battles before being killed in action in July 1937 at Villanueva de la Canada.

JOSEPH LOWRY, Belfast

Joseph Lowry lived at Hanover Street before moving to London. He arrived in Spain on December 10, 1936 and served with the British Brigade before he was repatriated in September 1937 after being wounded.

HENRY/HARRY McGRATH, Belfast. Killed in action: Sept 23, 1938

Henry McGrath, from Tobergill Street, arrived in Spain on December 10, 1936 and served with the British Battalion. He also briefly served on board a destroyer before returning to his battalion by April 1937. He was killed in action at Sierra Cabals in September 1938.

ANDREW MOLYNEAUX, Belfast

Born in Silvio Street, the 31-year-old travelled to Spain from Canada on July 15, 1937 with the Canadian volunteers. He was wounded in October 1937 at Fuentes de Ebro and returned to Canada in 1938.

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