George Brown Weekend - June 2008
A local-born hero of the International Brigade that fought to defend the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War was remembered in a major international event organised by the Inistioge George Brown Memorial Committee on the last weekend of June. George Brown, a Manchester working-class activist, whose parents came from Inistioge and Tullogher, was killed in action in defence of the Spanish Republic at the Battle of Brunete on the 7th of July 1937.
A series of events were held and the weekend got underway in St. Mary's Church on the Friday evening. On this historic occasion the assembly was joined by two very distinguished guests, Jack Jones and Bob Doyle, both Spanish Civil War Veterans. Jack, born in Liverpool in 1913, was a docker before enlisting with the International Brigades and had been a close friend of George Brown and his wife Evelyn Taylor. He was wounded at the Battle of the Ebro in 1938 and had to return to England. Sometime afterwards he and Evelyn were married. For many years he was a full-time official of the TGWU in the British midlands. In 1968 he was elected General Secretary of the union – a position he held for nine years. At the height of his power he was regarded as the most powerful person in Britain. He also held a number of prominent positions in the Trade Union Congress. He now holds the position of Life-President of the International Brigades Memorial Trust.
Bob Doyle, a Dubliner, born in 1916, was influenced by the republican and socialist activist, Kit Conway and in 1937 he left for Spain to carry the fight against Fascism. There, along with Frank Ryan, he was captured and placed in a concentration camp, from which he was eventually released in 1939 as part of a prisoner exchange. During World War II he joined the British Merchant Navy. He later settled in London where he worked as a printer. He is the last surviving member of the Connolly Column.
Bob Doyle opened proceedings with the launch of a commemorative booklet on George Brown. In the course of his address he spoke of his early life in Dublin, his connections with Kit Conway and Frank Ryan, and what motivated him to volunteer for service in Spain.
The lecture on the night was by Manus O’Riordan on George Brown and the Spanish Civil War. Manus O’Riordan, son of another Spanish Civil War veteran, Michael O’Riordan, is an author, an historian, an economist, and Head of Research with SIPTU. In an engaging lecture, which combined narrative, analysis and anecdote, he brought the Spanish Civil War to life for those in attendance, bringing them through its tragedies and sacrifices.
Saturday was an even more eventful day. Tom Maher, Chairman of Kilkenny County Council, attended in his official capacity – his last such function as Cllr. Tomás Breathnach takes over this position from Monday 30 June. Cllr. Michael O’Brien was also in attendance. It started with a lecture by Spanish Civil War Historian, Harry Owens, detailing the forces at work in Spain of the 1930s and how this instability was taken advantage of by the German and Italian fascist governments, while the democratic states of Europe and the rest of the world shirked their responsibility, leaving the defence of the legally constituted Spanish Republic to the courage and commitment of individuals who came from more than fifty countries – among them approximately 300, either Irish-born or of Irish descent.
At this assembly Jack Jones and Bob Doyle were presented with hurls and sliotars by GAA legend Eddie Keher. Eddie and his sister Eileen O’Brien along with the Lackey family of Ballyneal are the closest Irish relatives of the Brown family. Eddie captured the mood of the occasion in alluding to Jack Jones’ obvious concern for the oppressed, in reminding the audience that the hurl was in many ways a symbol of our own fight from the closing decades of the nineteenth century against cultural oppression. This session was chaired by Jack O’Connor, President of SIPTU.
There followed a most moving ceremony in the adjoining graveyard with the unveiling by Jack Jones, in the presence of Bob Doyle, at the invitation of the Committee Chairman, Paddy Murphy, of the George Brown Memorial Plaque. The unveiling was followed by a memorial at Woodstock Gardens. It involved the planting of a tree by Jack Jones to mark the occasion of his visit to Inistioge. Here, the large attendance, were entertained by the ‘Hatchery Folk Ensemble’ with a selection of Irish dance music and a moving rendition of ‘Vive la Quinte Brigada’ which had been modified for the occasion to include reference to George Brown, and a number of enchanting Irish airs were played by Brenda O’Riordan – a sister of Manus – on the concert harp. Replica copper busts of George Brown, mounted on elm, were presented on behalf of the Committee to a number of people associated with the weekend’s events:
At Woodstock, Seán Garland, presented another plaque to his comrade and long-time friend Paddy Murphy, in recognition of the efforts made by him over the years to ensure that the memory of George Brown would live on in the folk memory of the people of Inistioge and Tullogher, and that through his organisation of the George Brown Memorial Weekend, his memory both nationally and internationally would now be secure.
All who bought copies of the commemorative booklet were highly impressed, both by the content and the quality of the layout and design. Sales were brisk with bulk buying by visiting trade union officials and the committee of the International Brigades Memorial Trust. Due to a relatively small print run it is rapidly approaching the book collector’s ‘scarce’ category!