Report from the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland:
They came from New York, Madrid, Edinburgh, London and from across the island of Ireland to pay homage to a son of Dungannon who had sacrificed his life for liberty and democracy amid the olive groves of the Jarama Valley in Spain some 80 years ago.
The Charlie Donnelly Winter School 2017 made a triumphant return to the mid-Ulster town where the young poet revolutionary had spent his early years as a boy in the fields around Killybrackey. Such is the esteem in which Charlie Donnelly is held throughout Ireland and beyond that representatives of local authorities in every district in which he had lived and ultimately died sent delegates to attend a school in his honour on a cold, wet, February weekend in Dungannon.
The Chairperson of Louth County Council joined elected representatives and officials from Ayuntamiento Rivas Vaciamadrid (Spain), Mid-Ulster Council, Dublin City Council, Sligo County Council, Donegal County Council, Derry & Strabane Council at a two-day event to celebrate the life of the former International Brigader and Republican Congress activist in the Co Tyrone town of his birth. TD for Donegal, Thomas Pringle, also came along to show his support and to chair a workshop.
The President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, who is a huge fan of the poet, sent a formal message of solidarity to the winter school along with an apology describing how, despite wishing to be there, other commitments would regrettably not allow him to attend on the day. The President’s solidarity address was read to a packed audience in The Square Box Theatre, Dungannon, by Harry Owens, founding member of the Friends of Charlie Donnelly and co-author of the book ‘Brigadista’ with legendary anti-fascist and International Brigader Bob Doyle.
Events at the winter school opened with a presentation and discussion on Friday 24February in The Junction – the latest venue to enhance Dungannon’s community infrastructure. Renowned author and historian Dr Fearghal Mac Bhloscaidh joined with veteran republican, trade unionist and former hunger striker Tommy McKearney to discuss the evolution of class consciousness during the early years of the War of Independence in mid-Ulster and the influence of radical left-wing politics in East Tyrone right up until the present day. Liz Shaw, daughter of Stewartstown International Brigader Joe Boyd, was also in attendance among the large audience.
Saturday’s proceedings opened with a poignant wreath laying and remembrance ceremony at the Charlie Donnelly Memorial near the family homestead in Killybrackey. The Chairman of Louth County Council led the floral tributes to the young republican poet while National Chairperson of Éirígí, Brian Leeson, provided the main oration. In addition to the bouquets of flowers from all the various council and parliamentary representatives, floral tributes were also laid on behalf of the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI), the Abraham Lincoln Battalion Archives (ALBA), the International Brigade Memorial Trust (IBMT), the Communist Party of Ireland, Anti-Fascist Action Ireland, the Independent Workers Union, the 1916 Societies, Éirigí and the Peadar O Donnell Forum. An uileann piper played a fitting lament before Omeath based artist, Colm Morgan, provided a moving rendition of a Spanish Civil War song in memory of all the International Brigaders.
Assembled guests then proceeded swiftly back to the square in Dungannon for a full afternoon’s itinerary. Firstly, guests availed of a tour of the magnificent Hill of The Ó Néill and a finger buffet lunch, courtesy of Cllr Barry Monteith and the staff at Ranfurly House Arts and Visitor Centre. Vice Chair of Mid-Ulster Council, Cllr Sharon McAleer welcomed the international delegates, visitors and guests to Dungannon before the opening address by President of FIBI, Eddie Ó Néill.
Rivas Vaciamadrid official José Manuel Castro, within whose Ayuntamiento is situated the Jarama Valley, then issued a solidarity address from the people of Rivas. Also from Madrid, Seve Montero, a representative from the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales paid homage to Charlie Donnelly and his fellow Brigaders. Esteemed professional historian and author Brian Hanley’s paper on the life and times of Charlie Donnelly was delivered by TCD Lecturer in Sociology, Pepe, before Manus Ó Riordáin (son of the late International Brigade veteran Mícheál Ó Riordáin) performed a selection of poetry and songs from the poetic works of Charlie Donnelly.
There followed two guest panel discussions on the subjects of ‘Imperialism in the 21st Century’ and ‘Building a New Republic’ with guest contributors including Bernadette McAliskey, Cllr Declan Bree, Thomas Pringle TD, Cllr Ciarán Perry, Patricia Campbell (IWU) and Eddie Glackin of the Communist Party of Ireland.
To round off the afternoon’s proceedings, a special treat was provided for music lovers when acclaimed artists Cormac Juan Breathnach, Niall Vallely and Caoimhín Vallely (of Buille fame) performed a special arrangement for the occasion. These highly gifted and celebrated musicians had never performed together live before, but agreed to collaborate for the first time in Dungannon in honour of Charlie Donnelly and the International Brigades.
After dinner in Bar Bella conference guests were transported to a fringe event in the Craic Theatre, Coalisland where former Respect and Labour MP George Galloway introduced his documentary ‘The Killings of Tony Blair’ to an audience drawn from far and wide. After the documentary showing, Russia Today presenter Galloway hosted a lively Q&A session which was live streamed to a global audience peaking at almost 240,000 hits from around the world.
The Galloway entourage then made its way to Tomney’s Bar in The Moy, where George and his wife Gayatri were staying for the night. The visit caused something of a sensation in the normally tranquil village on the Blackwater river with throngs of local people making their way to have ‘selfies’ taken with the celebrity politician from Glasgow.
The entire event was enormously successful, with large and enthusiastic audiences throughout the weekend. FIBI spokesperson and Event Coordinator, Gearóid Ó Machail, said the organisers were overwhelmed by the support both locally and nationally for the weekend school: ‘We would like to thank all of the dignitaries and elected representatives who travelled to the event from far and wide. Nancy Wallach from ALBA in New York made by far the longest journey, but others travelled overseas from Madrid, England and Scotland for the events. Locally, we are indebted to all of the local organisations and to the workers who assisted us, particularly those from The Junction, Ranfurly House, The Craic Theatre, Hagans and Bar Bella, The Cohannon Inn, Tomney’s Bar and Charlemont House, the Ryandale and the Éalú Centre. Each and every one of them deserves fulsome praise for their high levels of professionalism and warm hospitality.
‘Such an event obviously required professional recording for posterity and archiving and FIBI is grateful to Oliver Corr Digital Media, John Nixon and to Connolly Media for their photographic and video work. We’d also like to offer our deepest appreciation to our many speakers and contributors, to the taxi firms and individual drivers and to the catering firms who looked after all of our guests.
‘Finally, the organisation of the 2017 Charlie Donnelly Winter School would not have been possible without the help from our sponsors, Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland, the Peadar O Donnell Forum, the Big Lottery Fund’s Celebrate initiative and Mid Ulster Council.’
Posted on 5 March 2017.