Charlie Donnelly Winter School 2017

Post date: 01/02/2017

The Charlie Donnelly Winter School returns to Dungannon on 24/25 February after a number of years in abeyance. The Hill of the Ó Néill and Ranfurly Arts Centre will play host to many of the events scheduled for the weekend which will focus on the life and works of the Dungannon-born, revolutionary socialist poet.


Appropriately, the return of the Winter School to County Tyrone in 2017 coincides with the 80th anniversary of Donnelly’s death in the Jarama Valley outside Madrid while fighting with the XV International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War. An extensive programme of events commemorating Donnelly and his International Brigade comrades is currently taking place in various locations throughout Spain.


The school opens with a presentation and discussion on Friday 24 February in the fantastic setting of The Junction, Dungannon. Renowned author and historian Dr Fearghal Mac Bhloscaidh will join veteran republican, trade unionist and former hunger striker Tommy Kearney to discuss the evolution of class consciousness during the early years of the War of Independence and the influence of radical left-wing politics in East Tyrone until the present day.


Saturday’s proceedings will open with a wreath-laying and remembrance ceremony at the Charlie Donnelly memorial near the family homestead in Killybrackey. The chairman of Louth County Council will lead the tributes to the young republican poet on Saturday morning. Everyone is welcome to attend this event near Edendork, Co Tyrone.



Guests at the Charlie Donnelly Winter School will then proceed to the Hill of the O Neill and Ranfurly House for a full afternoon’s itinerary. Firstly, guests will avail of a tour of the magnificent Hill of The Ó Néill and a finger buffet lunch, courtesy of Ranfurly House Arts and Visitor Centre. Vice Chair of Mid-Ulster Council, Cllr Sharon McAleer, will welcome the international delegates, visitors and guests to Dungannon before the opening address by the president of the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland, Eddie Ó Néill.


The Mayor of Rivas Vaciamadrid, within whose administrative boundary is situated the Jarama Valley, will then issue a solidarity address from the people of Madrid. Also from Madrid, a representative from the Asociación de Amigos de las Brigadas Internacionales will pay homage to Charlie Donnelly and his fellow Brigaders.


Esteemed professional historian and author Brian Hanley will then introduce the audience to the life and times of Charlie Donnelly before IBMT Ireland Secretary Manus Ó Riordáin (son of the late International Brigade Veteran, Mícheál Ó Riordáin) will read and perform from the poetry and songs of Charlie Donnelly.


Two guest panel discussions will follow 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, there will be a special treat for music lovers when acclaimed artists Cormac Juan Breathnach and Caoimhín Vallely will perform a special set of Spanish and Irish musical compositions for the occasion. These two highly gifted and celebrated musicians have never performed together live before, but they have agreed to collaborate for the first time in Dungannon in honour of the International Brigades.



After dinner in Bar Bella, conference guests will be transported to a fringe event in the Craic Theatre, Coalisland, where former Respect and Labour MP George Galloway will introduce his documentary ‘The Killings of Tony Blair’ to what is sure to be a sold-out audience. After the documentary showing, Russia Today presenter Galloway will host a Q&A session in the local community theatre that will be sure to stir passionate debate and discussion on a range of contemporary issues.


Bookings for the events in Dungannon and Coalisland have been pouring in since the event was announced and interested parties are advised to book early to avoid disappointment.


This event has been partly sponsored by Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland, Peadar O Donnell Forum, Celebrate Lottery Funding and Mid-Ulster Council.


Contact details and further information:

Friday 24th February: Ben Murray and Joe Boyd Memorial Lecture

Saturday 25th February: Hill of the Ó Néill and Ranfurly House, Dungannon

Saturday 25th February: Craic Theatre, Coalisland

Full weekend programme is available on       


Charles Donnelly was born in Killybrackey, near Dungannon, County Tyrone on 10 July 1914. His father, Joseph Donnelly, sold the family farm in 1917 and moved the family to Dundalk where Charles received his early education in the local Christian Brothers School. In 1928, the family moved again, this time to Dublin. Charlie enrolled in UCD in 1931, where he studied Logic, English, History and the Irish language. In university he began writing poetry and prose for student publications. He left university in 1934 and joined the radical group, the Republican Congress. There he befriended veteran republicans Frank Ryan and George Gilmore. He also became involved in a romantic relationship with another republican activist, Cora Hughes.


In September 1934 the 20-year-old Donnelly was elected to the national executive of the Republican Congress. Thereafter, he wrote for the Congress newspaper on political and social questions. In February 1935, he left Ireland for London. In the British capital he worked for the Republican Congress London branch. He also wrote articles for various left-wing publications.


In 1936, with the outbreak of civil war in Spain, he joined the International Brigades. He reached Spain on 7 January 1937 and at Albacete, met up with an Irish contingent, led by Frank Ryan, known as the Connolly Column, who had come to Spain to fight on the government side. Donnelly and his comrades were attached to the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion. On 15 February, after receiving only rudimentary military training, the battalion was thrown into the battle of Jarama, near Madrid. Donnelly reached the front on 23 February, where he was promoted to the rank of field commander. On 27 February his unit was sent on a frontal assault on the Nationalist positions on a hill named Pingarrón. Donnelly and his unit were pinned down by machine gun fire all day.


Donnelly was eventually caught in a burst of gunfire. He was struck three times, in the right arm, the right side and the head. He collapsed and died instantly. His body lay on the battlefield until it was recovered by fellow Irish Brigader Peter O'Connor on 10 March. He was buried at Jarama in an unmarked grave with several of his comrades.


The collection of his work, ‘The Life and Poems’, was published in 1987. On the eve of the 71st anniversary of his death, 26 February 2008, Charles was commemorated with the unveiling of a plaque in his alma mater, UCD, attended by 150 people. In April 2008, the UCD Branch of the Labour Party was renamed the Charlie Donnelly Branch in his honour. There are memorials and plaques to Charlie Donnelly in Killybrackey, Dungannon, Dundalk, Dublin, Omeath and Madrid.


Posted on 1 February 2017.

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