Memorial group’s AGM in Belfast

Post date: 27/02/2024

Lynda Walker reports… 

The IBMT-affiliated International Brigade Commemoration Committee held its annual general meeting in the Falls Road Library on Saturday 24 February, the anniversary of the Battle of Jarama.

In addition to the secretary’s report, financial report and election of the committee, two guest speakers were invited to the event. 

As chair of the meeting, Adam Murray welcomed the audience and introduced Gerry Grainger, a member of the central executive committee of the Workers Party with responsibility for international relations. Gerry spoke in depth about Paddy McAllister, who was born in 1909 and came from Lincoln Street on the Falls Road. 

Like many young Irish men and women, he joined the IRA in 1927. Unemployment at home forced him to emigrate to Canada in 1928. 

In 1937 Paddy left Canada and went to Spain to support the democratic Republic. He was in the number No. 4 Company, Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and was present at a number of offensives. He was wounded at the Ebro and returned to Belfast in 1938. 

Gerry Grainger.

Gerry spoke about his contribution to progressive politics in later life, when he joined the Workers Party. Gerry also read out the names of the other Brigaders from the Falls Road area.

They were:
James Domegan, Leeson Street
Hugh (Pat) Dooley, Balkan Street
Pat Hall, Malcolmson Street
Paddy McAllister, Lincoln Street
James J McKeefrey, Alexander Street West
Matthew McLaughlin, Leeson Street: killed in action, March 1938
Dick O'Neill, Cullingtree Road: KIA February 1937
James Shortall, Springfield Road
Jim Stranney, McDonald Street, KIA, July 1938
FJ Tierney, Institution Place.

Adam Murray then introduced Neil Micheal O’Riordan, son of the late Manus and Annette O’Riordan, who had three children: Jess, Neil and Luke, who is currently the representative for Ireland in the IBMT. 

Their grandfather Micheal fought in Spain and wrote the book ‘Connolly Column’, where Christy Moore got the words for ‘Viva la Quince Brigada’. Micheal was also a founder member of the IBCC in 2006, in the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. 

Neil O'Riordan is the chief sports writer for The Irish Sun, with a focus on local sports news and features in Dublin. He was named Popular Sports Writer of the Year in 2020 and again in 2023.

Addressing the Belfast-based group’s AGM, Neil paid tribute to Manus O’Riordan, which was both personal and political, presenting an interesting insight into his life. He recalled how his father worked in Dublin with the Irish Transport and General Workers’ Union, where he met Annette. He remained as a researcher working with the ITGWU, which merged with the Federated Workers’ Union of Ireland to become SIPTU – the Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union. He noted that as a researcher Manus was thorough and that if you were in Manus’s company he would very quickly pick you up on details that were incorrect. 

Neil O'Riordan lays a wreath at the International Brigade memorial in Belfast's Writers Square.

Manus played a leading role in the activities of the International Brigade organisations at home and abroad. He was the representative for Ireland on the International Brigade Memorial Trust’s executive committee, and was involved with the Friends of the International Brigade in Ireland (FIBI). He was also a supporter of the IBCC, attending and speaking at a number of meetings in Belfast. His last contribution before the pandemic in 2019, was to the Shankill Winter Festival, where he spoke alongside Nancy Wallach, his partner in later life, about the role of the Irish Brigaders, in particular his father. Manus died on 27 September in 2021, the day after he attended a FIBI event in O’Meath.

The audience participated in discussion about both men and the International Brigades, and it was not lost on the audience that there was a parallel between what happened in Spain and what is happening in Palestine today.

Both contributions will be reproduced in full and will be published in a booklet. This will also include the August Féile talk by Ewald P Schulz about the Thälmann Battalion.

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