On the 20th of February members of the IRSP and Republican Socialist Youth Movement (RSYM) travelled to Madrid along with Friends of International Brigade Ireland (FIBI).
The itinerary planned in advance promised us an eventful two days of activities; which included visiting historic battle sites, paying homage to fallen comrades and of course plenty of walking.
This provided us with the opportunity to network efficiently and strenghten our connections for the commemorations in the years ahead.
Day 1 – Friday 21st of Feb
Our first task of the morning was to make our way to the coach to rendezvous with other groups involved in the commemorative project. We then set off for the Charlie Donnelly memorial which overlooks the battle site of Jarama.
Jarama was arguably the definitive battle in the Spanish Civil War which saw approximately 80,000 combatants fight to the death on the hot arid soil over a period of 21 days. The fascist forces hoped that the battle would dislodge the last of the republican lines that remained entrenched outside Madrid along the river Jarama. Over the course of the battle approximately 9,000 fascists were killed by republican fighters, yet Franco’s forces ultimately prevailed by a small margin. The defeat of the republican side ensured the war was essentially over for the international brigades, yet throughout the gallant process many legends were made.
Charlie Donnelly hailed from outside Dungannon, and was only 22 when he fell. He was a poet, intellectual, political activist and a volunteer. He put down his life for the cause of freedom, democracy and to defeat the spread of fascism worldwide. As the battle was in its final days, he was struck three times and died on the 27th of February. A Canadian veteran recalled:
“We ran for cover, Charlie Donnelly, the commander of an Irish company is crouched behind an olive tree. He has picked up a bunch of olives from the ground and is squeezing them. I hear him say something quietly between a lull in machine gun fire: Even the Olives are bleeding.”
Next the coach took us to the small town of Tarancón where we gathered in a scenic and peaceful graveyard to remember Scottish members of the British Battalion, International Brigade, who fell at Jarama. We gathered round the grave of Allan Craig to remember those who died. Craig was carried off the battle site by stretcher only to succumb to his wounds on the 25th of March at Tarancón hospital.
Spanish media were also present at the graveyard, and we were sure to make use of the opportunity.
We walked through the town of Tarancón and checked out one of the underground air shelters that was used to protect the towns people during heavy aerial bombardment, before finally exploring the exterior of one of the republican hospitals.
Day 2 – Saturday 22nd of Feb
On day 2, we travelled to San Martin to embark on a walk of approximately 3 miles across the battle site of Jarama. Ultimately leading us to the ruins of a bridge which was a key supply route for the republican forces. The bridge was bombed by Franco towards the end of the 21 day battle.
After the two days we had a day and a half remaining to relax and explore the wonderful city that is Madrid. We look forward to seeing you there next year, and hopefully anticipate growing numbers in the future.
It is our hope that we can attract an increasing number of like-minded political activists from younger generations on a yearly basis.
These events cannot be allowed to fade away, and it is therefore vital that they extend long into the future.