On the 80th Anniversary of his death in the Anti-Fascist War in ‘Spain’, the East Wall History Group organised a remembrance of a local man from that dockland Irish area who was the last Irishman to die fighting in the war against Franco and Spanish Fascism. The event was attended by relatives of that Irish antifascist fighter and of another, by a cross-section of Left and Irish Republicans, including historians and by a number of elected representatives from the Dublin City Council and the Dáil (Irish Parliament).
Jack Nalty was the last Irish and one of the last International Brigaders to fight and die in that war. The rest of the Brigaders, those not held as prisoners by Franco’s forces, were withdrawn soon afterwards as the indigenous anti-fascist forces fought on, losing against the Spanish military coupists with their German Nazi and Italian fascist allies.
Those commemorating Jack Nalty met at the St. Joseph’s Co-Educational School on the East Wall Road at 1pm on Sunday (23rd September) and included a cross-section of members of organisations and independent activists, socialists, republicans, communists and anarchists and other members of the local community. At the front entrance of the School a number of relatives of Jack Nalty held a banner along with a son of an Irish International Brigader and the crowd was addressed by Joe Mooney, of the East Wall History Group.
Mooney told the crowd that John Nalty came to the area at the age of six from Galway and on 31st August 1908 entered the East Wall National School on the Wharf Road. Just over thirty years later, 23rd September 1938, he would die on a Spanish battlefield, shot down in a hail of fascist bullets as he engaged in one last heroic act.
“A member of the IRA during the War of Independence, Jack was a Republican, Socialist and trade unionist”, Mooney said, “representing 600 oil workers in Dublin Port. But in 1936 when the Spanish Civil War — or Anti-Fascist War as it should more accurately be called1 – began, he volunteered for the International Brigades to join the fight against European fascism. He was badly wounded and came back to Ireland, but would again go into action and was killed at the Battle of the Ebro. Having being among the first Irish volunteers to travel to Spain, he would die on their last day as they were preparing to withdraw from combat.
Nalty’s unit had been called to retreat when it was realisted that two machine-gunners had been left behind and he went back to collect them. On their retreat they were fired at and Jack Nalty was killed.
Mooney also asked those present to remember not only Jack Nalty but the ‘comradeship of heroes’ from Dublin’s Docklands and North Inner City – Dinny Coady, Tommy Wood and others.
The crowd then set off in a march led by a piper to East Road to unveil a memorial plaque. Across the road from Jack Nalty’s former house, the crowd paused to hear Diarmuid Breatnach sing a few verses of Christy Moore’s tribute to the Irish “Brigadistas”: “Viva La Quinze Brigada”.2
UNVEILING THE PLAQUE
The plaque could not be attached to Jack Nalty’s house and was affixed a little further down the road. Joe Mooney siad a few words there and introduced James Nugent who gave a speech he had prepared and the plaque was unveiled. Nugent concluded by saying that “the history of the past helps us to understand the present and to create the future.”
Kate Nugent read a message from the daughters of Steve Nugent (sadly died 2017) who researched the story of his uncle Jack and Mary Murphy read a short post from Vicky Booth (granddaughter of Syd Booth, who was with Jack when he died).
Harry Owens gave a short tribute speech on behalf of Friends of the International Brigades and Manus O’Riordan, son of Irish communist and International Brigade Volunteer, sang the chorus of Amhrán na bhFiann (“The Soldiers’ Song”, Irish national anthem) and the Internationale.
Joe Mooney acknowledged the presence of elected representatives Mary Lou McDonald, Sean Crowe and Cieran Perry and asked people to march to the nearby Sean O’Casey Centre to see the art exhibition and see two short films.
Back at the Sean O’Casey Community Centre, two short films were shown. One was a school project film in which a descendant of Jack Nalty interviews the latter’s nephew about his famous uncle. The second was dramatic film in which a Spanish trumpet player joins the fight against the fascist military uprising by Franco and other generals and features also actors playing two Irish International Brigaders, O’Connor and Charlie Donnelly3. When the former trumpet player is shot he sees into the future ….
Eddie O’Neill talked about the pulling out of the International Brigades in October 1938 in a bid to have the “non-interventionist” Western democracies put pressure on Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy to have them withdraw too, which did not happen. They marched through Barcelona on 17th October and were addressed in an emotional rally by La Pasionara4 and Eddie asked Nerea Fernández Cordero to read an English translation.
Nerea told the audience that she is from Extremadura (a province of the Spanish state next to the Border with Portugal) and her grandfather, Antonio Fernández had fought against Franco, been captured, escaped to the mountains but was in time recaptured. Upon his release he had married Nerea’s grandmother and lived a peaceful life. Nerea said that she was proud of her grandfather and those who fought Franco and that “ we know La Pasionara’s speech in Spanish by memory.”
Reading of translation of La Pasionara’s speech to English from Youtube:
At the event the newly published pamphlet “In Pursuit of an Ideal – from East Wall to the Ebro” about Jack Nalty was made available for the first time and copies are available from the organisers.
Eddie O’Neill recalled being in the Spanish state with a group from Friends of the International Brigades to commemorate those who fought against Franco during that war and afterwards searching for an appropriate pub in which to socialise. They found a pub with a Guinness sign and went there which however turned out to be one of the most fascist pubs in the area but undeterred, they continued to celebrate the memory of the antifascist fighters there. A lone man in suit and tie asked people as they passed him to use the toilet why they were commemorating people who had died so long ago but when they explained he said he could not understand English.
“We can’t afford to forget,” O’Neill told his audience, “least of all when the forces of fascism are gathering again.”
To conclude the event O’Neill called on Diarmuid Breatnach who sang the whole of Christy Moore’s “Viva La Quinze Brigada”, calling on the audience to join him in the chorus, remembering those who fought and gave their lives in the struggle against fascism.
AN ANNUAL EVENT?
The organisers are reputedly considering making this an annual event – it is to be hoped that they do so.
POSTCRIPT: JACK NALTY – ATHLETE COMPETING FOR IRELAND
In publicity prior to the event, the East Wall History group posted the following:
“In addition to his political and trade union activity, Jack Nalty was also a busy athlete, a regular competitor and medal winner with the Dublin Harriers. In 1931 he represented his country at the International Cross Country Championship, held at Baldoyle. Fellow competitor Tim Smyth became the first Irishman to win this competition.
“(The full Irish Group for the event held on 22nd March 1931 is listed as: Frank Mills, J. Behan, John Nalty, J.C. McIntyre, John Timmins, T. King, T. O’Reilly, Thomas Kinsella, Tim Smythe).
“This British Pathe footage shows the runners in action. Somewhere in the group is John (Jack) Nalty, East Wall resident, Republican and hero of the International Brigades. (The Pathe footage is viewable on post on the East Wall History Group event — CS)
“Ironically, the same year as the competition the future leader of Irish Fascism, General Eoin O’Duffy had become the President of the National Athletic and Cycling Association (NACA) , and apparently was an admirer of Jack Nalty as an athlete!”
1Basques in the provinces of Bizkaia, Guipuzkoa and Alava say it was not a civil war there, i.e between different sections of Basque society — the fascist forces came from outside. In the fourth southern Basque province of Nafarroa, where the Carlists took control, they wiped out around 2,000 antifascists but it was hardly a war. The Catalans also say that the fascist forces invaded them and that it was not a civil war but an antifascist one. In some other places in the Spanish state many also say that the presence of Nazi German and Fascist Italian military in such numbers invalidated the term “civil war”.
2Also known as “Viva La Quinta Brigada”, which is however also the title of a different song from the Anti-Fascist War. Both titles are correct for this song since the Irish were in the Fifth of the International Brigades but when added to the ten indigenous Brigades (Spanish, Basque, Catalan etc), that became the Fifteenth. Wikipedia quotes authors to report an estimate that “during the entire war, between 32,000 and 35,000 members served in the International Brigades, including 15,000 who died in combat; however, there were never more than 20,000 brigade members present on the front line at one time.”
3Charlie Donnelly was a poet and member of the Republican Congress. He went to Spain to fight against Franco, where he died in February of 1937 at the Battle of Jarama. He is also one of those 19 names mentioned in Christy Moore’s song (“Viva La Quinta Brigada” or “Viva La Quinze Brigada”).
4Isidora Dolores Ibárruri Gómez (9 December 1895 – 12 November 1989), born and brought up in the Basque Country to a Basque mother and Spanish father, founder-member of the Spanish Communist Party and known for her political writing and speeches. She wrote an article when quite young under the pen-name “La Pasionara” (the Passion Flower) and was known by that nickname throughout her life.