January 2013        

Frank Conroy Commemoration

On 16 December a commemoration for Frank Conroy, a Spanish civil war hero who died on 28 December 1936 fighting with the International Brigade defending the Spanish Republic against Franco, was held at the Republican memorial in Kildare before a large crowd.
     The Frank Conroy Committee organised this first commemoration because little attention has been paid to this Kildare republican socialist.
     The commemoration began with Brian Leeson of Éirígí introducing Seán Edwards of the CPI, who spoke of the life of Frank Conroy after drawing attention to the parallels that can be drawn between Conroy’s causes and today’s struggle, in particular his battles against the Blueshirts while in the IRA and against the fascists in Spain and his commitment to the fight against attacks on the working class. He pointed out that today we have far too many examples of such attacks.
     The main speaker, Harry Owens, said that “after the sudden financial collapse of the great 1920s boom, with banks collapsing in the 1930s, the American and European governments cut back on welfare and the tiny dole payments, while employers cut wages and jobs.
     Here in Ireland the right, controlling state power, fought against workers’ right to join a union. The left, and those republicans who stood with them, defended tenants from eviction, the unemployed, and the underpaid.
     In addition the socialist priest Michael O’Flanagan also stood here in Kildare in 1935, one year before the outbreak of the Spanish war, when he inaugurated this monument to seven workers shot in the Civil War for being caught with weapons. Franco would be shooting Spanish workers caught with weapons a year later, resisting his rebellion against Spain’s newly elected republican government.
     Barely fifteen years separated these similar policies of Irish and Spanish army authorities.
     Why did these Irish republicans and leftists, such as Frank Conroy, go to fight in Spain? Frank Ryan was asked this by the Gestapo when he was captured in March 1937. “Because it’s the same fight in both places,” he replied.
     At Lopera in Córdoba the fledgling Irish unit in the 15th International Brigade went into action as part of the French battalion, sent south on Christmas Eve, 1936. On 28 December they advanced uphill to a town where they were bombed by enemy planes and heavily machine-gunned by the fascists. Even experienced fighters, such as Ralph Fox and the poet John Cornford, were killed, as were Frank Conroy, Johnny Meehan, Henry Boner, Jim Foley, Tony Fox, Leo Green, Michael Nolan, Michael May, and Tommy Woods. Frank Conroy’s body and those of his dead comrades lie somewhere in the hills around Lopera today.
     The Western “democracies” preferred to let Spain fall to fascism than to help a fellow-democracy defend itself till their policy led the world into war.
     Our challenge, said Harry Owens, is to turn today’s crisis into a transformation to abolish control by the elite who caused it and end the bail-outs and tax scandals of our millionaires, to make our country move towards the vision of Father O’Flanagan and that Frank Conroy fought and died to help the Spanish people achieve. For if the elite do survive in power we will have failed; then we will hear those tragic words of Michael O’Flanagan, “They have fooled you again.”

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