December 2014        

In defence of the Spanish Republic

Michael Healy

The 3rd Annual Frank Conroy Commemoration at the Republican memorial in Kildare on Sunday 9 November was a huge success, with a large attendance that included Councillors Joanne Pender and Mark Lynch.
     Frank Conroy, from Kilcullen, Co. Kildare, died on 28 December 1936 while fighting with the 15th International Brigade defending the Spanish Republic.
     Stewart Reddin of Stonybatter and Smithfield People’s History Project introduced the Kildare historian and author James Durney, who spoke about the search that identified the birthplace of the Spanish Civil War hero. He was born on 25 February 1914 in Kilcullen. His parents were Michael Conroy from Co. Laois and Catherine Farrell from Co. Dublin. Michael Conroy was a baker by trade and moved his family to Co. Kildare, probably for employment reasons, as there was a large bakery, O’Connell’s, in Kilcullen.
     Frank Conroy, a former IRA volunteer and a member of the Communist Party, left on the Holyhead ferry on 13 December 1936 with about twenty-five other Irish volunteers of the International Brigade, including Frank Ryan. Within days, six of them would be dead, including Conroy.
     The main speaker at the commemoration, the Spanish Civil War historian Harry Owens, pointed out that “the socialist Father O’Flanagan (a relation of Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan), who read the prayer that opened the first independent Irish parliament, also stood here in Kildare in 1935, one year before the Spanish Civil War, when he inaugurated this monument to seven workers shot in the Civil War for being caught with weapons.
     “General Franco would be shooting Spanish workers caught with weapons a year later in his rebellion against Spain’s newly elected liberal government. Barley 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,’ Ryan replied.
     “At Lopera in Córdoba the fledgling units of Irish in the new International Brigades went into action in the French International 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 an experienced commissar like Ralph Fox as well as 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, lies somewhere in the hills around Lopera today.”

     Speaking after the event, Stewart Reddin thanked everyone for attending, including the performers Paul McCormack and Cormac Ryan for the great music.

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