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Charlie Donnelly memorial unveiled
history and heritage |
Friday April 02, 2010 21:50 by the leveller
RIVAS COUNCIL WORKERS
CHARLIE DONNELLY MEMORIAL UNVEILED JARAMA FEB. 27 2010
A large international gathering of family, friends and relatives of Brigaders from the USA, Britain, Ireland, France and many Spanish supporters, with the Irish ambassador and five Spanish war Veterans, came to Rivas Vaciamadrid on that Saturday, for the unveiling of a stone monument to Tyrone poet and political activist, Charlie Donnelly, who was killed nearby during the battle of Jarama on that date 73 years ago.
The site was provided by the council of Rivas, in a small floral park, parque Miralrío, overlooking the battlefield, with the Donnelly stone backed by a single olive tree. This was the 7th annual Jarama march, which had been started by historian Seve Montero and Irish veteran Bob Doyle in 2003. Over the years, increasing numbers turned up from Madrid, and later from Ireland and the UK. Four years ago an organised group,including the Friends of Charlie Donnelly, began supporting the event, aiming to have a memorial for Charlie in the Jarama area, similar to the one which had been erected in his native Dungannon .
While commitments and promises to further the project for the Donnelly memorial were agreed by all at the meal in the El Cid restaurant after that 2007 march, the actual work eventually was completed by the Friends of Charlie Donnelly,AABI and the council of Rivas.
A network of a dozen Irish worked here to develop broad support in the media and amongst political and interested groups, culminating with a lively and very profitable fundraising night of song and music in the Teachers’ Club, Parnell Square, Dublin. People were asked to sponsor one of the 32 stones coming from every county in Ireland, as the base for the main stone with the plaques, and the response exceeded all expectations, so that while many expenses weren’t covered for the five who travelled out early to Rivas to erect the base and main stone before the ceremony, the final donations which are still arriving should see all expenses paid for. The building work and gathering of the matching stones from the battlefield was done under wet, cold and windy February weather, much like the conditions that the armies experienced there in 1937, but with the ready help of the Rivas council staff, from the Mayor and Cultural Councillor down, all was got ready in time.
The building work was done by Eddie O’Neill, Sean Walsh, Rob Jackson, Kevin Maguire, Stevie Moore and their one man video team, Gabriel Cleary, with local arrangements handled by Isabel Pinar, Elisa Retana Vallely and Seve Montero . The Weekends events started on Friday night when historian Richard baxell gave a lecture on the British battalion in the battle of Jarama. Aided by a powerpoint presentation delineating the battlefield he ended with some words addressed to Charlie Donnelly and the Lincoln Battalionhe belonged to.The large mixed audience of Spanish,British and Irish were deeply impressed by Baxells knowledge and attention to detail. After the lecture tapas and food was enjoyed in the nearby bar..
While the Saturday was preceded by possibly the worst weather forecast for anywhere in Spain this year, the day came, overcast and with a few light drops early on, but good overall.
The opening ceremony took placein the Miralrio park in the Rivas suburbs, with three members of the Irish folk group, Puca Og, and speakers were presented by Isabel Pinar; the president of the Madrid Association of Friends of the International Brigades, Angel Rojo welcomed us, followed by an ex member of parliament Angeles Maestro who had proposed the law granting veterans of the brigades Spanish citizenship. Other speakers who addressed those assembled at the event were Dungannon Councillor Barry Monteith, Harry Owens, Neil Donnelly (who read his mother Kay’s speech) spokesperson for the Donnelly family and Justin Harman the Irish ambassador who reminded all that, as far back as the crucial inauguration of the first republican Jarama memorial in nearby Morata cemetery, historic memory was a concept supported by the Irish government, after which 92 year old Spanish veteran Piedad Arribas gave a rousing speech defending the Republic and what their fight meant, and the Mayor or Rivas, Jose Masa closed with his own words of appreciation for the brigades and Charlie Donnelly. The unveiling ended with Ian’s solo “Danny Boy” and everyone joining in a spirited rendering of the International.
Next stop was the site where the 15th brigade fought on the battlefield, and Seve Montero explained the layout of the forces during the fighting there, then sandwiches, vino and posters were given out by local communist party workers, and once again we heard a newly composed ballad by Quique Sabate on Charlie Donnelly with a rebeck. On behalf of his family Neil Donnelly thanked once more all that was done to honour the the memory of his uncle Charlie. He was the presented with a badge dated back to the civil war bearing the Spanish civil war flag.
Most of us made it to Meson el Cid down the road in Morata, but some brave souls who followed a Liverpool accent ended up on remoter parts of this rural battlefield than anyone had intended. For the first time since the original plaque was unveiled in the Morata cemetery in 1994, we filled the entire restaurant with a noisy, happy throng. After which the Friends of Charlie Donnelly presented key helpers with commemorative gifts from Tyrone.
The odd lone visitor to the cemetery on the far side of this small farming town found the site in Morata cementery where up to 5,000 republican defenders remains had been dumped after the war, which was still girded in flowers beneath the huge white marble plaque with its gold lettering, and a candle which had been left alight, set in a red holder, burning lower in the evening light.
The concert and poetry reciting at the UGT hall on Maldonado 53 was by all accounts a great session, Puca Og excelled themselves musically .their music and the Irish dance performance by Rosalia Halls Plaza de Castilla dance group was thoroughly enjoyed. When eventually they got us out, the party went on in a nearby tavern till 5.20am, when the pub ran dry and the hoarse voices fell silent.
The outing to Brunete battlefield on the Sunday morning with Alan Warren’s group began with a small but important misunderstanding, when the bus due to leave at 9.30am left at 9.15, and some eight or nine Irish visitors were left behind. The busload which got away saw several essential areas of this famous site, where many Irish, British and Americans died in July, 1937, including Mosquito Hill which Franco forces held against repeated Brigade attacks, and where Oliver Law, the first negro to command white US soldiers in war, was killed. Trenches were still visible, and Ernesto Vinas local enthusiasts who guided us, explained the significance of battlefield debris, then having had our sandwiches provided by Claudia and company, the bus headed back to town.
IT RAINS IN SPAIN
AND THEN MORE RAIN!
THE STONE UNVEILED
FRIENDS OF CHARLIE DONNELLY