Belfast remembers N-Irish volunteers and ALBer

March 10, 2014
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Tommy and Freddy McGrath and the niece of Bill Henry at the Unveiling of the International Brigade Commemoration Committee Plaque at the Shankill Road Library.

Tommy and Freddy McGrath and the niece of Bill Henry at the Unveiling of the International Brigade Commemoration Committee Plaque at the Shankill Road Library.

On February 1, 2014 I had the honor of bringing fraternal greetings from ALBA to the International Brigades Commemoration Committee, where an overflow crowd met to honor these men from Belfast who joined common cause in the earliest battlefields in the war against fascism in Spain.  The International Brigades Commemoration Committee exists to examine the reasons why the International Brigades were formed and supported by the Irish people, to keep alive the principles the brigaders fought for and to oppose present day prejudice.

Over one hundred and twenty people crammed into the library to hear the story of the unity of the men and women from 52 countries who came together to try and prevent the horrors of fascism and a second world war, a most powerful testimony to the ability to overcome bigotry.  Guest Speaker Connal Parr continued the educational aspect of the program with an address on “The Undefeated:  Radical Protestants from the Spanish Civil War to the Sixties”.

William Beattie, William Henry, James Hillen, William Laughran, Henry McGrath and Andrew Molyneaux were the men being honored from the Shankill Road area.  See the inset taken from the program notes on Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veteran Bill Henry.

Bill Henry, Belfast      Killed in action Feb. 23, 1937

Bill Henry is being listed as being both 36 and 41 years old and also a veteran of WWI! 

He arrived in Spain on Dec. 22, 1936.  His apparent WWI experience led to his being made commander of the No. 1 Company, Abraham Lincoln Battalion.  One report states that on Feb. 23 they charged enemy positions and within minutes heavy gunfire had killed 147.  Bill Henry died at Pingarron Heights when hit in the head by an explosive bullet.

In his last letter home to his wife he had stated, “There are some great comrades here with me, with whom it would be an honour to go to the happy hunting ground.”

The unveiling of the plaque was followed by a march to Writer’s Square in the center of Belfast in order to place flowers at the IBCC Memorial Bust.  IBCC Secretary Ernest Walker, Chairperson Ciaran Crossey, Treasurer Franck Cammock, organizing committee chairperson Lynda Walker and guest speaker Connall Parr were among those attending the ceremony.  I was grateful to be asked to lay the wreath in the name of the international solidarity shown by these great heroes.  I was able to see first hand how the IBCC connects the legacy of the International Brigades to the present day peace efforts to overcome prejudice.

ALBA Board Member Nancy Wallach is the daughter of Abraham Lincoln Brigade Veteran Hy Wallach

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