Frank Conroy commemoration

by Mick Healy

Harry Owen

Harry Owen

On December 16th a commemoration for Frank Conroy, a Spanish civil war hero who died on 28th December 1936 fighting with the International Brigade defending the Spanish Republic against Franco, was held at the Republican Memorial in Kildare Town.

The Frank Conroy Committee organised this first commemoration because little attention has been paid to this Kildare republican and socialist.

The day began with Brian Leeson of éirígí introducing  the first speaker, Sean Edwards of the Communist Party who drew connections between Conroy’s battles against the blueshirts, whilst in the IRA, against the fascists in Spain and his commitment to the fight against attacks on workers.  He also noted “parallels which can be drawn between Conroy’s causes and today’s struggle.”  In particular It was pointed out that today we have many examples of attacks on the working class.

There was an air of expectancy from the crowd as  Harry Owens, the main speaker, said “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 controlled state power and opposed workers’ right to join unions.  The Left, and those Republicans who stood with them, organised the unemployed and defended tenants from eviction.

In addition Fr O’Flanagan, the Sinn Fein leader and priest 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 Irish civil war for being caught with weapons.

General Franco would be shooting Spanish workers caught with weapons a year later, resisting his rebellion against Spain’s newly-elected liberal government. Barely 15 years separated these similar policies of Irish and Spanish army authorities.

Why did Irish Republicans and leftists, such as Frank Conroy, go to fight in Spain?  Frank Ryan was asked this by the Gestapo when later captured in March 1937. “Because it’s the same fight in both places,” Ryan had replied.

At Lopera in Cordoba, 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 28th December they advanced uphill to a town where they were bombed by enemy planes and heavily machine-gunned by the Fascists. Even experienced commissars like Ralph Fox and poet John Cornford were killed, as were Frank Conroy (Kildare), Johnny Meehan (Galway), Henry Boner, Jim Foley, Tony Fox, Leo Green, Michael Nolan, Michael May, and Tommy Woods (Dublin).

The bodies of Frank Conroy and his dead comrades lie somewhere in the hills around Lopera today. The Western democracies preferred to let Spain fall to Fascism than help a fellow democracy defend itself till their policy led the world into war.

In conclusion, said Harry Owens, our challenge is to turn today’s crisis into a transformation to abolish control by the elites who caused it and end the bailouts and tax scandals of our millionaires. We need, he said, to make our country move towards the kind of vision of the Dail that Fr O’Flanagan opened and which Frank Conroy fought and died to help the Spanish people achieve. For if our existing elites do survive in power we will have failed. Then we will hear those tragic words of Fr Michael O’Flanagan, “they have fooled you again”.

Speaking after the event Brian Leeson thanked everyone for attending and Paul McCormack for the great music. In addition wreaths were laid in honour of Vol. Frank Conroy by éirígí, Tus Nua, Workers Party, Labour Party, Workers Solidarity Movement, Anti-Fascist Action and the Communist Party.

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Posted on January 3, 2013, in 21st century republicanism and socialism, Civil War period, Commemorations, Democratic rights - general, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Internationalism, Public events - Ireland, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Good story, except how did the Gestapo question him in 1937 if he died in 1936?

  2. Frank Ryan, not Conroy, was captured by the Gestapo.

  3. Frank Ryan was captured in March 1938.

  4. Frank Ryan was captured in 1938 that is correct. I should have checked the date
    when reporting what Harry Owens said at the Frank Conroy commemoration in Kildare.
    Mick .

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