Brigadista Ben Murray commemorated in Aughnacloy
Below is the speech delivered by Eugene McCartan of the CPI at the unveiling in Aughnacloy of a memorial to Ben Murray, a member of the International Brigades who died in Spain in 1938, fighting fascism; thanks to Steve McCann for passing on the text and pic
Comrades and friends.
First of all I would like to thank Eddie O’Neill and his comrades for the invitation to address you today, at this unveiling of a memorial to Ben Murray, who died “ in the heroic stand on the banks of the Ebro river” in 1938.
Ben Fredrick Murray was born on the 19th of July 1895 in Enniskillen. His family lived outside Aughnacloy, Moy Bridge, Co Tyrone, the son of an RIC man, reared in the Methodist tradition.
Ben was only 15 when he emigrated to Canada. Like tens of thousands of young men enlisted to fight in the First World War as part of the Canadian Army, that barbaric inter-imperialist slaughter, a war to re-carve up the world between the victorious imperialist powers.
Ben was clearly affected by what he experienced during that war but also with events in Russia and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He joined the Communist Party of Canada and set up his own local communist newspaper, living and working in Montreal until his return to Ireland in 1933.
On returning he joined the Revolutionary Workers Groups an all-Ireland network of revolutionary workers’ organisations, which came together to form the reconstituted Communist Party of Ireland.
Ben was both a thinker and a doer. On his return he threw himself into the great “Outdoor Relief” struggles in Belfast, seeing the necessity to win unity among workers, both Catholic and Protestant. That unity he saw was necessary to break the grip of reaction and imperialist interference in the affairs of the Irish people.
It was a combination of reactionary Unionism, in the form of the Stormont regime, using sectarianism and the forces of the state, and the hostility of sections of the Catholic Hierarchy to the threat of “Communism,” that broke that unity.
Ben was recognised as a hard worker and a great public speaker. After the defeat of the “Outdoor Relief” struggle, he moved to London in 1935, getting the cattle boat to Liverpool and cycling from there to London, where he once again became a force in working-class politics of that city, and was a regular speaker on a Sunday morning at “Speaker’s Corner”.
He went to Spain in February 1937 putting to use the fighting skills he learned in the service of imperialism, turning those military skills against imperialism’s allies, the Spanish fascists led by General Franco and their German and Italian allies.
During his time in London and, most importantly when under fire in the trenches in Spain, Ben Murray found the time to maintain contacts through letters with his friends and contacts in and around Aughnacloy, evidence of a man with a great sense of place and the importance of friends and neighbours.
Comrade Ben Murray died in the battle of Aragon on the Ebro River on the 14th of March 1938. He is buried in an olive grove in the crater made by the bomb that killed him.
The story of Ben Murray is the story of many of those who left their homelands to travel to Spain, who answered the call of the Spanish people, who answered the call to defend democracy and defend the Spanish people from the onslaught of fascism.
The Irish volunteers are the most noblest expression of that great desire of our people to put behind past dissent, to lay to rest the false divisions created and nourished by a foreign power.
Irishmen answered that call of democracy, coming from Cork and Waterford, from Dublin, Kerry and Belfast and Derry, from Newry and Moy Bridge. Our people came from the Falls and the Shankill, fighting together in unity and many died together, their blood flowing together to nourish the Spanish soil. Ben Murray, from the Methodist tradition, Eamon McGrotty the Christian Brother from Derry, the boxing parson Hilliard from Killarney, the working men of the Shankill and the Falls, from the slums of Dublin and the small farms of Achill Island.
What these people have shown is that people can change, people learn from their own experience if we give them room to breathe and to expand their understanding.
Today we as a people, north and south, are experiencing a great economic crisis, one similar to the one that blighted the lives of the millions of working people in the 1930s, conditions experienced by the young Ben Murray.
But those courageous men who left our soil and traveled to Spain, and those courageous men and women who stayed behind at home to continue the struggle here against exploitative working and social conditions, against the backbreaking employers and greedy slum landlords.
We owe them all a debt of gratitude. It was they who put brick upon brick in the struggle to get better pay and better working conditions, to win the right of our children to go to school, the right to a doctor if sick, the right to a pension after working long hard years, the right to shelter.
There are lessons for us today. It is better to stand on your own feet with dignity and to struggle for a better world, than to live on your knees cowed before the forces of imperialism: the European Union, the United States and the British intervention in this part of the country, to be corralled and herded by their instruments of control the ECB and the IMF.
What Ben and others like him saw and it is a view I share, was that what was and is central to the defeat of imperialism was not the actions of a courageous few but the mobilisation of a risen, conscious people.
They had the courage to dream that a better life was possible. Their dreams were greater than the small minds that have controlled our people that have crippled and blighted us as a people, intellectually and culturally.
We could not and should not let this day pass without saluting the giant who has just left our ranks, Hugo Chavez, to express publicly our solidarity with his family, the government and people of Venezuela. He dared to dream of a better land, he gave hope where once there was deep despair. He truly cherished all the children equally, by putting into practice policies that brought it about.
We know from experience that imperialism has not given up its desire to drive back the thing they fear most: a risen and proud people. No doubt the agents of imperialism are busy at work, attempting to create and foment instability and division. The victory of the Venezuelan people or the Cuban people is a victory for us all; a defeat for them is a defeat for us all.
People like Ben Murray fought for and believed that our world could be a better place if division and exploitation could be dumped into the bin of history. That Catholic, Protestant and dissenter could put aside pass division and strive to build a better country together and to fulfil the legacy of Wolfe Tone of James Connolly.
People like Ben Murray, Michael O’Riordan and Frank Edwards, whose son Sean is with us today, wrote their own pages of history. They did not leave it up to others nor stand on the sidelines of history. Those courageous men and women of the International Brigades took their destiny in their own hands.
We know from the experience of Dan Murray that people can and do change, that change itself is the only constant thing in all life. As we we stand here today we are duty bound to stretch ourselves and our vision, to reach out and bring others forward, that some day, not too far in the future, we can gather on the Shankill Road and on the Newtownards Rd and unveil a monument like this one to the men who walked those roads and died on the battlefields of Spain.
They are our history, they are our people, they are our comrades.
The challenge facing us today is to consign the two failed states that have so painfully failed, that have blighted the lives of our people, to the dustbin of history, to build a new republic, a republic that banishes the exploitation of one human by another, a republic that cherishes all our children equally, that gives comfort and security to the old, a republic that embraces all our people and not just the rich few, that promotes and takes pride in our history and culture, that’s stands alongside the oppressed of this world in the fight against imperialism. As James Connolly put it, “our demands most moderate, we only want the earth.”
We must rise to the challenge as Ben Murray and his comrades did to dream and, most importantly to act for a better tomorrow, to mobilise and struggle together for a new all-Ireland democracy that draws our people together, working and co-operating together to build a people’s democracy that James Connolly gave his life for.
We salute you Ben Murray, an honoured son of the Irish people.
For, as Connolly said, “Ireland without its people means nothing to me.”
Posted on March 14, 2013, in Commemorations, Democratic rights - general, Free State in 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, General revolutionary history, Historiography and historical texts, Internationalism, Public events - Ireland, Republicanism post-1900, Revolutionary figures, Unionism, loyalism, sectarianism. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Brigadista Ben Murray commemorated in Aughnacloy.