Spain was the setting for a bitter showdown between left wing republicans and right wing fascists in the late 1930s. It can be considered something of a prelude to World War II but unlike that conflict, the fight against fascism in Spain did not attract a global wave of opposition to that deadly ideology, instead a blind eye was turned to Franco’s fascist coup and it took but a brave few to stand against it.
Those who chose to stand with the democratically elected Spanish republican government came from all walks of life. Some were artists, others poets, some were teachers while others were still students but many were trade unionists grown from the roots of a working class background. One working class individual who took up arms to stop the spread of fascism was an Irishman called Denis ‘Dinny’ Coady. His fight against fascism would result in his death on the battlefields of Spain 80 years ago on January 12th 1937, far from his native hometown of Dublin.
Coady came from Waterford Street on the northside of the River Liffey in Dublin city. The street is now long gone but it once housed many working class families and served as a connecting artery between Gardnier Street and Marlborough Street in the heart of Summerhill.
Like many born into the gritty realism of working class Dublin of the early 20th century, Coady’s prospects of employment could be found through occasional employment as a labourer. Coady’s idealism saw him become a trade union activist and it would bring him into contact with those he would go to Spain with in December 1936 but never return.
The January 30th issue of The Worker newspaper in 1937 published a letter from Frank Edwards, a comrade of Coady’s , who detailed the Dubliners last moments:
“We were lying in position on a ridge. Dinny Coady lay near me with another Irishman Pat Murphy between us. A shell landed between Coady and Murphy.”
The three men were badly wounded by the enemy shell which landed on them but it was the life of 34 year old Coady it claimed.
In his letter, Edwards described the aftermath of that horror:
“While I was being dressed, the stretcher bearers came back with a body. It was Dinny Coady. I got a hell of a shock because I had known him longer than any of the other lads.”
Coady who left behind a wife and two children in Dublin was buried in Torrelondones in Las Rozas.
In the early part of January 1937, Franco had launched a major offensive at Las Rozas. The International Brigade were sent to that area to help push back Franco’s troops who were fast approaching the north eastern part of Madrid.
From January 11th to 14th the Irish of the International Brigade found themselves in action at the Las Rozas village of Majadahonda and among them was Denis Coady.
The fighting was intense and the volunteers of the International Brigade were no match for Franco’s troops who had the advantage of unleashing aerial assaults which claimed the lives of many on the ground.
Even though the action at Majadahonda proved fierce for the Irish contingent it was to claim for them only one casualty, that of Coady, before they were forced to retreat and the small village was captured by the fascists before the rest of Las Rozas also fell into Franco’s hands.
Frank Ryan, with whom Coady had travelled to Spain only a month previously, wrote a letter from Madrid to his comrades in Dublin on January 21st informing them of the loss of Coady.
“Coadys comrades under Kit Conway fired three volleys over his grave. A true man and a fine soldier.”
Coady had left the life of a labourer in early December 1936 to travel with Frank Ryan and the International Brigade to Spain. They arrived there on December 12th and Coady, like many of his comrades, would never leave. His bones may lie in Spanish soil today but the name of Coady, along with all the Irishmen of the International Brigades who fell in the Spanish Civil War, can be found inscribed on a plaque in Liberty Hall, not far from where he was born in Dublin’s Summerhill.
Coady’s close friend Tom O’Brien went to fight against fascism in Spain a year after Coady’s death. Unlike Coady, O’Brien would survive the conflict but the loss of his close friend haunted him and he wrote a poem in his honour:
Dinny Coady – One Whom I Knew
By Tom O’Brien
We who live to remember
We who have to die eventually
In deaths like this
It is not simple
It is something that was sunk deep
Tortuously down the centuries
This emotion we feel
At the death of men we knew
Killed in such action
Emotion heavy with centuries of suffering
And struggle and sacrifice
Of oppressed people’s everywhere
We know that he must have died
We know that he should not have died
These comforts the mangled mind of man
The simple mind of man
Knowing what is good and noble
Faced with a thing called fascism
Killing men who would have lived
Ordinary happy lives
Men like Dinny Coady