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The Irishmen Who Fought in the Last Great Battle Against Spanish Fascism

In the Autumn of 1938, the Battle of the Ebro signalled the death knell of the Spanish Republic. The Ebro River which flows east from Catalonia to the Mediterranean Sea played host to the last great battle of the Spanish Civil War which saw destruction and death. Thousands died, including civilians and fighters on both sides of the conflict. Among those who fell, those who were injured, those who were captured and those who simply disappeared were men from Ireland who volunteered to fight against the rising fascist tide.

Daniel Boyle was born in Belfast in 1906 and worked as a labourer. Upon leaving for Spain he gave his address as Glenard Gardens. He was a member of the Communist Party of Ireland and was one of the first Irish fighters to volunteer to fight fascism in Spain. Boyle arrived in Spain just before Christmas 1936 and fought in major battles such as Jarama where he was part of a machine gun company of the British battalion. In early 1938 he was in hospital in Murcia to recover from injures sustained in Jarama but by the end of the Summer Boyle  was back in action and at the Battle of the Ebro in September he fell under a barrage of fascist fire.

James C. Domegan was born in Drogheda Co. Louth in 1916. He worked as a labourer and went to Spain in April 1938 to fight with the International Brigades. On the 23rd of September Domegan was killed by Franco’s fascists on the banks of the Ebro River.

William Scott McGregor was born in north Dublin in 1914 and was involved in the labour scene in Dublin in the 1930s as a clerk with the ITGWU , the trade union of Connolly and Larkin. In June 1933 he was a delegate to the inaugural congress of the Communist Party of Ireland. He was also an active Republican and was a member of B Company, 4th battalion of the Dublin brigade IRA but, his left wing politics resulted in his expulsion from the IRA in 1934. From 1935 until he went to Spain in 1937, McGregor attended the international Lenin school in Moscow. During the Spanish Civil War he received wounds in an accidental grenade explosion in July 1938 but, he recovered in time to fight in the last great battle of the war and it was on the last day of action at the Ebro River that McGregor fell. He was awarded a posthumous citation for his bravery.

Jack Nalty was another Irishman awarded posthumously for his bravery at the Battle of the Ebro. Nalty was born in Ballygar, Co. Galway in 1902, the son of an RIC constable. Nalty was  just six years old when his father was moved to a station in Dublin and the Nalty family relocated to the capital city. In 1917 Nalty joined Na Fianna Eireann the youth wing of the IRA, before joining C company of the no1 battalion of the Dublin brigade and fought against the black and tans during the War of Independence. In the Irish Civil War which followed, Nalty fought with the Republican side  and was arrested and sent to the prisoner camp at the Curragh.

Nalty was known as a long distant runner and was a member of the Dublin City Harriers Club but his left wing political convictions in the late 1920s and early 30s would see him jailed on a number of occasions. He was one of the first contingent of Irishmen to go to Spain where he would find himself in the thick of the action. Just a few days after Christmas 1936 Nalty was riddled with bullets from a fascist machine gunner at Cordoba but he survived and after three months in hospital he was sent back home to Dublin. Nalty returned to fight in Spain in April 1938 and on the last day of action on the Ebro River in September he was shot in the head by one of Franco’s troops and was buried in a unmarked grave by the Ebro River.

George F. Gorman came from the Long Tower area of Derry and served 12 years in the British army where he served  in India and Iraq. After the army he went to Kent, England, where he got involved in left wing politics. Gorman became leader of the Folkstone Communist party and went to Spain in May 1938 where he became Sergeant in the No.4 Company of the British battalion. As the Battle of the Ebro raged in September, Gorman was taken prisoner at Sierra Caballs and was killed in a tragic case of crossfire.

Harry McGrath was one of seven men from the Shankill area of Belfast to go to Spain to fight against fascism and was one of four who never returned. McGrath came from Tobergill Street and his Communist Party membership saw him travel to Spain in the winter of 1936 where he served with the Republican Navy on a ship at Cartagena. By the Summer of 1937 McGrath was with the infantry of the International Brigade and at the Battle of the Ebro in September McGrath was killed under severe bombing by the Nazi condor legion at Sierra Caballs.

For the many who were killed in action many more went missing in action or were taken prisoner. One of those was Thomas O’Flatherty from West Kerry. Born in Dingle in 1914, O’Flaherty emigrated to the United States and joined the Communist party.  O’Flaherty was a welterweight boxer and his prowess inside the rings was well known across the States where he won a number of bouts and became golden gloves champion in north Carolina. In February 1938 he went to Spain where he became a platoon leader with the International brigades. At the Battle of the Ebro this fighting Irishman was last seen being taken prisoner by Francos fascists and his fate remains unknown.

James McKeefrey was born in County Antrim in 1912 and went to Glasgow in search of employment. In May 1938 he went to Spain with the British battalion of the International brigade. During the Battle of the Ebro he received wounds during a bombing raid and was last seen clinging to life in Vich Hospital.

Others were more fortunate and were repatriated. One of those was Patrick McAlister who emigrated from Belfast to Canada in the late 1920s.  This former IRA volunteer went to Spain in 1937 with the Canadian Mac-Pacs and fought at the bloody Battle of Belchite. He survived the slaughter there and went on to fight at Ebro where he received wounds on the 10th of September at Sierra Cabals when a number of bullets hit his right arm. McAlister was repatriated back to Belfast and arrived home there on Christmas Eve 1938.

Albert Fulton was born in Belfast in 1905 and was a plumber by trade.  He emigrated to Australia in 1927 and a year after arriving in the land down under he joined the Communist party there. His left wing activities in Perth resulted in his imprisonment in Freemantle in 1929 following working class protests. He went to Spain in April 1938 where he joined the machine gun battalion of the 15th corps. He was wounded at Ebro and spent time in hospital in Matario before he was repatriated.

Patrick James Golding was born in 1904 in Tullamore, Co. Offaly and emigrated to England where he became a lorry driver in Middlesex. In 1936 he became  a card carrying member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and a year later went to Spain to help fight against Francos fascists. After the Battle of the Ebro he was repatriated back to England.

John Hunt was born in Waterford in 1911 and left his home on New Street to go work in London in the 1930s. From there he went to Spain in 1936 and was wounded when shrapnel hit his leg in Jarama in 1937. He was repatriated at the end of August during the height of the Ebro battle and he died in London in 1980.

The Battle of the Ebro was a long and terrible battle which lasted from July to November 1938. Francos troops were helped by Mussolini’s Aviazione Legionaria and Hitler’s Condor Legion which dropped over 50 tons of bombs on Republican territories along the Ebro River. In order to save lives, on the 21st day of September an order was issued by the Republican side for the withdrawal of the International Brigades. Since the outbreak of war in 1936, volunteers from all over the world, and from Ireland, had fought alongside Spanish Republicans in the hope of defeating fascism but it was not to be and, rather than live on their knees they died on their feet.

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Pauline Murphy is a freelance writer from Ireland. 

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