President Michael D. Higgins addresses the IBMT’s 2016 AGM
dc]T[/dc]o commemorate 80 years since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and the Easter Rising in Ireland, the fifteenth Annual General Meeting of the International Brigade Memorial Trust was held in Dublin’s Liberty Hall Theatre. To mark this special event, the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, very generously agreed to both open the meeting and address the audience.
He gave what was, in many ways, a remarkable speech. Erudite, informative and wide-ranging, the topic was clearly dear to the President’s heart and his talk appeared to have been many years in the writing. It resisted clichés and over-simplifications, acknowledging that the war in Spain cannot be reduced to a binary struggle between good and evil, as the poet Stephen Spender once claimed. It was not, argued President Higgins, simply between Catholicism and Communism nor, for that matter, was it a straightforward struggle between democracy and fascism.
The speech was consistently generous in tone as well as content, and its conclusion generously praised the work of the Trust today, while honouring the efforts of the volunteers fighting for democratic Spain all those years ago:
Ba cheart dúinn, mar náisiún, a bheith an-bhródúil as na fir is na mná cróga Éireannach a chuaigh leis an Bhriogáid Idirnáisiúnta sa bhliain 1936. Is mian liom sibh a mholadh as an obair atá ar siúl agaibh le cuimhne agus le luachanna na ndaoine a throid ar mhachaire catha na Spáinne, ar son na saoirse i ngach áit, a choinneáil beo.
[As a nation we can be very proud of the brave Irish men and women who joined the International Brigade in 1936. May I commend you, therefore, for the work you do in keeping alive the memory and the values of all those who bravely fought for ‘freedom everywhere’ on the battlefields of Spain almost eighty years ago.]
The full text of the speech can be found on the President of Ireland’s website. I highly recommend it.
Great to see President Michael D taking an interest in the International Brigades, as did both of his predecessors, Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson. While the contribution of the Brigades to the antifascist cause is now belatedly getting the credit it has long deserved, we must also remember in the spirit of truth and historical accuracy that a Connolly Column of Irish Brigaders never existed. (See Fearghal McGarry, Irish Politics and The Spanish Civil War, Cork University Press, 1999.pp.49,66-67.)
That’s perfectly true. What’s interesting is why it’s so important that there should be. History is always viewed through the lens of the present and all that!