Sam McGrath reports on the third annual commemoration of George Brown, who fell fighting fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
“The decision by over 45,000 Volunteers to serve in the International Brigades was one of the most striking affirmations of the human spirit in the modern era, where former opponents of the left sealed their newfound unity in blood.”
ICTU President Jack O’Connor
The third annual George Brown Commemoration, which took place over the weekend of June 25/26 in Inistioge, South Kilkenny, was the “most successful” yet, according to organisers and visitors.
The event, which is in honour of local man George Brown who fought and died for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War, incorporated an important mix of historical celebration and discussion on current affairs.
George Brown, the Inistioge-born Manchester-reared Communist Party leader, arrived in Spain in January 1937 to help in the fight against Franco’s Fascist counter-revolution.
With the British Battalion of the XV International Brigade, he saw action at the Battle of Brunete during the defence of Madrid. On the 6th of July, Brown was shot dead by the fascists, as he lay wounded on the roadside. He was 30. In that battle alone, 300 British volunteers lost their lives.
Every June for the last three years, residents, socialists and family friends have gathered in his birthplace of Inistioge for a weekend to celebrate his life.
This year’s commemoration opened with a wreath laying by Tom Knox, a close family relative of Brown, at the George Brown Memorial Plaque in St Colmcille’s Cemetery on Friday evening, followed by a discussion on the Palestinian Question. On the panel was Kilkenny-man Michael Lanigan (President of Irish Medical Aid for Palestine), Dr Hikmat Ajjuri (the Palestinian Ambassador to Ireland) and Senator Dr David Norris. The debate was chaired by Seán Walsh, Secretary of the George Brown Memorial Committee (GBMC).
This event was preceded by a ceremony of song and poetry, presided over by GMBC member Amanda Richards to mark the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day.
Saturday saw another busy day. Jack O’Connor, SIPTU and ICTU president, spoke on the legacy of George Brown, while historian Harry Owens presented a lecture on the aftermath of the Civil War in Spain.
Following the talk, there was an outdoor concert by The Hatchery Folk group at The International Brigade Memorial at the Olive Grove and the planting of a tree Pádraig Ó Murchú (Chairperson, GBMC).
The weekend’s festivities were wound down in Lenehan’s Pub with a night of craic and music by the Graiguenamanagh Brass Band.
Seán Walsh, one of the event organizers, feels that it is extremely important that the committee tries “to make the George Brown Commemoration relevant to today’s political scene” by having “an international dimension” each year. Walsh says that it is crucial in order to fully honor Brown’s “great involvement in the trade unions and his commitment to the International Brigades”.
Next year’s George Brown Commemoration weekend is already shaping up to be the biggest yet with Jack O’Connor expressing an interest in having a Trade Union seminar as part of the weekend’s events.