By Pauline Murphy
The year just ended, 2016, marked 80 years since the start of the Spanish Civil War, a conflict which saw the involvement of Irishmen on either side of the fight.
In 1936 Spanish democracy was attacked when General Franco led a fascist coup against the elected Republican government. What followed was a bitterly fought fight over the next few years between left wing Republicans and right wing fascists.
This conflict saw an influx of fighters from other countries fight on behalf of the Republicans, including many from these shores who never came back.
The first Irish men to die fighting against fascism in Spain were Tommy Patton and Jack ‘Blue’ Barry.
Patton was born in Dooega, Achill Island, in 1910, one of 14 children who grew up in an Irish-speaking home. As a teenager, Patton and his brother ventured across the Irish Sea to find work in England.
Patton laboured on sites across England, including the building of the Guinness brewery in London, which became his last job before heading to Spain in 1936.
Patton had rebel blood flowing through his veins, so while in England he joined the London branch of the Republican Congress and when Franco’s fascists started to lay waste to democracy in Spain, he decided to take a stand.
In October ‘36 Patton travelled alone to Spain. On the platform at Euston station, Patton bid his brother goodbye and the two swapped watches. Patton’s brother quipped to his departing sibling ‘to watch out for them fascists bullets’, to which Patton replied ‘the bullet that will get me won’t get a Spanish worker.’
When Patton reached Spain he joined a local militia to defend the city of Madrid from Franco’s troops who were besieging it.
Jack ‘Blue’ Barry was born William Jack Barry in Dublin on August 23rd 1889, but like many an Irishman then and now, he found a new life in Australia. Barry was employed as a seaman in Melbourne, but like Patton in London, Barry held left-wing Republican views and joined the local Communist party.
In July ‘36 Barry arrived in Barcelona to take part in the Workers Olympics, but it was cancelled due to the Fascist coup. Barry refused to go back to the safety of Australia and within a month he had enlisted in a unit of the Republican forces to fight the might of Franco’s fascists.