BRIGHT young Mountcollins student, Muireann Hickey, is in Madrid this weekend to play a signal part in a weekend of events marking the involvement of the International Brigades on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.
Muireann took first place in an all-Ireland history essay competition organised by the Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI) and her prize included an all-expenses paid trip to Madrid with her mother Joan.
During the weekend away, she will read her essay, with translation, to a gathering organised by the Madrid-based Association of Friends of the International Brigades.
She will also get the opportunity to visit some of the places associated with the great conflict that was the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and which ended with the coming to power of General Franco.
Ireland was one of 53 countries who sent volunteers to Spain to fight against the Falangists and in defence of the Second Republic. Up to 35,000 volunteers in all, mainly trade unionists, socialists and communists, are believed to have gone with some 10,000 in non-combatant roles.
But in researching her essay for the competition, Muireann Hickey concentrated, not on the men from Ireland but on the women.
And in doing so, she became the first student in the competition to write about women’s involvement in the Spanish conflict, in Spain itself and at home.
In her essay, she recalls Ruth Ormsby from Kanturk who, with others, set up a hospital in Spain but died when a cooker in her lodgings exploded and she fell to her death. She also cites the work of Cora Hughes, god-daughter of Eamon de Valera and the fiancée of poet and activist Charlie Donnelly, who agitated for the Republican cause from her Dublin home.
The majority of women were involved as nurses, Muireann discovered and but for them, a lot more people would have died. She also realised, during her research, that the role of women in Spain changed.
Winning the competition came as a surprise, she admitted to the Limerick Leader. But an absolutely delightful one that had her jumping about in glee. “I love history,” she revealed, adding that it is something which she inherited from and shares with her dad, Seamus, and grand-dad James Hickey from Knocknagoshel.
Historian Harry Owens, of the FIBI, travelled to Abbeyfeale to present Muireann with her prize.
“ What has surprised us,” he said,” is both the spread of competitors across the country, and above all the extraordinarily high standard being achieved.” And he paid tribute to the country’s history teachers, among them, Muireann’s teacher, Mary Walsh -Foley.
Explaining the idea behind the competition, now in its third year, Mr Owens said; “We wanted to pass on the ideals and sense of the Brigaders’ commitment and especially of solidarity, to today’s youth who are growing up in a world where it’s s all about “ me”, where union membership has fallen, and when many feel that we are no longer citizens but consumers.”
Muireann and her mother Joan will be put up in a four-star hotel and will also meet up with delegations from Germany, Britain, USA, France, Italy and other countries.
In September, Muireann will also take part in a weekend organised by the Limerick branch of Friends of the International Brigades.