Limerick festival to honour the men who fought Franco

Mike Dwane


Mike Dwane

Ger McCloskey, Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust, with Paul OConnell, Irish rugby captain and Limerick City of Culture board member
A MEMORIAL to the Limerick men who fought against Franco and fascism will be unveiled at City Hall next month as part of a festival celebrating local connections with the Spanish Civil War.

A MEMORIAL to the Limerick men who fought against Franco and fascism will be unveiled at City Hall next month as part of a festival celebrating local connections with the Spanish Civil War.

Even the Olives were Bleeding is a cultural festival - including music and food as well as historical discussion - that will take place at various venues around the city from September 12 to 14.

Grant-aided by Limerick City of Culture, the festival is an initiative of the Limerick International Brigades Memorial Trust (LIBMT), a group who are not affiliated to any political party but seek to honour those Limerick men who went to fight in defence of republican Spain in the 1930s.

Inspired by the bishops, a few dozen Limerick men followed the Blueshirt leader Eoin O’Duffy to fight for Franco but they were sent home without having seen action.

But the six Limerick men who fought against the fascists were right in the thick of the terrible conflict, according to research conducted by LIBMT. Frank Ryan from Elton is renowned by many in Spain for his heroism while Jim Woulfe from Athea and Emmett Ryan from the city never saw home again.

Telling their stories is one of the festival’s main objectives and these will be included in a book - From the Shannon to the Ebro - to be launched at the Mechanics Institute, Hartstonge Street, on the opening night of the festival, Friday, September 12.

Ger McCloskey, PRO of LIMBT, promises the publication will be “warts-and-all” - and in reality there was little heroic about Emmett Ryan’s death. He was “one of only two or three members of the international brigades” the official records say was executed by his own side - in his case relating to drunkenness.

Thought for many years to be a Tipperary man, research by LIMBT finds he had come out of Catherine Street, where his family ran the Desmond Hotel. Emmett’s brothers were involved in another civil war of sorts, one playing rugby for Munster and another for Leinster.

The Limerick man was accused of firing on his own men while drunk during fierce fighting at the Battle of the Ebro.

“It was not true that he fired on his own men. We have disproved that. But he was young and wild and given to drinking. They shouldn’t have executed him but they did,” said Mr McCloskey.

Nieces and nephews of Emmett Ryan’s are coming for the festival from as far away as the United States, Canada and Australia. LIMBT is also working with the family to repatriate Emmett Ryan’s remains to Limerick.

Another story in the book of local interest is that of British Army intelligence officer George Nathan, who served with former Irish foes in the international brigades. A number of historical accounts point to Nathan as the most likely assassin of Limerick’s murdered mayors, Clancy and O’Callaghan, during the war of Independence in 1921. Mr McCloskey said Irishmen in the international brigades had challenged Nathan on his actions during the dirty war back home but had settled their differences by the time Nathan died in combat in Spain.

Venues such as 69 O’Connell Street (formerly the Belltable), Clohessy’s and the Milk Market will host musical events featuring the likes of Andy Irvine, Mickey Dunne and other fine traditional musicians being put on for the many people travelling to Limerick from overseas.

Those coming from Spain will see the Spanish republican flag flown during the memorial unveiling on Sunday morning. Protestors carrying these flags in Spain during the recent coronation of King Felipe VI had been arrested so the Limerick event should be “hugely symbolic for them”, said Mr McCloskey.

But there is also the symbolism for Limerick itself. Limerick City Council was the first Irish local authority to recognise Franco as Spain’s legitimate ruler and had even sent the dictator flowers after the fall of Barcelona.

Limerick City and County Council - including the Fine Gael once led by General O’Duffy - was now supporting LIBMT in erecting the memorial and it was a measure “of how far we have travelled”, according to Mr McCloskey.

“It is not everybody’s political taste what we are doing but the politicians of Limerick have seen fit to allow this to go ahead because they are tolerant of other people’s views and I think that is a sign of the maturing of Limerick, something we are proud of and want to show everybody who is coming for the weekend,” he said.

For more information on the festival and the various events, visit