by Lynda Walker
“THIS TRIBUTE to Mick O’Riordan is something I have wanted to do for a long time,” said Christy Moore. “Without Mick I’d never have been able to write Viva la Quince Brigada. I must have performed the song over a thousand times and every single time I think of Mick and wonder how I can ever thank him enough.
“Then one day the answer came. I was in Connolly Books and saw Mick at the back of the shop. ‘That’s it’, I said to myself, ‘I can sing for him!’”
And no better place to do it than in the New Theatre, behind Connolly Books in Dublin.
And so began an historic evening -- coincidentally on Burns Night, by Christy Moore and friends, a tribute not only to Mick O’Riordan, but to all the comrades of the International Brigade.
It was also a tribute to the people of Cuba, as the evening’s proceeds went to Medical Aid for Cuba, chosen by Michael and his son Manus.
Christy began with John O Dreams, Jarama Valley and Viva la Quince Brigada, with its stirring lines: “No Pasaran! the pledge that made them fight. Adelante! was the cry around the hillside, let us all remember them tonight.”
The audience sang along in an evening that was gentle and informal, but charged with emotion.
When I received my invitation I had just begun reading Christy’s book One Voice, and I was having conversations with Christy in bed (in my head!) about the experiences we shared -- not least that we both knew Michael O’Riordan and Peter O’Connor, another comrade and Spanish civil war veteran.
When I first met Peter he told me that whenever Christy was playing in Waterford he would always visit the O’Connor home.
I cannot remember the first time I met Michael, but I will never forget the time I took him a bottle of Bush, when he was in hospital in Moscow waiting for an eye operation.I had the feeling that I was doing something wrong, but he gave me the impression that I had saved him.
Christy also sang They Never Came Home, a song about the 48 children who died in Dublin in the St Valentine’s Night fire at the Star Dust club -- and banned because it referred to chained fire exits.
Each and every one of those young people matters, but the song is all the more poignant because one of those who died was the younger brother of John Hobbs. John and his wife Madge were comrades of Michael O’Riordan, and Mick always stayed with them whenever he visited Belfast.
Madge Davison, from one of the most loyalist of areas in North Belfast: a woman so committed to a united country and people. The same Madge who drove the well-oiled machine of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association.
It was Madge who put into place the monument for the Bloody Sunday victims in Derry, after cancelling the first one because it was made of South African granite.
There were other connections, too: Bob Doyle, another Spanish civil war veteran, stayed with me in Belfast, and even canvassed for the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, and Peggy Seeger, whom Christy knew.
I helped organise a concert in Belfast in 1980 at which Peggy and her son Niall performed. Christy eventually joined the audience to listen to a host of other singers, among them Jimmy Kelly and Tom Crean, who sang The Peat Bog Soldiers, whose origin in the nazi concentration camps was explained by Jimmy.
Frank Harte performed a song about the Spanish civil war, written by Joe Mulheron from Derry, and Hans Spiemler Commissar, a song about a German anti-fascist.
We also heard Brenda O’Riordan, Michael’s daughter, who sang, beautifully, two songs in Irish. Two other singers who evoked strong memories were Joe Deasey, who sang O’Casey’s A Bunch Of Red Roses, and Tom Geraghty, who performed Partisans, about Lenin and the cossacks.
Ken Shellard sat beside John McGrotty, brother of Eamon, of whom Chritsy wrote: “From Derry came a brave young Christian brother, side by side they fought and died in Spain”.
Ken Shellard, nephew of the Reverend Bob Hilliard, related the story of how he had been invited by Manus O’Riordan: “So I said: ‘I play the organ and I will have to cancel the choir practice’, so said Manus: ‘didn’t your uncle have to cancel his whole ministry?’”
Ken sang two of Thomas Moore’s songs with passion, one of which had such relevant lines for Bob Hilliard and Eamon McGrotty who died at Jarama:
“Shall I ask the brave soldier who fights by my side, in the cause of mankind, if our creeds agree? Shall I give up a friend I have valued and tried, if he kneel not before the same alter with me?”
Manus O’Riordan made several contributions, including the powerful El Necio (The Fool) by Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodriguez.
Annette, Manus’ wife, sang the Scottish song Pull Hard Against the Stream, Lovely, and Manus, Brenda, and Annette were joined by Michael’s grandchildren Luke and Jessica in the original Spanish version of Viva la Quince Brigada.
It was to Cuba, a brave country in need of solidarity, that the O’Riordan family gave the donations that had been made on the night, and Dr David Hickey of Medical Aid was presented with £2,600, watched by Teresita Trujillo, charge d’affairs for the Cuban embassy in Ireland.
Finally, Michael O’Riordan himself recounted the time that someone he knew had organised his own wake in advance of him dying, because he “wanted to see who would be there for it, in any event I was not invited”
And that -- 'those not invited’, the comrades who for one reason or another could not be there -- was the one major sadness.
Luke O’Riordan produced the programme, which contained these words from Christy: “A message from me! D’ye want to destroy the man? A message from me would be as good as a message from Mars. Michael O’Riordan is his own message. He has all the decent and daring qualifications to represent the people; therefore he’ll find it damned hard to win a way for them.”
And these from Sean O’Casey, written in May 1951: “He looks a sturdy lad, as, of course, those who fought for Republican Spain were sturdy lads. He has nothing to sell but his soul, and he isn’t likely to do that; though he’ll be told he’ll lose it by holding on to it.”
Among those in the audience were Eugene McCarten and Jimmy Stewart, general secretary and chair of the Communist Party of Ireland, as well as Peter O’Connor’s daughter Tina; Sean Edwards, son of the Spanish civil war veteran; Edwina Stewart, a past secretary of NICRA, and Margaret and her husband cllr.Declan Bree from Sligo.
I leave you with the words that I feel say it all: “The Darker the Night the Brighter the Stars”. We have the world to win for humankind.
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Copyright © 2002 Lynda Walker