La Pasionaria – the story of Dolores Ibárruri

La Pasionaria

Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria) -addressing a huge rally at Madrid in 1936.

On Friday 4th August at 2.15, local historian, Anne Twomey will speak of the life of Dolores Ibárruri known as “La Pasionaria”, the Passion Flower. This talk forms part of an afternoon and evening of events devoted to an examination of the issues and lessons of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and events devoted to some of the Irish people who fought in the International Brigades.

Dolores Ibárruri was born into a mining family in Gallarta in the Basque country in Northern Spain in 1895. In a curious similarity to the early life personal tragedy of Mother Jones, Dolores trained as a dressmaker, poverty prevented her from becoming a teacher although she almost completed her studies. She married a miner, Julian Ruiz from Asturias in 1915. They had six children, five girls and a boy including triplets, however four of those died soon after birth, while her son Ruben died during the Second World War in the Soviet Union.

Monument in Glasgow

Monument to Dolores Ibarruri (La Pasionaria) in Glasgow by sculptor Arthur Dooley (Photo Ciaran Roarty via Wikimedia Commons)

Born a Catholic, she became a member of the Spanish Communist Party (PCE) in 1921 and wrote extensively in miners’ newspapers. Becoming more prominent in the party she was known for her fiery and passionate speeches, which aroused great loyalty among her supporters. Dolores was elected from the Asturias to the Spanish parliament (the Cortes) in 1936.

She was centrally involved in many of the events leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War. Known as La Pasionaria (The Passion Flower) she oversaw the emergence of the Spanish Communist Party into a central role during the war. She was to the forefront in the struggles with the anarchists during the initial stages of the war. Fleeing Spain in 1939, she eventually arrived in the Soviet Union where she assisted with the war effort through the 40s. She lived in Moscow and was well regarded and close to the Soviet regime, including Stalin. Serving as General Secretary of the PCE for many years from 1942 to 1960, she stayed in the Soviet Union until 1977 and met all the major communist and socialist leaders across the world.

In the meantime Dolores was involved in establishing an underground resistance in Spain to Franco, which achieved little success in the initial decades due to much internal conflict and the total control of Spain by the Franco government. On her return to Spain, she was re-elected to Parliament but suffered from ill-health and retired from active politics. She died in November 1989, aged 93 years. (the same age as Mother Jones!)

Anne Twomey

Cork Historian and author Anne Twomey

 

She is best remembered publicly for her broadcast on Madrid Radio in November 1936, where in another echo of history she exhorted the defenders of the besieged city that “It is better to die on your feet than live for ever on your knees! They shall not pass!” “No Pasarán” became the battle-cry of Madrid and the besieged Republic.  Later in October 1938, she delivered her passionate message of appreciation to the departing members of the International Brigades which is still much quoted.

 

 

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The Revolutionary Women of Cork’s Northside 1916-1923

On Wednesday evening, the 3rd August, Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group will speak on the above topic at the 2017 Spirit of Mother Jones summer school.

Anne Twomey

Anne Twomey of Shandon Area History Group speaking at last year’s Spirit of Mother Jones Festival

The recent celebrations of the 1916 Rising were marked by an examination of the central role played by many women during the period of the Irish Revolution. In contrast to 1966, when little mention was made, publications such as “No Ordinary Women: Irish Females Activists in the Revolutionary Years 1900-1923” by Sinead McCoole and John Borgonovo in his “Dynamics of War and Revolution: Cork City, 1916-1918” made determined attempt to reveal the story of the contribution of women during this period.

The landmark exhibition by the Shandon Area History Group “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary times” at the St Peters Vision Centre in Cork in June 2016, concentrated on the activities of ten women in Cork whose roles lay largely hidden.

badge

Cumann na mBan lapel badge

Through their efforts and others the full extent of the invisible yet essential infrastructure provided by women which supported the ongoing revolution from 1916 all over Ireland is being unveiled.

With Cork becoming the cockpit of the revolution from 1917 onwards, a number of extremely determined yet forgotten (or ignored) women constructed an impenetrable yet vital support network to the struggle for independence then taking place. Their pivotal and defiant actions, deemed almost irrelevant by history more concerned with the glory of the battle is slowly emerging into the consciousness of their communities.

Anne Twomey at a recent lecture where she detailed the tireless and heroic work of those revolutionary women remarked how “those that knew…..knew!” Now we need to know!

Memorial Window

Stained glass window at Our Lady of Lourdes church, Ballinlough, Cork in memory of Birdie Conway.

The Shandon Cumann Na mBan group after 1916 provides a touchstone for many of the women. At the centre of this group was Lil Conlon and her sisters. Lil was an indefatigable worker who performed many tasks during the troubled period and later penned a book Cumann Na mBan and the Women of Ireland 1913-1925 in which she posed the question “What did the women of Ireland do anyway?”

Lil Conlon book

Lil Conlon’s book on Cumann na mBan (published 1969)

Kate “Birdie” Conway, whose early career was as a professional operatic singer, later became a founder member in Cork of Cumann Na mBan and afterwards Shandon Branch president, played a huge role from 1914 to 1922. Her fundraising, her organising and support activities for prisoners’ dependents and in the cultural area were legendary. She arranged concerts, and often sang at them herself. “Birdie” Conway passed away on 21st February 1936. Today she is remembered by a magnificent stain glass window in the entrance portal at the Ballinlough Church in Cork city.

In Clogheen, on the northern ridge of the city, Mary Bowles was arrested in January 1921 as she tried to hide a Lewis gun while local men escaped from an attempted ambush. She suffered dreadfully at the hands of her captors, and was imprisoned although just a very young teenage girl. She is remembered in a ballad “Mary Bowles… the Pride of Sweet Clogheen

Across in Blackpool, Peg Duggan and her sisters Sarah and Annie, living at 49 Thomas Davis Street, operated an escape network for those on the run for years. Her flower shop on Parliament Street was a centre of Volunteer/IRA activity until closed by order of the British authorities. She was among the first on the scene of the murder of Lord Mayor Tomas MacCurtain in Blackpool on 20th March 1920 and she rendered first aid and comfort for his widow, children and the extended Walsh family throughout that terrifying night.

Emma Hourigan who lived nearby at 45 Maddens Buildings was very active, running intelligence, putting up posters, campaigning and organising. Yet six of her neighbours from Maddens Buildings consisting of just 76 houses were killed during World War 1. Historian Mark Cronin (Blackpool to the Front: A Cork Suburb and Ireland’s Great War 1914-1918) details how hundreds of young men from Blackpool and surrounds had fought in the British Army during the Great War and almost 70 never came home.

Emma Hourigan

Emma Hourigan

From this small Blackpool community one begins to appreciate the complexity of Irish life and history in a small urban village and the difficulties faced by Emma Hourigan and others who bravely took the republican road to freedom. By a sad irony the contributions of the women in the War of Independence and the men who went to fight for John Redmond to achieve Home Rule were virtually written out of Irish history.

In the very heart of Cork City in St Augustine Street stood the innocuous paper shop run by the Wallace sisters who were members of the Irish Citizen Army. This unpretentious premises was effectively the intelligence post office for the volunteers and the IRA for 5/6 years. Nora and Sheila Wallace’s heroic and invisible contribution to the revolution is only now surfacing from the shadows.

Wallace Sisters

Sheila and Julia Wallace

Margaret Lucey typed drafts of Principles of Freedom by Terence MacSwiney, while MacSwiney’s sisters Mary and Annie spent their entire lives working for the achievement of a Republic.

Young Kitty Daly was very active, she took part in the burning of Macroom Railway Station and was involved in the ambush of a British officer near the present St. John’s School.

Geraldine Sullivan (Neeson), was Muriel Murphy’s bridesmaid at her marriage to Terence MacSwiney on 9th June 1917. She transported explosives on her person around the city. The transport of arms and explosives from place to place became normal for the more active women in 1920-1921.

In 5 Devonshire Street, Nora O’Sullivan was actively involved and bravely hid and carried weapons for volunteers, who were subject to constant searches. Sinead McCoole’s book contains a curious self-prophetic note made by Nora to her friend Kitty Coyle, while a prisoner in Kilmainham Gaol during the Civil War….

“Remember me is all I ask,

and if remembrance proves a task,

forget”

 

Their unique stories will be told on Wednesday evening 3rd August by Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group. The Group has made a major contribution to public history by researching and continuing to tell the story of these extraordinary women and others during the Irish Revolutionary period. The Cork Mother Jones Committee wishes to thank Anne Twomey and Maeve Higgins for their research on which this article is based. Photos courtesy of the Shandon Area History Group except where stated.

The Extraordinary Wallace Sisters

Wallace Sisters

Sisters Sheila (left) and Nora Wallace

The story of extraordinary Wallace Sisters will be told by Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History Group on Saturday 30th July at 2.30pm at the Maldron Hotel.

Now a lifeless vehicular short cut, St. Augustine Street in Cork City is barely noticed by many people these days.An unprepossessing street, it has in recent years becomean alleywaylocated between the Queens Old Castle and McHugh House linking the Grand Parade to South Main Street.It was formerly known as Brunswick Street, acknowledged on the old street nameplate on the western side.

One might be surprised to learn that many of the most famous names in the revolutionary Ireland 1915 to 1922 came and went with regularity through this street. For at number 13 Brunswick St (later 4 St. Augustine St.) was located the small shop of Sheila and Nora Wallace. During the War of Independence these firm engaging sisters went about their day to day shop keeping business and provided a perfect cover for what was a vast beehive of revolutionary activity emanating in their shop.

Former Wallace shop

No.4 St. Augustine’s Street, Cork shortly before its demolition in the 1970s.

Located behind their small traditionally fronted tobacconist and newspaper shop with holy pictures and statues in the window and labour pamphlets on the shelves lay nothing less than the Head Quarters of the Cork No 1 Brigade of the Irish Volunteers and I.R.A.It was effectively the intelligence centre of the IRA where messages were efficiently received and delivered by a huge network of women and men…..in effect an IRA intelligence General Post Office!

Even more amazing is that the shop on St Augustine Street was located just 250 metres from the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks at Tuckey St and the Bridewell barracks on the Coal Quay and yet remained undetected by the Crown forces for a long time.

James Connolly visited the Wallace sisters on his visit to Cork when he spoke about military tactics at a meeting organised by Tadhg Barry in January 1916. They were friendly with Constance Markievicz of the Irish Citizen Army and both the sisters were members of the I.C.A. Historian John Borgonovo has recounted how they organised a youth and Women’s Citizen Army in Cork which lasted until 1921 and took part in many parades involving the labour movement during the period. Labour organiser and socialist Cathal O’Shannon lodged over their shop for the period while he worked in Cork.

One of the last official acts of Lord Mayor Tomás MacCurtain was to visit the Wallace shop late on Friday night 19th March 1920. Florence O’ Donoghue, then Head of Intelligence, recounted how Tomás then left the shop with the recently elected Alderman Tadhg Barry about 11pm that night. Just a few hours later the Lord Mayor of Cork was murdered by R.I.C. men in the family quarters overhead his own shop at 40 Thomas Davis Street in Blackpool.

There is a family account how MacCurtain’s successor in office Terence MacSwiney, a regular caller to the Wallaces, went behind the counter and even sold a newspaper and a packet of cigarettes to a customer shortly before his arrest in August 1920, as the Wallace sisters were busy at the particular time. Muriel MacSwiney, his wife, in her December 1951 deposition to the Bureau of Military History mentionshow early on she became aware of “a little newspaper shop kept by the Misses Wallace, who were later connected to The Citizen Army”.

Sheila and Nora both worked in the shop and lived overhead at the time and the room behind was regularly used for Volunteer and I.R.A. Brigade meetings. Sheila held the formal rank of Staff Officer as Brigade Communications officer, this was quite unique and she was possibly the only female officer of rank in the I.R.A. She was awarded a pension of £55-16-8 under the Military Pension Act from October 1934 and her rank was confirmed.This rank is alsoinscribed on her gravestone in St. Finbarr’s Cemetery. Later on the shop was raided several times and was finally closed by order of the British Military dated 14th May 1921 and the sisters were expelled from Cork city.

It reopened immediately after the Truce, indeed Liam Deasy then Adjutant of the First Southern Division recalled a jovial meeting at the premises on 12th July 1921 with the officers of the First Cork Brigade and Tom Barry. As the sisters took the anti-treaty side in the Civil war, it was raided regularly by the Free State forces. Later on the sisters lived on the Old Youghal Road.

Anne Twomey

Historian Anne Twomey who will talk about the Wallace Sisters on 30th July.

The years of “working in impossible conditions”, carrying despatches in all weathers and the associated stress took a heavy toll on the sisters. This was recorded in their military service pension applications in 1934. Sheila died on 14th April 1944, on the Friday of Easter week.It was acknowledged by the Pensions Board that Nora who had developed tuberculosis in the 20s and spent some time in Switzerland, acquired her illness due to her exposure to all conditions of weather, wet and cold due to her intense activities, while acting as an intelligence agent. Nora    traded on at the shopuntil 1960. She passed away on 17th September 1970.

The premises was later used as a bookmakers shop and later still a dressmakers. The shop which appeared on a drawing by artist Brian Lawlor dated May 1974 in his book “Cork” appears to have been demolished sometime in the 1970s.

 

Anne Twomey of the Shandon Area History group will give an account of the story of the Wallace Sisters on Saturday afternoon 30th July at 2.30 in the Maldron Hotel. All welcome to attend and participate in the discussion afterwards.

The Shandon Area History group organised an unique exhibition entitled “Ordinary Women in Extraordinary Times” featuring remarkable women from the area and their contribution to the War of Independence at the St. Peter’s Church in North Main Street. in June 2016.