Irish community parades in Liverpool: Destroying the myth of sectarianism

I enjoyed another day out on Saturday just gone when members of the Irish community honoured the memory of the approx 200 volunteers from the Merseyside area, many of them Liverpool Irish, who joined the International Brigades to fight fascism in the Spanish Civil War. A good crowd of up 500 people together with Republican Flute Bands from Liverpool, Scotland and Wales ensured that the event successfully made its way through Liverpool City Centre and  remembered with dignity and pride the sacrifices made by those volunteers so long ago. They inspire us to this day and remind us of the continued need to fight against intolerance and fascists politics.

As what now seems to be customary, the event drew out the combined efforts of both paramilitary fascists (National Front, Combined Ex-Forces and Infidels of Britain) and members of Liverpool’s Orange/Loyalist community. Although smaller in numbers, the fascists/loyalists were happy again to challenge marchers with racist and sectarian abuse, sing sectarian songs and behave like like characters off the Jeremy Kyle Show! They really do have no shame….in fact they are quite shameless and an embarrassment to this great city and its people.


Liverpool – Saturday 13th October 2012

But more seriously, Saturday’s events highlight the cementing of relationships between fascists nationally and local Liverpool Orange/Loyalists. This year has seen CXF regularly attend loyalist band parades, and Orange and Apprentice Boys parades in the city, with CXF proudly boasting this through social media. This is clearly an attempt by the far Right to broaden its support base and quite naturally, the bigots of English Loyalism and Orangeism with their historical racist hatred of Irish Catholics, Irish nationalism and republicanism is a fertile place to propagate their fascist views and gain support. The fascists have been quite clever in gaining support by classing every Irish community street event in Liverpool this year as being ‘IRA Marches’ and of course Loyalists/Orange Order have taken it hook, line and sinker. Fascists, while acknowledging their limited leadership skills,  have found it easy to pull the strings of local loyalists into swelling their numbers on Liverpool protests against Irish community events in Liverpool. Both the July March Against Fascism and last Saturdays events saw the majority of those opposing the march coming from Liverpool’s loyalist/Orange community. The far right have had precious little to campaign about in Liverpool for several years, failed in local electioneering and the idea of demonising Irish community events as somehow being associated with the now defunct IRA has proved an easy way of making links and networking with potential recruits. In the end these fascists are attacking everything they perceive to be ‘unBritish’ and as the Irish community would largely not describe itself in terms of ‘Britishness’ we are an obvious target, despite the relatively peaceful environment that Irish community parades experienced in Liverpool since the late 1990’s.

CXF member with Loyalist band member July 2012, Derry Club Liverpool

From what I’ve ever experienced of Irish community parades in Liverpool, they have neither been sectarian or racist in nature. In fact, any Irish parades I’ve ever witnessed have either been of a cultural nature (St Patrick’s Day etc) or Commemorative/campaigning. For instance Irish flute bands in Liverpool over the years have the led the Striking Dockers march in Liverpool 1997, annually led the Merseyside May Day March, countless marches supporting Irish Unity, remembering the Irish Hunger Strikers of 1981, or supporting anti racist (Anthony Walker March) and antifascists demonstrations. Of course, Irish flute bands have been to the fore over the last 15 years in ensuring the legacy of James Larkin, Liverpool Irish Trade Unionist, is remembered to this day. So it would seem ironic that given the dedication of members of the Irish community in supporting all progressive events in Liverpool over the years and Irish community street presence being the focus of attempted attacks by racists and fascists, I am now embarrased to say, that sections of the broader Labour/Left  in Liverpool are hinting that the actual victims of racist and fascist abuse are somehow to blame for their own predicament? No you heard it right, the Labour/Left is not expressing concern about a minority community in this city that has been targeted for racist and sectarian abuse by fascists and the loyalist/Orange community, but instead  blaming the presence of peaceful and legal Irish community parades/marches for stoking up sectarianism and the old ‘orange vs green’ battle. I’m flabbergasted to say the least and I’m sure you are too.

But this is not new to us as members of the Irish community in Liverpool. A section of the Liverpool Labour Movement has always had protestant/orange roots that it never really managed to shake off, for example, exemplified  by Liverpool Militant during the 1980’s which would avoid discussing the ‘Irish Question’ for fear of alienating some its supporters and activists and more surprisingly, the actor Ricky Tomlinson often seen as being left wing, is a prime example of one coming from a Protestant/Orange working class  background who always supported Loyalism/Ulster Unionism and remains so to this day. I really do feel embarrassed for having to highlight this whispers and information that I am now hearing and that has been confirmed to me by emails.

In simple terms, those in the labour/left  in Liverpool involved in this way of thinking should really be ashamed of themselves. They really do need to be outed for what they are i.e bedfellows of fascists and racists by default, and by not showing support for members of the Irish community who have been the victims of fascists and loyalists they can neither call themselves anti-racists or antifascists. It is quite clear as I’ve outlined above that the  experience of Irish community parades/marches has been one of  racist attacks by fascists and members of the Loyalist/Orange community and not sectarian. How clear does this need to be stated? Historically, James Connolly, James Larkin and other great leaders of the Irish Labour Movement have been exasperated by the failure of the British Labour Movement to properly support Ireland. Sadly, today it seems that the Irish community in Liverpool can expect the same lack of support and that the British Labour Movement is well and truly integrated with the British State and its institutions.


Fascists? What Fascists? Merseyside’s International Brigaders highlight hypocrisy of Liverpool’s Left……..


On Saturday 15th September 2012 I was at a very packed Casa Bar for the opening of a photographic exhibition remembering the approximately 200 men from Merseyside who fought in the International Brigades for the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists 1936-1939. It was a very good meeting, especially with the surviving family members of late volunteers. The sacrifice of those volunteers was proudly remembered and finished off with a rousing chorus of the Internationale (above).

Of note, several speakers spoke about the very real sacrifices made by these volunteers who made no financial gain from their ventures, but who rightly saw the need to confront and defeat fascism wherever it manifested itself. However, time and time again, speakers spoke about what the volunteers would do in today’s world and how they would be confronting the ConDem Government’s policy of attacking the working class. However, what was noticeable was the almost complete lack of acknowledgement of this years attacks against the Irish Community including Trade Unionists by the fascists of the Combined Ex-Forces, National Front, Infidels of Britain, English Defence League and Liverpool’s Loyalist/orange community. Only one speaker from the International Brigades Memorial Trust specifically mentioned Liverpool’s current threat from Fascists. It was shameful to say the least, especially for those members of Liverpool’s Irish community who were present in large numbers at the event that this was the case. Shameful even more so given that many of those volunteers from Merseyside originated from Liverpool’s Irish community in the first place and shameful again that it would surely be a given that these men would have been out on Liverpool’s street’s this year confronting fascism and protecting the right of Liverpool’s diverse communities and Trade Unionist’s to peacefully organise at a street level??? The hypocrisy of those speakers who ignored this was truly abhorrent to say the least and highlights the very real ‘head in the sand’ approach by some in the British left in Liverpool.

Many speakers made specific mention of the life and legacy of Frank Deegan, Liverpool-Irish Volunteer and i re-produce below an excellent interview with Frank Deegan from the Irish Post Newspaper and leave you to decide where Frank would be in these times…drinking pints in The Casa while progressive events are being attacked by fascists?? Somehow I think not……….


Brothers in Arms

Irish Post, August 30 1986

Tony Birtill has been talking with Liverpool Irishman Frank Deegan, who, half a century ago, fought in the Spanish Civil War.

Fifty years ago this summer, General Franco led the Spanish army officers in a revolt against the Republican Popular Front government, which had been elected the previous February. Thus started the Spanish Civil War, a complex and bloody conflict which was to drag on for three years.

Newspapers like the Irish Independent and The Daily Mail represented it as a struggle between Christian civilisation and Godless Communism. However, this was far from the truth. The Communist Party had only a handful of seats in the Popular Front government, which mainly consisted of Socialists, left-wing Republicans and other radicals and regional groups. The Basques, who were probably the most fervently Catholic people in the patchwork of nations known as Spain, were also the most determined supporters of the Republican government. Franco, on the other hand, numbered among his allies the Moors from Spanish Morocco as well as regular troops from Fascist Italy and Germany.


The democratically elected Republican government attracted support from all over the world and thousands flocked to join the International Brigades. The Irish were heavily represented in the Brigades. Frank Ryan, veteran of the Tan War and the Republican side I the Irish Civil War, led the contingent of 80 which travelled to Spain from Ireland in November 1936.

Other Irish, like Paddy Roe McLaughlin from Donegal, and the three ‘fighting O’Flaherty brothers’ from Boston travelled from the United States. Thomas Patton of Achill and William Barry of Dublin came via Melbourne. [In case anyone misreads this part, Patten travelled from Britain, not Australia, CC] And there were those like Frank Deegan, Paddy O’Daire and Tommy O’Brien who travelled from Liverpool.

I spoke to Frank Deegan the other evening after his weekly Merseyside Pensioners’ Association meeting in the Transport and General Workers’ Union HQ in Liverpool. He is now 76 but still very sprightly. The Pensioners’ Association, he informed me, ‘is not a bingo outfit or a tea and buns gathering, but a very political campaigning organisation open to all OAPs willing to fight for an improvement to their lot.’

I could see from the outset that Frank Deegan’s views had not gone soft over the years. He told me that he was born in Bootle, at the north end of Liverpool. His father was from Portlaoise and came to Liverpool in 1894 when he was 17 years of age. His mother was born in Bootle, her parents being from Cloghough, near Newry.

Frank was one of 11 children – six daughters and five sons. Three of the boys died in infancy. His father worked as a casual dock labourer and then in an iron foundry, often for 18 hours a day in order to provide for the 10 of them in the two-up, two-down house.

When Frank was 19, TP O’Connor, the Irish National Party MP in Liverpool died and this marked the end of that party in Liverpool, where it has been founded by John Denvir and Isaac Butt, and had once been the main opposition party on the City Council. Frank Deegan’s political energies were, however, attracted in another direction.

‘The Unemployed Workers’ Movement was the most active and important political movement in Liverpool in the Thirties,’ he said. ‘I was much involved in its activities, including the Liverpool to London hunger march in 1936.’

The poverty and unemployment of those years led Frank into the Communist Party in 1931, being recruited by Owen Kelly. ‘The docks and Bootle branches of the CP were nearly all Liverpool Irish; Leo McGree, Joe Byrne, Albert McCabe, Alec McKechnie, and ever so many more. In the docks area, the working class community was often 75% Irish and they were great rebels,’ he recalled.

At the same time as Frank Ryan, Peadar O’Donnell and the Republican Congress in Ireland were denounced as ‘red monsters’, the CP and the Unemployed Workers’ Movement were similarly denounced in Liverpool. ‘We were regarded as people with two heads and horns protruding from both,’ said Frank. ‘When Joe Byrne, a practising Roman Catholic, stood as a Communist in the Council election in my ward, the Labour Party ran a religious campaign for its candidate, Bill Keenan, even though he was a professed atheist. Nevertheless, Keenan won.’

In the autumn of 1936, when Frank Ryan was organising the Irish contingent for Spain, Frank Deegan was coming to blows with Fascists closer to home. Oswald Moseley held a rally in Liverpool’s boxing stadium. The first speaker was William Joyce, later to become known as Lord Haw Haw. ‘When I heard him my Irish blood boiled over,’ said Frank, ‘and I got up and started heckling. The Blackshirt stewards grabbed me and used me as a battering ram against the locked doors!’

The anti-Fascists that day were led by another young Communist. James Larkin Jones, who was, as Jack Jones, to become general secretary of the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers’ Union in the Sixties. ‘He was always known as JL in the Thirties,’ said Frank, ‘we never called him Jack. He got that name after the war.’

Frank and JL were active together in the struggle against unemployment and Fascism in Liverpool; fought together in the Spanish Civil War; worked together in the TGWU when Jones was general secretary and Frank was a shop steward on Liverpool docks; and are now active together in the TGWU retired members’ association.

Jones’ parents were militant trade unionists – his father being a member of the National Union of Dock Labourers, His mother’s family was Irish. When their son was born during the great Dublin lockout of 1913, the Jones’s gave him the Christian names of James Larkin.

It was in May 1937 that Frank Deegan decided to go to Spain. ‘My best pal, Barney Mumford, had already gone to join the International Brigades and the newspapers were full of news from the Battle of Jarama.’

It was in that battle that the leader of the Irish section of the British battalion, Kit Conway, from the Glen of Aherlow, was shot dead as the Internationals retreated from Franco’s advancing Moorish troops. (The Internationals were divided along language lines – some of the Irish ended up in the British Battalion, while others, like Tommy O’Brien, were in the American Lincoln battalion.)

Frank Ryan then took command of the battered and depleted Battalion and, aided by Jock Cunningham, a Glasgow-Irishman, rallied the men. Singing the Internationale, the Battalion – swelled by French, Belgians and Spanish – stormed their previous positions, driving back the Moors.

There were, of course, Irish fighting on the Fascist side. General Eoin O’Duffy had organised 500 men to fight for Franco. They left Galway on a ship flying the Swastika at the same time as Frank Ryan was departing with his men. O’Duffy’s contingent was mobilised for the Battle of Jarama, but their first engagement ended in farce when a Francoist Canary Islands unit, mistaking them for Internationals because of their foreign uniforms and language, opened fire and killed two of them. The Irish pulled back and to man trenches and then lost four dead to republican artillery fire.

Frank Deegan arrived in Spain in June 1937 – the month O’Duffy’s men, disillusioned by their experiences, returned to Ireland. On his first day in Spain, Frank was enlisted in the International Brigade in an old fortress town of Figueras in the Pyrenees. Hundreds of men had passed through the fortress and had carved their names on the walls. Frank recognised many names from Liverpool and added his own, pointing out that ‘I was Liverpool-Irish.’

Soon he was among friends, including two outstanding commanders. Peter Daly from Wexford and Paddy O’Daire from Glenties, Co. Donegal. ‘In fact I knew Paddy before Spain as he lived in Bootle for a couple of years. We had been involved in the unemployed movement together’, he recalled. ‘When Peter Daly was commandant of the British Battalion, Paddy was his adjutant. Other Irishmen I got to know were Mick Lehane and the brothers Paddy and Tom Murphy. Jim Larne used to lecture us on the history of the Irish republican movement and the struggle for freedom. Then, of course, there were the Power brothers from Limerick – John, Paddy and Willy.’ [CC – they were really from Waterford.]

Both Peter Daly and Paddy O’Daire fought at Jarama. Frank Deegan fist saw action at the battle of Brunete in July 1937. Some time afterwards, at Quinto on the Aragon front, he first met Frank Ryan: ‘He was a stocky, powerfully built man who was somewhat deaf. Some years later when my wife, Ellen, was expecting our first child, she was attended by a doctor in Liverpool named Ryan. Later, when I visited my dentist, H J Madden, a real old Irish rebel, he told me that Dr Ryan was Frank Ryan’s brother. Unfortunately, he had died in the interim.’

The fighting was particularly heavy at Quinto and Frank Deegan and his friend Albert McCabe were caught in machinegun fire. ‘Albert was killed instantly and I was wounded in the knee. When I made my way to the doctor, I found him attending our commander, Peter Daly, who had a serious wound. A few days later I heard that Peter had died. He was a very courageous soldier.’


He saw action at Teruel and Belchite, before disaster at Calcite on Thursday, March 31, 1938, when a column of Internationals walked around a bend in the road and into a cluster of Italian tanks. Over 100 Internationals were killed, and many others, including Frank Ryan and Joe Byrne, captured. Others like Frank Deegan and John Power from Waterford wandered for days through the Aragon countryside with no food and only what water they could find. Frank remembers nine awful days in that no-man’s land. But in time he made it back to his own lines.

In September 1938, Frank Deegan heard that Socialist Prime Minister Juan Negrin in a desperate and unsuccessful attempt to persuade the League of Nations to persuade Hitler and Mussolini to withdraw their troops from Spain, had agreed to pull the International Brigades out of action. ‘Fighting was so fierce at the time that I only heard on the day we were supposed to have left. I was at the front line at the time and was told by one of our lads. I remember remarking that it was still going to be a long day,’ Frank recalled.

A few hours later he was badly wounded by a hand grenade. But he had mended by the time he left for home in December of that year.

He wasn’t long back in Liverpool before he met Paddy Roe McLaughlin. Paddy had fought in the Tan War and the Irish Civil War, served in the New York National guard and had fought in Spain with the James Connolly section of the American Lincoln Battalion. Paddy’s best friend in Spain was Liam Tumilson, a Belfast Protestant Republican who had accompanied the Shankill Road delegation to the Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, in 1934. Paddy had the sad duty of writing to his fiancée, Kathleen Walsh.

When Paddy left Spain, he settled in Liverpool and afterwards married Kathleen. ‘Paddy was very committed to the Irish cause and sold the Irish Democrat until he died,’ said Frank.

By an old quirk of fate, Paddy’s eldest son, Mick, became a Fascist – eventually becoming leader of the British Movement in the seventies. Frank Deegan remarked how strange it was to see on television an unemployed Liverpool-Irish milkman receiving Nazi salutes from ranks of London skinheads. Mick has, however, retired from such activities and now runs an army surplus store in Wales.

In 1981 Channel 4 brought Frank Deegan back to Spain for the making of its series on the Civil War. ‘It was very moving visiting all the old battlefields. On May Day I was in Barcelona and was able to march with the Catalan veterans,’ he said.

One thing Frank was not able to do was to visit the graves of his fallen comrades. He explained that, after his victory in 1939, Franco ordered that the graves of the fallen Internationals be desecrated – the bodies burned and the ashes scattered. Perhaps Franco was haunted by the words of Dolores Ibarruri (La Passionaria) to the departing Brigadiers: “Mothers! Women! Speak to your children. Tell them of the International Brigades. Tell them how they gave up everything and they came and told us ‘we are here. Your cause, Spain’s cause, is ours. It is the cause of all advanced and progressive mankind.’ Today they are going away. Many of them, thousands of them are staying, with the Spanish earth for their shroud.”

Of the 48,000 who served in the Brigades, 12,000 were killed, including 526 from the British Battalion. Despite the heavy losses, Frank Deegan still feels that going to Spain was the correct thing. ‘The defeat of the Spanish government was a step on the road to Fascism in Europe. World War 2 might have been avoided if Franco had been defeated. Mussolini and Hitler aided Franco to strengthen Fascism in Europe. They prepared for World War 2 in Spain.’

Frank is still very much involved in politics, as are many of his surviving comrades from the Brigades. Last month he was the principal organiser of a Communist Party meeting in Liverpool at which the main speaker was Silverio Riuz, a former Republican commander in Spain who spent 14 years in Franco’s jails.

Spain now has a Socialist government and Frank derives some satisfaction from that. But, in Liverpool, things haven’t changed. There, Frank’s battle still goes on.

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