Eddie O’Neill (1915-2021)

August 9, 2021

Eddie O’Neill was born in the same County Tyrone neighborhood as the poet Charlie Donnelly (1914-1937), who was killed in action at Jarama while serving as a platoon leader with the James Connolly Section of the Abraham Lincoln Battalion.

Inspired by the sacrifice of his fellow countryman and fellow Irish Socialist Republican, Eddie set out to have Charlie Donnelly honored in both his birthplace and where he had fought at Jarama. He joined forces with the last surviving Irish International Brigade combatant Bob Doyle (1916-2009) – who had been incarcerated in San Pedro 1938-39 – in establishing the Friends of Charlie Donnelly, to raise funds for a memorial cairn, with the support of the Rivas Vaciamadrid municipal authorities. Success came in 2010, when this memorial was formally unveiled. Eddie went on to establish County Tyrone’s Charlie Donnelly Winter School. Determined to individually honor as many Irish International Brigaders as possible, the Friends of Charlie Donnelly was transformed into Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland (FIBI).

I met Eddie personally while attending several of the commemorative events he organized and coordinated. His research and preparation for these trips made it possible for me to deepen my understanding of the events that took place in Spain from 1936-1939, and to add my voice to those who would not let the memory and significance of those who came to the defense of the Spanish Republic be forgotten.

Founding FIBI President Eddie O’Neill
(1951-2021), with the FIBI banner, paying tribute to the International Brigade volunteers interred in Fuencarral cemetery, Madrid, in October 2016.

I first benefitted from Eddie’s hard work and planning when I was part of the FIBI delegation at the AABI 80th Anniversary commemorations in Andalusia in May 2016. We went to the newly rediscovered site of the IB American Hospital, and with the local authorities, installed plaques in towns in Southern Spain which had previously not had any memorials to the IB or the Spanish Republic. I particularly remember one afternoon when some recorded strains of a fascist anthem were coming from a balcony overlooking our ceremony. The pipers, accordionists and other musicians Eddie had gathered for our trip began to play hornpipes and reels, whose jaunty tempos beckoned us to spontaneously get up and dance within the village square, the joy and life affirming spirit of our group and those we honored drowning out the fascist sounds of darkness and oppression.

It was also a great privilege to attend the Charlie Donnelly Winter School in County Tyrone in March 2017, and lay flowers on behalf of ALBA at the memorial to Charlie Donnelly in his birthplace. See here for “Jarama” the song, where the Boikot video features several International Brigade memorials in Ireland itself, as well as the Charlie Donnelly memorial cairn at Rivas Vaciamadrid.

Another highlight for me was the FIBI delegation I participated in during AABI’s 80th anniversary Jarama commemoration in February 2017, which included two nights of FIBI-organized commemorative concerts in the municipality of Rivas Vaciamadrid, which adjoins the Jarama battlefield. At Rivas, we previewed the film, Jarama, with Eddie O’Neill being cited at the 14th minute in the closing credits. Click on the link below to view. In honor of the anniversary, Eddie had brought along musicians and singers from all over Ireland and Spain to create a true celebration of the spirit and legacy of the International Brigades. It motivated us all to keep on sharing and honoring their lessons of internationalism and unity. See here to view “Jarama” the film, with Eddie O’Neill being cited at the 14th minute in the closing credits.

Nancy Wallach and Kerry Flaherty carrying the Lincolns’ banner in Batea in May 2018, when Batea historian Aitor Garcia Sole brought the FIBI Ebro tour group to the place outside the town where the Brigadistas had repulsed a Fascist cavalry charge, as recounted by Hy Wallach.

Perhaps one of the events which had the greatest personal significance for me was the May 2018 FIBI-organized 80th anniversary Ebro commemorative tour which Eddie led and coordinated. Eddie had located a Batea historian, Aitor Garcia Sole, who had obtained local eye witness testimony regarding the area in which my father fought outside Batea, confirming my father’s own account of the battle there, whose memory the fascists have sought to eradicate. Eddie also arranged for our group to be among the first to visit the newly erected Merriman Memorial at Corbera, where I was able to pay tribute on behalf of the ALB. He took us to the IB graves of John Cookson and others who had been killed in battle, located outside Marsa and necessarily difficult to find because of the need to hide their location from the fascists when they were first established. I was able to deliver a Memorial Day address at this site. I shared this experience with the families of two Irish-American Lincolns who had been killed in action, whom Eddie had located and brought to Spain from their homes in Ireland and the United States.

My story is just one of many, of the people whose lives will have forever been enriched by the life of Eddie O’Neill. He personified the same conviction, courage, and anti-fascist commitment as the International Brigadistas whose lives he honored.

Both the Lincolns’ base at Darmos and the Corbera d’Ebre battlefield were among the places visited in May 2018, during the course of the 80th anniversary Ebro commemorative tour organized by Friends of the International Brigades in Ireland, and led by FIBI’s founding President Eddie O’Neill.
This photo was taken at the exact same spot in Darmos where Thomas O’Flaherty had been photographed 80 years previously. Travelling from the USA to commemorate their Uncle Thomas were Kerry (4th from left), Greg (3rd from right) and Mary Ellen Flaherty (2nd from right), with their spouses, and standing alongside other Lincoln Battalion relatives: Nancy (3rd from left), daughter of Hy Wallach, captured near Gandesa in April 1938; and Rod Delaney (centre), nephew of Andrew Delaney, killed in action between Batea and Gandesa in April 1938.