The Irish Brigadista

In Ireland there is a place called Morley’s Bridge and it is located

on the border between County Cork and Kerry. At this remote spot there

is a plaque in memory of a local man.

The plaque reads:pic2-5

In memory of Michael Lehane, a member of the International Spanish

Brigade, who gave his young life at seas that the underprivileged of

all nations would enjoy a happy and prosperous existence.

Michael Lehane from Morley’s Bridge died tragically too young but he

had lived an action packed life dedicated to fighting fascism and

promoting socialist ideals.

Michael Lehane was born on September 27th 1908 and  at the age of 19

he left Morley’s Bridge for the agricultural college in Clonakilty.

Lehane had to drop out due to financial strains and he then went to

Dublin where he found employment as a labourer.

During this time, an economic depression was sweeping the world while

across Europe fascism was on the rise. In Dublin, Lehane became a

member of the United Builders Labourers Trade Union. He was

politically aware of what was brewing across Europe and what was

happening in Spain where fascist army generals led a coup against the

democratically elected republican government. Appalled by the actions

of right wing rebels in Spain, Lehane joined the International Brigade

in December 1936 to fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Lehane’s first taste of war came on Christmas Eve when he saw action

on the Cordoba front where nine of his fellow Irishmen fell.

Lehane survived the bloodshed at Cordoba and a month later went on to

fight in the Battle of Los Rozas de Madrid. Shortly afterwards he

travelled back to Ireland.

Lehane picked up where he left off in Dublin and went back working on

building sites around the city. In April 1937 a builders strike was

called and all tools were downed. This gave Lehane the chance to

re-volunteer for the International Brigade.

By willingly returning to take part in what was unfolding in Spain as

an utterly vicious civil war, is testament to Lehane’s steadfast

character. He was determined to fight the good fight and so he left to

join up with the International Brigade once again.

Lehane made his route back to Spain by undertaking an arduous trek

over the Pyrenees mountains in order to evade authorities. Lehane then

took part in the Battle of Brunette which lasted throughout the

sweltering month of July. During this battle, Lehane and his comrades

found themselves under heavy fire from a machine gun that was manned

from a church tower in the town. Lehane managed to rescue many of his

injured comrades from a hail of bullets before being struck down

himself.

Lehane recovered from his injuries and by the Spring of 1938 he was

back in Dublin again and working as a labourer. The call to arms was

too much for Lehane to resist and by July he was back in Spain

fighting Franco’s Fascists.

On July 25th the International Brigade crossed the Ebro River to

advance on the town of Gandesa but a hill, known as Hill 481, stood in

their way and it was heavily controlled by Franco’s troops.

The International Brigade suffered heavy losses against the might of

Franco’s army on Hill 481 and Lehane was one of a number injured

there.

By mid December Lehane and his comrades left Spain for the last time

as the war was coming to a close and Franco was proclaiming victory.

Lehane arrived back in Dublin on December 21st 1938 but his stay

would not last long before he left in the new year to go live with his

brother in Birmingham England.

Lehane’s political convictions did not wane while in England and

authorities viewed this Irish man, who was involved with The Daily

Workers newspaper, as nothing more than a subversive, so his brothers

house became the scene of police raids during his few years lodging

there.

When the war against fascism took on a whole new form in World War II,

Lehane made the decision to continue his fight against it. He would

not join the British army and wear the uniform of what he saw as an

imperialist force so instead he enlisted in the Norwegian Merchant

Navy.

Lehane was registered as a fireman aboard the Norwegian steamer ‘Brant

County’ on October 2nd 1941. In March 1943 he went down with the ship

when it was attacked in the mid Atlantic by a Nazi submarine. Along

with Lehane, 24 crew lost their lives.

Lehane was just 35 years old when he met his end but in his short

life, the man from a wildly remote part of the Cork and Kerry border

fought non stop against fascism, so that the underprivileged of all

nations would enjoy a happy and prosperous existence.

 

Lily Murphy