George Brown Commemoration
The annual George Brown Commemoration in Inistioge, this the seventh, again proved to be a memorable occasion for those in the local community, and for those who travelled from elsewhere in Ireland and indeed abroad. They assembled to remember the sacrifice of the Inistioge-born George Brown and the other members of the International Brigades who fought and died in Spain in defence of democracy. 2014 may mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War in which millions of lives were needlessly lost in a doomed attempt to buttress a tottering imperial hegemony. Those who volunteered for service on the side of the Spanish Republic did so out of a conviction that if the rise of fascism was not then resisted, it would prove catastrophic not only for the peaceful co-existence of nations within Europe, but throughout the world. A policy of appeasement and non-interference by Western democracies ensured, in the short term, that the Spanish government could not withstand the onslaught. In the longer term, this attitude was a major factor in the outbreak of World War II. The objective of the Inistioge George Brown Committee is to, in its own small way, help us learn the lessons of history.
This year's event was in many ways very memorable. The commemoration began with the unveiling of a piece of sculpture at the George Brown Memorial Plaque in St Colmcille's Cemetery by Seán Garland in the presence of its creator Noel Hoare. Noel is well-known throughout the art world both nationally and internationally and has a number of public commissions to his credit, his most recent being the design of the Brian Boru commemorative gold coin marking the thousandth anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf. He presented the committee with a stylistic head and shoulders representation in white limestone of George Brown.
Talks in St Mary's Church of Ireland fell into two categories. Historically, the topics of the Blueshirts in Ireland and Frank Ryan in Spain and Germany were examined by Harry Owens and Manus O'Riordan, respectively. On current affairs, both nationally and internationally, Seán Kelly spoke of the threat of the Far Right to democracy in Europe, while Ethel Buckley, a member of the ICTU Executive, dealt with the challenges facing the trade union movement in the present economic climate, where members can be threatened with court injunctions to prevent strikes (Aer Lingus), where management unilaterally attempts to change working conditions and to impose less favourable contracts (Bausch & Lomb and Greyhound).
An additional item in St Mary's this year was an audio-visual tribute to George Brown. This, along with a recital, at the Olive Grove in Woodstock Gardens, of poetry inspired by the Spanish Civil War, had a powerful impact on those present and for many will be among the highlights of the commemoration.
As in previous years, the Saturday afternoon session was at the Olive Grove in Woodstock Gardens, and, as has been the case on each occasion since 2008, the sun shone brightly. This olive grove was first planted at the end of 2007 in memory of the four Kilkenny members of the International Brigades: George Brown and his brother Michael, and two Castlecomer men Seán Dowling and Michael Brennan. The two periods of severe weather in 2010 proved too much for olive trees more used to sunnier climes, and they struggled since then. This year the Olive Grove was re-instated - this time in the confines of the walled garden where it is hoped that they will thrive. Particularly poignant on this occasion was the scattering of the ashes of the late John Moran in the Grove. John, who died on the 18th of June following a lengthy battle with cancer, was the official photographer at the event since its inception. Present at this ceremony were a number of John's friends and comrades. John was born in London in 1949. His father, also named John, hailed from Muckalee, Co. Kilkenny. John was always very proud of his Kilkenny roots and it was thought by his friends and colleagues that it was very appropriate that their friend's ashes be scattered in his ancestral county.
As has been customary, the Inistioge George Brown Memorial Committee presented Woodstock Gardens with a specimen tree, a Japanese Cypress - replacing one that was a victim of the February storm. The planting was performed by Manus O'Riordan, trade union historian and son of International Brigader Michael O'Riordan
Greeting the attendees on their return to Inistioge from Woodstock was the Graiguenamanagh Brass Band whose varied repertoire and professional delivery saw a very memorable commemoration finish on a festive note.