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Social justice and human rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey headlines Charlie Donnelly Winter School

The Centre will play host to a series of presentations and discussions focusing on the ideals and legacy of the Dungannon-born, revolutionary socialist poet who died during the Battle of Jarama in 1937. 

The Charlie Donnelly Winter School returns to Dungannon on Saturday March 11, 2023 and will again be hosted by The Hill of the Ó Néill and Ranfurly Arts Centre.

Well known activist, social justice and human rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey will headline an impressive line-up of speakers at this year’s Winter School which coincides with the 86th anniversary of Charlie Donnelly’s untimely death while fighting with the XV International Brigade during the Spanish Anti-Fascist War 1936-39.

Event Coordinator, Gearóid Ó Machail from Benburb, outlined the theme of the 2023 Winter School; “The world is currently in an extremely precarious and dangerous place, with global tensions growing between the US, EU, NATO and the Russian Federation over the war in Ukraine and with the unwelcome rise of a nasty, far-right element both here and abroad who seek to spread hate and intolerance towards minorities in our communities.

“The toxic combination of extreme right-wing populism and increasing sabre rattling, militarism and warmongering among competing geo-political forces has many echoes of the 1930s. Charlie Donnelly and his comrades in the International Brigades were acutely aware of the dangers to world peace posed by the overthrow of democracy in Spain at the hands of fascist forces under General Franco and his allies in Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.

“Unfortunately, back then, the reasonable voices calling for an end to fascism, militarism and imperialist warfare went unheeded as the world drifted into global confrontation, mass destruction and unprecedented loss of human life. Our Winter School in Dungannon will examine these themes and explore what options are open in the struggle to preserve our neutrality and promote peace”.

Gearóid and his colleagues from Friends of the International Brigades Ireland (FIBI) have just returned from Spain where they participated in an extensive international programme of events commemorating Charlie Donnelly and his International Brigade comrades last weekend in the capital Madrid and in the towns and villages around Tarancón, Rivas Vaciamadrid and in the Jarama Valley.

Saturday’s programme in Dungannon will commence in the morning with the annual wreath laying ceremony at the Charlie Donnelly Memorial in his home townland of Killybrackey, near Edendork. Wreaths and flowers from a variety of groups and individuals will be laid prior to a short oration and poetic tribute at the site.

Delegates will then travel to the Hill of the O Neill for the first panel discussion ‘Peace and Neutrality in an Age of Militarism’, featuring Roger Cole, Founder and Chairperson of the Peace and Neutrality Alliance and Dr Karen Devine, Lecturer in European Union policies and politics, Gender and Politics, Irish Foreign Policy, Gender and Security, and Research Methodologies. This discussion and subsequent presentations will be livestreamed on Facebook to an international audience.

After lunch in the Hill of the O Neill Events Centre, Dr Bahman Azad, President of the United States Peace Council and retired Professor of Economics and Sociology at Berkely University will join Dr Rev Mark Gray, Minister of Bannside Presbyterian Church for a discussion on the theme of ‘Imperialist Rivalries and the Threat to World Peace’.

The keynote address at this year’s school will be delivered at 3pm by popular social justice activist Bernadette McAliskey and will focus on the theme ‘The Rise of Fascism and the Threat of the Far Right’. Bernadette’s presentation will be followed by a live Q & A. A large audience is expected to attend the presentation and delegates will be admitted on a first come, first served basis.

Proceedings at the 2023 Winter School will close with the laying of flowers and wreaths at the Memorial to International Brigader Ben Murray in Moybridge, near Aughnacloy.

At the Charles Donnelly memorial in Killybrackey

Charles Donnelly was born in Killybrackey, near Dungannon, County Tyrone on July 10, 1914. Charlie enrolled in UCD in 1931, where he studied Logic, English, History and the Irish language. In university he began writing poetry and prose for student publications.

He joined the radical group, the Republican Congress in 1934 and the 20-year-old Donnelly was soon elected to the National Executive. Thereafter, he wrote for the Congress newspaper on political and social questions. In February 1935, he left Ireland for London.

In the British capital he worked for the Republican Congress London branch. He also wrote articles for various left wing publications.

In 1936, with the outbreak of the fascist coup in Spain, he joined the International Brigades. He reached Spain on January 7, 1937 and at Albacete, met up with an Irish contingent, led by Frank Ryan, known as the Connolly Column, who had come to Spain to fight on the Government side. Donnelly and his comrades were attached to the American Abraham Lincoln Battalion.

On February 15, after receiving only rudimentary military training, the Lincoln battalion was thrown into the battle of Jarama, near Madrid. Donnelly reached the front on February 23, where he was promoted to the rank of field commander. On February 27, his unit was sent on a frontal assault on the Nationalist positions on a hill named Pingarron. Donnelly and his unit were pinned down by machine gun fire all day.

Donnelly was eventually caught in a burst of gunfire. He was struck three times, in the right arm, the right side and the head. He collapsed and died instantly. His body lay on the Jarama battlefield until it was recovered by fellow Irish Brigader Peter O’Connor on March 10.

He was buried nearby in an unmarked grave with several of his comrades. There are memorials to Donnelly in Dungannon, Dundalk, Jarama, Omeath, Rivas Vaciamadrid and in his alma mater UCD Dublin.

The CDWS 2023 has received financial assistance and support from Comhairle Ceantair Lár Uladh / Mid-Ulster Council and Friends of the International Brigades Ireland.

Admission is free of charge and booking is not required.

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