Ten years before I saw the light of morning A comradeship of heroes was laid From every corner of the world came sailing The Fifteenth International Brigade They came to stand beside the Spanish people To try and stem the rising Fascist tide Franco's allies were the powerful and wealthy Frank Ryan's men came from the other side. Even the olives were bleeding As the battle for Madrid it thundered on Truth and love against the force of evil Brotherhood against the Fascist clan Viva La Quince Brigada! "No Pasaran" the pledge that made them fight "Adelante" was the cry around the hillside Let us all remember them tonight Bob Hilliard was a Church of Ireland pastor From Killarney across the Pyrenees he came From Derry came a brave young Christian Brother Side by side they fought and died in Spain Tommy Woods, aged seventeen, died in Cordoba With Na Fianna he learned to hold his gun From Dublin to the Villa Del Rio Where he fought and died beneath the Spanish sun Many Irishmen heard the call of Franco Joined Hitler and Mussolini too Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers Helped O'Duffy to enlist his crew The word came from Maynooth: 'Support the Nazis' The men of cloth failed yet again When the bishops blessed the blueshirts down in Galway As they sailed beneath the swastika to Spain This song is a tribute to Frank Ryan Kit Conway and Dinny Coady too Peter Daly, Charlie Regan and Hugh Bonar Though many died I can but name a few Danny Doyle, Blaser-Brown and Charlie Donnelly Liam Tumilson and Jim Straney from Short Strand Jack Nalty, Tommy Patton and Frank Conroy Jim Foley, Tony Fox and Dick O'Neill Watch Viva La Quinta Brigada from: Christy Moore (I), Christy Moore (II), Charlie & The Bhoys, Ronnie Drew, Na Saoirsí, Gerry Timlin, Will Worth Rolando Alarcon, Pete Seeger
Songs That Made History: 80 years ago, the Spanish Civil War began when the army under General and later dictator Franco rebelled against the democratically elected government on July 18, 1936. 'Viva la Quinta Brigada' is a Christy Moore song about the Irishmen who fought against Franco; its title was inspired by a Spanish song about the war, 'Viva la Quince Brigada' (¡Ay Carmela!)
Christy Moore bears a more-than-passing resemblance to actor Anthony Hopkins. Until – that is - he picks up a guitar! For then he is a man transformed.
I have written at length about his greatest feat of songwriting: his magnificent Viva La Quinta Brigada. And I have in the past, compared and contrasted several performances of this great song that are available online.
Now, I won't go over old ground here, but I need to still say this: it is a magnificent work of art, but one that has more than a whiff of the “agitprop” about it. And that is inevitable. You cannot have a great song about the Spanish Civil War that says “on the one hand...but on the other hand”! By that I mean, that for a song to succeed, it just has to take a position. And this one takes a simplistic one of Republicans = Good, whereas Nationalists = Bad.
Oh that it were that simple! Totalitarianism of the Left or the Right, usually ends in mass murder. Those boys from these islands who went to Spain to fight the monster Adolf Hitler (as revisionist history tells us was the sole reason they did), would have been equally happy had the monster Joe Stalin taken over on the Iberian Peninsula. The man who murdered hundreds of thousands before his death in 1953. But that is by-the-by.
As is the fact that many great people fought on the Nationalist side. Take the history of British TV personality and former politician Michael Portillo's decent and respectable family. Five of his father's brothers fought on the Nationalist side: his dad was the only one who refused, and left the country to eventual exile in England. Franco's revenge on his opponents after the war, was wicked and still feels truly shocking. Oh for a Spanish Nelson Mandela at that time!
But let nobody tell you that the Spanish Civil War was entirely a case of good against bad. They never are. You name them: the English Civil War, The American Civil War...even the Yugoslav Civil War ...though admittedly the Serbs did not have that many saving graces.
But back to Christy Moore and that song... I reckon what is great about this particular YouTube version of this masterpiece (below), is not just the usual Moore vocal brilliance, and stunning guitar runs and fills from the amazing Declan Sinnott, but the sheer drunken exuberance of the audience! The famous Barrowland venue - which marks the start of Glasgow's East End - is packed with a sweaty boisterous audience, all Christy Moore devotees. They know every word of the song. And they cheer the good guys and boo the fascists...a bit like the children's matinee films I went to as a kid, when we cheered the goodies and booed the baddies.
And give Moore his due as a songwriter: he mentions Eoin O'Duffy, the Irish fascist leader. And his successful recruitment - with the help of the clergy - of young Irishmen to fight for Franco. But he does not add the salient fact that those priests and O'Duffy sent SEVERAL TIMES the number of Irishmen to Spain that the Left sent (the same “Left” that the audience here so identifies with). This was in contrast to those communities in Great Britain where our fascist leader Oswald Mosley failed dismally to match the numbers of those sailing under the various flags of The Left.
BTW, please click on the full lyrics below the YouTube screen. They are faithfully transcribed by the person doing the posting: but there is an early howler. It is not the fiftieth international brigade ...but of course, the FIFTEENTH.
Last time out, I received several letters asking why I was calling the Christy Moore chef d'oeuvre Viva La QUINTA Brigada...when “quinta” means fifth...and the song is about the FIFTEENTH International Brigade.
Easily explained. When the song was written – and when I first heard it and learnt it – Moore was singing about the FIFTH International Brigade. Then a few years later, he was told it was the FIFTEENTH... and so changed the words. Made other changes too when mistakes were pointed out to him ...e.g. realised that the Bishops did not bless the blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire, but GALWAY; and that one of the named fallen had come from the Short Strand, and not The Falls.
So the YouTube clip I flagged-up should have read Viva La QUINCE Brigada..but did not, even though Moore was singing the revised lyrics. Here are those “new” lyrics, with interesting footnotes: www.indymedia.ie.
Photo Credits: (1) Christy Moore, CDs: (2) V/A »Spain In My Heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War«, (3) V/A »Songs of the Spanish Civil War, Vol. 1«, (4) V/A »No pasaran! Scots in the Spanish Civil War«, (5) na-mara »Songs of the Spanish Civil War«, (6) V/A »Spanien im Herzen - Lieder des Spanischen Bürgerkriegs« (unknown/website).