Memories from Deaglan de Breadun



I first met Bill Katz in Barcelona in 1988. The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the farewell parade of the International Brigades in October 1938 when Dolores Ibarruri, better-known as La Pasionaria, told the departing volunteers who had fought on the republican side against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War: “You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend!”

There were quite a few legendary figures in attendance for the 1988 commemoration, among them Steve Nelson, a leading figure on the Left in the US for decades. He also held a senior position in the Lincoln Brigade, which was composed mainly of American volunteers but included some Irish ones, the most prominent of whom was Frank Ryan (1902-44). Since I was reporting on the reunion for The Irish Times, I made it my business to talk to Steve about Ryan and we had a very informative conversation.

It was through Steve that I met Bill, and the three of us became instant friends, meeting for lunch every day.

The Barcelona events included the unveiling of a statue in honour of the Brigadistas, who had come in their tens of thousands in an effort to save Spanish democracy in the late 1930s, with between ten and fifteen thousand giving up their lives in the conflict.

Bill subsequently co-authored, with Marc Crawford, a book on the US volunteers entitled ‘The Lincoln Brigade: A Picture History’, and the first of two editions was published in 1989. In December of that year, I was on assignment in New York and renewed my acquaintance with Bill. It was the first of many meetings: I also met Laurie and my friendship with the two of them has been one of the most positive experiences of my entire life.

As well as our get-togethers in New York, they visited me in Dublin and, on another occasion, we met up in London. Humphrey Bogart fans will recall the closing scene in Casablanca where he uses the phrase ‘a beautiful friendship’ and that term should also be applied to my involvement with Bill and Laurie for more than three decades.

The stand-out moments nearly always included laughter and high spirits. I had read about traditional Jewish food in the writings of Philip Roth and, at my request, Bill and Laurie took me to the Second Avenue Deli to sample the kosher menu: I was particularly keen to try the chopped liver and the gefilte fish! We made it a standard feature of my visits to New York, even when the deli moved elsewhere in the city, with our dear friend Megan joining us at the table.

Like so many others, I am a great admirer of Bill’s work as an historian and his prodigious output, including such important books as ‘The Black West’ and ‘Black Indians’. He was a trailblazer in helping to ensure that African-Americans got their place in history. At a more personal level, I was inspired by the way he kept on writing until the end of his life at 92 years. William Loren Katz was a hero of our time – and for all time.


Deaglán de Bréadún