Aberri Eguna - Day of the Basque Homeland
Aberri Eguna - The Day of the Basque Homeland has been marked annually on Easter Sunday in the Basque Country since 1932.
The idea to celebrate a Basque national day was proposed by Elias Gallastegi, a leading Basque nationalist who had strong ties to Ireland.
Elias had been exiled to Mexico in 1926 during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, returning home to Bilbao in 1931 following the fall of Rivera and the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic.
Greatly inspired by 1916 Rising and the Irish struggle for independence from Britain, Elias Gallastegi wrote articles for Basque nationalist publications under the pen-name Gudari, describing the 1916 Rising “as a great example of heroism and dignity.”
As a mark of that respect, he proposed that the celebration of a Basque National Day (Aberri Eguna) should coincide with the anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The January 1932 edition of Patria Vasca, published by Elias, contains a quote, translated to Spanish, from James Connolly’s The Reconquest of Ireland. The quote shows how Elias was influenced both by events and political ideas in Ireland.
“The conquest of Ireland had meant the social and political servitude of the Irish masses, and therefore the re-conquest of Ireland must mean the social as well as the political independence from servitude of every man, woman and child in Ireland.” — James Connolly
The photo below is of the first Aberri Eguna demonstration which was held in Bilbao in 1932 and attended by over 60,000 people. It was led by members of Emakume Abertzale Batza (Basque Women’s Patriotic Front), the founding of which was inspired by the Irish republican women’s organisation, Cumann na mBan.
The organisation was founded in Bilbao in 1922 following a meeting, organised by Elias Gallastegi, which was addressed by an Irish republican and Sinn Féin member Ambrose Victor Martin on the subject of Cumann na mBan. The British government had expelled the Argentinian born Martin from Ireland in 1919 for republican activities, returning following the Truce in 1921. The edition of Patria Vasca mentioned above includes an article on the organisation.
In subsequent years both men established the Irish Iberian Trading Company with assistance from Irish ambassador to the Spanish Republic Leopold Kerney. The purpose of which was to open up alternative trading routes for the Irish Free State during its Economic War with Britain in the early 1930s. It traded in fruit, vegetables, biscuits, eggs, and livestock and had its distribution on Chancery Street in the markets area of Dublin. The photo below shows the area as it is today, the trading company’s office was beside Hughes’s pub.
Following the bombing of Gernika Elias and his wife Margarita along with their five children made their way to Ireland. They settled in the Meath Gaeltacht in a house owned by Ambrose Martin. The family worked the farm and the children attended school locally. In later years Elias set up a saw mill. In 1940 the family was joined by another group of Basque refugees who arrived at Cobh Harbour in July having fled Donibane following the Nazi invasion of France. The Gallastegis later moved to Dublin and lived on St Stephen’s Green.
After the success of the first Aberri Eguna in 1932 the event was held annually in Donostia (1933), Gasteiz (1934) and Iruña (1935). However, following the fall of the Basque Country to Franco’s fascist forces in 1937 Aberri Eguna was subsequently banned by the dictatorship.
During the first two decades of the dictatorship there was no public demonstration of Aberri Eguna. However, in the early 1960s the Basque Nationalist Party began organising it clandestinely and despite efforts of the Spanish police, the first public demonstration to mark Aberri Eguna was held in Gernika in 1964. Up to 30,000 people attended what was reported to be a hugely emotional and inspiring day.
The Spanish police and Civil Guard had sealed off roads and stopped cars in an effort to prevent peoplefrom entering Gernika. However, drivers simply left their cars by the side of the road and walked to the town. In the following days many of the attendees were issued fines of between 5,000 and 10,000 pesetas for attending a banned demonstration.
This year’s Aberri Eguna will also be held on Easter Sunday in Gernika to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the fascist bombing of the town.
Stewart Reddin is a member of the Gernika 80 Committee which was established in Dublin to mark the 80th anniversary of the fascist bombing of Gernika.
You can read more about the Gallastegi family and their life in Ireland in the Committee’s forthcoming magazine to be launched on Friday 21st April at 7.30pm in Wynn’s Hotel.