He was born in November 1902 in South Dublin. By December 1936 he had married Patricia, with whom he had three children, with a fourth on the way when he decided to answer the call by General Eoin O'Duffy to join the Irish Brigade fighting for General Franco in Spain.
He applied for a passport, something very unusual for a workingman in the 1930's, he was a postman, and it was issued to him on December 1st 1936. On the 11th he was one of 24 Dublin men who sailed in a larger contingent of 100, under the leadership of a Captain Tom Smith. Smith apparently was originally a Protestant from Northern Ireland.
The ship went from Dublin to Liverpool where they transferred to the SS ARDEOLA, arriving in Lisbon, Portugal on the 17th. While it is not clear what this unit did next, all the Irish Bandera members quickly moved to Caceres in Spain for training. By mid December 1936 there were approximately 650 men present.
The Sunday Independent in 1960 carried a series of articles, called Spanish Inferno, about the Bandera's time in Spain. It includes these lines:
In the first months of 1937, Caceres became an Irish town. With the characteristic of their race they made friends with the people of the town, and in next to no time their training programme had made them a fine body of troops.
On February 6 they were inspected by General Franco. A guard of honour for the Generalissimo was in charge of Lieut. Sidney Gallagher, of Sligo. The Generalissimo was impressed with these men and said so to Major Dalton. 'I look with joy and confidence', he said, 'to the day when you and your Spanish comrades will win new honours for your flag, fighting for the glory of Ireland, the glory of Spain, and the glory of our Holy Faith.' At last the Irish were ready to play their part.
At the end of their training, General O'Duffy unveiled in the Church of Santa Domingo, a plaque with this inscription. 'To the glory of God and the honour of Ireland, in remembrance of the 15th Bandera, Irish brigade, of the Tercio, which worshipped in this church while serving in the cause of the Faith, and of Ireland's ancient ally and protector, Spain.'
The Bandera, which had reached about 700 men, was divided into Companies A-D, with George Mooney serving in Company D, the machine gun unit, headed by Captain Sean Cunningham of Belfast. [Incidentally there was another Mooney, William - also of Blackrock in that company. A third Blackrockman, S Mooney was elsewhere in the Bandera - were they relatives?]
The training in Caceres went on until February 16th 1937 when they were ordered to proceed to Ciempozuelos, near Madrid. After a day's travel by train they disembarked and while marching to their new base the Bandera clashed with a Canary Islands Bandera, with the result that two men, Lt Tom Hyde and Dan Chute were killed by 'friendly fire'.
A member of the Bandera, Matt Beckett from Westport describes the lead up to these events:
On February 17th, the order came to go to the Front. Right from the start we were in trouble. The train started off at a break-neck speed that on a turn would have derailed it. But the train was signalled to stop and shunted to a siding. As it came to a halt the driver and his mate jumped off and ran, but were quickly captured and we were informed that they were Red Army members. At Plaventia, we had another halt so that the line ahead could be repaired as it had been damaged in an air raid a short time previously. We disembarked at Torrejon and went on to Valdenora for a brief rest before resuming the journey to Ciempozuelos, which is on the main Madrid-Valencia line. While advancing on Ciempozuelos we were attacked by a Brigade from the Canary Islands who mistook us for Reds
Ciempozuelos is 15 miles from Madrid, close to the main road to Cordoba and 'had been the scene of heavy fighting, and the brigade's unsettling first duty was to clear away the corpses scattered around the town. The village was not particularly exposed but it was shelled daily and the Irishmen were frequently sniped at by opposing soldiers belonging to the International Brigade' [Fearghal McGarry, p40]
Apparently the section of the front with the Bandera was opposite a section held, during Feb-March 1937 by the British Battalion of the International Brigades, those who supported the Spanish government forces. McGarry, p40, quotes from an interview held in the Imperial War Museum with Tom Murphy, originally from Co. Monaghan:
Our trenches were maybe a few hundred yards [away]. Frank Ryan used to turn on the speaker, he says. 'Irishmen go home! Your fathers would turn in their graves if they knew that you'd come to fight for Imperialism. This is the real Republican Army. The real, real men of Ireland.'
The Sunday Independent
articles say that:
The trenches which they occupied were little better than swallow ditches. They did provide some cover from snipers and of those sharpshooters the reds had plenty. Bullets thudded into the mud over their heads as they crouched in the trenches or whined off in ricochet from patches of stony ground.
Ceaseless shellfire churned the ground held by the Irish. On some days it came as a hail of explosive that flung up great sprouts of earth in thunderous roars……
Week after week the routine never varied. Each company spent four days in the trenches. After that duty they went back to Ciempozuelos to seek shelter among the battered ruins of that little place with which the war had dealt so severely. But there was no safety in Ciempozuelos.
Through the hills which flanked the town the railway ran - the track was in good condition up to about two thirds of a mile form the town. Down the track the Reds ran an armoured train which was the special affliction of the Irishmen.
Sheltered by the hills along its approach, the train would cruise along while from the protection of its steel sides the Red troops sprayed with machine gun and rifle fire the battered town and the trenches of the 15rh Bandera.
On March 13th the Bandera saw its first real piece of action. They were ordered, as a part of a larger diversionary tactic, to attack the village of Titulcia. As they advanced they came under heavy shelling and four men were killed. The next day they were again ordered to advance but the commander of Company A, Tom Cahill, refused to take his men into action. Essentially that was the end of the Bandera's' military action.
Beckett describes this battle, remember Mooney was in D Company:
For the first stage, C Company and D Company (part) were in reserve, the remainder of D Company being on a hill guarding a German Battery. The Reds had mounted an armed unit on the railway line that ran between our front trenches and theirs and this came along at intervals to shell our lines. Titulcia, across the railway, was in red hands. A dawn attack now planed on the town by A and C companies. This was to have the support of the Calvary, but again bad planning had left us at the mercy of the Red Artillery and we a lost a number of men from B company which was on our right. Casualties included Sgt. Gabriel Lee and three lads from Tralee. We were then ordered to retreat back to our own lines.
Following the failure to move into action on the 14th, the Bandera was moved to La Maranosa, north of Madrid. Beckett says:
Saint Patrick's Day still found us in Ciempozuelos, but rumours that we were to be changed over proved correct a week later. However it was not a rest, but a new area of the line nearer Madrid, a place called La Maranosa, where the Carlists were holding the line beside us. It was a much more open and fluid line and was near Madrid, as [we] cold see the Hill of Angels and Pingarron. We had to repel a number of attacks by Red Militia and Red planes strafed us every day and some times more than once., but the only casualties they inflicted were on the buildings. One of the planes crashed just short of our lines.
Maranosa was much nicer than Ciempozuelos and the weather was improving rapidly, sunny practically all the time.
They were stationed in this small town until they were withdrawn on June 17th via Lisbon. They sailed on the SS Mozambique, arriving in Dublin on the 22nd of June.
For a wide range of articles by and about the Bandera's membership