Survivor of Spanish war

This article marks the recent 94th birthday of Ned Murphy, almost certainly the last member of the pro-Franco Bandea. There are a couple of notes inserted by me [in brackets]. CC

Copyright belongs to the Gorey Echo, thanks to Tom Mooney, Editor, for permission to carry these pieces, CC, 17th Oct. 2006.

Mary Frances Ryan writes in the Gorey Echo, Wednesday June 28th 2006

Edward Murphy from Ballydaw, Marshalstown celebrated his 94th birthday in Kerlogue Nursing Home pictured with Paul Kehoe TD and members of his family. (l to r), Johnny Murphy, Pat Cooke, Liz Murphy, Johanna Murphy, John Byrne, Paul Kehoe TD, Edward Murphy, Margaret Earle, Lisa Murphy, Betty Cullen, Brendan Murphy and Stella Byrne. Photo: Jim Campbell

When Ned Murphy decided to fight against the communists in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 he failed to tell one person of his intentions: his mother, a widow with six other children.

He set off for work as usual that November day but instead of coming home for tea in the evening, made his way, alongside his friend Dermot Jordan, now deceased [in 1979], to Galway from where around 18 Wexford volunteers set sail for Spain.

Ned, of Ballydaw, Marshalstown, and a native of Clonjordan, one of the last surviving soldiers to fight in the Spanish Civil War, celebrated his 94th birthday in Kerlogue Nursing Home last Monday.

The only person Ned knew when he set sail was Dermot. In an interview with the late Billy Quirke of The Echo in 1989 [Dec. 1988] he explained that he had been in the Blueshirts, and that many of the people who went to Spain were ex-Blueshirts. Most were in their twenties. Ned was 24.

He joined the brigade formed by General Eoin O'Duffy, the blueshirt leader and founder of An Garda Síochána.

"I will never forget the boat journey," said Ned. "It was sheer hell. We were only two hours in Galway when we boarded the ship and the conditions could not have been worse."

He described the cold of the nights, a fierce storm, sickness and lack of food on the ship. After arriving at the Spanish coast, a two-and-a-half day journey followed by train to Salamanca, a city in central Spain where Ned received his first decent meal in days.

Ned Murphy remained in Spain until July 1937 when 77 of the 600 Irishmen who had originally gone out, returned. The others had all died. [This is wrong. There were over 700 in the Bandera, of whom only about 15 stayed in June 1936 when the rest returned.]

One of the awful memories he describes was looking for shelter one night.

"We made our way into the ruins of a convent. We went in there in the pitch black of night and lay down where we could. In the morning we awoke to find we were lying amongst the dead bodies of nuns. The entire convent had been plundered by the reds (communists)," he said. "It was the worst thing I can recall about the war."

From that awful carnage, Ned picked up a broken wooden crucifix which he would later smuggle back to Ireland and later donate to the County Museum in Enniscorthy.

Ned's group were operating in and around the town of Caceres, South-West Spain, a town with a population of around 30,000.

The conditions in the trenches he fought in were deplorable.

"The rats would talk to you. We would go four or five days at a time without a meal and the only nourishment we could get was from the bottles sold to us by the Moors. Those people kept us alive," he recalled.

The Moors, with their local knowledge and stealth, came through the lines to the Irish, selling them bottles of 'Vino' (wine). Their way of life was also threatened by the Communists which caused them to be sympathetic towards the Irish.

Despite the appalling loss of life in the trenches, Ned says he never knew fear. He saw many more convents ransacked and the Reds would take the nuns away with them to the trenches.

European and Irish sentiment towards Franco soured rapidly in the months after Ned went out to Spain, with Eamonn DeValera's Government eventually "claiming" the Irish Volunteers home.

The "Irish Christian Front" which had been established to aid the O'Duffy Brigade in Spain was banned and all mail to and from home was severely censored, with no parcels allowed out to the volunteers. [The ICF faded in influence, it was not banned.]

Ned greatly regrets the fact that Ireland was one of the last countries in Europe to recognise General Franco's Regime. Over the years he turned down many offers to travel back to Spain where the names of the Irish dead will be remembered forever.

Back in Ireland, Ned married Chrissy O'Connor of Duffry Gate, Enniscorthy, in 1940 and they went on to have 15 children. He settled back into Wexford life, spreading lime for Myles Roche of the Milehouse, travelling all over the county with his work.

Sadly Chrissie passed away around 15 years ago.

Ned only has his memories of Spain now, having had to surrender his uniform and other physical mementoes of the war before leaving Spain back in 1937. Even the broken wooden crucifix in the County museum somehow disappeared many years ago.

But sitting in Kerlogue Nursing home surrounded by friends and a huge family of many generations, his memories are no longer just of war, but of Wexford and a long and fruitful history ever since.

© Gorey Echo

RTE Radio 1 - Documentary on One

Click here to listen to the show First Broadcast 1st December 2004 Ned Murphy is believed to be the last survivor of Eoin O'Duffy's Irish Brigade which fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. This is Ned's story, told in his own words and those of his family. Compiled by Alan Torney.

Ned was quite frail by this stage so take your time when listening to this tape, it's a bit disjointed.

Other articles

His obituary appeared in the Enniscorthy Echo, 15th Feb. 2007

Another piece from Wexford Echo in December 1988 when Ned was interviewed with Luke O'Rourke, another veteran