IRELAND AND THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR
Another who travelled to Spain in support of Franco's revolt says:
"Fascism never entered the pic"
Matt J Doolan, New Hibernia, Vol. 3, No. 7, July-August 1986On many occasions I have been truly amazed at the extraordinary misinformed views regarding the Spanish Civil War, views which I can, with justifications, attribute to bias, ignorance or propaganda. Most of the literature available in Ireland which purported to provide information on this subject emanated from the leftist press and the greater proportion of it was published in the UK. Even the noted writer, George Orwell, who fought with the 'Reds' in Catalonia admitted in one of his books on the subject, Homage to Catalonia, that his dispatches from the frontline to the British press were 'cooked', as he remarked, to suit the communist controlled papers of the time. As a result of this avalanche of propaganda one is naturally not surprised at the leftist views of our otherwise conservative readers.
One of the outstanding features of this misinformation is the myth that Franco's forces consisted chiefly of fascists and that the Irish Brigade who supported him were similarly tainted. As events showed, nothing could be further from the truth. One might just as well say that the Old IRA consisted only of carpenters and farmers sons, as many of them were. To say that those who joined Eoin O'Duffy's brigade were fascists was, of course, consistent with the attitude of all leftists who viewed anyone who openly opposed communism as fully-fledged fascists.
The Irish Brigade was a very fair cross-section of Irish life of the period, including a number of prominent members of the Old IRA. The number of brigade members who were totally uncommitted to any political group came as a surprise to me, but on the other hand those who most earnestly believed in the nobility of our cause in fighting for the freedom of religious expression were the large majority and many of them of unimpeachable character. Strangely enough though the brigade represented many political groupings there was never any evidence of those leanings surfacing. It is only fair to add that more than a few were not seriously affected by the principles involved in the struggle but very soon on arrival in Spain they underwent a truly remarkable change when faced with the grim realities of such a bitter conflict.
It would be a blind and insensitive brigade member who would view the wholesale desecration of churches, convents and Catholic schools and the cold-blooded murders of the priests, nuns and those who were prominently associated with the Catholic faith, without realising the sheer necessity of defeating the forces of evil.
The opening stages of the war saw press accounts in both the Irish and British papers which left a deep impression on the Irish people. Regardless of one's attitude to direct participation it was easy to feel sympathetic towards the Spanish nationalist cause and to note the prevailing confusion of the various Red groups who from the outset lacked the spirit of unity and the well organised nature of the Franco forces. The Reds, generally referred to as Communists, relied on the highly organised Communist Party which was, however, outnumbered by two powerful trade unions, the CNT and the UGT, together with the Anarchists who eventually proved more a liability than an asset.
Franco's forces had the advantage of support for the army, police, the official Fascist party, tens of thousands of anti-fascists - the Monarchists and the countless thousands of conservatives who were widely representative of bit the rural and urban communities. Unlike the divergent attitudes of the Red forces, the Monarchists and the Fascists worked well together and early in 1937 they decided to curb their traditional animosities for the duration of the war. This agreement came about at a time when the Red forces were having difficulties with their differing ideals and were actually in open armed conflict in Catalonia. This particular feature is well covered by George Orwell in his account of the disruptive effects of the 'fascists within the freedom fighters of the left.' At one period the Reds suffered no fewer than five Premiers in less than a year. This was a very telling factor in their defeat.
On July 11th 1936 news reports of the massive strike among the building workers showed that the Government of the day was under severe pressure. In view of the militant actions of the strikers and their refusal to obey government orders to return to work, it was evident that the Cabinet was in dire trouble with its own supporters. On July 14th Irish and European papers and radio reports revealed 'a grave power and control situation.'
Side by side with the strike situation the Government was faced with outright opposition from the Monarchists Party representative in parliament, Calvo Sotelo, [who] was daily reciting a litany of 'incidents' occurring throughout Spain which showed that disorder was as serious as it was widespread. This action of Senor Sotelo resulted in his brutal murder. His body was found in the Manzanares River, near Madrid, after it had been hacked with a hatchet and a knife. He, like others, had been permanently silenced. At this stage it was believed that a 'take-over' was near, the government had lost control.
The immediate effect of this turn of events, with increasing intensity of the efforts of the Red extremists to destroy every church and convent in Spain, and the manner and speed with which so many priests and nuns were being disposed of, soon the news aroused widespread sympathy particularly among the Irish.
Cork Corporation, with Lord Mayor Sean French presiding, unanimously passed a resolution condemning the persecution of the Church in Spain. Dunmanway Branch of the Labour Party 'condemned the persecution of Catholics in Spain'. Clonmel Corporation did likewise. On September 20th, 1936, Cork's Grand Parade was packed with many thousands of people attending a public meeting under the auspices of the Irish Christian Front to lend support to the victims and to later forward necessities to the Brigade in Spain. Dean of Cashel, Msgr. Ryan, in a public declaration stated that 'the Red forces in Spain are the arch-enemy of mankind.' His Holiness the Pope made a vigorous protest against the massacres and destruction of the churches.
On August 26th we read of the 22 Christian brothers who were massacred and the destruction of most of their 120 schools. Two Londoners reported seeing churches, schools and convents being burned to the ground in Almeria. Around this time the Cork Examiner told us of priests heads being cut off and displayed on a salver and in Barcelona where graves of nuns were being desecrated and their bodies placed on the open streets. Photos were published worldwide.
It was as a result of the daily reports of incidents of this nature that, many coming from eye witnesses, that the Irish people saw fit to support the action of the Irish Brigade in going to Spain to fight side by side with Franco's army. The evidence of the need to stem the appalling massacres was overwhelming, the question of Fascism never entered the picture at this stage and the aspect of dictatorship did not arise for some years afterwards. That dictatorship left a legacy of democracy under the control, not of a fascist or an army general, but of a Monarchist.