Sunday Business Post, December 5, 2004


In Green and Red: The Lives of Frank Ryan, by Adrian Hoar, Brandon, E25, Reviewed by David O'Donoghue

Sixty years after his death in Nazi Germany, Frank Ryan continues to fascinate those seeking to unravel this ultimate republican enigma. Adrian Hoar presents much detail on Ryan's tortuous personal journey from Ireland's War of Independence to the Civil War, through to the Republican Congress and on to the Spanish Civil War where Ryan fought with the International Brigade.

But the author falls short in dealing with the most historically tantalising aspect of Ryan's life - his final four years as a guest of the Third Reich, which are squeezed into two brief chapters. Those seeking more data on the enigmatic Ryan will naturally ask whether Hoar's book adds anything new to Sean Cronin's ground-breaking 1980 work, or Fearghal McGarry's update in 2002. Sadly, the answer is no.

To be fair, Hoar did interview Mrs Elizabeth 'Budge' Clissmann, who knew Ryan well, but he does not appear to have talked to Enno Stephan, who in recent years has managed to plot the precise course of the U-boat that took Ryan and Sean Russell to within sight of the Irish coast in August 1940. Nor did he talk to John Duggan, who tracked down Ryan's Berlin mentor, the Austrian Nazi, Edmund Veesenmayer, in post-war Germany. Nor does Hoar appear to have seen Let My Tombstone be of Granite, RTE's detailed 1979 documentary on Ryan.

In certain respects, Ryan was in an impossible position in Nazi Germany. His release from death row in Burgos prison, where he had been incarcerated following his capture by Francoist forces in 1938, was thanks to the German foreign office. It had plans for Ryan and Russell - a secret mission to Ireland codenamed Operation Dove. Thus, Ryan was indebted to Hitler's regime.

Hoar does his readers a disservice by playing down the importance of Veesenmayer, who he describes as ''a dedicated Nazi not remembered for placing great value on the lives of others''. The author seems reluctant to say that Veesenmayer was, as Francis Stuart put it, ''a Jew exterminator''. He installed pro-Nazi regimes in Croatia, Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary, where he supervised the transfer of 570,000 Jews to the death camps. As Cronin remarked, ''it is just as well that Veesenmayer got no opportunity to put into effect whatever plans he had for Ireland." When Ryan's health deteriorated in Berlin, Veesenmayer's deputy, Kurt Haller, suggested the Irishman should recuperate in Slovakia. Hoar misses the cruel irony that Veesenmayer was putting pressure on the fascist rulers of Slovakia to send the country's Jews to concentration camps. Within 18 months, 80,000 Slovakian Jews had perished.

Hoar seeks to get Ryan off the hook saying, ''all collusion on Ryan's part had to unambiguously advance Irish republicanism rather than serve German Nazism ''. But Ryan agreed to persuade POWs to join an Irish Brigade of the German army, agreed to join Operation Dove and, shortly before his death in 1944, also agreed to work as a translator and adviser to German radio. Hoar relates Francis Stuart's recollection of meeting ''two of Ryan's friends'' in Berlin who were senior Nazis, but omits the fact that they were all sipping champagne together in a nightclub.

According to the author, Veesenmayer and Ryan shared ''a mutual dislike personally'', but the Austrian made sure Ryan was treated as a VIP, giving him Aquavit for Christmas, while Ryan wrote in ''praise of Veesenmayer'' whom he fondly called ''the Big Guy''.

Hoar does not entertain the conspiracy theory, even though the head of German counter-intelligence, Admiral Canaris, was working secretly for the Allies at the time.

Finally, Hoar makes no mention of Mrs Clissmann's 1944 visit to Budapest to persuade Veesenmayer to publicly announce Ryan's passing. In any case, the Austrian was at that time preoccupied with the extermination of Hungary's Jewish population.