Brendan Moroney - Letters about the Spanish Civil war in the Irish Post, 1979-85

The Irish Post July 14, 1979

Dolan In Spain

There are some interesting letters on page 6 regarding Frank Ryan and Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Both points of view are expressed. Indeed, I would say that both are reflected accurately in synopsis.

My attention here is not to comment but rather briefly to tell the story of another type of Irishman who fought in Spain. He is Brendan Moroney from Ennis, Co. Clare, and he lives in London. A colourful character, he is known to thousands.

Brendan's family had a British army tradition. It wasn't political - simply a tradition. Politically they were Dev supporters and Dev was, of course, the local TD. Being a Dev supporter meant that one was anti-Blueshirt and forcefully so.

Brendan joined the Irish guards as a youngster and among his army mates was the inimitable Jack Doyle. Having done his army spell, Brendan returned to civilian life in London but didn't like it. He was restless and, largely because he fancied the action, he decided to join in the war in Spain.

Being anti-Blueshirt, there was never any doubt as to which side he would be on. But he certainly wasn't an IRA-type Irish Republican or a doctrinaire Socialist as were the members of the Irish contingent that Frank Ryan led to Spain.

Via France

The way to go to Spain from London was via the British Communist Party. One went along to their office and was given 3 and a weekend ticket to Paris. There one was met by a given destination and taken by train to the south of France and from there into Spain by coach.

Brendan arrived in Spain on December 6, 1936. He was there two weeks before Frank Ryan arrived with the first of the Republican Irish contingent.

But they met and, when Frank was being issued with his uniform and kit, he gave Brendan his leather coat. Brendan didn't go to the front right away because he contracted typhoid fever. But the following March he was in action - as runner for a commando battalion mainly made up of French and Dutch.

They were a mixed bunch and some had little idealistic commitment. One evening a drunken platoon officer drew a gun on Brendan. There was a fiery verbal exchange and the officer fired. Brendan was wounded. The OC was a Russian general. The officer was arrested and would probably have been executed had not Moroney intervened on his behalf.

The two met some time later and got drunk together. On another occasion Brendan got into a row with a fellow-Irishman - Paddy Lane from Tralee. He was an IRA man and referred uncomplimentary to Dev. This was sufficient for Moroney, a useful man with his fists, to belt him. He was hauled off to jail.

"I was wearing one shoe, a shirt and trousers. There was no trial and no guarantee that one would ever get out". Brendan recalls.

He already spoke reasonably good Spanish, but in jail he became fluent. After three months and no little ingenuity, he was released, given 15 days', convalescence and then shipped into action again.

Years later in London during the blitz, Brendan bumped into Paddy Lane and they became firm friends. It was a savage war - no quarter given and with extraordinary and at times inexplicable heroism.

Leader of men

Moroney met Frank Ryan twice afterwards. He doesn't consider him to have been a soldier of significance. Indeed, he questions whether Ryan held the high rank which was subsequently attributed to him. "He was certainly a leader of men and a fine journalist, but not a soldier. He was a fine man", Brendan says.

The Co. Clare man man found himself in an unusual position. Not being of IRA disposition, he had little in common with the Frank Ryan type. He had less in common with the communists who were considerably more numerous on his side of the war. But he had nothing at all in common with Franco and the Fascists.

But he was still a soldier by training and he continued, was wounded and made many friends. But eventually the time came to disengage. It wasn't his war to the bitter end. His battalion treated hungry and haggard and he himself came out, with aid from the British consulate, aboard a British ship and posing as a merchant seaman.

Return Visit

In 1970 - 32 years later - Brendan and his wife went back to Spain on holiday. He sought out the hotel in Las Villas de Benicasim on the east coast where, back in 1937, he had been tended when wounded. The hotel was then being used as casualty clearing station.

Franco was still in charge in Spain and Brendan wasn't too keen on being identified as somebody who fought against El Caudillo in the civil war. But a woman at the hotel recognised him. They talked of the old days, apparently, she kept the knowledge of his visit to herself.

The foregoing is but a vignette of Brendan Moroney's war in Spain. He actually should have written a book about it, for his story is full of colour and adventure. He also had a political detachment, which allowed him to see the war and its characters without the emotionalism and fervour, which gripped most others. The fact that he acquired fluent Spanish early on and mixed with a whole range of nationalities added to his perspective.

Brendan is, of course, still very much hale and hearty and if he hasn't been in any wars recently it has only been because the passing of years has brought with it a fair share of common sense.

But then, we were always on the continent when fighting had to be done. Over the past 300 years more Irishmen died fighting for France than for any country. Britain is second. It's difficult to be sure about third position but it's probably America (Washington's army and all of that). But, fair play to us, the chances are that Ireland is fourth.

Irish Post August 11, 1979

Rise and fall of the Blueshirts

One of a series of letters on O'Duffy - That profound generosity of spirit

I must take Thomas Conney (July 14) to task when he claims that General Eoin O'Duffy played an important part in Franco's army in the Spanish civil war. I don't know if Mr. Conney was there. I was, Frank Dolan recalled my escapades in his column in that same issue.

O'Duffy was never acknowledged in Spain as an officer - much less a general. The one or two engagements that he and his men took part in were fiascos. They were mighty glad when de Valera sent a ship to rescue them.

The Republican government was never a dictatorship. On the contrary, it would have had a popular victory were it not for the intervention of Italy, the intervention of the German airforce and the non-intervention treaty brought about by Baldwin's reactionary Tory government.

In this regard it must be remembered that Germany and Italy were flexing their muscles in preparation for World War 11.

The popular front government in France supported the Republican government in Spain and were it not for its help we would not have fought so long and so well. We lost when the French popular front collapsed.

I would also like to refer to some Irishmen, apart from Frank Ryan, whose memory I shall honour to the day I die. They epitomised the great attributes of our race. I know that I will be allowed space to name but a few, but I start with the name of Captain Paddy O'Dare and follow with Lt. Col.Jock Cunningham (Scottish-born of Irish parents), Joe Monks, Frank Edwards, Jim Prendergast, Mickey Duff, Jack Nalty, Kit Conway, Peter Darby, Peadar Flanagan, Charlie Donnelly, Paddy Kelly and Paddy Roe.

Most of them died in action or from war wounds.

Paddy Roe, I hope, is still alive. He was a great warrior.

These are but a few of the Irishmen who came from many parts of the world to fight for freedom and democracy and for the Spanish people.

Before I left for Spain and throughout my service there, I was never other than a practising Catholic. The leaders of the International Brigade whom I knew personally always backed me in my religious convictions. We had many a verbal battle with the political commissars.

The world will never appreciate the profound generosity of spirit of the International Brigades. A lot of propaganda was made of the burning of churches. There was a long and savage war in process. Many buildings suffered. Yes in certain parts of Spain mobs burned or partly burned churches. That was only after anti-catholic feelings were stirred up by bishops who advocated the overthrow of the legitimate republican government of Spain.

I would estimate that only 20% of the International Brigades were Communists. The remainder were simply anti-fascists.

When I went back to Spain in 1970 I was on various occasions in conversation with a cross-section of people who had no knowledge of my involvement in the civil war. Franco was still alive but these people spoke in glowing terms of the International Brigades - men who, with a generosity of spirit, came from all over the world to fight in the cause of democracy.

In conclusion, I must with reverence mention the name of a school friend, Miko Russell from Ennis, another of those gallant men who died in action.

Brendan Moroney

London W10

Irish Post 31st October 1981

The Spanish Civil War: crawthumpers' moment of sham glory

Peter Kane waxed eloquent in your issue of October 10 on the Spanish Civil War. May I, as somebody who fought in that war, provide him with some facts.

O'Duffy's Brigade had minimal involvement. On the other hand, those Irish who were in the International Brigades and in the Irish Company (about 150 men in the latter) fought with distinction, honour and valour right up to the final defeat. Needless to say, many of them died.

Frank Ryan, although he did not hold as high a military rank as is sometimes attributed to him, was a great man of fine bearing. He was a leader of men.

During an exchange of correspondence in your newspaper some years ago, I named many of the great Irishmen with whom I had the honour of participating in that war.

Peter Kane said that Franco 'was fully backed by the Catholic Church.' Well, I can tell him that Franco killed countless Catholics. His dastardly deeds at Guernica horrified the world. As was characteristic of him, he tried to blame our side for it. But the truth prevailed and Picasso put it all in his masterpiece 'Guernica', which Frank Dolan wrote about in his column of September 19 when that painting was finally returned to Spain.

Brendan Moroney

London W10

Irish Post, 28th November 1981

I read with deep regret Fionn MacCool's column of November 14 the news of the death of Paddy O'Daire. You paid a fitting tribute to an out-standing man who played a very remarkable role in the Spanish Civil War.

For him and I and 44 others, it began at Victoria Station, London, on December 4, 1936. Soon, we were marching through the main streets of Barcelona.

Joe Monks (to whom you attributed the details of O'Daire's Spanish involvement) was there - as were Frank Edwards, Kit Conway, Paddy Roe, Peter Daly, Jack Nalty, Paddy Gill and the Powers brothers from Waterford. The other names I find difficult to recall after so long a time.

There should be a book written about that company. It's part of Irish history. Incidentally, the British Battalion is now being acknowledged through [the] Imperial War Museum.

Brendan Moroney

Irish Post, 12th December 1981

Gallantry amidst the olive groves

I feel obliged to reply to Michael Feely's suggestion (November 28), that in the Spanish Civil War, 'the Republicans were also Communists' - which amounts to saying that I was a Communist.

Having entered Spain to serve with the International Brigades on December 6, 1936, and having been there throughout the civil war, I can state without hesitation that my Catholicism was never questioned. On the contrary, I was complimented on many occasions for holding firm to my religious convictions.

To give one simple example, I buried Ben Murray, from Clones, Co. Monaghan, in an olive grove and in the crater of the bomb that killed him. I recited appropriate Catholic prayers and that was what my comrades expected off me.

I attended many other Catholic funerals.

The Spanish Republican government was never dominated by the Spanish Communist Party.

What illustrates the truth of the entire situation is this fact - the vast majority of civilians who died were killed by Franco's bombings. He bombed towns, villages and churches - flattening them to the ground.

The International Brigades included people from all countries and they came to support a just cause. It was as simple as that.

Eighty percent of those involved, like me, were not Communist. But we all were anti-Fascist.

The Spanish people, even those who supported Franco, hold the International Brigades in high esteem to this day. We fought the just fight in defence of the lawfully elected popular government and, were it not for Hitler and Mussolini backing Franco (and in doing so getting plenty of practice for World War 2), we would have won. It was their intervention which changed the course of the civil war.

The International Brigades were the last to lay down their arms. They did so with honour.

Brendan Moroney

London W10

Irish Post, 23rd October 1982

The tragic change in Spain

I have just returned from a two-week holiday in Spain. What a contrast from Spain I fought for during the Civil War. That was a marvellous Spain and I loved its people. Now it's only your money that wants. Furthermore, they have become ill mannered. This is a tragedy in a country which had natural courtesy.

In several places they tried to rip me off. Luckily, my Spanish is still in good order and I was more than able to hold my own. The accommodation in those hotels that I saw was a disgrace to the name of tourism.

There was one incident which I knew of (but didn't witness) where a barman threw a 16 year-old boy through the window of the hotel lounge. The boy sustained severe cuts on his face and went to the police station to complain. Not only did they take no notice of him, they actually kicked him out. When he got back to the hotel, he was forced to pay 80 for the broken window.

The less said about the police the better. Anybody else who complains about the Garda in Ireland should go and sample their equivalent in Spain.

My impression was that Spanish tourism has a positive distaste for the English - despite the billion pounds of so British tourists spend in Spain each year. The Germans are the favourites there. I didn't bother finding out why.

But it really saddened me what has happened to a once marvellous country. It saddens me even more so when I think of the many fine Irishmen who fought and died for democracy and freedom in Spain. I regret having to write all of this, but feel it needs to be said.

Brendan Moroney

Irish Post, 4th Dec. 1982

Franco parallel nonsense

I need to reply briefly to Sean S O Cuilleanain who, in your issue of November 13, replied to my letter of October 23. In his reply, he submitted: 'What Eamon De Valera was to Ireland, General Franco was to Spain.' That's utter rubbish.

Franco was a dictator and a tyrant. Even 25 years after the Civil War he still had republicans in jail and was even executing some of them. A good friend of mine from the civil war days, Juan Grimau, was executed as late as 1963 and on false evidence.

Franco also resorted to torture and murder. I can vouch that we on the republican side treated those of Franco's soldiers whom were captured humanely and as prisoners of war.

Eamon De Valera was a statesman of world renown. I wish to God Ireland had somebody of his calibre today. If it had, it wouldn't be in the state it is.

Having risked my life in Spain, I naturally retain, even after all these years, a great love for the country and its people. But I was certainly disappointed by what I saw on my recent holiday there - the rapacious commercialism in so many years, even in what were formerly delightful little fishing villages.

Unlike Mr O Cuilleanain, I found the English-run pubs which I visited to be among the more honest establishments. I just feel that tourists from Britain, who contribute such vast suns to the Spanish economy each year, deserve better and more honest treatment than I saw being provided in so many establishments.

Still, here's to Spain. I need to go on believing that the ordinary Spaniard is still a man of nobility.

Brendan Moroney

Queen's Park


Irish Post, 14th May 1983

May God grant Sam Wild his eternal award

I was saddened to read in Fionn Mac Cool's column in your issue of April 23 of the death of Sam Wild, one of the heroes of the Spanish Civil War. I knew him but briefly, for only a matter of one week, when I was in the British battalion of the 15th International Brigade. But I knew of him, of course, and of his outstanding feats as a soldier.

I had fallen foul of one of the American political commissars attached to the 15th Brigade headquarters. I was in poor physical shape and things were bad. Sam Wild intervened and hospitalised me. I have regretted since that I didn't have the honour of serving under him.

Sam was in the finest tradition of Irish soldiers who served on the Continent in various centuries and he certainly epitomised the best of our people who served in Spain. During the big Franco offensive in March 1938, Sam was briefly captured but he turned the tables on his captors and, unarmed and with his fists, saved himself and his comrades from certain death.

May God grant Sam Wild his eternal award.

Incidentally, perhaps not everybody who is interested in those days knows of the whereabouts of the grave of Peter Daly, who was, of course, another of the Irish heroes in Spain. He is buried in the cemetery of Benicasim, a small village about five kilometres from the city of Castellon de la Plana. Some time ago, I visited his grave.

I rather doubt if the world will know such bravery again. It was an honour to have been part of it.

Brendan Moroney


Irish Post,, 2nd Nov. 1985

Spanish memorial unveiling an unforgettable experience

Thanks to Fionn Mac Cool's column of October 5, I was alerted to that Sunday's unveiling in London's Jubilee Gardens of the memorial to the 526 people from Britain and Ireland who died fighting for the republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

The unveiling was an unforgettable experience and it brought back so many memories. The world will never fully appreciate the magnificent gesture of those people who came from all over the world to make a stand against Fascism and for freedom for the people of Spain.

The rest of the world stood by and let Fascism triumph. Had Britain sold arms to the Republican government, Franco would have been beaten and the events of World War 2 might have been different.

The memorial, by Ian Walters, captures the spirit of those who came to Spain's aid. In addition to the 526 members of the International Brigades who died, thousands more were wounded or maimed.

I could write so much about those days. As I viewed that sculpture, many memories came flooding back - faces, sounds, cries of pain and, at times, laughter. It is all a long time ago. But I am proud to have been part of it.

Brendan Moroney

Queen's Park