Irish in Spanish Civil War - Non Combatants

Updated 12th January 2018

Latest Additional name: Louis MacNeice, 12 September 1907 – 3 September 1963

While on a short break in Barcelona I went on a Civil War tour, and very good it was. In the course of this I was told that Louis MacNeice, an Irish poet, was in Barcelona for 10 days in December 1938.

I've just obtained his autobiography, so will add some details over the next few days.

New Name: Joseph Eastman Sheehan, 1885-1951

While reading the latest issue of the IBMT Newsletter, available 3 times a year to all IBMT members, so JOIN TODAY, there was a reference to this man. I looked him up online and found the following obituary, so definitely Irish, definitely in SCW.

How excellent a showman: Joseph Eastman Sheehan, 1885-1951, by Harry H Orenstein, MD, in Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, May 1983, Vol 59 (3), p327-330.

He was invited by the Duke of Alba in 1928 to tour Spain and the “offer suggestions for treating the wounded soldiers of the Riff campaign during the Moroccan uprising. Spending several weeks in Spain operating on troops and teaching young surgeons reconstructive techniques, Sheehan was awarded the Order of Alphonso X111. During the Spanish Civil War Generalissimo Franco invited Sheehan to organise reconstructive hospitals and formally to train plastic and reconstructive surgeons This time Sheehan was made an honorary colonel in Franco’s army.”

The article says he was born in Dublin, April 1885, then migrated to USA. So he's now added to my list of non-combatants.

Mary Elmes 1908 – 2002

Some of the Irish Non-Combatants in Spain during the Civil War. While these people were mainly tourists in the country at the start of the civil war, there were a number of people who provided medical support to the oppressed civilians of Spain.

I’m sure there were additional people, but as they’re found, I’ll list them. Any extra details would be appreciated.

Contact me at

On doing a review of the lists of Irish volunteers maintained by Carmody and Crossey, we've decided that it would be more accurate to move 2 names over into the lists of Non-Combatants.

These people are Beatrice de Courcy Ireland and Randal McDonnell. This now gives, with the 11 Non-Intervention Committee staff listed below, 45 Irish non-combatants.

  1. Kevin Adams, Tulamore and James A Ennis, Tulamore. They’d escaped from San Sebastian which was under threat from the fascist troops. “Everyone appears to be armed. Even women carried rifles or revolvers.” Irish Independent, 27/7/36.
    [Note by CC: The reference to FASCISTS was in the original newspaper report, not a line added by me.]

  2. Miss Hilda Allingham and Miss Elsie Brown, 2 students at QUB, were on their way to a language school in Jaca, Aragon. They arrived safely in France on July 24th. Brown lived in Knockbracken. Allinghams father was the Chief Warden of Crumlin Road jail. Belfast News Letter, 24/7/36.
  3. Mrs Myra Bereford, India St, Belfast. Irish Independent, 28/7/36. Worked in Glasgow, and was reported as being on her way out of Spain.
  4. Miss Boland. Reports on 28th October 1937 that De Valera denounced the murder in Bilbao of this governess who was killed along with the family she worked for. Irish News, 28/10/37
  5. Miss Elsie Brown – see Allingham
  6. Mrs Ethel Cox. Arrived back in NI from Spain. Belfast News Letter, 29/7/36.
  7. Miss Eleanor Mary Cronin: - National Archives of Ireland, file P/10/57B, File on Miss Eleanor Mary Cronin

    A large file on this woman. Basically she appears to be an Irish citizen, or was at least someone born in Cork, who had been staying in Spain for 12 years, and was now in trouble with the local authorities.

    On Feb. 16th she wrote that she had been born in Cork, 29th April 1899. She lived in Spain for 12 years, 'having given English lessons amongst others to the families of Ramonones and Duge de Luna; that she was a cousin of ex-Commandant Cronin.'

    20th March 1937 she said she was born at Fergus Castle, Cork.

    26th July 1938, Kearney, the Gov. rep. in Spain, described her as 'a very undesirable and unscrupulous person.'

    There does not seem to have been political problems here, she seemed to have financial problems with her landlords, etc. She'd spent 6 months in a Spanish jail. Released Dec. 11th 1937, put over the border into France.

    On July 29th 1938 she was arrested by the French police for owing the Hostellerie de Ciboure, St Jean de Luz, for debts of 1,000 French francs which had arisen since she arrived there on July 13th.

    By January 4th 1939 she was back in Spain, safe in San Sebastian.

  8. Matthew Cullen, a native of Co. Wexford, now living at Clydagh, Swansea. Irish Independent, 27/7/36. He was in Barcelona for the people’s Olympiad, the alternative Olympics. Threw the discus for Wales.
  9. Beatrice de Courcy Ireland: In two long letters to Ciaran Crossey, John de Courcey Ireland stated that his wife travelled to Spain in a delegation from Manchester in late 1937/early 1938.

    In 1936 she was living in Manchester, very active in the Anti-Partition movement, 'which largely split over Spain, sadly, I have to say, the majority taking Franco's side'. She had worked for the Red Cross and was also on the Executive Committee of the Manchester Borough Labour Party and a candidate for the City Council elections.

    By late 1937/early 1938 the Manchester pro-Spanish republican movement had "collected the money to send a big delegation to Barcelona with a large quantity of medical supplies of which my wife was in charge and various other domestic items to be delivered officially to the Republican government in Barcelona. They went by train via Paris and the east coast of Spain (the west coast line being in Franco's hands). My wife had learned a little Catalan and a lot about the Catalan political movement and was evidently a great favourite in Barcelona where she spoke several times on the Republican radio to all Spain emphasizing her sympathy as an Irishwoman with the national movements, Catalan, Basque, etc. in Spain. When she got back she spoke on the movements and on what she had seen and experienced in Spain (Barcelona was air-bombed while she was there) - Manchester, Bolton, Liverpool and a particularly big huge one in Bradford."

    The membership lists of the Manchester Relief Committee in the MML were checked out and her name was not listed, but the memory presented by her family does seem strong. the obituary carried in the Irish Times presented no new information, presumably it was all based on family reports.

    In 1938 she returned home to Ireland and after a while moved with John de Courcey Ireland to Dalkey.

    Essentially she was a supporter of the republican side, but was only there to deliver medical goods and then spoke at solidarity meetings in Britain - I think she does not qualify as a combatant or as a full participant. Anyone with strong opinions, please get in touch.

  10. Mary Elmes, was born May 5th 1908 as Marie Elisabeth Jean Elmes in Cork. Her parents had a family business in Winthrop Street, J Waters and Sons, Dispensing Chemists, her father being the pharmacist. She was educated at Rochelle School and Trinity College Dublin where she gained First Class Honours in Modern Literature (French and Spanish) and the Gold Medal.

    In February 1937, Mary joined the University of London Ambulance Unit in war-torn Spain and worked in a children’s hospital in Almeria

    A lot more info on her in this really interesting article.

  11. James A Ennis, Tulamore – see Kevin Adams
  12. Rev. David Esler, Minister of Maghera Presbyterian Church was in Madrid when the rebellion started. Arrived back in NI from Spain. Newsletter, 29/7/36. Belfast News Letter, 24/7/36. He’d been at a university course in Spanish. Irish Independent, 25/7/36.
  13. Cyril Fogerty, Clarecastle, Co. Clare. A clerk in Cadiz, he’d notified his father that he was safe. Irish Independent, 31/7/36.
  14. Edward Gribbon, an artist from Kings Road, Knock. Arrived back in NI from Spain. Belfast News Letter, 29/7/36. Described in the Irish Independent, 31/7/36, p14, as a young artist.
  15. Mrs Muriel Ingram, A Free State citizen.

    A Language teacher who stayed behind in Bilbao during the Republic and when the nationalists took over 'she was denounced to them and arrested.' Irish News, 17/9/37.

    Can anyone provide more information on her?

  16. Shevawn Lynam was in Spain on the outbreak of war and stayed for at least some months. In later life she worked for the BBC Spanish department. She wrote a novel, The Spirit and the Clay, about a Basque resistance group after the SCW. No evidence has yet emerged that she did anything during the SCW to be counted as more than a non-combatant.

    She was born in Dublin of Galway parents and educated in Ascot, Madrid, France and Germany. Linguist and journalist, she was Spanish specialist with the BBC and the Ministry of Information during the War. After going to Paris in 1950 she worked for the Marshall Plan and UNESCO, and edited NATO's monthly review from 1958 to 1963, returning to Dublin to be Editorial Publicity Officer at the Irish Tourist Board until 1971. She died in 1998.

    Thanks to Harry Owens in Dublin for this information.

  17. Mother M Madeline, a cleric and cousin Mr W MacNamara, a journalist in Cashel, sent a telegraph saying that Mr McNamara and his daughter, Miss Marie Eithne MacNamara, were safe. Both taught in Loreto College de la Bom, Madrid. Reported in the Irish Independent, 27/7/36.
  18. Margaret McKay, Coleraine. Arrived back in NI from Spain. Belfast News Letter, 29/7/36.
  19. Elizabeth McKay - see above.
  20. W MacNamara – see Mother Madeline
  21. Louis MacNeice - see above, January 2018
  22. Ivan McCutcheon, student at TCD. Irish Independent, 27/7/36.
  23. Randal McDonnell, was officially known as The Earl of Antrim. He had succeeded his father to the post on his fathers death in 1932. and worked as the Attaché in the British Legation, Tehran in 1932 and then Clerk in the House of Lords (1933-34).

    Despite this background he was described by his son as "very left wing", to such an extent that after World War 2 he had difficulties getting into America as they initially refused him a visa.

    McDonnell was first in Spain in January-February 1937 when he accompanied Cyril Connolly and other radical intellectuals. Another intellectual involved with Spain, TC Worsley, has described how he met up with McDonnell in Spain and listened while Randal spoke, quite clearly and knowledgeably about Marxism, although his habit of referring to Marx as 'Charlie' was thought to annoy some of the fundamentalist communists. He was briefly detained by the communist authorities for some unknown reason, but released on Connolly presenting a letter of introduction signed by Harry Pollitt of the CPGB.

    In Belfast O'Donnell was Chairman of the Committee for the relief of Spanish Refugees from April 1938. He went out to Spain in December 1938 to see what aid was needed by the Catalonian population and then again in January 1939. For that trip he raised funds for an ambulance which went out in a convoy which included one motor driven by Ernie Brown, a well known English activist. His son later said that he had been very distressed by the sight of the treatment and conditions of the refugees on the French border. The five trucks, with McDonnell driving one of them, left London on January 31st.

    After the Spanish Civil War he served in the Royal Navy throughout World War 2. The Earl went on to become Chairman of the National Trust in Northern Ireland along with a host of other business and cultural posts.

  24. Miss E McQuade, Willowbank Gardens, Belfast. Arrived back in NI from Spain. Belfast News Letter, 29/7/36. McQuade and Cox were sisters and were in a group of 40 Liverpool University students who’d been on a course in Spain. The Irish Independent, 28/7/36, mentioned that they were on a British ship and were able to notify relatives.
  25. Rev Austin Murphy, Castleknock College. He’d been in Palma in the Balaeric Islands. Left there on the 18th. Quoted in Irish Independent, 27/7/36, as saying: “The Church seems to have backed that horse [the coup] very much, and if the Communists win there will be an excuse, if such were needed, for violent religious persecution in Spain.” Also reported as seeing the shooting of a Communist woman who’d insulted the fascist troops when they occupied Palma.
    [Note by CC: The reference to FASCISTS was in the original newspaper report, not a line added by me.]
  26. Don Patricio O’Connell: An Irishman and the Politics of Spanish Football By Jimmy Burns - an article about this football manager was carried in Irish Migration Studies in Latin America, Vol.6 Issue 1 (March 2008), pp. 39-47. Available online here.
  27. Colm O’Kiersey, teacher in Parnell Square Technical School. Evacuated on 25th July from San Sebastian. This man, and 37, arrived in San Sebastian on the 20th, in the midst of a general strike. Irish Independent, 27/7/36.
  28. Miss Elva O’Phelan. Had been in Bilbao, but got out. Irish Independent, 28/7/36.
  29. Miss M O’Sullivan:
    Irish Independent, 4/11/36, reports on an Irishwoman’s Vivid Narrative, when it gave reports of the return from Spain of Miss M O’Sullivan, 132 Botanic Road, Dublin, who’d recently returned from Barcelona where she’s spent 13 years teaching English. She ‘witnessed the burning of churches and saw mummified bodies taken from the graveyards.’
  30. Miss Patterson, Hope Cottage Newtownbreda, Belfast. Her father reported her as missing in Spain, Irish Independent, 28/7/36. Lived in Valladolid with her husband and 2 children.
  31. Frank Pierce, art student. Had been in Madrid, moved to Portugal, Irish Independent, 28/7/36.
  32. Joseph Eastman Sheehan - see above, January 2018
  33. Mr and Mrs Charles Somes, Botanic Ave, Belfast. Belfast News Letter, 24/7/36. He was manager of the Berliitz School of Languages in Belfast. Still not heard of by the 31st. Irish Independent,31/7/36.
  34. Mrs Charles Somes - see above.

Non Intervention Committee staff.

  1. Seamus MacCall. File D/2455/2 in the PRONI, Belfast, says that this man was asked by the Dept. of External Affairs, presumably that's Dublin, to work for the Non-Intervention Committee. He was in the Le Perthus, on a main road, on the French-Spanish border, in a multi-lingual force - of which only 3 could speak ANY Spanish. He was there 2 years.

    He witnessed “a flight of Franco’s German bombers come swooping down on a field which was crowded with refugees waiting for permission to cross into France, then the indescribable scene immediately following... and then the procession of improvised stretchers, with blood-stained blankets over un-dressed wounds, and women and children tottering mutely beside them”. MacCall is mentioned in the Irish Independent, 20/4/37 as being from Tyrone, he’d been arrested in Derry with De Valera in 1924. Serving as Land Observation officer in Gibraltar.

    As well as MacCall, there were another 10 'Irish nationals' working for the Non-Intervention Committee. A Mr O'Kelly, speaking in the Dail on 9th March 1938 revealed that there were 11 such people, whose pay ranged from the £450pa paid to the four land based staff to £1,100 paid to one sea based person. For the others based on ships one was paid £650, the rest (5) got £450.

    The Irish News of April 14th 1937 gave two of their names:

  2. Patrick Joseph McKevitt, son of the Harbour Master of Greenore - Captain McKevitt.

  3. Hugh Magee, a member of Louth county Council. They were to work as observers on the Spanish border. The Independent says that they were Assistant Observers at Gibraltar, although it spells McGee differently.

    The Irish Independent, 14/4/37, lists some of the men as:

  4. Captain Michael Doyle, Dublin. He had commanded the liner Laconia. Had been in Marseilles as Administrator since April 7th. (He was mentioned in the Irish Independent, 25/3/37.)

  5. Sean Brennan, Bantry – Chief Observing Officer for West Pyrenees.

    Assistant Observers:

  6. Sean Kellegher, Athlone

  7. Thomas Kittrick, Westport. He had been, Irish Independent, 10/4/37, Assistant Quarter Master General of the Army of the Provisional Government, resigned at the start of the Irish Civil War.

    (See above - different spelling) Hugh McGee, Dundalk

  8. Kevin Whelan, Dublin. All these men were at Basses Pyrenees.

    Chief Observation Officer, Sea Scheme

  9. Mr T H Skuse from Galway, based at Oran.

  10. M Brennan of Bantry is listed as being at Pau.

  11. Captain M Whelan, Dublin, an officer on White Star liners, 1916-21, frequently carried messages between the IRA and Clann na Gael. Irish Independent, 17/4/37

Ferghal McGarry, p270 theses, states that one of these men died of illness at Pau, but in response to a query from me, Feb. 7th 2006, he identified the dead man as Thomas Shuse, who died of natural causes.

Ciaran Crossey March 7th 2003;
Most recent of 4 updates: May 29th 2007
and "finally", March 2nd 2009 and now 9 years later, 12th January 2018

This list does not include the assorted sailors who continued to trade with Spain throughout the war on commercial grounds, and the numerous clerics (I've only included one) who would have been in Spain. Again, if anyone knows of people who could be added to this list, please pass them on.