Review of Fearghal McGarry’s book "Frank Ryan" - Published by the Historical Association of Ireland: Life and Times Series, 2002, EUR9.00


Published in the Fall 2003 issue of Irish Literary Supplement - A Review of Irish Books (Boston)

No researcher can control how, once published, the results of such research may be used or abused by others - even when employed as character assassination to suggest guilt by association. In 1979 I had been the first to publish a study of the anti-Semitic writings of the first President of Sinn Fein, Arthur Griffith, followed in 1980 by an exposé of the anti-Semitism of a 1930s Sinn Féin President, J.J. O'Kelly. In his 1983 book In Time of War Robert Fisk made balanced use of such research, with due acknowledgement, and proceeded himself to bring to light the anti-Semitism of a one-time Irish Free State Minister, J.J. Walsh. In a 1989 essay, republished in his 1993 book Paddy and Mr. Punch, Roy Foster showed how the revisionist school of Irish "history" went on to make use of such research. Acclaimed on the covers of his books as "our cleverest Irish historian", "one of Ireland's greatest historians" and "the most brilliant and courageous Irish historian of his generation", Foster made reference (without acknowledgement to either Fisk or myself) to the "anti-Semitic ravings" of Arthur Griffith and the "more virulent anti-Semites still", O'Kelly and Walsh. Without pausing for breath Foster proceeded in the very next sentence to pronounce that "the influence of Germany on the careers of Frank Ryan or Francis Stuart cannot be taken as a particularly encouraging precedent".

The implication that Frank Ryan ended up as some kind of crypto-Nazi was, of course, intended to shock those who revere him as an Irish Republican leader of the 1920s and 1930s and, more importantly, as leader of Ireland's International Brigade volunteers in the Spanish Anti-Fascist War. Such character-assassination would have been easily countered had Seán Cronin's pioneering 1980 biography, Frank Ryan - the Search for the Republic, still been in print. In its absence, however, the past year had held out the prospect that a new biography of Ryan by Fearghal McGarry would be no less effective a response. This prospect was all the more promising because in 1999 McGarry had authored Irish Politics and the Spanish Civil War which compares most favourably with the book by Robert Stradling, The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, also published the same year and reviewed by me in the Spring 2001 issue of Irish Literary Supplement. More skilful PR marketing of Stradling's biased account has overshadowed the recognition that ought to have come to McGarry's tour-de-force. Hopefully his work will yet be regarded as the definitive textbook on that subject.

What was most impressive about McGarry's earlier book was the manner in which it constituted a model of objective presentation and analysis of the full, if conflicting, evidence in respect of the Irishmen on both sides of that Spanish War, a presentation whose fairness nobody could question. What a pity, therefore, that McGarry departs from that highway of objectivity for the sensationalist approach adopted in his second book, simply entitled Frank Ryan. This review's criticism will primarily focus on the penultimate chapter, but there are also some reservations about the earlier chapters, all of which are given a heading which seeks to classify Ryan politically for each period under discussion.

The chapter on Ryan the Republican is perhaps the best developed. It complements the earlier work of Cronin by drawing on extracts from the diaries of Rosamund Jacob, a Quaker Republican and one-time lover of Ryan.

So, alongside what we already knew of the editorials written by Ryan in the late 1920s for the IRA newspaper An Phoblacht, we now know how his fulminations against Trinity College Union Jackery on Armistice Day were translated into street-fighting action, thanks to Jacob's vivid accounts.

Her diaries also offer another attraction for McGarry, insofar as they allow him to introduce racy descriptions of the sex-life of Ryan, the "black panther" of Jacob's passion. In a full-scale biography this would have been a valid subject for exploration. Here, however, an imbalance is introduced into what is essentially a slim 90 page political biography designed, according to the publishers, for Leaving Cert students of history no less than university undergraduates.

And this is only one of the problems that arise with McGarry's preoccupation with the Jacob diaries. The chapter headings themselves nail down Ryan's life into distinct political compartments and one loses a sense of development when themes detailed in one chapter are abandoned in others. Jacob must have had nothing of dramatic interest to write on the very different approach to Armistice Day which Ryan the Social Republican adopted following the formation of the Republican Congress in 1934.

Ryan had grown up politically and had found a social programme to make common cause with the British Legion's Irish rank-and-file. "Why Republican Dublin Cheered Ex-Soldiers" was the heading to the account Ryan wrote of that year's Armistice Day, and yet McGarry makes no mention of it at all.

One would expect McGarry's chapter on Ryan the anti-Fascist in Spain to be more solidly based than any other, given the achievement of his earlier book. For the most part it is, but there is one particular issue where McGarry seriously undermines his own previous high standards as a painstakingly objective historian. He now writes:

"Volunteers who clashed with the communists - some in good conscience - were discreetly imprisoned and in some cases (including Irishmen) executed".

Who were the "good conscience" Irishmen murdered by the communists in Spain? McGarry does not say, but he cites two sources. The first is the 1998 book by James K. Hopkins entitled Into the Heat of the Fire - the British in the Spanish Civil War, and checking this out we find Hopkins writing: "William Meeke had been in Spain since October 1937. He was twenty-eight, Irish, and judged an 'incorrigible, useless type'. In his file the commissariat noted tersely that Meeke was shot while attempting to escape".

However, what Hopkins left unmentioned was that Meeke's file also reveals that this man from Bushmills, Co. Antrim had served four years in the British Army before coming to Spain and behaving in such a manner that the International Brigades found him to be an "undisciplined, incorrigible, useless type". He had indeed been shot at, but most certainly was not killed, while attempting to escape from Castledefels prison in mid-September 1938. He was evacuated to France by the Spanish Republic at the end of that year, and brought to the notice of the British Foreign Office in a French refugee camp in January 1939.

So now we are down to the possibility that there might have been a single "good conscience" Irishman executed by the International Brigades, and for this reference McGarry cites his own earlier book. Accounts of the execution of the Irish volunteer Maurice Ryan (who was not related to Frank) had first been published by Ian Mac Dougall in his 1986 book Voices from the Spanish Civil War. Ryan, already under some suspicion as a possible 'fifth columnist', had been shot for being drunk in charge of a machine-gun during the Ebro offensive and for firing in the direction of his own men, thereby further threatening their lives as they fought the enemy. Stradling concluded that "Ryan, indeed, may have been a fascist saboteur". In his earlier book, however, McGarry carefully presented and conscientiously weighed all the evidence, pro and con, and more reasonably concluded that "some form of personality dysfunction rather than fascism was the cause of Ryan's behaviour". All a far cry, however, from now suggesting that he had been shot for holding non-communist beliefs "in good conscience".

It is regrettable that McGarry also lends credence to a "communist conspiracy" description of Frank Ryan's funeral ceremonies on the occasion of his re-burial in Ireland in 1979. A serious historical work should not accept at face value the type of reminiscences that have come to be described as "oral history", without first seeing if they can be cross-checked with the documentary record of the event being described. McGarry presents as Gospel the elderly Eilís Ryan's faulty recollection, a decade and a half after her brother's re-burial, that "the Communist Party took control when we got the coffin and marched in front of the television". If McGarry had bothered to check the evidence he would have seen that the three Communists shouldering Ryan's coffin at Dublin Airport - Frank Edwards, Peter O'Connor and Michael O'Riordan - were there in one capacity only, that of International Brigade veterans, and that the fourth such veteran heading up that guard-of-honour, Terry Flanagan, had never been a Communist at all. Instead of recognising the validity of war veterans following the time-honoured custom of shouldering the coffin of their commander-in-chief, McGarry substitutes false memory for historical fact.

Such departures by McGarry from his own previously established high standards of scholarship are compounded in his treatment of the last period of Ryan's life entitled, without qualification, "Collaborator 1938-44". "Collaborator" is here used solely as a political classification in the same way as all other chapter-headings preceding it - "Republican", "Social Republican" and "Anti-Fascist". And "collaborator" in the political sense is given only one definition in all of the leading English-language dictionaries from Oxford to Collins. A "collaborator" is defined as one who cooperates traitorously with an enemy of one's own country, especially with an enemy occupying or seeking to occupy that country. The dictionary definition of "Quisling" is also given as a synonym for "collaborator", particularly a traitor collaborating with an occupying enemy force.

That is not to deny the fact that there were indeed a number of Irish Quislings prepared to subvert Ireland's sovereignty in the interests of Nazi Germany. There most certainly were. Chief among them was Charles Bewley, former Irish Minister to Germany, who, following his dismissal by de Valera on the eve of the Second World War, went into exile in Rome and proceeded to urge Berlin to conspire for the overthrow of Dev. One writer who generously shared his research with McGarry has also suggested that Frank Ryan was not all that different a Quisling. In his 1998 book Hitler's Irish Voices David O'Donoghue quite specifically charges Ryan with having been engaged in a Nazi coup d'etat plot to topple de Valera in 1940.

On the issue of Ryan and Germany there can certainly be an argument for a new biography that will supplement the path-breaking groundwork of Cronin with data from more recently-released official documents from Britain and Ireland. But it is more a case of adding detail to Cronin than differing with him to any great degree as to the substance of relevant material. There also remains, of course, an argument for a more opinionated evaluation of the evidence which Cronin conscientiously presented but from which he was not always prepared to draw political conclusions. This I once attempted to do myself in a 1981 review of Cronin's biography which I entitled Frank Ryan, Anti-Fascist Hero?. The question-mark was important, as Cronin's evidence had left me in no doubt that by no stretch of the imagination could Ryan's actual activities in wartime Germany be considered as a continuation of his previous anti-fascist resistance struggle, even though his inner beliefs remained as before. Writing from a point of view which regarded as valid the Soviet denunciation of Irish wartime neutrality that had resulted in the USSR veto on Ireland joining the UN for the first decade of its existence, I regarded Ryan's championing of de Valera's neutrality as being "objectively" anti-Soviet.

I no longer hold that view of Irish history. It was all very well more than two decades ago to use such a question mark in order to demythologise Ryan as a Socialist Republican icon. But I failed to follow through to examine in an unbiased fashion the full meaning of Ryan's activities during his German period. The more I have since read of Ryan, the more I appreciate how answering the question of what Ryan was, and not just what he wasn't, is indeed a major challenge for any biographer.

Was Ryan therefore functioning in Germany as some sort of a Quisling, as O'Donoghue has suggested, a collaborator as McGarry now proclaims, part of some secret anti-fascist conspiracy as many on the left still seek to maintain, or a true Irish patriot as some others have argued on his behalf? Here again, McGarry's politically-compartmentalised chapters allow for no analysis of Ryan's evolving perspective on foreign policy.

McGarry quotes Ryan as saying in August 1931 that in another great war England's difficulty would once again be Ireland's opportunity, and he argues that there is little reason to think that Ryan's views in this regard changed significantly over the course of the remaining dozen years of his life. But Ryan had in fact proceeded from that earlier simplistic viewpoint to develop quite a sophisticated analysis of foreign affairs. McGarry makes no mention of the fact that Ryan also used the "England's difficulty" mantra in 1933 on the occasion of Hitler coming to power. Ah ha! But in fact his use of that slogan in this instance runs counter to the "collaborator" thesis. Ryan had been sufficiently astute to observe that at this juncture Britain was encouraging Germany against France, so that this "Ireland's opportunity" perspective was as much anti-Nazi as it was anti-British. Later still, Ryan appropriated the "We Serve Neither King Nor Kaiser" slogan in order to counter any Republican temptation to adopt a pro-German position. Finally, yet another detail left completely unmentioned by McGarry, is the fact that in 1937 Ryan completely disavowed all simplistic sloganeering when he concluded that the fate of the Wild Geese "should have forever killed the slogan: 'England's enemy is Ireland's friend'".

Ryan's sojourn in Germany must be examined in the circumstances under which it actually unfolded rather than on the basis of a pre-determined outcome. McGarry's chapter heading of "Collaborator" requires him to adopt a teleological approach that dismisses any evidence that would challenge that verdict. In the only sense in which it remains valid for the term to be used in respect of Ireland, a collaborator can only mean a person who conspired on behalf of Germany against de Valera. No less a witness, however, than the wartime deputy head of Ireland's Department of Foreign Affairs, Frederick Boland, stated quite unequivocally that de Valera himself had indeed sanctioned the release of Ryan in July 1940 from life-threatening prison conditions in Franco's Spain into the hands of personal friends in the German intelligence agency Abwehr, the former left-wing activists Helmut Clissmann and Jupp Hoven. McGarry nonetheless tries to dismiss such an authoritative source as Boland with the following rather weak line of argument: "It has been claimed that de Valera approved Ryan's release, but - at a time when the Irish Government was executing republicans owing to the danger of the IRA collaboration with Germany - this seems unlikely".

At no point did de Valera ever execute any Republicans for such a reason, and none had been executed for any other reason at this juncture. Those he would later execute (after Ryan's release) were to be convicted of murder. Prior to Ryan's release one IRA leader in Cork, Tomás MacCurtain had been sentenced to death in June 1940 for the murder of a detective during a shoot-out that January, but he had been reprieved a few weeks later. Far from being some sort of crypto-Nazi, this son and namesake of the Cork Lord Mayor murdered by the Black and Tans during the War of Independence had been the most forceful opponent of Fine Gael anti-Semitism during the 1930's. Indeed, the future Jewish Lord Mayor of Cork, Gerald Goldberg, has given eloquent testimony as to the actions taken by MacCurtain during this period to protect and defend him from the anti-Semitism of the Free State elite governing University College Cork.

Moreover, in the case of Frank Ryan, de Valera had already been made aware in Spring 1940, from the Dublin visit of his recently-released Welsh fellow-prisoner Tom Jones, how bitterly opposed Ryan was to the IRA bombing campaign in England that had been initiated by Seán Russell in 1939. Although never at any point in his life a Communist (he once described his political perspective as lying at some mid-point been the Communist Party and Fianna Fáil), Ryan had nonetheless also been shocked by the 1939 Non-aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. This made him all the more determined to ensure that Ireland would safeguard its own interests in the coming War by a policy of neutrality. But was there even more involved? McGarry dismisses the following argument that is sometimes advanced to suggest that Ryan's purpose in Germany was part of some mysterious anti-fascist conspiracy: "It has been argued that Ryan's presence in Germany was not as anomalous as might seem, since, under the leadership of Admiral Canaris, Abwehr was one of the few pockets of anti-Nazi sentiment. But for most of Ryan's time in Germany, all Irish operations - Abwehr and Foreign Office - were directed by a special department run by Dr. Veesenmayer, an SS Officer on secondment to the Foreign Office".

On that point I quite agree with McGarry's own response, but only insofar as the 1941-44 period is concerned. However his overall conclusion leads him to write quite confusingly about the earlier period of 1940. The significance which he attaches to a recently- released British intelligence report on the interrogation of Ryan's German handler Kurt Haller is more preoccupied with formal categorisation than with substance. He quotes not Haller himself, but the language chosen by his interrogator, to sum up for his superiors the following British overview:

"By sending Ryan (with Seán Russell by submarine to Ireland in August 1940) Abwehr II felt that their own interests would be better safeguarded, as Ryan accepted more easily his position as a German agent". McGarry then asks: "Why did Ryan, Ireland's most celebrated anti-fascist, agree to such a course of action?".

At this point McGarry overlooks the fact that while the Russell mission had indeed been taken over by Veesenmayer, and while the Abwehr had as a result been completely excluded from any contact with the IRA leader, Abwehr was still responsible for the care of Ryan. Through his personal friendship with Clissmann and Hoven, Ryan remained the only channel of communication by which the Abwehr might possibly find out at a later stage what the Veesenmayer-Russell mission was all about. At the same time, the British intelligence report makes clear that Ryan had not been briefed by anybody as to the details of Russell's mission. He had only been hesitatingly accepted by Russell as a fellow-passenger. McGarry makes no reference to this hesitation nor to the fact that two very different sources - the unrepentant Nazi Veesenmayer who was convicted of war crimes at Nuremberg, and Canaris's right-hand man Lahousen who appeared as a witness for the prosecution at those same Nuremberg trials – both testified that, notwithstanding the warmth of Ryan's and Russell's personal affection for each other, they had in fact quarrelled politically during their brief German encounter and had been at cross purposes with one another. When Russell died on board the submarine Ryan returned to Germany rather than land in Ireland. Ryan's own explanation was that he could not bring himself to land in Ireland and tell a reluctant and suspicious IRA that Russell had mysteriously died in his arms. McGarry thinks otherwise of Ryan's decision to return to Germany: "It was this decision which marked a crucial shift in Ryan's attitude a conscious determination to collaborate with Nazi Germany ... The real question is: why, by returning to Germany, did Ryan support republican collaboration with Germany?"

McGarry does not consider that there may well have been a more human if less heroic reason for Ryan's decision on the submarine - that the trauma of Russell's death had resulted in a breakdown accompanied by a belief that he would only feel safe again in the care of Clissmann who had looked after him after he had crossed the Spanish frontier some weeks previously. For there is parallel evidence from both British and Irish fellow-prisoners that Ryan had previously experienced a similar nervous breakdown shortly after his imprisonment in the Spanish Fascist Concentration Camp of San Pedro de Cardeña in 1938. Whether his return to Germany initially resulted from such a breakdown or was more politically purposeful from the very outset, we nevertheless have to critically evaluate what it was he was actually doing during the subsequent years spent in that country. McGarry quotes from O'Donoghue's 1989 interview with Francis Stuart concerning the latter's "recall" of a supposed incident in Berlin during 1940: "I never liked Ryan, we didn't really get on ... I remember one day ...we disagreed over something. He said to me, 'When' - not 'if', mind you - 'Germany wins the war I will be a minister in the Irish Government'. I took this as some sort of threat to me to keep in with him. I took that very much amiss. I didn't like this 'When Germany wins the war'". This, in turn, led O'Donoghue to conclude:

"Ryan's comment about becoming a member of the Dublin Government is the clearest indication that what Veesenmayer had in mind was, in fact, a coup d'etat against de Valera". A Quisling indeed. Unless, of course, we come to the more reasonable conclusion that in the case of this statement of Stuart's we are dealing with a self-serving venomous old viper anxious to foist his own sins on Ryan. For the documentary evidence shows that in 1940 it was not Ryan but Stuart himself who was triumphantly proclaiming in his Berlin book on Roger Casement that "the German victory ... is, at the moment I am writing these words, almost complete".

O'Donghue's soft interview of Stuart amazingly failed to confront him with the fact that what he was now alleging against Ryan was in direct contradiction with everything else he had written about him over the previous forty years. McGarry leaves Stuart's slander hanging there. While he questions Stuart's general credibility he does not even allude to the earlier Stuart statements that comprehensively refute that slander. He also fails in the responsibility of a biographer to cross-check with other evidence regarding Ryan's position (and condition) upon his return to Germany in August 1940. In particular he makes no mention whatsoever of a central eye-witness account, that of the unreconstructed Nazi Róisín Ní Mheara in her 1992 Irish-language autobiography Cé hí seo amuigh?

She had been Francis Stuart's Berlin mistress during 1940. Due to Helmut Clissmann's absence from Berlin for a period following Ryan's return, Stuart and Ní Mheara were the couple initially charged by the Germans with responsibility for looking after him. Ní Mheara's account remains bitterly antagonistic towards Ryan, as "that hero of Communism who had been sentenced to life imprisonment by Franco as a result of the crimes he had been found guilty of during the Spanish Civil War". She nonetheless recalls just how ill he had been in 1940 and how that illness had been made far worse by the sheer horror of the trauma of experiencing Russell's excruciatingly painful death in his arms under such claustrophobic submarine conditions. Ryan refused to eat. He barely deigned to converse with Stuart. He manifested total distrust of any Germans who came near him and in fact used his deafness as an excuse to avoid communication with them. And both Stuart and his Nazi mistress made fun of Ryan's refusal to eat her food, with Stuart sneering: "It's not so much the spy as the fry he is fearing!"

By the end of 1940 Ryan's health had recovered to the extent that he became functional again. If Veesenmayer had any hopes of sending Ryan as a liaison to Ireland in the winter of 1940 before the plans for an invasion of Britain had been completely shelved, the character of the role that Ryan might have played was quite different from that of Russell. It is strange how McGarry omits the evidence that shows this clearly to have been the case - the post-war British interrogation of Kurt Haller. For Ryan had indeed decided to become an agent - not, however, on behalf of Germany, but on behalf of Ireland itself. Whereas Russell had asked for German support for an IRA invasion of Northern Ireland (and damn the consequences for de Valera and Southern Ireland), the version of 'Operation Dove' that envisaged a role for Ryan was totally different. McGarry himself writes that in the event of a German invasion of Britain the status of Northern Ireland would have been up for grabs. It would have made perfect sense for de Valera to assert his claim to the North with the assistance of German arms rather than accept either a continuing British rule that threatened to invade the South itself, or an extension of German occupation from Britain to Northern Ireland. However, the Haller interrogation reveals that Ryan had completely subverted Russell's own strategy with the stipulation that there could be no question of any such German assistance being given without the expressed approval of de Valera himself and that the IRA should in the meantime desist from sabotage operations and confine its activities to agitation and propaganda.

Following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, which led to Ryan bluntly telling Veesenmayer that this action had ensured that Germany would lose the War, the threat of a German invasion of either Britain or Ireland receded. Much more threatening was the prospect of an Anglo-American invasion of Southern Ireland. In such an eventuality the de Valera Government itself (including, expressedly so, Gerald Boland, the very same Minister for Justice who had interned the IRA) made it quite clear that it would accept German assistance to repel such an invasion. And it would be with de Valera himself that Ryan would liaise.

Cronin's pioneering biography had already demonstrated from the correspondence between Ryan and Leopold Kerney, the Irish Minister to Spain, that Ryan unequivocally pledged his loyalty to de Valera's leadership for the duration of the War. And the Kerney correspondence was the means by which he maintained communication with that leadership. Ryan was Dev's de facto and effective Ambassador in Berlin, vitally needed by Dev in that role, not least because of the ineptitude of the official chargé d'affaires, William Warnock. In undertaking that role Ryan necessarily supped with the Devil, found himself in compromising situations and had to engage in varying degrees of dissimulation. In my 1981 review of Cronin I had pointed out that the relatively trivial correspondence concerning the wine that Veesenmayer had sent to Ryan as a Christmas gift would have been sufficient to hang him had he lived to experience the post-war Eastern European show trials of former International Brigaders. But at times he found that chalice too much to bear. However, as soon as Ryan enquired if he might be discharged from that duty so that he might return to Ireland, de Valera insisted that he stay at his post.

And how did Ryan discharge his duties? Ryan reported to de Valera via Kerney on how he had protested to Veesenmayer every time there had been a German outrage against Ireland, whether it be the blitz bombing of Belfast or the more mysterious bombing of Dublin's North Strand or the sinking of the Irish ship the "City of Bremen". But Ryan found his protests being skilfully deflected by Veesenmayer who knew how obsequious Warnock had been in undermining the original Irish Government protests. And Ryan also worked particularly effectively in Berlin against the machinations of the would-be Irish Quisling Charles Bewley. Ryan countered Bewley's character-assassination of de Valera and insisted that Dev would remain neutral but fight any invading force, thereby minimising any temptation in German circles to consider offensive action against Ireland.

The unsupportable chapter-heading of "Collaborator" is what more than anything else makes McGarry's biography a particularly disappointing one. Hopefully its publication will have two effects on readers. Firstly, it should build up a demand to have Cronin's pioneering 1980 biography reprinted. Secondly, if more readers proceed to also read McGarry's earlier work on the Spanish Civil War they will learn what a fine historian he has already been, with such high standards of scholarship, balanced presentation and conscientious evaluation, that one hopes will once again feature in future works of his.

Frank Ryan in Germany was neither the anti-fascist conspirator and martyr of Socialist Republican iconography nor the collaborator with the Nazis portrayed by McGarry. Even Haller's British intelligence interrogator at one point observed of Ryan: "Regarding himself as an Irish patriot and not a creature of the Germans, he refused to associate himself in any way with Hartmann's Irish broadcasts".

"Patriot" might well indeed have been the appropriate chapter heading to have used in respect of the final four years of Ryan's life. Patriotism can, of course, also be the last refuge of the scoundrel. But Ryan was no scoundrel. Undoubtedly he fails to pass the Stalinist test of unconditional loyalty to the interests of the Soviet Union, as he also fails to pass the Churchillian test of loyalty to the British Empire. He would have been a prime candidate for a show trial under either regime. But perhaps an admittedly more insular standard of patriotism will allow us to acknowledge the integrity of the role he played. If he had been a collaborator, de Valera would have been his target. All the more remarkable then that McGarry, while making a passing dismissive reference to Michael McInerney's 1979 study The Enigma of Frank Ryan, makes no mention at all of the one scoop of McInerney's that had eluded Cronin, an interview with de Valera himself. And in that interview shortly before his death de Valera pronounced:

"I am very pleased that you are writing the biography of this great Irishman. Frank Ryan always put Ireland first in everything he did or said, at home or abroad. He has earned his place in history".

Ryan had, of course, made clear over the course of his political life that what was good enough for Dev was not good enough for him. But might not what had been good enough for Dev about Ryan himself been good enough for Ireland? Dev knew how vitally important and essential Ryan's role had been in successfully pursuing his own strategy of safeguarding Ireland from both war and fascism. And yet the German writer Enno Stephan was surely justified in his 1961 pioneering work Spies in Ireland when he observed: "It seems astounding that the Irish Government has up to now done nothing to rehabilitate Franco's one time prisoner, although it could have contributed something to this theme". Only at the end of his own life did the ever-secretive de Valera finally discharge his own duty to do right by Frank Ryan and vindicate his role in Irish history.


A shorter version of this is also available.

Several documents with reviews of material on Ireland and the SCW