Ideals indecently buried.

Eugene Egan in Fortnight June 1993

In 1937, Bob Doyle left his native Dublin to fight on the republican side in the Spanish civil war. He joined the Connolly Column, the Irish unit of the International Brigade, which was attached to the British battalion. Now 76, last month he returned to Spain to campaign for a memorial to the brigadiers who died at the battle of Jarama.

According to Mr. Doyle, the bodies of his comrades were dumped in an unmarked mass grave in Morata de Tajuna. His journey back to Spain was recorded by BBC's Video Dairy, for broadcast in October.

Nineteen Irishmen died in the battle of Jarama. Many were IRA veterans, who fought with distinction - it was the death of one of them, Kit Conway, that led Mr. Doyle to Spain to join the struggle.

"I shared a room with Kit Conway in Dublin. At the time we were both in the Republican Congress. He was a man I admired, so when I heard he was killed in Jarama I made my own way to Spain to avenge his death and take his place," he said.

Mr. Doyle, one of the few survivors of the Connolly Column, also wants to highlight the fact that tens of thousands were executed after the war ended. As far as he, and many others, are concerned, Franco's reign of terror was a second Spanish Inquisition.

"One must remember that 172,000 people were executed by Franco's forces between 1939 and 1952. This happened to anyone who was associated with a strike, lockout or trade dispute, yet very little concern was expressed about atrocities. People did not realise the true extent of the terror in Spain.

"Nobody was punished for these executions. In 1947 I returned to Spain, having married a Spanish woman, and tried to visit places where executions had taken place. But I was prevented from doing this by the Spanish authorities," Mr. Doyle explained.

He does not want to see the efforts of those who died swept under the carpet. He is determined that those whose remains were thrown into a mass grave are given a decent resting place. But he has met a negative response from the Spanish authorities, who would rather keep the matter quiet.

The former Conservative Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, has written to the Spanish premier, Felipe Gonzalez - facing elections this month - in support of the campaign. The Irish Labour leader, Dick Spring, has added his support too.

The International Brigade consisted of volunteers from 62 nations. When asked why he had gone to Spain when many Irish republicans took the view that there was fighting to be done at home, he said: "It provided me with an opportunity to avenge Kit Conway's death and I felt an obligation to assist my Spanish brothers and sisters.

"Kit Conway was the battalion instructor for the IRA in Dublin and at that time we were fighting on many issues that affected the working class. We fought against people being evicted from rat infested basements. We supported the rent strikes and the rights of trade unionism and organised demonstrations against unemployment.

"With the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, we were able to identify with the struggle of the Spanish people. We thought that what was happening in Ireland and Spain was all part of the same struggle against imperialism and fascism. Having a broad international outlook we could no longer stand by and look on at the murder of democracy and the achievements the Spanish people had won."

Mr. Doyle was captured in March 1938, with the Irish unit's leader, Frank Ryan. They were taken to a concentration camp, and then to the main prison at Burgos and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to ten years imprisonment, while Mr. Ryan's was reduced to 30 years.

The prisoners were systematically beaten and deprived of food. Eleven months on, however, Mr. Doyle as released in exchange for Italian prisoners held by republicans.

He brought home to Dublin the names of 16 priests he claimed had been executed by Franco's forces, but they were never published in the Irish papers. Unable to find work in the hostile climate of the free State at the time, with the outbreak of World War 11, he joined the navy as a seaman.

After the war, Mr. Doyle settled in London, where he met his Spanish wife, Dolores. For the next 37 years he worked in the London printing trade and was active as a shop steward in his trade union.

The rise of fascism and racism in Europe disturbs him and has given his task an added urgency. He said: "The threat of fascism is greater today than in the 1930s. Because there is hardly a country in the world that is not facing the same problems, such as mass unemployment and poverty, which fuel fascism. The consequences of ignoring the fascist threat in Spain were the holocaust and the outbreak of World War 2.

"The struggle against fascism in not finished. The executions and the dumping of people's remains in mass graves are not going to go unchallenged. If history is allowed to be swept under the carpet, then it could be said that the efforts of those who fought against injustice had been in vain."

A later interview was carried in the Guardian during a series it did in 2000. 'I don't know how I wasn't killed'

Added to the site, 11th April 2006.

There is a collection of Bob's speeches and articles about him, available here.