Updated: May 4 2006

Letter to Saothar, 1998 (vol. 23)

The Irish in the Lenin School

Dear Sirs,

I was very interested in the article by Barry McLoughlin in Saothar 22 on Irish communists in the International Lenin School in Moscow.

The reference to a 'Patrick Crutt' from Dublin, sent home in 1934, is to Joseph Whelan who lived in the Newmarket area of Dublin and who had worked in Varian's, the brush manufacturers of Talbot Street. The article mentions a 'sector meeting' in Moscow in November 1934, at which 'Crutt' and Prendergast were censured for various misdemenors. But 'Crutt' was back in Dublin by then and had been expelled from the CPI in September of that year. He died in England during the war.

Donal O'Reilly, who attended the Lenin School in 1932, was expelled from the CPI in 1935 for 'political unreliability' and never made any attempt to rejoin though encouraged to do so after he returned from Spain in 1937.

Patrick Breslin, who, as the article states, was expelled from the course, became a translator and remained in the Soviet Union when the others who had finished the course returned in 1930. Later he married a Miss MacMackin, MA (Maighread Nic Mhaicin) who was a student of the Russian language who had gone to the Soviet Union for further study. She returned to Ireland in 1938 but was unable to go back to the Soviet Union because of the deteriorating international situation. Patrick Breslin was refused an exit permit by the Soviet authorities. In 1943 she became a lecturer in Russian in TCD. She retired in 1969 and died in 1983.

The article states that the last Irish students -McGregor, Morrison and Moraghan - attended the School between October 1935 and January 1937. Whatever about the other two, McGregor didn't return to Dublin until 1938. He immediately made arrangements to go to Spain where he arrived in April of that year.

We are given to understand that the article is based on information contained in the official archives of the former CPSU. Consequently, I was surprised to notice that Bill McGregor was referred to as 'Liam'. As far as I am aware he was never known as 'Liam' during his lifetime and in the International Brigade records his name appears as William S McGregor. The Irish language version of his first name only came into vogue after his death in Spain. Could I ask the editor of the article to confirm that he saw this version of Bill's name in a document in the archives he referred to. The answer may well be in the affirmative. I'm just asking.

The photo you published as being that of McGregor is certainly not so.

Yours sincerely.

Eugene Downing


Co. Wicklow.

[Note by editors of Saothar: - The mistake over the photos was theirs, not McLoughlins.

Response by Barry McLoughlin

Eugene Downing is to be complimented on his excellent memory.

His remarks on Joseph Whelan ('Patrick Crutt') are apposite. Whelan did return to Ireland in September 1934, the ECCI decision to send him home was passed on 6 August that year. Unfortunately when writing the article, I had not as yet located Whelan's cadre file in RTsKhIDNI, but everything Eugene says about the Dublin background of Whelan is correct. That he was subsequently damned in absentia was based on my reading of the report on the School sector from 1934, which formed the basis for the resolution.

As regards Patrick Breslin. I am preparing a book on his short and tragic life. Here again, Eugene Downing is correct but for one passage: Margaret (Daisy) MacMackin, Breslin's wife, never intended to return to Russia - she had given birth to a baby daughter in Belfast in June 1938. Breslin hoped to join his family in Ireland but was not allowed to leave the USSR.

Finally, I have no idea what Liam McGregor did between the cessation of his Lenin School course in January 1937 and his departure for Ireland in June of the same year. At the time the courier service of the Comintern - OMS - which organised the departure of the students was decimated by arrests; hence the fact that McGregor's exit form for OMS lay uncompleted for five months. From June 1937 until his departure for Spain in April 1938 Liam McGregor was Dublin District Organiser of the CPI. This information is taken from his International Brigade file in RTsKhIDNI. While he was registered as William Scott McGregor at the Lenin School and given the pseudonym William Citrine, he called himself Liam in Spain, at least in his application to join the Spanish Communist Party (14 June 1938.)

If Eugene Downing to other readers have any supplementary material on Irish Lenin School, students they should contact myself or the editors of Saothar.

Barry McLoughlin


Tef/Fax. 00431 9832249

I've added a long article by Barry and another researcher on British and Irish students at the International Lenin School.

More material by/about Eugene is also available on this site:

There are 2 obituaries available about him:

One by Manus O'Riordan, the other appeared on the Indymedia site.

In addition to this piece, Eugene has written several few other pieces. Here are some that are now online on this site.

In September 2000 Eugene was interviewed by Ciaran Crossey and John Quinn about the SCW.
Here is Eugene's 5 page authorised version of the notes from that discussion.

A [funny] article about Eugene's street politics in the mid 1930's - Street Journalism.

A letter to the Irish Times about Mattie Ryan, Pandit Nehru and a shooting exhibition.

The Plaque on the Wall, a report of a visit back to the hospital in Spain. Letters from Josefina [about his time in hospital and letters between him and Josefina, one of the nurses.]

A very funny piece about the moment When I was in Charge.

The IB and the Ebro

The Siege of Connolly House. An interesting piece about a siege of the place the CP offices.

A letter to the Irish Times about the catholic church's refusal to allow a funeral service for
IB volunteer Tony Fox.

Would anyone who knows of further articles by Eugene please get in touch.

Ciaran Crossey

Belfast, 6th August 2003.