A visit from Nehru

Letter in the Irish Times 12th February 1985


With reference to Eileen O’Brien’s interview with Michael O’Riordan (An Irishwoman’s Diary, February 4th ), could I be allowed to make a small correction?

In referring to Pandit Nehru’s visit to the Battalion in Spain in 1938 he mentions that Paddy O’Sullivan demonstrated his skill with a machine gun.

Paddy O’Sullivan was one of the best officers that the Brigade ever produced, but he wasn’t a machine-gunner.

At first a Spanish crew was given the job but unfortunately were so overawed by the occasion that they failed to impress. The gun was taken over by Maurice Ryan of Limerick, the best machine-gunner in the Battalion, and a very difficult person to overawe, I may say.

His display certainly made an impression, especially on the trees on the other side of the valley.

I can hear someone saying, who cares who it was? Does it matter? Maybe not?

Yours etc.

Eugene Downing

55 Upper Leeson Street

Dublin 4.

This letter is interesting because Eugene is doing a couple of things with this small letter. He is correcting a mistake in an earlier report about who carried out the display.

The other thing he is doing is bringing, for the first time as far as I know, Maurice Ryan to the public’s attention. Eugene knew what had happened to Ryan. In 1938 he’d been executed by the International Brigade because Ryan had been drunk in charge of a machine gun, firing upon and wounding several soldiers. In the publicly available material up to this point, he’d only been listed as having been killed in Spain, with no further explanation. Ryan was, to the best of my knowledge, the only Irish member of the IB to be executed by the Republicans.

For some more information, go to the report of an interview with Eugene, carried out in September 2000, where he gives more details about Ryan along with a wealth of other material.

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 version of the notes from that discussion.

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

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.]

An interesting piece from Saothar, on Moscow's International Lenin School,
attended by Bill McGregor, an IB volunteer.

A funny piece about a brief period when Eugene was in charge.

The IB and the Ebro

The Siege of Connolly House. An interesting piece about a siege of the place the Dublin CP offices in 1933(?)

A letter to the Irish Times about the catholic church's refusal to allow a funeral service for
IB volunteer Tony Fox, with a small clarification by Fox's family.

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

Ciaran Crossey, Belfast, 6th August 2003.