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Bob Doyle (1916-2009)

Obituary by Manus O'Riordan

Statement issued by Manus O'Riordan Jan. 23rd 2009 (slightly edited, CC)

The last surviving Irish combatant on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War has died, leaving one surviving Irish veteran, Paddy Cochrane, a medic.

Bob Doyle passed away in London on Thursday [on 22 January 2009], aged 92, after a short illness.

Doyle was born in Dublin on February 12, 1916, shortly before the Easter Rising, and became politically active himself in the 1930s, joining the IRA after being beaten up in street fights with the Blueshirts which left him with permanent damage in one eye.

But he quickly became more interested in social issues and, in 1937, decided to volunteer for the International Brigade, motivated in part by the fact that his former flatmate Kit Conway had been killed in action at the Battle of Jarama on Doyle's 21st birthday.

He was foiled in his initial attempts, arrested and expelled from Valencia after he had stowed away on a boat. Undeterred, he eventually made it back to Spain later that year by crossing the Pyrenees.

Initially deployed to train new volunteers, as a result of his IRA experience, he disobeyed orders in order to join a group heading for the front line. After engaging in battle at Belchite, he was taken prisoner by Italian fascist troops on the Aragon front in March 1938, along with Irish International Brigade leader Frank Ryan.

He was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp established in the disused monastery of San Pedro, near Burgos, where he was regularly tortured by Spanish fascist guards and interrogated by the German Gestapo and, once, taken out to be shot.

Released as part of a prisoner exchange deal, Doyle enlisted in the British Merchant Navy for the duration of the Second World War before settling in London with his Spanish wife Lola.

Active until the very end, Doyle was a regular visitor to both his native Ireland and to Spain for International Brigade commemorations and, in 1996, along with all other survivors of the Brigades, was offered Spanish citizenship. He delivered his last speech at the rededication of Belfast’s International Brigade memorial on November 8.

He published an account of his experiences in Since Michael O'Riordan's passing in May of that year, Doyle had been the last surviving Irish combatant in the International Brigade.

Doyle is survived by his sons Bob and Julian, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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