Articles from the Irish Democrat-Irish Echo-Irish Post

This selection covers 1968 - 1979. More articles will be added as time permits.

Some material from the 1980s is now available Ciaran Crossey, 28th Dec. 2004

An additional article, When Shankill came to Bodenstown, was added 14th Jan. 2005

Irish Democrat May, 1968

Donal O’Reilly R.I.P

Under the title “Donal O’Reilly, a valiant man” the current issue of the “Irish Socialist” publishes an obituary over the name of Mr Michael O’Riordan, of one of the most interesting characters of the generation that is now passing. He was buried at Glasnevin on Wednesday, April 10th, the funeral procession containing members of the Irish Workers’ Party, leaders of the Labour Party, Fianna Fail, Dublin Trades Council, Plasterers Union and War of Independence veterans.

Mr. Peadar O’Donnell delivered the oration.

He was born in 1903. His father was author of “Wrap the Green Flag Round me” and with his three brothers he was present at the foundation meeting of the Irish Volunteers in the Rotunda Funk.

Though only 14, on the second day of the fighting Donal made his way into the G.P.O. Tom Clarke sent him home, but he returned again.

He was an active member of the Fifth Battalion. Dublin Brigade during the Tan war. He took the Republican side in the Civil War and with his life-long companion Bill Gannon, he was part of the garrison of the four courts, being particularly friendly with Rory O’Connor and Liam Mellows.

Subsequently he joined the Communist Party of Ireland, founded by Roderic Connolly, studied in Moscow and returned to become a member of the Workers’ Party.

In his return he was associated with Hanna Sheehy Skeffington in establishing the “Irish Friends of Soviet Russia” and in September 1934 participated Congress in Rathmines Town Hall.

Subsequently he fought on the Republican side in Spain, becoming Political Commissar of the James Connolly unit of the International Brigade. He was wounded in the battle of Cordova.

After the Spanish Struggle was over he returned to his trade as a plasterer in Dublin. Two days before he died he had been returned in his Trade Union elections at the head of the poll, to begin his 24th year as an Executive Member.

A few copies of the Irish Socialist are available at the Connolly Association bookshop, 283 Grays Inn Road, or from the publishers at 16a Pearse Street, Dublin 2.

The Irish Democrat, July 1970

Ben Owens R.I.P

The death of Ben Owens on June 6th, at his home in Brighton, removes from the scene one of the great statwarts of the Irish and working-class movements. He was 81.

Born in Castlewellan, Co. Down, he emigrated to Scotland in his teens to join an uncle at Coatbridge or Motherwell. It was here that he had his first introduction to socialism. An open-air meeting was in progress, one of the speakers from the British Socialist Party attracted the attention of a group of apprentices, and if it was with difficulty that his uncle, a very pious man, dragged him away and warned him never to go listening to that sinful stuff.

Nevertheless he did go back and became a life-long socialist, a member of the I.L.P and later of the Labour Party, but within these always well to the left.

He declined military service in the First World War and was “on the run” for a while. After the war he was one of the first members of the Irish Self-Determination League, having by then moved to England and started up in business for himself.

In the thirties Ben Owens was active with who fought against the extension of fascism. He supported the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and became attracted to the London branch of the Republican Congress. When this merged with other Irish organisations to establish the Connolly Association, he became a founder member.

At this time Ben Owens ran a restaurant which is now owned by Indians at the Kings Cross end of Grays Inn Road. He converted the first floor of this restaurant into a small dance hall for the Connolly Association, which used then to meet in Britannia Street. He stored its banners and equipment in his cellar, and his café was a rendezvous for much of the Irish political community in London.

Early in the war he went to live in Belfast, but around 1950 returned to England and settled in Paddington where he set up as an hotelier.

I remember him telling me of the questions asked by the bank when they saw all the co-operative cheques he was receiving. I had never realised they scrutinised so closely. He was a strong co-operator, and a generous donor to a variety of causes, which included the Irish Democrat and the Morning Star (then the Daily Worker).

After a serious illness at the age of 70 he retired from the hotel business and settled in Hove. There he remained of the Labour Party and was constantly in touch with all progressive developments.

Vastly experienced in the ways of the world, Ben Owens had a shrewd political head. He used to visit South Africa during the winter on grounds of health. He brought many a diagnosis which proved correct.

His kindliness, generosity and integrity were appreciated by all who knew him, and in the words of the late Billy McCullogh of Belfast, he was “one of the best”.

, June 23rd 1979

Frank Ryan comes home

If Frank Ryan had not gone to Spain in September 1936 to fight on the Republican side in the Civil War – where he subsequently became leader of the English-speaking formations of the International Brigades – there would still be an important place for him in the pages of Irish history.

Born in East Limerick village of Elton in 1902 of Parnelite School – teacher parents, Frank’s childhood involved roaming the Galtee Mountains and the shores of Lough Gur searching out the ruins and relics of ancient Ireland.

At 18 he was on the hills with a rifle, doing those things that apparently had to be done to win the struggle for national independence. In between he had spent a term at St. Coleman’s College in Fermoy and from there went to Rockwell College in Tipperary where they tried to shape him for the priesthood but failed.

When the dark clouds of the Irish civil war broke open over Dublin, soon swamping the entire country in internecine conflict, Ryan was off again with the flying columns until the Free State army captured him and locked him away.

When he was eventually released, he entered University College, Dublin, aided by a grant from Limerick County Council. There he specialised in Celtic studies and languages.

For a time in the late twenties, he worked for the Irish Tourist Bureau – the forerunner of Bord Failte. He was also a prominent member of the Gaelic league during those years and active in the Republican movement.

In the early Thirties, he was appointed editor of An Phoblacht, the weekly newspaper of the Republican movement.

All went well for a while until it occurred to Ryan and others ideologically close to him – such as Donegal scholar Peadar O’Donnell – that a radical departure was required which would expand the social base of Irish Republicanism. This ‘revisionist’ reasoning was given added momentum by the spectacular victory of De Valera and Fianna Fail in the 1932 general election.

From the arguments provoked by Ryan and the supporters inside Irish Republicanism, there first emerged the radical organisation Soar Eire and, in 1934, the Republican congress. Quintessentially, the difference between Ryan/O’Donnell and the traditional wing of Republicanism was one of the priorities and tactics. Where the old school believed that the movement was exclusively concerned with national reunification and independence, the congress faction held there was also a ‘social question’ in which the general well-being if Irish workers and their families, including Ulster Protestant workers, should receive as much attention as the campaign against partition.

But the tradionalists interpreted this as a division that would sap the national will for realising a 32 counties republic. Moreover, Ryan and his colleagues were seen to be akin to Marxists.

So, inevitably, paths diverged. The Frank Ryan/Peadar O’Donnell camp got involved in unemployment demonstrations, in land agitation and in ventilating plans for the creation of a socialist-type planned economy.

Then in 1936, as the Republican split remained unresolved, the simmering conflict between democracy and facism erupted on the European stage. With fascists already in power in Italy and Germany, General Franco now embarked on the same dictatorial road in Spain – where he proceeded, initially, to use Moorish troops to overthrow the democratically elected, left orientated Republican government.

Though Frank Ryan and his Republican Congress associates deplored these continental developments, the probability was that they would have been prepared passively to observe them from afar. Then General Eoin O’Duffy, the ambitious police chief who had been dismissed by De Valera. Announced his intention, to bring a contingent of Irishmen with him to Spain and fight for Franco.

To finance O’Duffy’s crusade, an ‘Irish Christian Front’ was founded. It held mass rallies and collected tens of thousands of pounds, thereby enabling O’Duffy and seven hundred of his followers to travel to Spain.

The political implications and swiftness of O’Duffy’s action had the effect of galvanising Frank Ryan and his supporters into forming an opposing expedition. In September 1936, Ryan led 133 Irishmen onto Spanish soil to defend the Republican Government against the fascist onslaught.

After a few minor engagements, in which they suffered two casualties, O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade lamely returned home. O’Duffy himself soon faded into political obscurity and his blueshirt movement disintegrated.

In the various sectors of the Spanish war front, the fighting was brutally fierce – Franco’s forces having been enjoined by troops from Germany and Italy. Thus the International Brigades were largely a response to the combined fascist armies. The brigades consisted of manual workers, intellectuals, writers and poets, drawn literally from the four corners of the globe. But the Anti-Franco forces were often not ideologically united among themselves and there were shootings behind the lines as well as at the front. Frank Ryan and his Irish section remained aloof from this feuding.

In 1937, while recovering from a war wound, Ryan returned to Dublin where he joined big Jim Larkin as the election hustings. He stood as a candidate in a North Dublin constituency and receive over 700 votes.

Then back to Spain and into the thick of the war. By now Ryan was second-in-command of the entire International Brigades.

It perhaps should be mentioned that many of those who were Ryan’s subordinates later achieved political prominence and leadership in their respective countries. Foremost in that regard was a Croatian locksmith named Joseph Broz – in later years known to the world as president Tito.

Of the 133 Irishmen who originally went with Ryan to Spain, 63 were killed, while during the whole three-year-war over two million people were killed and injured.

By 1938 Franco had won and amongst the many prisoners was Frank Ryan. He had been captured by the Italian fascists who took him to Burgos jail in Northern Spain, where he was tortured. He would almost certainly have been executed because of his high rank were it not for the intervention of Eamon De Valera who sent an emissary direct to Franco. The then Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Dr. Paschal Robinson, also assisted, as did others.

Eventually, Frank Ryan was removed from Burgos jail and given into the custody of German military intelligence. They took him first to Paris and later to Berlin. He was treated well and the Germans attached some political importance to him – in the context of his influence in Ireland and as a link with, on the one hand, De Valera and, on the other hand, the IRA.

Meanwhile, the IRA had launched its bombing in Britain and the organisations chief-of-staff, Sean Russell, arrived in Germany, via the United States. On 8th August 1940, Russell and Frank Ryan were aboard a submarine which left the port of Wilhelmshaven with the objective of putting them ashore on the West of Ireland.

The precise objective of this mission has never been revealed. Back in 1934 Irish Republican split, Russell and Ryan were on opposite sides. Russell was certainly in Germany seeking support for the new IRA offensive. It remains unclear whether Ryan was to join that campaign or was simply availing of the submarine to get back to Ireland.

But neither of them made it. As the submarine approached the Irish coast, Russell became seriously ill. A few hours later, he died in Frank Ryan’s arms.

Reporting back to Berlin on the situation, Commander Von Stockhausen received new orders. The submarine was to return to Germany. With Russell dead, the objective of the journey could not be achieved.

So the submarine turned around and, on the way back, Russell was buried at sea. Frank Ryan was now back in Germany and with little immediate hope of seeing Ireland. Some who met him during the subsequent four years in Germany recall him being unhappy and frustrated – forever talking and dreaming about Ireland.

Despite being a huge and powerful man, his health and indifferent as a result of the ill treatment he received in Burgos jail. He was now living in bomb-ravaged Dresden and he died there in June 1944 in the presence of his German girl friend who was also a nurse and who had been taking care of him. It is understood that she is still alive in East Germany.

With his premature death, both Irish Republicanism and Irish Socialism lost their most important activist and political thinker since James Connolly. This week, coinciding with the 35th anniversary of his death, Frank Ryan finally returns to Ireland.

The Irish Post July 14, 1979

Dolan In Spain

There are some interesting letters on page 6 regarding Frank Ryan and Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Both points of view are expressed. Indeed, I would say that both are reflected accurately in synopsis.

My attention here is not to comment but rather briefly to tell the story of another type of Irishman who fought in Spain. He is Brendan Moroney from Ennis, Co. Clare, and he lives in London. A colourful character, he is known to thousands.

Brendan’s family had a British army tradition. It wasn’t political – simply a tradition. Politically they were Dev supporters and Dev was, of course, the local TD. Being a Dev supporter meant that one was anti-Blueshirt and forcefully so.

Brendan joined the Irish guards as a youngster and among his army mates was the inimitable Jack Doyle. Having done his army spell, Brendan returned to Civilian life in London but didn’t like it. He was restless and, largely because he fancied the action, he decided to join in the war in Spain.

Being anti-Blueshirt, there was never any doubt as to which side he would be on. But he certainly wasn’t an IRA-type Irish Republican or a doctrinaire Socialist as were the members of the Irish contingent that Frank Ryan led to Spain.

Via France

The way to go to Spain from London was via the British Communist Party. One went along to their office and was given £3 and a weekend ticket to Paris. There one was met by a given destination and taken by train to the south of France and from there into Spain by coach.

Brendan arrived in Spain on December 6, 1936. He was there two weeks before Frank Ryan arrived with the first of the Republican Irish contingent.

But they met and, when Frank was being issued with his uniform and kit, he gave Brendan his leather coat. Brendan didn’t go to the front right away because he contracted typhoid fever. But the following March he was in action – as runner for a commando battalion mainly made up of French and Dutch.

They were a mixed bunch and some had little idealistic commitment. One evening a drunken platoon officer drew a gun on Brendan. There was a fiery verbal exchange and the officer fired. Brendan was wounded. The OC was a Russian general. The officer was arrested and would probably have been executed had not Moroney intervened on his behalf.

The two met some time later and got drunk together. On another occasion Brendan got into a row with a fellow-Irishman – Paddy Lane from Tralee. He was an IRA man and referred uncomplimentary to Dev. This was sufficient for Moroney, a useful man with his fists, to belt him. He was hauled off to jail.

“I was wearing one shoe, a shirt and trousers. There was no trial and no guarantee that one would ever get out”. Brendan recalls.

He already spoke reasonably good Spanish, but in jail he became fluent. After three months and no little ingenuity, he was released, given 15 days’, convalescence and then shipped into action again.

Years later in London during the blitz, Brendan bumped into Paddy Lane and they became firm friends. It was a savage war – no quarter given and with extraordinary and at times inexplicable heroism.

Leader of men

Moroney met Frank Ryan twice afterwards. He doesn’t consider him to have been a soldier of significance. Indeed, he questions whether Ryan held the high rank which was subsequently attributed to him.“He was certainly a leader of men and a fine journalist, but not a soldier. He was a fine man”, Brendan says.

The Co. Clare man man found himself in an unusual position. Not being of IRA disposition, he had little in common with the Frank Ryan type. He had less in common with the communists who were considerably more numerous on his side of the war. But he had nothing at all in common with Franco and the Fascists.

But he was still a soldier by training and he continued, was wounded and made many friends. But eventually the time came to disengage. It wasn’t his war to the bitter end. His battalion treated hungry and haggard and he himself came out, with aid from the British consulate, aboard a British ship and posing as a merchant seaman.

Return Visit
In 1970 – 32 years later – Brendan and his wife went back to Spain on holiday. He sought out the hotel in Las Villas de Benicasim on the east coast where, back in 1937, he had been tended when wounded. The hotel was then being used as casualty clearing station.

Franco was still in charge in Spain and Brendan wasn’t too keen on being identified as somebody who fought against El Caudillo in the civil war. But a woman at the hotel recognised him. They talked of the old days, apparently, she kept the knowledge of his visit to herself.

The foregoing is but a vignette of Brendan Moroney’s war in Spain. He actually should have written a book about it, for his story is full of colour and adventure. He also had a political detachment, which allowed him to see the war and its characters without the emotionalism and fervour, which gripped most others. The fact that he acquired fluent Spanish early on and mixed with a whole range of nationalities added to his perspective.

Brendan is, of course, still very much hale and hearty and if he hasn’t been in any wars recently it has only been because the passing of years has brought with it a fair share of common sense.

But then, we were always on the continent when fighting had to be done. Over the past 300 years more Irishmen died fighting for France than for any country. Britain is second. It’s difficult to be sure about third position but it’s probably America (Washington’s army and all of that). But, fair play to us, the chances are that Ireland is fourth.

Irish Post July 14 1979

Memories of Frank Ryan

I was especially fortunate to have been shown your issue of June 23 by an Irish-German family. The result was that I had the pleasure of reading that first-class article on the life and times of Frank Ryan. It evoked memories and emotions – both happy and sad.

Together with two other members of the family (one lost in the Egro Battle). I had the honour of serving with Frank Ryan. It wasn’t with the Irish contingent but with the Germans in the fifteenth Brigade. It was a source of much personal comfort and pride to know that men of such quality were our comrades.

Our mother, a Kerry woman, used to say: “It does not matter where the seed is blown, the beautiful flowers will come up beautiful anywhere”. Frank Ryan was indeed one of Ireland’s most beautiful flowers.

Joachim Flomm
Passauet Strasse
Galgenberg 9,
Nieder Payein

I was delighted to read in your issue of June 23 that the remains of Frank Ryan were brought back to Ireland for burial at Glasnevin Cemetery. It made my day.

I knew him well. He used to come quite often to Co. Wexford in the mid-thirties. I remember him giving a number of lectures in Wexford and Waterford in 1935. He made many friends on those visits.

I myself would have gone to Spain with him except that I broke a leg. I later had a letter from Peter Daly. He was first left back row in that photograph you published. He died in action at Christmas 1936.

Unless I am mistaken the man in the beret in the front row of the photograph was Tom Patton and Achill Island. He too was killed in Spain.

Aidan O’Leary
76 The Grove
Ealing, London W5.

I thank you for publishing Pat O’Donovan’s splendid article on Frank Ryan in your issue of June 23.

There have been few Irishmen of his stature in this century and he embodied the twin goals of socialism and republicanism, which may yet be called upon to save our beloved country.

Frank Ryan deserves to be remembered wherever Irishmen and women place a value on social justice.

I am glad too that you did not waste much time on Eoin O’Duffy’s ridiculous ‘crusade’ in Spain.

Eoin MacNeill
24 Sarum
Roman Wood
Bracknell, Berks.

Your article of June 23 on Frank Ryan and the Spanish Civil War should not result in us forgetting the facts. The Republican Government in Spain had become a dictatorship. Those who opposed it were shot. It was supported by Communist Russia and the Marxists in Britain. Franco fought against communism. He fought against a Government whose troops desecrated and burnt churches and convents and murdered priests and nuns.

Morocco was then a Spanish colony and there was nothing unusual about Franco having Moroccan troops.

General Eoin O’Duffy played an important part in restoring law and order in Spain. To Ireland’s credit he and his men went in when Franco’s side was out numbered twenty to one.

Let’s remember too Pope Pius’ words when he congratulated General Franco by telegram in September 1939: “A magnificent Catholic victory for Spain”, he said.

Without those sacrifices, Spain would have been a communist country for the past 40 years.

Thomas K Conney

The Irish Post, July 21, 1979

Dolan – Incentive

I finished last week with a quip about those Irishmen who over the centuries “won every war but their own”. Since then a very interesting document has come my way from L. Collins in Southsea, Hants. It is the address to Eoin O’Duffy and the Irish Brigade who were on their way to fight with Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The address was delivered at the Irish National Church, Lisbon, on November 26, 1936, by the rector, Fr Paul O’Sullivan.

The document is too long to reproduce in full but I will summarise. It begins by reminding them that they are in a church, which for 300 years has honoured St. Patrick. It goes on: “You are fighting in God’s holy name, for God’s glory, in God’s defence, to save our holy faith, to save Christianity, to save the world from the fiendish atrocities which have been perpetrated in Russia, Mexico and now in Spain”.

Next comes a quotation from the then Pope in addressing Spanish refugees in Rome in the previous September 14. He told them that Franco and his side of Spain were “defending and restoring the rights and honour of god and religion”.

Fr. O’Sullivan went on to state that O’Duffy and the Irish Brigade were about to engage in “the holiest war that was ever waged on this earth”.

Lest anybody missed the gravity of that, he elaborated: “Of this there can be no doubt, for never in the history of this sad world did human monsters rise up in battle against God himself; never did men dare to make war against the almighty personally, directly, with such satanical hate. The bolshevists against whom you go to fight have in their insane fury declared that they will hurt the creator from his throne. What demoniacal blasphemy!”

But this wasn’t even half of it, Fr. O’Sullivan hadn’t as yet reached full flight. He went on to describe how vulnerable bishops, aged priests, holy nuns were being “outraged, butchered and hewn to pieces with hatchets, soaked in petrol and burned alive”.


Then he reached crescendo: “Never have we heard, even in the days of Nero, Domitian, Diocletian, never can amongst the most barbarous hordes, that innocent children were cut in pieces, that the bodies of the dead were exhumed, insulted and profaned. You are going to fight these monsters who are more like demons let loose from hell than mortal men, more fierce, more depraved, more godless than Turks or Moslems.

“Go, my friends, fight manfully, give your blood, your sufferings, your lives for your God. Die with these dispositions and you are martyrs.”

At this stage he was half way and he continued in like vein. I’ll tell you this if you were in the Irish National Church, Lisbon, on November 26, 1936, you would at that stage either have your coat off and be roaring for blood or else you’d tighten your coat and run like hell for home and sanctuary.

This type of hysteria wasn’t, of course, confined to an Irish priest in Portugal. It was being preached from many a pulpit in Ireland and who’s to blame the young lad who was swept along on the tide?

Luckily, O’Duffy’s brigade didn’t dig in too deeply in Spain, and, as far as I am aware, all come home with their scalps still intact.

Actually, O’Duffy was a very interesting Irishman and it’s surprising that nobody (at least to my knowledge) had done a biography. Many years ago, while researching another project, I came across much correspondence and other items, which had to do with him. He was an outstanding performer in the early struggle, not alone for Irish independence but also for a Gaelic Ireland. He was very much involved, for example, with the GAA, at a time when that organisation was an intergal part of the Gaelic and independence movement.


He a superb organiser and few worked harder or with more dedication in those years. He served several terms of imprisonment, was director of organisation of the IRA in 1921 and the following year became chief-of-staff.

He favoured the Treaty – in the manner of Collins and most others of an IRB background. He was appointed first commissioner of the Garda by the Free State Government and at that first stage was only 30 years of age. He held that office until being fired by Dev in 1933.

He was still a young man with considerable personal ambition. Frustrated and aggrieved, he founded the Blueshirts probably out of personal vendetta. Then came Spain, which was largely an anti-climax. Thereafter he took no part in public life but lived until 1944. Following his death in November of that year he was given a state funeral.

Whatever about O’Duffy post-Treaty, this man from Castleblayney was among the bravest and most dedicated in pre-Treated days.

He deserves to be remembered and judged not just for Spain or the Blueshirts, but also for the entire span of his active life.

Irish Post August 11, 1979

Rise and fall of the Blueshirts

A series of letters on O'Duffy

That profound generosity of spirit

I must take Thomas Conney (July 14) to task when he claims that General Eoin O’Duffy played an important part in Franco’s army in the Spanish civil war. I don’t know if Mr. Conney was there. I was, Frank Dolan recalled my escapades in his column in that same issue.

O’Duffy was never acknowledged in Spain as an officer – much less a general. The one or two engagements that he and his men took part in were fiascos. They were mighty glad when de Valera sent a ship to rescue them.

The Republican government was never a dictatorship. On the contrary, it would have had a popular victory were it not for the intervention of Italy, the intervention of the German airforce and the non-intervention treaty brought about by Baldwin’s reactionary Tory government.

In this regard it must be remembered that Germany and Italy were flexing their muscles in preparation for World War 11.

The popular front government in France supported the Republican government in Spain and were it not for its help we would not have fought so long and so well. We lost when the French popular front collapsed.

I would also like to refer to some Irishmen, apart from Frank Ryan, whose memory I shall honour to the day I die. They epitomised the great attributes of our race. I know that I will be allowed space to name but a few, but I start with the name of Captain Paddy O’Dare and follow with Lt. Col.Jock Cunningham (Scottish-born of Irish parents), Joe Monks, Frank Edwards, Jim Prendergast, Mickey Duff, Jack Nalty, Kit Conway, Peter Darby, Peadar Flanagan, Charlie Donnelly, Paddy Kelly and Paddy Roe.

Most of them died in action or from war wounds.

Paddy Roe, I hope, is still alive. He was a great warrior.

These are but a few of the Irishmen who came from many parts of the world to fight for freedom and democracy and for the Spanish people.

Before I left for Spain and throughout my service there, I was never other than a practising Catholic. The leaders of the International Brigade whom I knew personally always backed me in my religious convictions. We had many a verbal battle with the political commissars.

The world will never appreciate the profound generosity of spirit of the International Brigades. A lot of propaganda was made of the burning of churches. There was a long and savage war in process. Many buildings suffered. Yes in certain parts of Spain mobs burned or partly burned churches. That was only after anti-catholic feelings were stirred up by bishops who advocated the overthrow of the legitimate republican government of Spain.

I would estimate that only 20% of the International Brigades were Communists. The remainder were simply anti-fascists.

When I went back to Spain in 1970 I was on various occasions in conversation with a cross-section of people who had no knowledge of my involvement in the civil war. Franco was still alive but these people spoke in glowing terms of the International Brigades – men who, with a generosity of spirit, came from all over the world to fight in the cause of democracy.

In conclusion, I must with reverence mention the name of a school friend, Miko Russell from Ennis, another of those gallant men who died in action.

Brendan Moroney
92 Fifth Avenue
Queen’s Park
London W10

I was surprised that Frank Dolan, in his column of July 21, should appear to know so little about the Blueshirts as to assert that the movement was founded by General Eoin O’Duffy.

The Blueshirts grew out of the Army Comrades Association, which was an organisation of former members of the Irish Free State Army who had fought against de Valera’s republicans in the civil war.

In the general election of 1932, which brought Fianna Fail to power for the first time, the ACA came out to protect the meetings held by the outgoing government party, Cumann Na nGaedheal, which were being attacked by de Valera supporters.

By then, the joint leaders of the ACA were Dr Tom O’Higgins and Ernest Blythe, both of whom were ministers in the outgoing government. The blue shirt was adopted by the ACA early in 1933 and was first worn by six members in Kilkenny on Easter Sunday that year.

Later in 1933, O’Duffy, chief commissioner of the Garda Siochana, was dismissed by de Valera and replaced by Col. Broy. But it was not until the following year that he was invited to become leader of the ACA. At the meeting in the Royal Hibernian Hotel, Dawson Street, Dublin, at which he became leader, it was decided, on O’Duffy’s suggestion, to change the name to the National Guard.

When the National Guard was banned by de Valera, it changed its name to the League of Youth, and when that, in turn, was banned Youth Ireland took its place.

The Blueshirts later merged with Cumann Na nGaedheal and the Centre Party, which was led, by Frank McDermott and James Dillon and the new party was named Fine Gael. O’Duffy became president, while William Cosgrove, McDermott and Dillon were vice-presidents.

But O’Duffy, who had converted to the corporate state, was frequently at loggerheads with his vice-presidents and an irrerarable split came in 1935. For a brief period there were two groups of Blueshirts – O’Duffy’s called the National Corporate Party, and the Fine Gael section led by Commdt Ned Cronin. Neither survived long afterwards.

By the time the Spanish civil war started, the Blueshirts movement was a dead duck. O’Duffy was at a loose end and he recruited 500 young men to go with him to fight in what many Irish people believed to be a holy war. Many of the 500 were unemployed and certainly not all were former Blueshirts.

Contrary to what Frank Dolan says, they acquitted themselves honourably. Some, including Tom Hyde of Cork, were killed and others, including Col. Tom Carew of Tipperary, were wounded. They were withdrawn because de Valera refused to allow a further 1,500 volunteers to embark at Passage East, Co. Waterford.

O’Duffy served his country nobly in the struggle for independence and in building the police force. His intervention in the Spanish civil war had the backing of infinitely more Irish people than that of Frank Ryan, who threw his lot in with the Communists.

The first foreign troops to intervene in Spain were the Russians. This brought the Germans and the Italians in on the Franco side and no doubt prolonged the struggle. Despite Frank Dolan’s apparent disbelief, priests and nuns had been murdered before the Franco uprising. Franco had far more Spaniards with him than against him. It would be difficult to deny Spain’s need for a dictatorship in the period immediately following the bloody struggle. But it would be equally difficult to justify the denial of democratic government until after Franco’s death.

Franco’s memory may be sweeter to the Spaniards had he stepped down immediately after World War 11.

A.J. Travers
22 Sunningdale Road

In all the letters about Irish involvement in the Spanish civil war, nobody has taken up Frank Dolan’s very valid point that the Irish – whether with O’Duffy or Frank Ryan – had no business being there.

It is significant that as many Irishmen went to Spain as turned out with Pearse and Connolly on Easter Monday 1916.

Dolan suggested that Ireland comes fourth in the list of countries for which Irishmen have died. He listed France first, followed by England and then America.

Somehow I doubt if Ireland ranks fourth. I would submit that more Irishmen died fighting for the Austrian Empire than for Ireland.

But our country is probably fifth in the order of loyalty, which it has been able to command from its own.

L. Quinn (Miss)
Wickham Lane
London SE2.

If Thomas Conney really believes Eoin O'Duffy helped to bring law and order to Spain, it puts into comic perspective other things he wrote. Spain had to discard her 'law and order' regime in order to be accepted by the est of Europe to be considered for EEC membership.

Mr Coooney may be surprised to learn that my father and his brothers fought, and in one case died, against Fascist Franco as faithful Catholics and remained so.

The horrors and stupidities of Spain's war and the pantomime antics of O'Duffy should not demean the idealist spirit of men like Frank Ryan and thousands who shared his views.

Kathleen Maxwell (Mrs)
West Midlands

Irish Post September 1, 1979

Place in Irish History

It may be argued with all the force of hindsight that Irishmen should have left in the Spanish war (1935-1939) to the Spaniards and others and instead devoted their energies to the liberation of Ireland. But I still feel that we should salute the heroic column of freedom fighters led by Frank Ryan against the barbarism of what is known nowadays as Nazism.

With prophetic insight, men like Ryan realised that much more than Spanish parliamentary democracy was under attack. Human rights and decency were being assailed throughout Europe.

Spain was simply the first battleground, the first rampart erected by the people against the state tyrannies which gave us Belsen and Buchenwald and such final atrocities as Hiroshima.

Amidst all the confusing propaganda of 1936 and the criminal stupidity of those who blessed the alliance of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar, Quisling and O'Duffy, the Irishmen who fought so bravely for the rights of mankind on the hills of Jarama and by the banks of the Ebro were not confused or misused. They deserve an indelible place in the memory of the Irish nation.

May I add this comment: although I have had the privilege of meeting several of those Irishmen who fought in Spain under Frank Ryan, I have met only, one who served with O'Duffy. As he said, he saw little military action but enjoyed drinking brandy with O'Duffy in the posh hotels in Lisbon.

A.J Travers, in your issue of August 11, made claim that O'Duffy's Blueshirts "acquitted themselves honourably. Some, including Tom Hyde of Cork, were killed and others, including Col. Tom Carew of Tipperary, were wounded…"

The sad fact, as related by O'Duffy himself ('Crusade in Spain') and by the one Blueshirt officer I ever met, is that Capt. Tom Hyde and Vol. Dan Chute (both Kerry men) were killed by General Franco's troops who failed to recognise their strange uniforms.

A month later, in March, 1937, four more volunteers were killed in action - three of them from Kerry.

Thereafter, O’Duffy’s men were engaged, mainly in guarding Spanish prisoners. Perhaps it is their sole claim to doubtful fame that they refused to machine-gun to death batches of their peasant prisoners, rounded up by Franco’s men, even when told that they were priest-murdering anarchists and church-burners.

Some authorities on the subject say that split on this issue in May 1937. In any event, Franco packed them out aboard the SS Mozambique on June 17 – bag and baggage.

M O Callanain
London W9

Irish Post, September 8 1979

Letters: When Shankill came to Bodenstown

It might be rightly felt, set against my mighty article on Frank Ryan of June 23, that I should leave it to others, especially those who knew Frank personally in Ireland, or who fought beside him in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, to tie up in this newspaper’s Letters’ Page the loose ends of his life and times.

Many of the letters which have so far appeared have been excellent. Even the few overtly hostile letters have only helped to enlarge our understanding of the Limerick man with the result that a much more definite image of him now obtains.

Yet some areas still remain blurred and some misconceptions still prevail. May I therefore attempt to clarify a few points.

To begin with Frank Ryan was never a member of the Communist Party – be it Irish, British, Spanish or otherwise. But neither was he anti-Communist. He applied his own criteria to men and events and aided by his own sharp perception of social situations. He proceeded along his own route employing empirical guidelines and, if as sometimes happened, Communists were travelling in the same direction, Ryan was unequivocally prepared to accept them as comrades.

And if Ryan had not died in 1942 and had instead arrived to resume an active political life in Ireland, it is hardly on insignificant communist groups that he would have expended his immense talents. But, and let there be no doubt whatever on this, the likes of de Valera and Fianna Fail or the pathetic Irish Labour Party, would have got no support from Ryan either.

Actually, and this was the misfortune of his early demise, Frank Ryan had the capacity of building a mass party around the power and charisma of his own personality.

Such a party would not only have captured most of the electoral terrain held by Fianna Fail and Labour but would also have won the allegiance of those segments of Irish republicanism and diverse radicals who felt alienated from conventional political parties.

De Valera never succeeded in converting such people to his viewpoint- a phenomenon that largely went unnoticed, though it has had some curious consequences across the decades.

And what of the North? Had Ryan a viable policy for that tormented area? It would appear that he, in fact, had a solution, at least in embryo.

At the Republican Congress conference in Rathmines Town Hall, Dublin, on September 29 and 30,1934, Ryan, supported by his two close colleagues Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore, formulated a set of proposals which, had they been tenaciously pursued, might have culminated in the reunification of Ireland.

In essence, Ryan’s strategy was to build democratic organisational bonds, bridges of brotherhood; between the Protestants and Ulster and the rest of the country.

But because the Northern Protestants, specifically Belfast Protestant workers, were not sympathetic to the aspirations of traditional Irish nationalism, Ryan attempted to reach them on a different level.

What was submitted to the Belfast Protestant workers, some of whose representatives were in Rathmines as delegates, was that the ideological meeting point between Northern and Southern proletarians is to be found in the writings of Theobald Wolfe Tone. No time was wasted at the conference in abstract arguments about ‘two nations’ but it was tacitly conceded by Ryan that cultural and other differences existed between North and South. Also, the value of politically uniting all working people in Ireland was stresses and the objective was the transforming of the existing social structure.

Not all the Protestant representatives at the Congress were impressed with this argument. Some of them expounded orthodox Unionist views but nonetheless, and as a consequence of Ryan’s persuasive powers, many delegates returned to Belfast strongly imbued with a new political perspective.

Thus it transpired in June of the following year, during the annual commemoration of Wolfe Tone in Bodenstown, Co. Kildare, that some 100 Belfast workingmen from such Orange strongholds as the Shankill Road and Sandy Row, marched behind Frank Ryan and the Republican Congress contingent into the churchyard.

And what happened? The simmering bad feeling in the bitterly split republican movement again erupted around the great patriot’s grave. Fists flew, flagpoles were used as weapons and in the melee some of the innocent and baffled Belfast men were injured.

Soon afterwards came Spain, so we will never know if the reunification momentum that Frank Ryan had so effectively set in motion could have been sustained and expanded.

Certainly the men from the Shankill and Sandy Row have not since come to Bodenstown. Maybe some day they will return.
Pat O’Donovan
Eaglefield Rd
London N1

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Other 1930s local newspaper reports here.

Extracts from the Left press of the period.