Ireland and the Spanish Civil War - Irish Times articles, letters, etc.
A small collection of recent letters, articles, etc. carried in the Irish Times from 1994-2005.
November 17, 1994
AN IRISHMAN'S DIARY - KEVIN MYERSMentions Tom O'Brien - IB Volunteer
IT IS five years since the collapse of communism and the intellectual edifice that communists had created in the states which they ruled was so frail that it vanished, almost entirely, once the principle of coercion was removed. Even the most Unregenerate communists would not now attempt to rein-stall communism by coup and command. We know that it simply does not work. It simply peters out, in economic disorder, corruption, inefficiency, and whimsical and unproductive tyranny.
It is often said that the extreme Left and the extreme Right meet,
meeting takes place at the concentration camp each is opening for its
No doubt that is partially true. I knew people in the Official IRA the
precursors of both Democratic Left and the Workers' Party in Belfast
who were as
evil and as ruthless as anything the North has thrown up. I think of
who, in sheer intelligence and wickedness, would not have been out of
any totalitarian regime anywhere. He arranged killings, without
is now rich and retired and one trusts that there is an after life, so
that he can spend its entirety in the burning wastes which are properly his
Yet there is a difference between the Left and Right, how ever much their psychopathic extremes might have in common. Both tendencies attract people with personality disorders and power complexes. Is there, though, a fundamental difference between the rank and file of, Left wing and Right-wing populist movements? Well, if I were, in any doubt, an anti-Irish English National Front march in Stuttgart some years ago would have cured me of it. One of the many unattractive features of the Right-wing paddy baiting, nigger-bashing, kyke beating mob is that it arouses instincts in oneself in many ways barely distinguishable from, and certainly no better than, those inhabiting the breasts of those one deplores.
So many of the Left of the past in due course gave their aid and
to the formation of communist governments which eclipsed and eliminated
very liberties, the Left had once championed in the democracies they
to overthrow. It is one of the unbearable paradoxes of virtue that in
so much infamy is done, and so many paths to hell are made the easier.
And on the fifth anniversary of the collapse of communism an event, I watched in Prague with astonished joy and frozen feet and on the week of the publication of, Strong Words Brave Deeds (edited by H. Gustav Klaus published by O'Brien Press), a celebration of the poetry, life and times of Thomas O Brien, socialist republican, writer and warrior in the Spanish civil war it might be a useful opportunity to, cast our minds to the one foreign adventure by Irish soldiers this century which has found its way into the popular memory the service of the Irish contingent in the International Brigade.
Why is this episode so fondly remembered? Because it was doomed? Because it carried the name republic about its person? Because the cause was fashionable among the intelligentsia of Europe, and to a degree still is? Because the British Government could be seen to be knavish, the Government of Ireland poltroonish, and a handful of Irishmen gallant and honour able unto the grave?
And there is indeed something stirring about the picture of all those young men offering their lives in the cause of democracy amid the olive groves of Catalonia. What makes it especially stirring and doubly tragic is, in fact, its falsehood. While the instincts and impulses of the volunteers defending the Spanish Republic were indeed democratic, it is quite clear that in the inferno forces had been unleashed that had no interest in or comprehension of the delicate consensus and tolerances of democracy.
And those forces were not just gathered from the Right. Stalin's intermittent meddling, the abominable atrocities inflicted by left-wingers on Catholics, and the crazy homicidal splurges of the Anarchists, should by this time have cured us of all romantic notions of what happened in Spain nearly 60 years ago.
Equally, we should by this time have learned a little sympathy and
understanding for the legions of Catholics and of conservative
democrats who saw
in part correctly, we can now say with certainty a monstrous foe
forming in the
anti-fascist front in Spain, and who volunteered to serve, and there
Decency and democracy were not going to be the victors in Spain. The poor, unremembered dead of the papal volunteers and the conservative democrats who found themselves in unholy alliance with the Italian fascists and, the Condor Legion of the Nazis were at once profoundly wrong and thoroughly right. Their wrong we all know of. Where they were right was their belief that democracy cannot co-exist, in government with communism and while there, was a Soviet Union, communists would use democratic institutions to install Communist dictatorships.
Without exception, this happened in eastern Europe. It would almost certainly have happened in Spain had there been a communist democratic victory. One bright day, the peace-loving democrats in government would find themselves falling out windows, or facing glumly purposeful firing squads.
Those moral dilemmas, appalling quandaries, are more evident all
these decades later than they were then. I have no doubt that those who
produced Strong Words Brave Deeds would not be inclined to agree with what I
have just said. But the book does honour and rightly honour all those brave Irish
socialists who in the 1930s stood up against the power of the state
and, of the Catholic Church, despite bullying and boycotts and even deportation, and who then went off to fight as they thought it was not in act on offer for freedom in Spain. Thomas O'Brien was once of those men. It is good such men are not
Your picture of the Spanish Civil War veteran Peter O'Connor (11th November) captured a moment of great historical emotion shared by those present, as the tearful Spanish/Catalan faces showed. A lifetime has passed since the death of Tommy Patton of Achill, the first Irishman to fall in defence of democracy in Spain (Madrid, December 1936), and Mr O'Connor has remained faithful to the ideal and to his comrades.
It may interest readers to know that he has recently written a fine account of his political life, A Soldier of Liberty, published by MSF union (at a very democratic price Pounds 2). It will join Michael O'Riordan's Connolly Column, Sean Cronin's biography of Frank Ryan and others in the growing literature on the Irish International Brigade members in English, and Eoghan O Duinnin's La Nula Bonita agus An Roisin Dubh in Irish. Your coverage was well deserved and welcome. - Is mise le meas dhuit,
EAMON O CIOSAIN
December 16, 1996.
An Irishmans Diary, By PADDY WOODWORTH
HEROES, and good causes with them, have taken a hammering in this terrible century. Monolithic sets of moral certitudes, whether old ones like Christianity or new ones like Communism often seem to have been smashed to rubble.
In the ideological wasteland of our fin de siecle, one shining monument, illusion or not, is still visible to many people of, many nations. Like all the best causes, it seems, it was a lost one, untainted by the exercise of power after victory - though not entirely unstained by the exercise of power in the process of defeat.
The Second Spanish Republic, despite its well-documented failures, still incarnates the romantic spirit of socialism in liberty for numerous leftists and democrats all over the world. Those who had the privilege of defending that Republic in arms still inspire awe, and even envy, among those of us who never had that singular opportunity.
The English poet Stephen Spender, who was among them, has recalled that his philosophy tutor at Cambridge told him it was the only Good Cause of his time, the only moment when Good (represented by Spanish democracy) and Evil (represented by Spanish and international fascism) were clearly distinguishable. Six decades later, it still looks like that to many people.
That much was very evident in the warm and emotional applause last Wednesday night, when the Dublin Council of Trades Unions paid its tribute to the five survivors of the 145 Irish volunteers: Michael O'Riordan, Peter O'Connor, Bob Doyle, Eugene Downing, and Maurice Levitas, the first three of whom were present for the simple but moving ceremony.
They entered the Con Lehane Hall proudly holding aloft the flag of the Republic they had defended, to be greeted by Ray Doyle of the Work and Play Band, singing Christy Moore's Viva la Quinta Brigada, the first verse of which is reproduced above. "Thank you," he concluded quietly, "for the privilege of honouring the living and the dead."
John Carr, the DCTU president, welcomed them with a speech which might have been written in 1937, so closely did it stick to the rhetoric of the official Communist version of Spanish Civil War history. But it was a speech of reparation, to men and women who had been vilified by many of their trade union colleagues in the 1930s. The generosity of his tribute brought tears to the eyes of the elderly brigadistas.
Not only did they fight for Spain, he said, but they "represented a stand against the greatest capitalist and church-led onslaught this country has ever experienced." He recalled "the shameful Christian Front alliance, spurred on by the capitalist and religious press, which used religion to cloud the issue of the Civil War."
By a curious coincidence, the ceremony was preceded by a passionate DCTU debate on the place of religion in education in contemporary Ireland, a subject the volunteers must have imagined would have been settled, once and for all, many years earlier.
Curiously, too, it was on Christmas Eve 60 years ago that most of the Irish contingent saw their first action with the International Brigades. They were rushed to plug the gaps as General Franco's rebel forced tried to encircle Madrid, seat of the democratically elected Republican government by an advancing through the Jarama valley.
That offensive was halted, at a necessary cost to the Brigades. They would play a crucial role in several other major battles, but in 1938 the Re public sent them home, for a variety of motives. At farewell parade in Barcelona, La Pasionaria, the legendary communist orator, told the survivors: "When the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, come back to our side."
Last month, for the second time since democracy was restored in Spain, the surviving "volunteers for liberty" were asked to accept formally that invitation, and went back to Madrid, Barcelona and Guernicato be honoured by the Spanish, Catalan and Basque parliaments, and to revisit the sites where they had left so many comrades in Spanish soil (at least 59 of the Irish brigadistas were killed, an above-average rate, even in a war where losses were routinely devastating).
Responding to John Carr's speech, Michael O'Riordan, himself a lifelong
communist and author of Connolly Column, a history of the Irish contingent, said
that, wonderful as the experience of that return to Spain had been, he felt that
the DCTU presentation represented a final and appropriate homecoming. The
council, he recalled, had been the natural home where many of his comrades had
learned their trade union apprenticeship.
They had gone to fight, he said, on the basic principle that is an injury to all but also as a national revolutionary and patriotic duty to cleanse the name of Ireland, besmirched by the (pro-fascist) Christian Front." Happily, it seems that Ireland is a more tolerant place today, for O'Riordan then admitted, smiling ironically, that his next speaking engagement would be in Maynooth college.
Peter O'Connor told us that his days in Spain were "the proudest moments in my life, fighting for the finest cause of all, the liberation of mankind".
The last words, however, must be O'Riordan's, who borrowed La Pasinaria's most famous phrase to conclude, warning against the persistence of fascism today: "No Pasaran - not in 1936; not now; not ever". Here was a man who, for good or ill, has kept the faith.
The Irish Times:
An Irishman's DiaryNovember 19, 2001 -
Sixty-five years ago tomorrow General Eoin O'Duffy set off for Spain, where he was to lead some 700 Irishmen to fight on the side of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. It is probably true to say that for a long time - perhaps still - that action and the men who participated in it were at best sources of embarrassment, or at worst subjects of execration.
When he was researching his book The Irish and the Spanish Civil War, Robert Stradling visited Glasnevin Cemetery to see O'Duffy's grave. He was struck by the contrast between it and the grave of Frank Ryan, who led about 200 Irishmen to fight on the opposite side in the Spanish conflict. Although only a few metres separated the two graves, Ryan's was often decorated with fresh flowers, while O'Duffy's was overgrown with bushes and extremely difficult to find.
The two men had a lot in common. They were both devout Catholics, both fought in the Irish War of Independence and both supported Nazi Germany in the second World War; and they both died in 1944. But the contrasting condition of their graves was symptomatic of the way they are remembered in Ireland. (O'Duffy's resting-place was to some extent restored as a result of Stradling's efforts.)
Neither in 1992, the centenary of his birth, nor in 1994, the 50th anniversary of his death, was O'Duffy in any way publicly commemorated. I must put my own hands up in this regard. My book on Fine Gael, published in 1993, contains biographical sketches of the party's leaders, ministers and junior ministers since 1923 but I omitted O'Duffy, although he led the party for most of the first year of its existence.
The reason for the omission was not as sinister as Stradling ascribed to me (that I wished to airbrush O'Duffy out of Fine Gael and indeed Irish history). It was really down to a question of space in the end; the publisher decided what the length of the book should be (he felt it was too long as it was) and I knew a biographical sketch of O'Duffy would have to be substantial if it were to do justice to his involvement in 20th-century Irish history. But I afterwards regretted the omission. Any book on Fine Gael should have the main details of O'Duffy's life, whatever one may feel about his politics in the 1930s.
If I were to have gone to fight in the Spanish Civil War, it would have been on the opposite side to O'Duffy and his men, but that is not to question in any way the idealism which inspired him and them to go.
Ireland was a predominantly Catholic country at the time; Franco was seen to be on the side of Catholicism; therefore Ireland was mainly pro-Franco. Reports in the press and on cinema newsreels of atrocities against priests and nuns and the destruction of churches added to the support for Franco.
Shoot the reds
In Cathal O'Shannon's excellent television documentary Even the Olives are Bleeding, two Irish nuns in a Lisbon convent recalled Irish volunteers for Franco en route to Spain telling them: 'We've come to fight for Spain and religion and we remember all we have suffered in the persecutions . . . In the past the Spaniards helped us . . . and were defeated by the English, but we will have our revenge now . . . We're going to shoot every damn red in Spain . . . Spain has always been a Catholic country like Ireland.
'We are for religion and we don't want the reds to conquer Spain.'
Here, captured succinctly and vividly, are the motives that inspired volunteers for what became the Irish Brigade or XV Bandera of Franco's Tercio or Foreign Legion. They went to fight for their faith and against communism, and to repay a historical debt.
Those of them who died in Spain were remembered by many of their comrades and are still remembered by their families. But their bodies lie in Spanish soil, never to be returned and maybe never to be identified with certainty. No monument to them exists in their native country. Indifference, embarrassment, even shame were to be the lot of the survivors of O'Duffy's Brigade as the years passed.
A Brigade Association was set up to further the interests of the veterans and maintain communication among them. But internal divisions led to its disappearance. At O'Duffy's funeral in 1944, only about 20 veterans attended.
A good number of the men who had gone to fight for Franco joined the British army during the second World War. Far from being fascists, of which they were - and are - often accused, their idea of freedom was neither selfish nor exclusive.
As Robert Stradling remarked: 'Some responded naturally to the plight of the British people in 1940; others strongly felt (as had their forefathers in 1914) that Catholic peoples like those of Poland and Belgium deserved defending against German barbarism.'
Some of them gave their lives in the great war against fascism. May they rest in the peace of history.
The Irish Times: Letters To The Editor:
O'Duffy and Spanish Civil WarNovember 23, 2001
Brian Maye (An Irishman's Diary, November 19th), writing on Eoin O'Duffy and the Spanish Civil War, seemed deeply confused. He complains about the neglect of O'Duffy's grave in contrast to the nearby grave of Frank Ryan who led 200 Irishmen, including my father, in the International Brigades fighting against Franco's fascism.
Maye has tried to give the impression that O'Duffy's brigades were not fascists, yet The Irish Times, in its intelligence, shows a photograph of O'Duffy with the Nazi salute in front of hundreds of his followers. Maye claims that they were not fascists; I cannot think of any other way of describing a group who went to fight in a kind of Catholic crusade in support of a rebel general who set out to usurp a democratically elected government in Spain.
Remember, Franco was supported by Hitler, who ordered the early Luftwaffe to mercilessly bomb Guernica. Hitler sent highly-trained infantry to fight alongside Franco's troops against the many heroic volunteers in the International Brigades from America, Britain, Ireland and elsewhere.
Hitler's and Franco's victory in Spain laid the foundations for the rapid rise of Nazism and hence the second World War. It is well documented that my father and the other brave people in the International Brigades predicted this outcome.
It is quite amazing, therefore, that Maye goes out of his way to claim that O'Duffy's confused volunteers somehow miraculously joined the British army because 'Catholic peoples like those of Poland and Belgium deserved defending against German barbarism'.
Erecting a memorial to O'Duffy and his Spanish crusade would be the equivalent of erecting a memorial to Hitler in Dublin.
The O'Brien Press Ltd.,
November 29, 2001 - Letters To The Editor:
O'Duffy And Spanish Civil WarSir, - Michael O'Brien (November 23rd) believed me 'deeply confused' in what I wrote about Eoin O'Duffy and the men he led in the Spanish Civil War (An Irishman's Diary, November 19th). I think it is Mr O'Brien who is confused and, worse, unforgiving.
He considered that the photograph accompanying my article, in which O'Duffy was shown taking a Nazi-style salute at a Blueshirt rally, proved these men were fascists. Such a conclusion is confusing the trappings of fascism with the substance.
Whether or not the Blueshirts were fascist cannot be adequately considered in the space of a short letter, but both Maurice Manning's and Mike Cronin's books on the movement conclude that they were not. I would rather accept their opinion, based on in-depth study, than Mr O'Brien's.
He referred to 'the many heroic volunteers in the International Brigades' and to 'my father and the other brave people in the International Brigades'. I agree indeed that they were heroic and brave and, as I stated in my article, had I been alive at the time and had their courage, I would have been on their side in the conflict. But the Irishmen who went to fight on the opposite side were no less brave or idealistic and Mr O'Brien needs to become forgiving enough to recognise that.
He does not have to take just my word that some of 'O'Duffy's confused volunteers' joined the British army to fight Nazi Germany in the second World War. The evidence is in Robert Stradling's excellent book on Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War, which Mr O'Brien would do well to read.
His final point, that erecting a monument to the Irish who fought on Franco's side would be akin to erecting one to the Nazis, is patently absurd.
Why not a monument to all Irishmen who went to Spain to fight for their differing ideals? - Yours, etc.,
Mountain View Road,
Letters To The Editor:
Spanish Civil WarDecember 5, 2001 Sir, - Napoleon said that history is a legend agreed upon. The Spanish Civil War is a prime example of the truth of this dictum. Because the victory of Franco's forces led to the establishment of a right-wing dictatorship, republicans assume, unwarrantably, that the defeat of Franco's forces would have led to a democratic regime in Spain. Anyone who remembers, or has read of, the turmoil and violence of Spanish politics in the 1930s cannot doubt that a republican victory would have led to an equality despotic regime. It took the appalling fate of democracy in Eastern Europe in the years after the second World War for Spanish Communists to accept the discipline of democracy. All civil wars are atrocious. The Spanish Civil War was no exception, but the atrocities were not upon one side only. De Valera was right. Non-intervention was the right policy. However, let us honour the idealism and self-sacrifice of all Irishmen who risked or gave their lives in causes they believed in. - Yours, etc., Fergus Moore, Beauparc Downs, Monkstown, Co Dublin.
An Irishman's DiaryDecember 6, 2001
There have been a good few letters on this page in recent times about Irish volunteers in the International Brigades during the latter's alleged 'fight for freedom' in the Spanish Civil War, to which one can only reply: Yes indeed. And the purpose of the GAA is to promote loyalty to the British Empire, the Confraternity in Limerick was formed to give sex tips to youngsters, and this diary is being written by Ghenghis Khan, the well known cricketer and personal masseur to Oscar Wilde.
The International Brigade was not formed to protect freedom and democracy. It was founded as a tool of the Comintern, to promote the interests of the Soviet Union - and thereby of Joseph Stalin, the butcher of millions. It made political sense for the International Brigade to recruit non-communists - useful fools was what Lenin had called such people in an earlier manipulation of gullible decency - but of course most were then vetted by the NKVD, the Soviet Union's secret police.
Ruthless followerThe brigade's first recruiting officer was Karol Swierczewiki, an NKVD colonel and professor in the Moscow Military School. 'Walter', as he was known, was a loyal and ruthless follower of Stalin, who survived purge after purge and whose ultimate reward was to be assassinated in 1947 by Ukrainian partisans.
The upper echelons of the International Brigade consisted of people like 'Walter'. From the outset, one of the worst of these was Andre Marty, a French communist who regularly executed volunteers in the brigade who wanted to go home or had not done their duty to his satisfaction. The most shameful of these many, many killings was of Major Gaston Delasalle, of Marseilles, after defeat in battle.
The action which led to that killing provides a curious Anglo-Irish dimension to the war. One of the British members of the International Brigade serving with Delasalle was George Nathan, who - as a member of the RIC Auxiliaries - is said to have murdered the Lord Mayor of Limerick, George Clancy, and the latter's predecessor, Michael O'Callaghan. And now alongside him in the Spanish firing line were the Irish members of the International Brigade, including many IRA men, including Frank Ryan.
Ryan's non-existent commitment to freedom and democracy was memorably captured by Al Connolly of Dundalk in a recent letter to this newspaper. 'No matter what anyone says to the contrary,' Ryan declared in 1932, 'while we have fists, hands and boots to use, and guns if necessary, we will not allow free speech to traitors.' This fine fellow went on to be an agent for the Third Reich, in which noble band he perished in 1944.
Pathetic mimicNow almost none of these people are recognisable as democrats in any modern sense of the term; yet equally, from the evidence available, Eoin O'Duffy emerges not as an authentic fascist, but rather as a pathetic mimic of things, forces and hatreds he knew almost nothing about. Beleaguered by IRA violence far more fascist than anything he had to offer, he uncomprehendingly copied European organisations, very possibly unaware of what he was doing or meaning; and as history was soon to show, the organisations he opposed were actually far more pro-Nazi than he was.
O'Duffy's historical tragedy was that he represented forces which had no power in the creation of the central Irish narrative. That narrative dismisses as fascist the simple, misled country boys who joined the Francoist forces at the their church's bidding, and who at war's ending were ruthlessly abandoned. That same mythology applauds 'republicans' who in effect served the cause of murderous international communism in Spain.
That cause which had invented techniques of industrialised mass murder in the Soviet Union - ones which were to be refined and improved in Nazi Germany - in Spain went on to butcher innocents by the thousand. Unchecked, and within a decade, violent and dictatorial communism had spread across eastern Europe, to the unrestrained joy of the jackboot communists who remained so unapologetically within Irish life.
Nor Irish only. One of the most eminent veterans of the International Brigade was Walter Ulbricht, the German Stalinist whose wall of 1960 not merely divided Germany but the entire world. Thousands perished at his command - but perhaps not so many as were killed by another veteran of the International Brigades, Enver Hoxha, the savage who ruled Albania, and who raped prisoners, men and women, before their state execution. Another veteran of the International Brigade was the Hungarian Gero, who assisted in the bloody suppression of his own people after the uprising in 1956.
Diehard veteransCountless other faithful Stalinists from the International Brigades, of all nationalities, were murdered in the Gulag over the following years by their ultimate master, Stalin. When he was gone, the last diehard Stalinist veterans of the brigade, such as the brutal Etinton (or Kotov), were themselves finally murdered.
And what was then left of the International Brigade? Myth mostly. For no benign outcome was possible from the Spanish Civil War. Right-wing fascists or left-wing fascists were going to be the victors, not democrats, as the Mazaryk family could testify. Thomas Mazaryk was the architect of Czechoslovakian nationality and statehood, and it was in his honour that the Czechoslovak battalion in the International Brigades in Spain was named.
In 1948 his son Jan, the democratically elected foreign minister, was killed during the Stalinist overthrow of democracy within Czechoslovakia. And Stalin being Stalin, a comparably Mazarykian fate would certainly have awaited Spanish democrats had the International Brigade been triumphant there in the 1930s. So please: no more about the International Brigade and its fight for freedom, thank you.
Letters To The Editor:
Spanish Civil War VolunteersDecember 12, 2001
Sir, I am a daily reader of The Irish Times and always feel I get a balanced view of home and international news. However, Kevin Myers's comments on the role of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War made me squirm.
He alleges that such fine men as Frank Ryan and George Nathan were tools of the murderous Joseph Stalin. Mr Myers must be aware that the International Brigades were formed to defend a democratically elected government in Spain at a time when fascism was rampant throughout Europe.
He knows that Franco's forces were armed and funded by Hitler and Mussolini. Yet he takes the names of fallen heroes who died in Spain defending democracy and associates them with the fascist thugs who nearly overran Europe in the 1930s.
We in Ireland owe a debt of gratitude to men such as Michael O'Riordan, who is still with us, and his less fortunate comrades who lie buried in the olive fields of Spain. I would suggest that if Mr Myers can't show respect for people who gave their lives to make the world a better place, the least he could do is remain silent. Yours, etc.,
Letters To The Editor:
Spanish Civil War VolunteersDecember 12, 2001
Alas for our hopes. Geraldine Abrahams, in a touching account of her visit to Spain to trace memories of her father among the remnants of the Irishmen who fought with the International Brigade (Features, December 4th), suggests that 'it has taken more than 50 years for them to be exonerated and for their countrymen to recognise the sacrifice they made.' Reading Kevin Myers two days later shows that half a century has exonerated nothing as far as some people are concerned.
It was too much, I suppose, for Kevin Myers to resist poking his oar into the Spanish Civil War, given recent correspondence. And, of course, some of what he says is quite correct. As far as I am concerned Andre Marty's dreadful record in Spain cannot be denied. I personally believe that he was mad. But then war breeds madmen.
And of course soldiers in battle and the men who conduct wars often behave very badly indeed. Holders of the Victoria Cross DSO, and MC, and other recipients of honours for valour, whom Kevin Myers so often venerates and admires, do not get their decorations by being pussyfoots but for killing other men, often in the most appalling ways.
Mr Myers has had in his day the whiff of powder and grapeshot, though not as a combatant. Few among us can forget his dispatches from the Balkans and Middle East. Fewer still among those of us who have been in the military have been war lovers.
There are times when it seems that his adulation for Irishmen who fought in the first World War (and even in WWII) goes beyond normal bounds. These men and many more youths like myself joined up or tried to join up for a variety of reasons - democracy, some; gallantry, a few; adventure, many more; naievety, God knows how many. Aye, and poverty, too. It was always thus.
But how dare Kevin Myers mock and condemn men who went to fight in Spain, whether they were communists or not? The huge majority of them did what they thought was right and bloody few gave any thought for Stalin or Stalinism. I was lucky to know dozens of them, both when growing up and when I made a film with them - and on both sides - in the 1970s. They believed in a cause, and that's what matters, a cause they believed was right.
Paddy O'Daire from Donegal who fought right through the war in Spain and went on to fight as a lieutenant-colonel in a fighting regiment in the British Army from 1939 to 1945, pointed out to me: 'Of course we were right to fight. And if O'Duffy's men felt that they had a cause then they had not just a right to fight for it, but a duty, too.'
Generous words, not from a man fooled by Stalin or Marty or Swierczewiki, but from a decent democrat, who may or may not have been a communist, I don't know, but who believed that Franco's and Hitler's fascist evil was of a greater malignancy than anything to be found among his comrades in the International Brigade, including the unfortunate George Nathan, whom he mentioned as a bete noire.
Whether Kevin Myers likes it or not the International Brigade did fight for freedom - a freedom from which he and I are benefitting today. - Yours, etc.,
Letters To The Editor:
Photograph Of Spanish WarJuly 30, 2002
In Kevin Myers's review of Alex Kershaw Macmillan's book Blood and Champagne; The Life and Times of Robert Capa (Books, July 20th), he expresses doubt about the authenticity of Capa's famous picture of a Republican soldier in the Spanish Civil War being killed in action.
There may have been some justification for this lack of certainty at one time, but it has since been established that the militiaman was 24-year-old Frederico Borrell Garcia from Alcoy near Alacante.
This information is contained in a book of Spanish Civil War photographs published by the Imperial War Museum and entitled The Spanish Civil War - Dreams and Nightmares. The introductory text is written by Prof Paul Preston. - Yours etc.
An Irishman's Diary
November 21, 2002
When Eoin O'Duffy and John Charles McQuaid were recruiting volunteers to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, the former policeman wanted his gallant volunteers to wear Wehrmacht-style uniforms, but McQuaid favoured ones in light blue, in honour of the Virgin Mary.
'They'll be very visible if they wear sky blue, and make easier targets,' protested O'Duffy.
'It is no part of my view of Catholicism that a good Catholic should be reluctant to die for his faith,' replied John Charles stoutly. 'Your armpit tastes delicious.'
They were discussing the issue on the banks of the Boyne, where they had earlier been swimming in their pelts, that unforgettable summer of 1936; and now they were allowing the sun to dry them off. John Charles plucked a long blade of grass and traced it down Eoin's muscular body. O'Duffy groaned, and declared: 'Stop it.'
'I will,' replied John Charles, 'if you can catch me.' With that he rose and sprinted along the water's edge, and Eoin raced after him, their happy cries ringing over the river's torpid flow.
'My own Charlemagne''Hmmm, that was good,' groaned John Charles some time later. 'You're always so manly after you've discussed military matters. But as you know better than anyone, my own Charlemagne, Communism must be fought, tooth and nail, at every turn.'
O'Duffy thought for a while. 'Communism,' he agreed, 'and the Joos.'
'The Jews. Ah yes the Jews. The Protestants are bad enough, but we know how they arrived here: by force of arms and on Henry VIII's coat-tails. But what enervating febrility caused us to permit our Hebraic friends to pitch their nomads' tents and their money-changing stalls here in good Catholic Ireland?'
O'Duffy groaned beside him. 'When you use language like that, you know what it does to me?'
'I do, my manly Galahad,' whispered John Charles, rolling onto his stomach.
Later, as they were driving into Dublin, they returned to the subject of the fatal flaws in the Irish State, as bequeathed it by history. Communists, Jews, Protestants, liberals: they were everywhere. 'And there's worse,' said McQuaid in a low, conspiratorial voice.
'There can't be worse, surely to God,' protested Eoin loudly.
'There can. There's whores. Everywhere.'
'Hoo-ers? Hoo-ers? Here in Holy Ireland? Never!' O'Duffy thought for a while before adding: 'And anyway, what are hoo-ers?'
'Whores are fallen women, dearest, who have sexual relations with men outside wedlock.' John Charles continued to speak, but his words were drowned by the sound of his companion getting violently sick out of the car window.
'You are so good, good,' whispered McQuaid later to his pallid friend. 'And so little you know of the wicked ways of the world! Let me teach you, my gallant Roland.'
So John Charles promptly decided to take his friend to a place of many whores: the Magdalena laundry, where unmarried girls were detained for the duration of their pregnancy, after which their babies were confiscated, to be raised as good Catholics in Irish orphanages, and the girls were despatched to England.
'Their base and insatiable appetites equip them admirably for life on the streets there,' explained the priest happily. 'It's a very economical solution to a rather tiresome problem.'
When they arrived at the laundry, they found a small army of heavily pregnant girls in rags, vigorously scrubbing the front drive with toothbrushes and intoning: 'I am impure, I am impure,' while a Sister of the Divine Flagellants prowled their ranks, flicking their raised buttocks with a bloodied cat o' nine tails.
'Interesting,' said O'Duffy, with a slight catch in his voice. 'Is there any chance....'
Birthing roomJohn Charles smiled. 'I'm sure Mother Superior will let us flog a couple. She needs a break. She can't do them all, though God knows she tries: a very model of Irish Catholic womanhood. Ah. Here's the maternity ward. By the way, you should know that one of the characteristics of bastards is that a great number of are born with a membranous web around the scalp.'
The two entered a large, ice-cold hut with a leaking roof, where numerous howling whores were giving birth on the earthen floor.
And sure enough, an extraordinary number of the infants were emerging with a curious gauze over their faces: yet the very occasional girl was giving birth not to an infant, but to a large blue gas canister.
'Good God!' cried O'Duffy, reeling. 'What on earth is going on?'
'Empirical proof of one of the central beliefs of our faith,' announced John Charles proudly. 'Halleluiah! Praise be to God for revealing to us, His One Abiding Truth: For many are cauled, but few are Kosan.'
The Irish Times: O'Duffy and fascismFebruary 22, 2005
With regard to General O'Duffy and Fascism (February 9th), it appears to have been overlooked that Antonio Salazar, the Portuguese dictator, was apparently O'Duffy's role model.
Salazar was regarded as a benign dictator, a technocrat who introduced a corporative form of government in Portugal with one of the houses of parliament formed from representatives of the main divisions in society - industry, trade unions, agriculture, education, etc. Mussolini introduced a similar system in Italy.
That O'Duffy was interested in corporativism as a form of government is shown by the fact that, when he was ousted from Fine Gael, he formed the Corporate Party, which was not a success.
It should not, of course, be forgotten that the system of electing our own Seanad is a corporative system which de Valera borrowed from the Portuguese and Italian models when he was framing the 1937 Constitution.
As regards O'Duffy's intervention in the Spanish Civil war, it should be remembered that that conflict was viewed in Ireland as a conflict between Christianity, in particular Catholicism and atheistic Communism, Franco being the hero of the hour in the eyes of the vast majority in Ireland at that time. - Yours, etc.,
Letters To The Editor:
Catholic Church And Sex AbuseApril 18, 2002
When I was going to school in the 1920s to the nuns and the Christian Brothers, I was taught that the Catholic Church was guided by God.
Now it appears that the Church depends on, and is advised by, lawyers. Does this mean the Church no longer has confidence in God's guidance? - Yours, etc.,