Irish Aspects of the Spanish Civil War
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By Doiminic Bell 1998, University of Ulster B.A. (Hons) Modern Studies in the Humanities.
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This work is dedicated to the people who have fought for justice, liberty and equality.
One sleeps where Southern vines are driest
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War was to have repercussions throughout the entire world. To many on the left it was seen as a battle between the forces of democracy and fascism and rich versus poor. The Right had seen it as a battle of Christ versus the atheistic hordes, a stand against the spread of world communism and the restoration of law and order. For both sides it was a battle between good and evil. It would become a war that few people could feel neutral or apolitical about. Ireland, like many other countries was to become embroiled within this conflict.
Ireland had close ties with Spain and the agrarian question played a predominant role in the politics of each country. The political and religious ties went back as far as the seventeenth century to the flight of the Earls, and De Valera was also to recognise Catalan's call for national independence. As Bowyer Bell states Ireland had long and often intimate ties with the Spanish people... sentiment and tradition were the prevailing factors in Irish Spanish relations. (Bell, 1965, p137)
Leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War on the 17th of July 1936 Spain had undergone a variety of political regimes in a relatively short period. These ranged from a seven year dictatorship under Primo de Riveria (Cook, 1991, p31. de Rivera assumed support with the help of the Military and Landowners from December 14th 1930.) the declaration of the second Spanish Republic on the 14 of April 1931, the reversal back to a right wing Government in November 1934 (Kenwood, 1993, p IX) and the eventual victory of the Popular Front in February 1937.
This period of transition was marred by various attempted uprisings by both sides with the most notable being that of the Asturian miners. (This revolt occurred on October 1934 when Asturias miners attempted to turn a general strike into a nation wide revolt. The rising was crushed by Franco and the foreign Legion. Accompanied with this rising was the declaration of Catalan national independence which was also severely repressed.) The general atmosphere was one of growing unrest with street clashes between the Left and Right, selective assassinations and frequent attacks on church property and its role in society. (The religious Reform Bill of March 1931 proposed lay education and the closure of schools. The Catholic Church had been dis-established in 1931.) These attacks on the Catholic Church enabled the right to masquerade as the defender of Catholic Spain and law and order, a role that was to be of vital importance in regard to Irelands reaction.
The deteriorating situation led to the elections of February 1936. The left with the blessing of the VII Comintern Congress had united in a popular front. The Popular Front included Socialists, the Republican Left, Republican Union, the Communist Party and the Catalan separatists. The election was fought under five main principles: land reform, amnesty for political prisoners, constitutional reform, reform of tax and labour legislation and educational reform. Of the 480 seats in the Cortes the Popular Front occupied 269. (O'Riordan, 1979, p12)
The election results were as follows:
It must be noted that the Basque Nationalists quickly aligned themselves with the Popular Front during the Civil War. This electoral victory was seen as the legitimisation for continued land seizures and attacks on property especially that of the Church. With the breakdown of law and order, political assassinations and internal bickering within the Popular Front the Army issued various ultimatums. (On June 12th Jose Costillo, an officer in the Republican Assault Guards was murdered and on the 13th of July Calvo Sotelo, head of the Monarchist Party, was assassinated.)
Over the 17th -20 of July exiled army officers staged military uprisings in Morocco under Franco and on the mainland led by General Mola. With the help of German military intervention the rising from Morocco quickly spread to the southern part of Spain. Foreign intervention was a factor of primary importance on both sides of the Civil War with the Nationalists insurgents receiving help from among others Germany and Italy, while the Republicans received help primarily from the Soviet Union and Mexico. (Bowyer Bell, 1963, p138. He states that Italy sent 70,000 troops and Germany 14,000 from the condor Legion. The Nationalists also got troops from the Portuguese regular army and Moorish troops from the Spanish Foreign legion.)
Each side in Spain was now acting in the shadows of external events, with the weakness of democratic systems being evident in Italy and Germany and the threat of an emerging Soviet Union and its ideology in the east.
As Bell claims "Hardly a European faction or creed was without representation so when the rebellion began in July much of Europe was almost at once emotionally involved." (Bell, 1963, p138) The Spanish Civil War was now no longer an internal affair as one poet of the time, Cesar Vallejo, was to claim that if Spain fell then the whole world fell. (O'Loughlin, 1987, p7)
The three years of the Spanish Civil War were seen as a dress rehearsal for World War Two as it was the first time the two emerging ideologies came into competition and conflict in open warfare. Indeed the Civil War was seen as the testing ground for the military techniques that characterised the second World War particularly the attack on Madrid, the inauguration of mass aerial bombing of urban targets i.e. Guernica.
The Spanish Civil War had four important aspects to it :- religion, class, region and external intervention. To the Right the main point of contention was of religious freedom against the atheistic reds while to their opponents in the Popular Front the issues at stake were regional autonomy and redistribution of wealth.
Apart from the violence of the Asturias revolt day to day coverage of Spanish politics before the election of February 1936 was scarce. The main channel of information was the printed media. Irish papers had to rely on agency reports and also from the coverage given to Spanish events from English daily newspapers. This lack of direct reporting led to the news reports being treated with a certain amount of skepticism by both the left and the right especially when it came to the issue of atrocities being committed by either side. The respective sides either dismissed some reports outright or considered them to be gross exaggerations of the truth. Initial reports were clouded by a fog of controversy regarding the nature of the military coup, the composition of the Popular Front Government and the extent of foreign intervention.
The Irish Times, which was considered to represent the views of the middle class and the Protestant ascendancy, came out against the Asturias revolt and claimed that communism was a very real danger. However it shifted its view in regard to the right wing insurrection and the Civil War for two reasons. Firstly on both occasions the Irish Times backed the legitimate Government and secondly the Asturias revolt was not expected to upset the European balance of power. After the February elections the paper foresaw a possible revolt from the defeated right in that they might try to obtain by armed force and treason what they failed to accomplish at the polls.' (Irish Times, 20th February 1936) The initial coverage of the Nationalist rising was given in the Irish Times in a non-partisan way, It is of no great importance to us in Ireland whether Spain decides to throw in her lot with Communism or Fascism; for either alternative is equally detestable to people of a liberal tradition." (20th July 1936)
In contrast to this the Irish Independent, regarded as the paper of Fine Gael, presented the conflict in stark contrasts; "All who stand for the ancient faith and the traditions of Spain are behind the present revolt against the Marxist regime in Madrid." (22nd July 1936) The position of the Independent was to become the dominant one in the Irish Free State. The paper presented an apocalyptic interpretation of the war with regard to religion.
The Independent group of newspapers came in for particularly fierce attacks from the left for its alleged one sided coverage of Spanish events and its ultra conservative opinion where they "excelled themselves with banner headlines and extra special horror stories." (O'Riordan, 1979, p26)
The Irish Press on reporting the conflict emphasised its religious undertones "It is a question of whether Spain will remain as it has been for so long a Christian land or a Bolshevist and anti God one." (2nd September 1936) Following the Irish Press report on the bombing of Guernica the war could no longer be portrayed as a Catholic crusade against the forces of darkness.
Northern papers such as the Derry Journal and the Irish News took an openly pro-Franco stance due to the fact that they relied on a Catholic readership. The letter page of the Irish News became an important outlet for pro-Nationalist views in the North where a running battle ensured between Harry Midgley, pro republican, and the papers readers. In contrast the Belfast Telegraph took a neutral stance to the situation. "On the whole it would not be right for any power to take sides openly with either of the combatants." (31st July 1936)
The Belfast News Letter criticised direct intervention on either side of the conflict and seemed indifferent to the plight of the Catholic church. This view emphasises the fact that for the Northern Protestants the Spanish Civil War did not involve any complicated religious issues only internal political problems. Overall the press made little attempt to explain the complicated and often tangled web of internal Spanish politics while the pro Franco press highlighted the religious aspect of the war and portrayed the insurgents as either rebels, patriots, or insurgents involved in an uprising or revolt. These were indeed emotive and loaded terms in Ireland, considering the first twenty years of Irish politics in the Twentieth century. The role of the press shall be further examined in subsequent chapters.
The two main political parties of the 1930s in Southern Ireland were Fianna Fail and Cumann na nGaedheal. Although both parties had a common origin in Sinn Fein and split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty they were now considerably different in political outlook and support base.
Cumann na nGaedheal had been in power from 1921 to 1932 and was seen as representing the interests of big farmers and industry. In terms of economic and social policy they had an orthodox and conservative outlook and were seen as a respectable middle of the road party. In their dealings with the Church, the Church was treated with the utmost respect and their favour was often looked for. However due to the Eucharistic Congress of 1932 De Valera was to overtake this position and treated the Church with deferential respect. The Eucharistic Congress was an important event in the church calendar as it was the coming together of various Bishops, for Ireland it was a chance for the nation to celebrate its religious identity and its closeness to Rome.
With the help of the I.R.A., Fianna Fail was to gain victory in the 1932 election with 44.5 per cent of the vote. (Bew, 1989, p33) Fianna Fail considered itself to be more Irish and indeed more republican than any of its opponents. They accused Cumann na nGaedheal of promoting sectional interests in society divided by a civil war the previous decade. Fianna Fail received its support from the lower classes of society namely from labourers, small farmers and industrial workers.
When in power the Republican Party concerned itself with a programme of political and economic independence from Britain and embarked on a programme of economic self- sufficiency. State expenditure on agricultural in the period increased from 1.6 per cent of agricultural output in 1930 to 15.7 per cent in 1935.(Lee, 1985, p186) This in reality meant dismantling the final remnants of the treaty, tariffs, land annuities, treaty ports and constitutional links.
Fianna Fail were to engage in a policy of agrarian radicalism (Bew, 1989, p41) with a break up of large farm holdings and a call for a decrease in rents. Fianna Fail refused to pay the British Government land annuities which amounted to £3 million. (O'Riordan, 1979, p43) This situation lead to a trade war with Britain and brought Anglo-Irish relations and relations with the North and South to an all time low. With the withdrawal of annuities Britain imposed a 20 per cent, tariff on Irish imports of livestock and livestock produce. (Lee, 1985, p181) In return De Valera increased import rates on British coal and other goods. The decline in the British cattle market and the trade war was felt mast acutely by large farmers.
Opposition to De Valera's trade policies was crystallised by the emerging Blueshirt movement. The Blueshirts' originated from an ex-servicemens association with an anti-republican ethos, the Army Comrades Association. This at its height claimed a support of 100,000. (Bradley, 1996, p24) Following De Valeras election victory of 1932 and increase in support the Garda Commissioner General Eoin ODuffy was sacked by De Valera and joined the A.C.A. renaming it the National Guard and adopted the fascist salute and blue shirt as its uniform. (Fianna Fail increased its seats to 77 and its votes to 49.7%. Lee, 1985, p179)
In September 1933 Fine Gael - United Ireland Party was formed from Cumann na nGaedheal, the Blueshirts' and the Center Party. The Blueshirts' engaged in a campaign to withhold rate payments from the government in retaliation for the loss of the British export market which adversely affected the economic situation of the Blueshirts' power base, large farmers and their families. Violence between the Blueshirts' and republicans namely the I.R.A. was common place with thirty three people hospitalised in Limerick alone in September 1933. (Bew, 1989, p53)
Lyons claims that the conflict between the I.R.A. and the Blueshirts' was the termination and final battle of the Civil War.
The emerging street violence enabled De Valera to consolidate his position by getting rid of private armies and political opponents.
The Garda were seizing I.R.A. and Blueshirt propaganda in 1934, military tribunals convicted 102 I.R.A. members and 349 Blueshirts. Following the introduction of the Army Volunteer Reserve in 1933 the I.R.A. received another blow with its proscription in 1936. These political maneuvers by De Valera now meant that Fianna Fail could now pose as the protector of law and order and were now moving away from being slightly constitutional. De Valera introduced sweeping powers against the I.R.A. throughout the 1930s.
At the beginning of the thirties there was a climate of fear which became known as the Red Scare. This atmosphere was propagated by both Cumann nGaedheal and the Catholic Church. The United Irishman, newspaper of Cumann na nGaedheal claimed that "..Mr. De Valera is leading the country straight into Bolshevik servitude....he is proceeding along the Bolshevik path as precisely as if he was getting daily orders from Moscow." (O'Riordan, 1979, p47 quoting UI, 10/12/36)
The initial years of the 1930s were characterised by attacks on left wing groups and the deportation of Jim Gralton, a Leitrim socialist, in 1933. These were often carried out with religious zeal. Despite Fianna Fail being in power the Blueshirts' and Fine Gael stood at the vanguard of this ultra conservatism and directed their energies in to the perceived communist threat. This red scare of the early years was to leave an indelible mark on the zeitgeist of Irish politics in the decade. Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers led ODuffy to enlist his crew.
Reactions of the Irish Right
The word came from Maynooth support the
One of the main factors of the Spanish Civil War and its effects on Ireland was that of the role of religion and in particular the role of the Catholic Church. The Church was one of the apexs in the triangle of power in Spain, with the other two elements being the Army and the Grandee, the land owning class.
The Church held a dominant economical position in society and its riches were estimated to be one third of the countries national wealth (O'Riordan, 1979, p11) and "the Hierarchy was rightly regarded as the ally of the upper classes." (Thomas, 1990, p56)
The Church had also exercised considerable control over the education system in Spain. Despite this "strangle hold of Catholicism over education and culture" (Thomas, 1990, p56) over twenty Spanish provinces had a literacy rate of fifty per cent or over. (Thomas, 1990, p56) It was against this background that attacks on church property and assassinations of the clergy took place during the civil war. Thomas details the number of religious persons murdered as 6,832 (sic) of which there were 12 Bishops, 283 Nuns, 4,184 Priests and 2,365 Monks. (Thomas, 1990, p270. Attacks on church property and personnel were commonplace in Spanish society prior to the Civil War.)
With the nationalist insurgents claiming to be fighting for Christianity and indeed the Catholic concept of Christianity it was inevitable that Irish Catholics would be drawn into the conflict that was unfolding on the Iberian Peninsular and identify Franco's political interests as religious interests of their own. As Whyte verifies "to many Catholics, General Franco was a Christian crusader rescuing Spain from Communist revolution." (1980, p90)
Parallel to today the Catholic Church in the 1930s held a considerable amount of power and its influence went largely unchallenged by any political group which wished to maintain a following. With The Spanish Bishops having stated their position in the Joint Letter to the Bishops of the World to gain world wide Catholic support the Church in Ireland soon responded.(3 Spanish Following a meeting in Maynooth on 13 October 1936 the Irish Hierarchy issued the following statement,
The statement continued on congratulating the laudable zeal of the ICF and called for a collection in every parish on the 25 October 1936. (Ibid.) The collection which eventually raised £43,331 was to be used to alleviate the suffering of Spanish Catholics. (Bell, 1963, p150)
During the initial stages of the conflict the Church had shown intense concern about the reported atrocities but had also shown intense partisanship. The Church was to use every avenue available, meetings, newspapers and the pulpit to rally support for the Spanish nationalists. In one such instance the monthly publication Ireland Today was to come under considerable pressure. The magazine, which ceased publication in March 1938 partly due to clerical pressure, had published articles which were critical of Franco, questioned atrocities and portrayed an objective view if the unfolding situation. The July 1937 issue claimed that it had been "submitted to a violent series of ... attacks delivered in the name of religion." (Whyte, 1980, p92) The Irish Press also came under pressure for its objective reporting but withstood the attack. Papers which supported the Nationalist cause were openly backed by the Catholic clergy. (Bishop Fogerty of Killaloe praised the editorial position of the Irish independent on August 18th 1936)
On the non-clerical religious front a significant event was the publication of Aodh de Blacams pamphlet For God and Spain. The Truth About the Spanish Civil War. This publication detailed alleged religious atrocities and added that the struggle was not only one of religion but also a battle against the alleged encroachment of Moscow and international communism. On the massacre of Babajoz, a scene of a particular fierce and brutal street to street battle, the pamphlet reported that "as soon as the insurgents entered the city the churches were immediately filled to offer thanks to God for delivery from tyranny and from extermination." (O'Riordan, 1979, p40)
The Catholic Churchs overall view with regard to communism was that it was Mexico yesterday, Spain today and Ireland tomorrow. On 22 August 1936 the Irish Independent called for the formation of a committee to help the stricken people of Spain in their fight. These calls for support physically manifested themselves into the Irish Christian Front (I.C.F.). The ICF held its inaugural meeting in the Mansion House in Dublin on the 31 August 1936. President of the ICF was a Mr. Patrick Belton, Vice-President Dr J.P. Brennan and Organising Secretary Mrs. Eileen O’Brien. (Belton was then a Cumman na nGaedheal TD and had formerly been a member of Fianna Fail, the Center party and had stood as an Independent. At his time of ICF membership he was Lord Mayor of Dublin and chair of Dublin County Council. Brennan was Dublin City Coroner and an executive committee member of Cumman na Poblachta ne hEireann. O'Brien was a prominent member of the Catholic group, Pro Deo.) The aims and objectives of the ICF were as follows:
With a Pro-Franco feeling in Ireland generated by the Church, the Press and Fine Gael, the ICF developed at an astonishing rate and organised meetings throughout the country. In September 1936 the Independent reported 5,000 applications for membership. At meetings held by the ICF in provincial towns in Ireland atrocities perpetrated against nuns and priests in Spain would be highlighted. During meetings members would raise their arms in the shape of a cross and chant Long Live Christ the King in an Orwellian fashion. (Foley, 1992, p161)
On ICF platforms would stand local sympathisers, priests, Bishops and local T.D.s usually from Fine Gael but some from Fianna Fail and the Irish Labour Party. At a Galway meeting declarations were read declaring the ICFs militant anti-communism, sympathy for the people of Spain, congratulations to Franco and his Generals, support for the Spanish clergy and calls for an economic system based on the Papal Encyclicals. At several ICF rallies there were calls supporting the regimes of Italy and Germany. At Drogheda in December 1936 Father OConnell was reported to have claimed;
The Irish Times reported the General Secretary of the ICF, Desmond Bell, congratulating Hitler on setting up concentration camps and keeping the communists away from decent workers. (Irish Times, 15th December 1936) Belton went even further to the right;
The jewel in the crown of the ICF came in its monster rally organised in College Green on the 25th October, the feast of Christ the King. the crowd was estimated at 30,000. (Foley, 1990, p214. The Irish Times and the Irish independent gave differing estimates of 40,000 and 120,000 respectively, on 26th October 1936) Among the supporters on the platform was T.J. Campbell of the Northern Ireland Nationalist Party.
This mass mobilisation of people by the ICF served two important functions, firstly to raise money for Spanish Catholics and secondly to rededicate Irish people to the cause of anti-communism. On the financial front over £30,000 was raised. (Bell, 1963, p151) In November 1936 Belton left Ireland to visit Franco held positions and to arrange for medical supplies to the Spanish nationalists and ODuffy's Brigade. The first of these medical supplies, an ambulance unit left Dublin on the 15 March 1937. At an ICF rally in Balbriggan P.J. Curran exclaimed from the platform that "Communism had approached very close to Balbriggan." (Irish Times, 12 September 1936) The ICF considered that aid for Spain was secondary to the fight against communism in Ireland.
There was no doubt that there was the existence of communism in Ireland, Armstrong gives the figure that communist parties in Ireland received 5,000 vote in the 1932 election. (Armstrong, 1984, p13) Other sources claimed that there were between fifty-three and over 40,000 active communists in Ireland, some working to control the Orange Order. (Bell, 1963, p145) The problem with the calls for action against native communists was that few in Ireland could locate or even identity the red menace.
The ICF undoubtedly did create and add to an atmosphere of intolerance in its years of existence as following a meeting of the ICF in Cork one individual who questioned the stance of the ICF was deposited in the river Lee. (Carroll, 1993, p213-4)
Also when one member of the clergy Father Ryan of Queens University challenged the exaggeration of atrocities by the ICF Belton wrote demanding to know when he had "joined the communists". (O'Riordan, 1979, p30)
In local councils members introduced what became known as the Clonmel Resolution. This motion was introduced usually by members of Fine Gael and supported by sympathetic members of the ICF in the chamber. Its aim was to break relations with the Spanish Republic and to recognise the Franco regime.
Following its peak in success at its formation the ICF became plagued by allegations that it was a political front for Fine Gael and that the movement itself had wider political aspirations as evident from its stated aims and objectives. Bell emphasises this point, "Belton's new ICF looked to some like the old Blueshirts clad in tweed", a reference to the support both movements received from large farmers. (Bell, 1963, p145)
The Irish Press accused Fine Gael of attempting to "come in on the ground floor and annex control of the ICF." The ICF tried to counter these allegations and show a united front at a meeting in Longford, the local Fine Gael TD Sean Mac Eoin claimed that he and his Fianna Fail counterpart were present not as politicians but as Catholics. (Irish Times, 12 October 1936)
In the pro-Nationalist movement division came in two forms, internal division within the ICF and division between Belton and ODuffy. At the ICFs first annual conference in February 1937 members from Drogheda opposed Belton for chairperson claiming;
Belton and other supporters of nationalist Spain claimed that the important battle was to be fought at home and not in Spain. The Irish Press (26 November 1936) quoted Belton's disaffection at ODuffy's foreign adventures, "I did not agree with the wisdom of Irishmen going out to Spain." ODuffy and Belton were to become involved in a bitter dispute over each others tactics and ODuffy claimed that he and his volunteers received little of the money raised by the ICF.
While the ICF started as a mass movement of people it could not capitalise on its grassroots support and did not develop into an effective political organisation as hoped by Belton. The ICF was unsuccessful on political issues such as recognition for the Nationalist Government. The ICF failure was evident when Belton lost his seat in the 1937 general election., which was primarily contested on domestic and constitutional issues. Belton lost his seat to G.C. McGowan of the Labour Party.
In a letter to the Irish Independent (10 August 1936), General Eoin ODuffy aired his views on the conflict in Spain,
ODuffy continued on with the suggestion that a volunteer unit of Irish fighters should be raised. His call was answered when a prominent Spanish Monarchist, El Conde de Ramirez De arellano, contacted the head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal MacRory in anticipation that Ireland could play a more direct role in Spain against "the destructive and nihilistic actions of the godless." (Letter of the Spanish Bishops, 1938, p14)
On the 6 August the Primate replied that he could do nothing personally and that the best person to contact would be ODuffy. Several days later on the 12 August the Count wrote to ODuffy:
This call for action provided the opportunity for ODuffy to step back into the limelight and concentrate on his primary political motivation in that; "Here before his very eyes the conflict between the forces of Christianity and communism was being played out in bloody battle for the possession of one of the oldest countries in Europe." (Manning, 1971, p200)
Prompted by enthusiasm from the pulpit and the press, ODuffy and his recently established National Corporate Party set about recruiting on a nation wide basis. Similar to the ICF, ODuffy's Brigade initially received overwhelming support. ODuffy claimed that in a space of several days he had over 5,000 willing volunteers, a week later they had increased by 1,000. (Ibid. p201)
Having previously been in Spain, ODuffy returned on the 21 September 1936 where he met Generals Mola and Franco and organised the logistics for the forthcoming journey. (He had been a guest of Jose Antonia Primo de Riveria in 1934) For ODuffy there was no question as to his motivation for going to Spain; "Ireland is behind the people of Spain in their fight for the faith. Irish Volunteers are making ready to leave home to fight side by side with the nationalist forces, convinced that the cause of Franco is the cause of Christian civilisation." (O'Duffy, 1938, p11)
On 16 October 1936 the Domino was due to arrive in Passage East. The ship failed to arrive and this was to be the first of many disappointments. (Manning, 1971, p204) Following this mishap ten volunteers left Dublin aboard the Lady Lenister for Liverpool on 13 November as civilian passengers. Two weeks later the first organised group of eighty four volunteers left Liverpool aboard the S.S. Avoceta for Lisbon accompanied by Father J. Mulrean, Chaplain. (Keogh, 1988, p81)
The main body of volunteers, 600, left from Galway upon the Dun Aengus (Stradling, 1995, p45), accompanied to the tune of Faith of our Fathers’. (MacKee, 1938, p11-12) The Dun Angus was to wait in the harbour over night until the German ship, Unter Den Linden, arrived complete with Nazi swastika. (Foley, 1990, p165) After waiting through the night and in rough weather conditions thirty-five volunteers dropped out and returned to shore. Another attempt to transport more volunteers to Spain in January 1937 failed as once again the ship did not arrive.
Out of a reported six thousand volunteers just under 700 arrived in Spain. (Tierney, 1972, p37) The Irish Brigade were to form the 15th Bandera Irlandesa Del Tercio Extranjero (15th Irish Brigade of the Foreign Legion). ODuffy was given the rank of Brigadier General answerable only to Franco. The Brigade serving under the flag of a red cross on a emerald green background with the inscription In Hoc Signo Vinces was to serve for six months or the duration of the war, which ever was shorter. The Brigade was to fight under the strict condition that they were not to fight against |the Basque Catholics who supported the republic.
Morale and discipline of the Brigade became severely strained due to the conditions on the front and the fact that there were several pro-Republican elements in the group who's objective was to incite mutiny.
Following training by German officers at Caceres the first action the Brigade saw was on the road to Ciempozuelos on the Jarama front near Madrid. Ironically this action was against fellow Nationalist troops. The Brigade was fired upon by troops of the Canary Islands, killing five, who thought they had came across an International Brigade.
On the 13 March 1937 the Brigade launched an attack on a republican position and following fatalities retreated, despite direct orders ODuffy refused to lead his Brigade back into action. The Brigade was then transferred to the La Maronosa section of the front. Here the Brigade suffered more casualties and fatalities not through military action but from conditions in the trenches and a poor diet.
When the Brigades, six-month tour of duty was over a second tour was discussed. This opinion was put to a vote and 654 decided to return while only nine opted to stay. (O'Duffy, 1938, p239) The Brigade set sail on 17 June 1937 from Lisbon aboard the Mozambique and arrived in Dublin on 21 June 1936. Following their disembarkation rival groups formed and marched independently of each other to the Mansion house.
While ODuffy's Irish Brigade were little or no military use to Franco they were of propaganda value. Although they were the only organised group of International volunteers Franco claimed world wide support. While it would be unfair to claim that members of the Irish Brigade were genuine fascists, they were devoutly religious and eager to represent Ireland in what was seen as the battle against world communism. ORiordan claims that "members of ODuffy's Brigade were victims of a great ...propaganda campaign who wanted to die for Christ." (O'Riordan interview, 7 December 1996) These two factors of religious fervour and anti-communism were exploited by ODuffy who had a history of fascist links.
During the 1930's support for the Spanish Republic came from the left of Irish politics. The left consisted of a small number of organisations and their supporters. These organisations were the Communist Party of Ireland (C.P.I.), the Republican Congress, the Northern Ireland Labour Party (N.I.L.P.), the Northern Ireland Socialist Party (N.I.S.P.) and elements of the I.R.A. The Irish Labour Party (I.L.P.) which contained pro-Republican elements officially adhered to the policy of non-intervention. Of the various groups on the left the Republican Congress was to become the pivotal organisation in rallying support for the Spanish Republic.
The Republican Congress was born from the 1934 I.R.A. Army Convention. At this convention on 17-18 March 1934 left wing members of the I.R.A., George Gilmore, Frank Ryan, Michael Price and Peadar ODonnell, moved a motion believing that the I.R.A. had outlived its usefulness as a military organisation. The essence of this motion was that the I.R.A. should transform itself from a secret clandestine organisation to a mass popular movement. The motion received support from the majority of the floor but was opposed by the Executive Committee of the I.R.A. and lost by one vote. Following this defeat ODonnell, Ryan, Gilmore and Price left the Convention and the I.R.A.
The dissidents called for a conference in Athlone on the 7-8 April 1934 and issued the following call:
Following this call a newspaper The Republican Congress, entitled The Northern Worker in the North, was launched to drum up support. In June 1934 at the annual Wolfe Tone commemoration in Bodenstown a group of protestant workers, representing the Republican Congress, from Belfast were attacked by a contingent of the I.R.A.. The Republican Congress convened its first conference at Rathmines Town Hall on 29-30 September 1934. The meeting attracted delegates representing Congress branches, Trade Unions, Trades Councils, the N.I.S.P., the C.P.I. and individual members of the I.L.P., in all 183 delegates. (Byrne, 1994, p39)
Debate was centered around the creation of a new political party or the formation of a broad based united front. The vote was 99 to 84 for the united front resolution. This division prompted a walk out by Michael Price, Roddy Connolly, Nora Connolly OBrien and others. Almost at once the Republican Congress had split over the very issue that it was convened for. Support from sections of the Trade Union movement and other organisations drifted away and the predominant movement in the Congress was to become the C.P.I..
At the outbreak of the conflict in Spain the joint Secretary of the Republican Congress, Peadar ODonnell, had been on holiday and on return rallied support for the Spanish Republic. (O'Donnell had been described by Hogan in 1935, p40, as a 'communist in every sense of the word.' Hogan's book outlined the 'threat' to Ireland from World Communism.)
The pro-Republican lobby played down any suggestion of a religious dimension to the war and claimed that the conflict was a struggle of democracy versus fascism. The Worker, paper of the C.P.I., also played down any allegations of the government in Spain being riddled with Communists; "The papers tell the people that the Spanish Republic is a red or communist government. The Government of Spain is a moderate republican liberal Government in which there is not one Socialist or Communist." (22 August, 1936)
This represented a thaw in the politics of the CPI. They were no longer proposing class war but were operating a moderate popular front policy. The Republican Congress was to use every possible means open to them to enlist support for the Spanish Republic. On 17 of September 1936 Ryan claimed that the front line trenches of Spain are right here.’ (Cronin, 1980, p76) Unsurprisingly this prompted a strong reaction from the Church, where Cardinal MacRory replied; "There is no room any longer for any doubt as to the issues at stake in the Spanish conflict....It is a question of whether Spain will remain as she has for so long, a Christian and Catholic land or a Bolshevist and anti-God one." (Ibid. p79)
In reply, Ryan confirmed his fusion of both Republicanism and Catholicism saying I will take my religion from Rome, but as an Irish Republican I will take my politics from neither Moscow nor Maynooth. (Ibid., p80) For the Left there was certainty no religious aspect of the conflict. An important figure in the pro-Republican lobby was Father Michael OFlannagan. OFlannagan openly criticised the Hierarchys position on the conflict and once again urged people not to take their political lead from the Church.
At a meeting in the Gaiety Theatre, organised by OFlannagan and the Republican Congress in January 1937, Father Ramon La Borda spoke on the situation in Spain. Father La Borda, a Basque Priest had previously been in Ireland for the Eucharistic Congress. Although speaking with little English his speeches were translated in the pages of the Irish Democrat. La Borda reiterated the view of the Left that the conflict was not one of religion and that 13 Basque Priests had been murdered by Nationalists, They (Francos troops) shot Priests and Workmen to the accompanying cries of Long Live Christ the King. (Carroll, 1993, p218)
Father La Borda, while in Ireland highlighted internal opposition to Franco from the Spanish Church. La Borda pointed out that the Bishop of Vitoria resigned his dioceses over disagreement with the Churchs pro-Franco stance and that the rector of the Irish College at Salamanca, Monsignor McCabe was compiling a critical journal on the forces aligned with Franco.
Carroll claims that, "Monsignor McCabe seemed well aware that the perception of the war disseminated in Ireland by the ICF... was far from accurate. Presumably Monsignor McCabes views were known to some Irish Bishop's.." (Ibid. p219)
As expected, due to the general pro-Franco sympathies in Ireland, Father Laborda was to run in to opposition and was banned from a meeting organised by the N.I.L.P in Queens University, Belfast. He was also met by opposition at a meeting organised in the Ulster Hall in Belfast. (Cronin, 1980, p87)
Father OFlannagan had travelled to London and America in order to further the cause of the Spanish Republic. However he was most active at home in organising various committees to provide medical aid and food supplies to Spain. Various aid committees were set up in Ireland both north and south. In the North Harry Midgley, MP for the N.I.L.P, played a predominant role. The most significant of these was the Irish Food Ship for Spain Committee which raised over £12,000 in its first month. In March 1938 lorries left Dublin for Belfast with supplies destined for Spain. The pro-Republican lobby was also able to send two medical workers as part of a joint Irish-Scottish ambulance unit. (Fred McMahon and Charles Ewart Milne. Milne was to serve with the Canadian Blood transfusion service in Barcelona and Valencia). [ Editors note. June 1999. There was an additional Belfastman who served with the medical service in Spain, Joseph Boyd.]
The Irish Democrat, which was launched in March 1937 and supported by the Republican Congress, CPI and the N.I.S.P had collapsed by the end of 1937. This was largely due to the papers poor circulation, disputes over editorial policy and the N.I.S.P objecting to an article by Ryan attacking the P.O.U.M.(The Irish Democrat replaced The Worker.) The left now had to rely on the letter pages of other newspapers to promote an alternative view of the Spanish conflict.
A significant development in the anti-Franco campaign was the publication of a pamphlet by Harry Midgley entitled, "Spain. The Press, The Pulpit and The Truth." The pamphlet was launched by Midgley in reply to the coverage given to the conflict by the Irish News. Midgley supported the democratically elected government in Spain but was in disagreement with the position of the CPI. Despite this conflict the pamphlet was distributed throughout Ireland.
The Trade Union movement was divided over the conflict. Only one Trade Union leader, John Swift openly supported to the Spanish Government. When the Irish section of the A.T.G.W.U sent £1000 to aid the Republic, branches dissolved in protest after a campaign of clerical intimidation. Many Trade Union were to adopt resolutions supporting Franco and the Workers Union of Ireland prevented its members from speaking on pro-Republican platforms. The issue of Spain did not even make it on to the agenda of the 1937 I.L.P conference. At the 1938 conference a delegate, Connor Cruise OBrien, who attacked Franco was criticised by his colleagues. Despite the Pro-Republican lobby operating in a hostile environment they were able to sent a group of volunteers to aid the Republic militarily. (A pro-republican meeting in September 1936 in College Green, Dublin, was attacked by "mobs flinging bottles and potatoes studded with razor blades and as they attacked they sang hymns all the time.", McInerney, 1974, p176)
In August to September 1936 the Comintern suggested the idea of sending military aid to the Spanish Republic. (Thomas, 1990, p452-4) This aid was to take the form of what later became known as the International Brigades. The total number of volunteers was 35,000 which never exceeded 18,000 at any one time. (Ibid, p282) The International Brigades represented over 53 countries. (Ibid, p82) Of the International Brigades Ireland was to send over 150 of which 65 were to die in battle. (Interview with O'Riordan, 1996)
The total number of volunteers in aid of the Spanish Republic is difficult to estimate for two reasons. Firstly many Irish from London, Liverpool and other British cities were to join the Irish in Spain. Also there were Irish volunteers from Australia, America and Canada who did not fight with the Irish in Spain but fought in their own countries Battalion. The second and most important factor was that some who Irishmen fought on the Republican side were conveniently written out of history. Captain J.R. White, formerly of Connollys Irish Citizen Army (I.C.A), was with the International Brigades at first and trained Spanish militias in the use of fire arms but later joined the CNT. (, Meltzer, 1980, p15. White is not listed in O'Riordans book.) The N.I.S.P were the first to send military aid to the Spanish Republic with at least one volunteer for the P.O.U.M, Patrick Trench. (Milotte, 1984, p170; Lysaght, 1981, also names Geoffrey Coulter as fighting in the International Brigades, neither of these 2 volunteers are listed by O'Riordan.)
Bill Scott a member of the CPI and formally of the IRA while in Spain was one of the first to join an international anti-fascist column, the International Centuria. In Correspondence to Sean Murray, General secretary of the CPI, Scott outlined the situation in Spain and proposed the question of participation on the Republican side .(Foley, 1990, p161)
The task of recruiting was left to Bill Gannon of the CPI. Leadership for the volunteers was to come from outside the CPI. The reason for this being that the CPI was so small. With George Gilmore having a broken leg and Peadar ODonnell being considered too old the obvious choice was Frank Ryan, an effective and dedicated agitator for the Left. The initial contingent of eighty volunteers left Dublin on 11 December 1936. (Bell, 1989, p134)
This group consisted of men from north and south of the border, Catholic, Protestant, Nationalist, Republican and Unionist. The majority of the men were from the CPI, Republican Congress and the IRA. In The Worker 9 December 1936 Ryan outlined reasons for the Brigades departure; "The Irish contingent is a demonstration of revolutionary Ireland's solidarity with gallant Spanish workers and peasants in their fight for freedom against fascism. It aims to redeem Irish honour besmirched by the intervention of Irish fascism on the side of Spanish Fascist rebels. It is to aid the revolutionary movement in Ireland, to defeat the fascist menace at home and finally not the least, to establish the closest fraternal bands of kinship between the Republican Democracies of Ireland and Spain."
Here Ryan emphasised two reasons for going to Spain. Firstly in reply to ODuffy, who had smeared the name of Ireland and secondly to show international solidarity. The Irish were attached to the mainly English speaking XV International Brigade made up mainly of American and English volunteers. The Irish formed the James Connolly Column of the Major-Attlee battalion. By early 1937 a split had occurred among the Irish due to three reasons. The British had failed to recognise a distinct Irish section and secondly the Irish were under the leadership of George Nathan a former officer in the Black and Tans. Thirdly and more importantly the English paper the Daily Worker on reporting the deaths on the Madrid front omitted the Irish fatalities. This disaffection led to a split among the Irish with some remaining with the British at Cordova and some with the Abraham Lincoln Battalion at the International Brigade training ground. Division along national lines had taken precedent over a show of international solidarity. The first action the Irish saw was at the Cordova front in the defence of Madrid. Here the first English speaking member of the International Brigades was to fall along with nine other Irish, Tommy Patten from Achill who was ironically a fluent Gaelic speaker. (O'Riordan, 1979, p162-3)
In February 1937 the Irish took part in the battle of the Jarama valley, serving in the trenches for a continuous period of seventy three days. At this battle the young poet, Charles Donnelly, was to utter his last words "Even the olives are bleeding." (O'Connor, 1992, p97) The next action came at the battle of Brunete. The Irish were to engage in further battles at Teruel and on the Aragon front where Frank Ryan was captured. The last action the Irish saw was on the Ebro front on 23 September 1938. In all the Irish were to loose over sixty five men. (Bradley, 1996, p25)
In October 1938 in order to de-internationalise the conflict the withdrawal of the International Brigades was announced. The International Brigades had served several useful purposes. Firstly they had raised the morale of the Republic through their military action and provided a model for the formation of the Republican army. The Brigades also served as visible evidence of international support for the Republic.
Undoubtedly there would have been more Irish volunteers for the International Brigades but certain factors prevented this. The IRA had prohibited its members from enlisting for Spain and the split in the Republican Congress would have limited the number of possible recruits. The hostile environment created by the Spanish conflict would have certainly discouraged people from taking part. On their return home veterans of the International Brigades had difficulty obtaining work due to injuries sustained but more so to political and religious intolerance. (See letters in the Marx Memorial Library. T Flannagan to IB Association, Duff to IBA and Duff to Nan Green.)
In recognition of the sacrifice made by volunteers of the International Brigades survivors have been granted honorary Spanish citizenship; among them the three remaining Irish Volunteers, Michael ORiordan, Peter OConnor and Eugene Dowling. (Gallagher, 1996, p6-8)
Recognition and Non-Intervention
The eruption of the Spanish conflict provoked a diplomatic response from the Popular Front Government in France. Prompted by fraternal sympathies with the popular front government in Spain and the possible threat of a Fascist state on her southern boarder, France along with Britain were to provide the genesis for the Non-Intervention Committee in September 1936.
Prior to the first meeting of the Non-Intervention Committee the French minister in Dublin contacted the department of Foreign affairs on 13 August 1936. Several days later the Government Information Bureau issued an informal press statement declaring the Governments' intention of non-intervention.
On the 25 August the Government Information Bureau issued the following statement, "The policy of non-intervention has been adopted in the conviction that it is in the interests of Spain itself and....which will best serve the cause of European peace... the Government of Saor Stat Eireann in common with the Irish people and the Christian world are profoundly shocked by the tragic events that have taken place in Spain." (Canavan, 1980)
Ireland, along with fourteen other countries, was represented by John Whelan Dulanty on the Non-Intervention Committee in London. (Bell, 1963, p149) Despite the majority of the work of the Non-Intervention Committee being carried out in smaller sub-committees, Ireland was participating in a major political diplomatic event. Ireland was to supply seventeen observers to the Non-Intervention Committee, eleven at sea and six along the French border. The attention of the Non-Intervention Committee was drawn to the increasing flow of international volunteers to Spain, mainly on the side of the Republican Government. Due to its commitment to non-intervention the Irish Government drew up the Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Bill. The Bill was presented to the Dail in February 1936. On Presentation of the Bill De Valera recognised the vast swell of pro-Franco public opinion, There can be no doubt on which side is the sympathy of the vast majority of the people of this country." (Dail Debates, Vol. 65, Col. 598)
Opposition to the Bill came from Fine Gael and ICF elements in the Dail. While Fianna Fail members were prepared to stand on ICF platforms and condemn the Spanish Government and communism they were not prepared to criticise the Governments non-intervention policy. The Government had tried to separate any religious or ideological issues from the diplomatic aspects of the conflict. In opposition to the Bill the "Bogey of atheistic international communism....was readily invoked by Fine Gael politician's". (Keatinge, 1973, p259). Patrick Belton was to claim that "the sympathies of the Fianna Fail party are entirely with the Red Government in Spain." (Dail Debates, Vol. 65, Col. 745)
Another Fine Gael Deputy Mr. McGovern wanted the Government to fall in behind the view of the Catholic Hierarchy; "...The Church has spoken. All the Catholic Bishops of Ireland and the Archbishops and Bishops of Spain have spoken. What is the use of their speaking if we, the Catholic section of this country are not prepared to accept their teaching." (Dail Debates, Vol. 65, Co. 829)
J. OSullivan demanded the severance of relations with the Spanish Government. The Irish Independent had initially proposed this view on 12 August 1936. In reply to the Independent, De Valera stated that severance of links would serve no useful purpose and that diplomatic relations was primarily between states and not governments. (Irish Press, 26 August 1936) For De Valera the main issue was the fear that the conflict would spill over in to a major European war.
Despite intense and often heated debate in the Chamber the Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Bill passed by 77 to 50 votes on 24 February 1937. The passage of the Bill was ensured by the I.L.P voting with the Government. The Bill declared that it was illegal for any citizen of the Free State to participate in the civil war, an offence that would be punishable by a fine not exceeding £500 or two years in jail. (Kennedy, 1996, p232)
Despite Germany and Italy adhering to the policy of non-intervention both countries still provided war material and personnel for the Nationalist forces rendering the Non-Intervention Committee virtually ineffective . Likewise the Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Bill was also virtually futile as the majority of volunteers for both sides in the conflict had already departed. In order to make the Spanish Civil War (Non-Intervention) Bill effective the Merchant Shipping (Spanish Civil War) Bill was passed in March 1937. The Bill enabled the Irish Government to prevent shipping of materials and supplies to Spain and to remove the right of Irish ships to carry war materials to Spain.
The main tactic of the pro-Nationalist lobby was to get various organisations to pass what became known as the Clonmel resolution calling for the severance of links with the Republican government. This tactic was successful to some extent with many Trade Unions and local authorities adopting this resolution. While opposing De Valera's non-intervention policy Fine Gael wanted direct intervention on the side of the Spanish Nationalists and recognition of the Franco regime. A factor that worked to the advantage of De Valera was that the Vatican had continued to recognise the Republican Government. De Valera used papal position to neutralise domestic political criticism. The Irish Press backing the Governments policy, attacked both Fine Gael and the Irish Independent on their demands for the recognition of Franco, "The ill considered and insincere criticisms which it (Irish Independent) levels at the Government in this matter might equally well be applied to the Vatican itself, which has so far refrained from taking the step indicated. But the opposition often, as on occasion and when it suits its own purpose does not hesitate to be more Catholic than the Pope." (26 August 1936)
The governments policy of not recognising the Franco regime was further justified by the bombing of Guernica. Keogh warrants this claim in that the destruction of the Basque capital "proved to be a forceful argument in support of maintaining the status quo." (Keogh, 1988, p91)
On 11 February 1938 pending Francos imminent victory Ireland became the fourteenth nation to recognise the Franco Government. De Valera had bided his time over foreign policy and was not prepared to align Ireland with a Fascist power. The consequence of which would have meant that De Valera and Ireland would have been openly associated with a German-Italian-Spanish alliance. Diplomatic handling of the Spanish situation was the inauguration of Irelands subsequent policy of neutrality. The situation provided the opportunity for De Valera to place his stamp on the policy of Irish neutrality, foreign relations, how the world and indeed Irish politics perceived Ireland in general. As Kennedy states De Valera showed complete mastery over external affairs in his handling of the issue. (Kennedy, 1996, p232)
Despite opposition Fianna Fail and De Valera remained resolute and immovable throughout the whole period of the Spanish conflict.
The Spanish problem acted like a spotlight on Irish political parties. This glare of attention highlighted the potential, strength and efficiency of the parties involved. For the Right, the Church and the role of Irish Catholicism were the main factors determining their response. Catholic opinion was galvanised around the attack on the Mother Church. The Hierarchy and lay congregation were to confuse an attack on the political power of the Spanish Church as an attack on the spiritual role of the church, an attack they were to reflect at all cost.
The view of the Right was obscured by the factor of religion and the conflict was to be interpreted in a subjective self-serving manner. The Right conveniently dismissed the fact that those defending the Spanish Republic were their fellow Catholics. For the ICF, while initially riding on the crest of fervent public concern and anger, they were unable to sustain this of potential level of support and consolidate their political position. Any attempts to move from the issue of Spain were rejected by supporters of the movement and by the electorate, as was evident from Beltons defeat in the 1937 election.
The pro-Nationalist movement was to contribute to an existing atmosphere of intolerance towards any dissent of opinion. While many Catholics were to accept the Churchs view on the conflict the general public were not prepared to accept ODuffys or Belton calls for a militant form of Irish Catholicism.
The Left in Ireland was severely affected by the Spanish conflict. Irish Socialism was to loose many potential leaders of idealism and dedication because of the war either through death in battle or as in the case of Harry Midgley through lack of support over the stance taken by N.I.L.P on the side of the Spanish Republican Government. Frank Ryan was also unable to make an inroad into the political arena when he stood as a candidate for a United Front Against Fascism and polled only 875 votes.
The Spanish situation was to provide the Catholic Church with the opportunity to subdue an emerging work class movement. The pro-Republican lobby in Ireland saw the situation in Spain as an opportunity to achieve a progressive and egalitarian society, something, which was unattainable at home, due to the weakness of the left, Catholic opinion and De Valeras dominance over Irish politics. For many Irish volunteers in the International Brigades they went in search of a Republic. The Spanish civil war was a light in the fog of conservative Irish politics, which illuminated the ideals of justice, courage and the equality of the human race.
Spain provided the testing ground for Ireland's subsequent policy of neutrality, which has lasted up to the present day. Overall the Spanish conflict was not to have a major effect on Irish politics in the period. The Irish electorate were more concerned with domestic political issues rather than major European events. During the 1937 election the electorate retreated into parochial domestic issues concerning the economic crisis and the enactment of a new Constitution
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