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Published in: Society 2/2021

08-06-2021 | Forum Article: A Tale of Two Republics: Ireland and the Spanish Civil War

Ireland’s Quixotic Cruzada: the Irish and the Spanish Civil War

Authors: John Rodden, John Rossi

Published in: Society | Issue 2/2021

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Abstract

The Spanish Civil War has attracted historical interest because of its role as a precursor to World War II. The Irish role in that conflict is a revealing commentary on political developments in Ireland in the 1930s. General Eoin O’Duffy, a hero of the Irish War of Independence, attempted to use Irish involvement in the Spanish conflict as a way of enhancing his reputation. He took 700 Blueshirts to Spain to fight on the side of the General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces where their performance was a disastrous failure. O’Duffy’s career and the memories of the Blue Shirts involvement in Spain left his reputation in tatters.
Footnotes
1
This may also seem like a modest figure. Yet as the authors of In Spanish Trenches point out, total membership in Ireland’s Communist Party in 1937 numbered only 120—meaning that the volunteer turnout amounted to double the membership total.
 
2
Of course, this support violated the non-intervention agreement that all three fascist powers (and the Soviet Union as well) had signed before the outbreak of war. The International Brigades and other left-wing Loyalist militias numbered no more than 40,000, along with 2105 Russian troops (chiefly Red Army commanders, or so-called military advisers) who equipped them with Russian weaponry. Thus, by “honoring” the non-intervention agreement, the USA, Britain, and France effectively became appeasers who surrendered Republican Spain to the fascists by blocking supply lines and outlawing volunteer service. (Or rather, honoring the agreement selectively: for example, the Americans and British sent plenty of oil throughout the war to rebel-held Spanish territory as well as Republican Spain.) On these points, see the recent voluminous study by Giles Tremlett, The International Brigades.
 
3
Indeed the hagiography has extended even to the colloquial name of the volunteer radicals. As Kevin Myers has noted, no one in the 1930s ever used the term “Connolly Column” to refer to the Irish volunteers generally or the Irish International Brigade units. Rather, “this was a highly imaginative PR term” coined in the 1970s to encompass disparate units” of volunteers. (The majority of Irishmen in the International Brigades fought in the British Battalion and the Americans’ Abraham Lincoln Battalion.) Myers concludes: “There was no such thing as the Connolly Column.”
 
4
It is also a myth that all the Irish radical volunteers were exemplars of heroism. In their excellent recent study, In Spanish Trenches, Barry McLaughlin and Emmett O’Connor note that at least 40 Irishmen (16 percent) deserted their units; 24 soldiers slipped out of Spain without official discharges. At a more august level, in post-Franco Spain, the Connolly veterans have been awarded honorary Spanish citizenship for their services to the Spanish Republic. So the dismissive remarks proceed—and it goes downhill from there. O’Duffy’s Blueshirts are ridiculed as a half-mad flirtation with fascism—if they are remembered at all. Even the Church they fought for failed to offer them any recognition for their services when they returned from Spain—nor subsequently either. Within a decade of the Blueshirts’ trip to Spain, the ignominy of the Hitler regime and crimes of the Holocaust had besmirched their memory. They were portrayed as villainous knaves who had fought alongside the arch-monster of totalitarianism and his legions of genocidal henchmen.
 
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Metadata
Title
Ireland’s Quixotic Cruzada: the Irish and the Spanish Civil War
Authors
John Rodden
John Rossi
Publication date
08-06-2021
Publisher
Springer US
Published in
Society / Issue 2/2021
Print ISSN: 0147-2011
Electronic ISSN: 1936-4725
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-021-00578-8

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