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For other uses, see Blue Shirts (disambiguation).
Army Comrades Association / National Guard
Banner of the Blueshirts.png
Abbreviation Blueshirts, ACA
Formation 1932
Extinction 1933
Type Irish integral nationalism,
Christian corporatism,
Far Right
Purpose Socio-political organisation
Key people Eoin O'Duffy
Thomas F. O'Higgins

The Army Comrades Association (ACA), later named the National Guard and better known by the nickname The Blueshirts (Irish: Na Léinte Gorma), was an Irish extra-parliamentary security organisation active in the 1930s. It consisted largely of former members of the Irish Republican Army who were pro-Treaty during the Irish Civil War. The purpose of the organisation was to provide physical protection for political groups such as the Cumann na nGaedheal from intimidation by the anti-Treaty IRA.

Because of the later attraction of the group's leader Eoin O'Duffy to authoritarian nationalist movements on the European Continent, they are sometimes compared to the MVSN (Blackshirts) of Italy and to some extent performed a similar function.[1][2] Some of the Blueshirts later went to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and were anti-communist in nature, however historian R.M. Douglas has stated that it is dubious to portray them as an "Irish manifestation of fascism".[3]

Most of the political parties whose meetings the ACA protected would merge to become Fine Gael, and members of that party are sometimes nicknamed "Blueshirts" to this day.


The Army Comrades Association was formed in February 1932, to promote the interests of ex-National Army members, to defend conservative interests and to halt what they perceived as an emerging threat coming from their political opponents, the Irish Republican Army and Fianna Fáil.

In March 1932, Éamon de Valera became President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State. One of his first acts was to repeal the ban on the IRA. He also released many republican prisoners from jail. Following these moves, the IRA became increasingly active in disrupting the activities of the opposition party, Cumann na nGaedheal. The Blueshirts felt that freedom of speech was being repressed, and began to provide security at Cumann na nGaedheal events. This led to several serious clashes between the IRA and the Blueshirts. In August 1932, Thomas F. O'Higgins, a Cumann na nGaedheal Teachta Dála (TD; member of Parliament) became the leader of the ACA.

In January 1933, de Valera called a surprise election, which Fianna Fáil won comfortably. The election campaign saw a serious escalation of rioting between IRA and ACA supporters. In April 1933, the ACA began wearing the distinctive St. Patrick's Blue shirt uniform.

Eoin O'Duffy becomes leader[edit]

Eoin O'Duffy was a guerrilla leader in the Irish Republican Army during the Irish War of Independence; a National Army general during the Civil War, and the Irish police commissioner in the Irish Free State from 1922 to 1933. After de Valera's re-election in February 1933, he dismissed O'Duffy as commissioner, and in July of that year, O'Duffy took control of the ACA and renamed it the National Guard. He re-modelled the organisation, adopting elements of European fascism, such as the Roman straight-arm salute, uniforms and huge rallies. Membership of the new organisation became limited to people who were Irish or whose parents "profess the Christian faith". O'Duffy was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, and the Blueshirts adopted corporatism as their chief political aim.

March on Dublin[edit]

The ACA planned to hold a parade in Dublin in August 1933. It was to proceed to Glasnevin Cemetery, stopping briefly on Leinster lawn in front of the Irish parliament, where speeches were to be held. The goal of the parade was to commemorate past leaders of Ireland, Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins. It is clear that the IRA and other fringe groups representing various socialists intended to confront the Blueshirts if they did march in Dublin.

De Valera banned the parade, remembering Mussolini's March on Rome, and fearing a coup d'état. Decades later, he told Fianna Fáil politicians that in late summer 1933, he was unsure whether the Irish Army would obey his orders to suppress the perceived threat, or whether the soldiers would support the Blueshirts (who included many ex-soldiers). O'Duffy accepted the ban and insisted that he was committed to upholding the law. Instead, several provincial parades took place to commemorate the deaths of Griffith, O'Higgins and Collins. De Valera saw this move as defying his ban, and the Blueshirts were declared an illegal organisation.

Fine Gael and the National Corporate Party[edit]

In response to the banning of the National Guard, Cumann na nGaedheal and the National Centre Party merged to form a new party, Fine Gael, on 3 September 1933. O'Duffy became its first president, with W. T. Cosgrave and James Dillon acting as vice-presidents. The National Guard changed into the Young Ireland Association, and became part of a youth wing of the party. The party's aim was to create a corporatist United Ireland within the British Commonwealth. Following disagreements with his Fine Gael colleagues, O'Duffy left the party, although most of the Blueshirts stayed in Fine Gael.

In December 1934, O'Duffy attended the Montreux Fascist conference in Switzerland. He then founded the National Corporate Party, and later raised an "Irish Brigade" that took General Francisco Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War.[4]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ See, for example, here and here. Archived 2009-10-31.
  2. ^ O’Halpin, E. (1999). Defending Ireland: The Irish State and its Enemies since 1922. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-820426-4.
  3. ^ Douglas, R. M. (2009). Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the Fascist 'New Order' in Ireland. Manchester University Press.[page needed]. ISBN 0-7190-7998-5. 
  4. ^ "Irish Involvement in the Spanish Civil War 1936-39". Retrieved 6 February 2014.