Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War

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The Spanish Civil War lasted from July 17, 1936 to April 1, 1939. Both sides in the Spanish Civil War attracted participants from Ireland.

Eoin O'Duffy formed a corp of 750 who supported General Francisco Franco's Nationalists, aided and abetted by Irish Roman Catholic clergy, who reacted to the extensive massacre of Catholic clergy by the Republicans (see Irish Brigade (Spanish Civil War)).

The International Brigade, which comprised individuals from Britain, the United States and France, were supported by 320 Irish men, a quarter of whom were killed in action. Some were involved with underground unions, some were opposed to O'Duffy's Blueshirts and Greenshirts in Ireland, while others believed that fascism threatened Ireland. Following the death of Michael O'Riordan in Dublin on 18 May 2006, Bob Doyle was the last Irishman alive to have fought for the International Brigade until his death on 23 January 2009. Paddy Cochrane,[1] who served as a medic, died on 31 March 2011 aged 98, the last Irish non-combatant.

Frank Ryan was another leading Irish participant on the Republican side. Despite his deafness in late 1936 Frank Ryan travelled to Spain with about 80 men he had succeeded in recruiting to fight in the International Brigades on the Republican side. Ryan's men are sometimes referred to as the "Connolly Column".

He served in the Lincoln-Washington Brigade rising to Brigadier. He fought in a number of engagements until he was seriously wounded in March 1937, and returned to Ireland to recover. He took advantage of the opportunity of his return to launch another left-republican newspaper, entitled The Irish Democrat. On his return to Spain, he again served in the war until he was captured by Italian "volunteer" troops fighting for the Nationalists in March 1938. He was accused of murder, court-martialled, and sentenced to death before being incarcerated in Burgos Prison in 1938. His sentence was later commuted to thirty years hard labour in January 1940.

Ryan's 'Escape' from Burgos Prison 1940[edit]

In October 1938 Ryan was visited in Burgos Prison by the Irish Minister to Spain, Leopold Kerney.[2] Kerney hired a lawyer for Ryan, (Jaime Michel de Champourcin, paid for by the Irish government), but in spite of all his efforts, he could not secure Ryan's release. It was through de Champourcin's contacts with Abwehr (a German military intelligence organisation) chief Wilhelm Canaris, and within the Franco Government that saw Ryan released into Abwehr hands on 15 July 1940.[3] The handover took place on the Spanish border at Irun-Hendaye. A cover story that Ryan had "escaped" was released at the time. Ryan was taken to the Spanish border by Madrid-based Abwehr agent Wolfgang Blaum and handed over to Sonderführer Kurt Haller. From the border, Ryan was first taken to the resort town of Biarritz then on to Paris where he received several days hospitality courtesy of the Abwehr. He was then transported to Berlin, and met up with Seán Russell on 4 August 1940.[4]

Communist organisation[edit]

Recruiting in Ireland was organised by the Communist Party of Ireland and O'Riordan made contact with Seán Nolan, its national organiser. He took part in all the battles of the 15th International Brigade in support of the Spanish Republican Army, including the Battle of the Ebro, at which he was wounded.

As part of an international agreement, the Spanish republican government called upon the International Brigades to withdraw in 1938. The last seven surviving Irish participants to arrive home marched from the North Wall, Dublin, led by a piper, to a public meeting in Abbey Street.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Paddy Cochrane at the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War site
  2. ^ Eamon Kerney, "Leopold H. Kerney - Irish Minister to Spain 1935 - 1946"], at the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War website; also available at Leopold H. Kerney Website
  3. ^ Carter in Shamrock and the Swastika, page 114, claims that the Irish Government made efforts on Ryan's behalf, including the commutation of his death sentence to 30 years hard labour and brokering of a deal via de Champourcin, Abwehr, German Foreign Ministry and Franco whereby Ryan could be released on condition he never returned to Spain again.
  4. ^ Frank Ryan, by Seán Cronin, pp 180-187.Repsol, 1980