THE leader of the Irish who fought against facisim in Spain sent 25 men home fearing more loss of life, new records from Russia have revealed.
Frank Ryan (pictured above), (along with John Robinson) from Knocklong, Co Limerick, was a republican who played an important role within the International Brigades which confronted General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War from 1936. Comintern papers from Moscow have given a revaling insight into the role of 230 Irish men who sided with the communists in Spain. Almost a third of the volunteers died and researcher Dr Emmet O’Connor from the University of Ulster said Ryan showed courage and leadership in battle. “It is to his credit that he managed to get about 25 men sent home, and his motivation was based on the very high losses among volunteers he himself had brought to Spain in December 1936.” Ryan was wounded during the Battle of Jarama near Madrid in February 1937. Dr O’Conner said: “first, to help rebuild the British battalion decimated after the Battle of Brunete (July 1937) and, second, on his own intiative, to get as many Irishmen as possible repatriated if he felt that they had done enough.”He said he envisaged a propaganda tour of America.”It speaks volumes for his courage and decency that he dropped all such plans when the Repubican front collapsed in Aragon in early March 1938. He was captured on March 31 1938.”
An enormours increase in knowledge about the Irish in Spain followed the release in 1991 of the files of the brigades held in a Moscow archive. The Communist International (Comintern) library has about 60,000,000 pages of documents, of which 4,000 relate to Ireland. “The size and global scope of this material created a unique opportunity to study an international movement, and was itself a factor in the promotion of transnational history, which is now at the cutting edge of historiography.” Another Limerick man was mentioned in the documents. “Emmet Ryan from The Desmond Hotel in Upper Catherine Street in Limerick city, was the most intriguing: middle-class, a gifted linguist, no political affiliation. “He had a serious drink problem [not unusual in the British battalion because wine was cheap and part of the rations] but he was a constant critic of the British battalion leadership and was executed in circumstances which still remain unclear during the early stages of the Battle of the Ebro, that is in the first days of August 1938.”
The International Brigades, supported by Russia, were part of an improvised army that had to contend with shortages and crises from the outset. Ultimately the Republic was defeated and Franco marched into Madrid in March 1939. The contingent of 230 Irishmen in the brigades represented 29 counties, particularly Dublin and Belfast but strong contingents from Co Derry, Waterford and Cork. One man, Paddy Byrne from off Dame Street in Dublin, jumped ship in Barcelona in order to join up. Many had been and were still members of the IRA. Dr O’Connor said the papers made clear that socialist republicanism in the 1930s was largely promoted by international communism. “It broke down mainly because of the contradiction in communist international strategy, which sought to push republicans to the left, on the one hand, and have the Communist Party of Ireland displace the republican movement on the other.” The records have gone on display at Queen’s University Belfast.
With many thanks to: The Irish News, for the origional story.