Irish Volunteers for Franco
Repository: Glucksman Library, University of Limerick, Limerick Ireland
Creator: Eoin O'Duffy
Fond or Collection
The Robert Stradling Collection
Series 2, P13/55
Repository and Location
Glucksman Library, University of Limerick, Limerick Ireland
Date Created: 1937
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Dublin, Ireland
This “Certificate of Service” signed by Brigadier General Eion O’Duffy and “Generalíssimo” Francisco Franco testifies that James Roche had fought in the Irish Brigade with “Loyalty, Courage, and Good Conduct” as part of its “Crusade in Spain”. Roche was one of approximately 2,000 Irishmen who joined the Irish Brigade, of whom around 700 actually served in Spain. In comparison, around two hundred fought in the Connolly Column of the International Brigades.
Ireland was unique in that many more men there volunteered to fight for Franco than for the Republic, but this reflected the weight of public opinion in this recently-independent and deeply-Catholic country.
In Ireland, the Civil War was interpreted primarily as a religious rather than as a social or political conflict. The Church and the Catholic press had been hammering the religious issue since the birth of the Second Republic, and the Irish Church responded quickly to the outbreak of the Civil War, and especially the murder of thousands of clergy. It was Cardinal Joseph McCrory, head of the Irish Church, who had encouraged O’Duffy to create the Brigade in the first place.
Irish society had already started to mobilize in support of the military rebels, most significantly in the form of the Irish Christian Front (ICF) which was created in August 1936. The next month it was able to bring out 40,000 people to a demonstration in Cork. In scenes similar to those in Navarra, when the Brigaders left for Spain they were blessed by priests, given religious medallions, and seen off by enthusiastic crowds singing songs like “Faith of our Fathers”.
There was also a political element to this mobilization. Some ICF leaders, as well as O’Duffy himself, were fascists and members of the paramilitary Blueshirts. Eamon de Valera’s government also came under intense pressure to rescind its recognition of the Spanish Republic and abandon its support for Non-Intervention.
The experience of the Irish Brigade in Spain was brief and unhappy. It first saw action at the Battle of the Jarama, and soon found itself in a lethal firefight with a Falangista unit. Plagued by drunkenness and indiscipline – on one occasion the officers mutinied when ordered to attack a village – the unit was ordered back to Ireland by Franco in June 1937. It had been in Spain only six months.
The Irish Brigade constituted the bulk of the approximately 3,000 foreign volunteers who fought on the Nationalist side. There were also the 300 members of the Jeanne d’Arc unit of the Spanish Legion, some members of the Romanian Iron Guard, as well as some White Russian veterans of the Russian Civil War and assorted adventurers and right wingers. English writer Peter Kemp was one of them, and he recounted that the Nationalists showed no interest in recruiting in Great Britain.
Why bother? The Francoists were receiving massive assistance from Germany and Italy, as well as a lesser but still significant support from Portugal. They had no need to recruit individuals or small numbers of men elsewhere, especially when they were not proper soldiers in real military organizations and, as in the case of the Irish, could be more trouble than they were worth.