Irish volunteers in Spain
Two weeks before Christmas 1936, many Irishmen left their homes and families to begin the long journey to
They were fighting to uphold the democratically elected centre-left government which was under military threat of being overthrown by a Nationalist army under the command of General Francisco Franco.
Franco had the support of the wealthy in
The Irish volunteers of the 15th International Brigade, many of them ill-prepared for the appalling conditions and carnage that awaited them, had nothing materially to gain by taking part in the struggle – their participation was based purely on ideology, a belief that they were fighting against the tide of Fascism sweeping
In all, some 275 Irish volunteers would serve in support of the government in
The majority of the Irish contingent came from the south, but among their ranks were also many northerners, 61 in total. They were an interesting mix of people whose backgrounds were Catholic and Protestant, Nationalist and Unionist. They were joined together by a common bond of Socialist ideals and disillusionment with the society they were leaving behind. Some were Communists and Anarchists but the majority were simply Socialist in thinking and Republicans at heart.
The 1930s were a time of strongly conflicting ideologies – Conservatism versus Socialism, right against left. Fascism squaring up to Communism. Working class Catholic men living in
The carnage of the first world war and the failure of the system to keep the promises of a better life to those that survived had seen the rise of working class politics in the 1920s. While Europe witnessed the grip of Fascism exerted in
But as in so many other cases, religious division won the day. Both the Stormont government and the Catholic Church would not allow what they considered to be left wing Communist politics to take preference over faith, belief and loyalty; even the IRA would not ‘officially’ rally to the Socialist banner.
At the time, those who went to
The overall dedication and sacrifice of these men should not be distorted by the role of Stalinism internationally. Stalin's legacy is one of brutal murder and dictatorship – these volunteers who went to
As in any civil war, for nearly three years
The International Brigades were withdrawn from the front on the evening of September 23, 1938, after two years of bitter fighting. The war itself came to an end on the March 29, 1939, with victory for Franco’s Nationalist troops.
As many as 580,000 people are thought to have lost their lives in the conflict. Following the end of the war, Franco ordered a vast number of imprisonments and executions. The precise number of the latter is incalculable but it is known tens of thousands of Loyalist prisoners either died before firing squads or perished from disease between 1939 and 1943.
The Spanish civil war was quickly overshadowed by the outbreak of the second world war, when Fascism swept across the remainder of
Those who had gone to fight and survived began to return to
Their legacy is that what was lost then, is won now.
Whether in the
By Seán Quinn