Eoin O'Duffy

Eoin O'Duffy

Eoin O'Duffy was born in Laragh, Ireland in 1892. As a young man he worked as an engineer, architect and auctioneer in Wexford and Monaghan.

O'Duffy joined the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and by the end of the First World War was commander of the Monaghan Brigade. On 14th February, 1920, O'Duffy's unit successfully captured the R.U.C. barracks at Ballytrain.

During the Civil War O'Duffy was appointed head of the South Western Command. In September 1922 he retired from the army to become Chief Commissioner of the Garda Siochana in September 1922. He held the post until being dismissed by Eamon de Valera in February 1933.

O'Duffy became active in the fascist movement and was given command of the Army Comrades Association (also known as Blueshirts). O'Duffy renamed the movement the National Guard. He also organized marches, flags, salutes ("Hail O'Duffy) based on those in Nazi Germany. This led to fighting in the streets between the National Guard and left-wing groups. In August 1933 the government banned the National Guard from marching to Leinster Lawn.

The following month O'Duffy helped establish the Fine Gael Party. O'Duffy became president of the party but he caused considerable controversy when he described the Irish Republican Army as a communist organization. In August 1934 O'Duffy was forced to resign from the presidency.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War O'Duffy began recruiting volunteers to go and fight in the war. Supported by the Catholic Church in Ireland and by right-wing national newspapers, O'Duffy and the first volunteers travelled from Dublin on 13th November, 1936. It has been argued that the men who went to Spain were mainly motivated by a desire to defend the Catholic Church in Spain.

An estimated 750 Blue Shirts fought with the Nationalist Army during the war. The Irish volunteers became part of the XV Bandera Irlandesa del Terico of the Spanish Foreign Legion. The Blueshirts suffered heavy losses at Jarama in February 1937.

On his return to Ireland in 1938 O'Duffy published his book, Crusade in Spain. O'Duffy continued to advocate fascist policies and during the Second World War he had negotiations with politicians in Germany about the possibility of persuading the Irish Republican Army of undertaking a policy of sabotage against Britain.

Eoin O'Duffy was given a state funeral when he died in 1944.

Primary Sources

(1) Eoin O'Duffy, statement issued on why the Irish Brigade was leaving Spain (May, 1937)

They have now been in the front line trenches without a break since February 19, on which date they received their baptism of fire. Since then they have been subjected to almost unceasing shell fire and bombing day after day and night after night.

We have left seven dead on the field, we have many seriously wounded, some maimed for life, and many others suffering from shell shock, pulmonary diseases, rheumatic fever, &c., developed in the trenches during the incessant heavy rains of February and March, from which complaints, I fear, some of the men may never fully recover. By the end of March we had 150 in hospital.

The greatest trial of war will undoubtedly be the danger of typhoid and other fevers from now on, but the climatic conditions during the past few months, and the almost complete absence of water for either drinking or sanitary purposes, have had serious effects on the health of the Irish troops already.

Nevertheless, neither the sick nor wounded ever made any complaints and returned to the front cheerfully immediately on their discharge from hospital.

As our brigade is composed entirely of volunteers General Franco has been concerned about the safety of minors - those under 21 years of age - and has made representations to me from time to time in regard to their repatriation. The number of volunteers under 21 is upwards of 106.

Owing to the understanding in regard to the six months' period of service, a large number of volunteers arranged with their employers to engage substitutes during their absence, and about the middle of April I received requests from upwards of 200 officers, N.C.O.s, and men to make arrangements for their return to Ireland. All expressed, however, their loyal acceptance of my decision and signified their willingness to remain here if I so desired.

The transport of volunteers from Ireland to Spain always presented difficulties, but now, with the Free State Non-Intervention Act and the activities of the international observers on the frontiers, we are confronted with the position that no further support from Ireland will be forthcoming. The Irish post offices have even refused to accept parcels addressed to members of the brigade in Spain since the passing of the Act.

Without a reserve, or any hope of a reserve, it is a very serious responsibility for any commander or leader to order men into action in modem warfare where one or two activities might result in the complete annihilation of a little band of men like this which constitutes the Irish Brigade.

No one knows better than I do the high morale, the spirit, and the bravery of the men, and I know that no danger, not even the certainty of death itself, would daunt them, but such an ending of the brigade, however, glorious, would be as bad for Spain as it would be for Ireland.

Taking all these facts into consideration, I considered it my duty as leader of the brigade to give each member an opportunity of deciding for himself as to whether he should return to Ireland now or continue on here for the duration of the war.

With the exception of a few who have made up their minds to remain in Spain, the unanimous decision has been to return to Ireland now, our obligations having been fulfilled.

Accordingly the brigade will return to Ireland as soon as its place in the front line has been filled and the men have had a rest in Caceres. Meanwhile travelling arrangements will be made.

(2) John Quinn, interviewed in the North Belfast News (20th October 2001)

The one thing that upsets me about the history that is written about the Irish men who fought in the Spanish Civil War is that it tends to misrepresent the ideals and beliefs which led so many of these men to fight, on both sides.

Many people mistakenly believe that everyone who joined Eoin O'Duffy was a fascist, some may have been, but the vast majority of those who did fight for Franco had no interest in fascism and were more traditional Catholics. This book (Spanish Civil War: The Untold Misery) will show that many of the men who joined Eoin O'Duffy, especially from Belfast, did so because of the fact that they were devout Catholics and as a consequence did what the church told them to do, but also they went to fight because of the unique relationship they had with O'Duffy himself.

Whatever O'Duffy's faults he obviously made an impression on a number of his old IRA comrades and when 1936 came around some joined him on the boat to Spain.