Irish Brigade (Spanish Civil War)
The Irish Brigade fought on the Nationalist side
Spanish State
Francoist Spain refers to a period of Spanish history between 1936 and 1975 when Spain was under the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco....

 of Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco
Francisco Franco y Bahamonde was a Spanish general, dictator and head of state of Spain from October 1936 , and de facto regent of the nominally restored Kingdom of Spain from 1947 until his death in November, 1975...

 during the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

. The unit was formed wholly of Roman Catholics by the politician Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy was in succession a Teachta Dála , the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army , the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the Army Comrades Association and then the first leader of Fine Gael , before leading the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during...

, who had previously organised the banned quasi-fascist Blueshirts and openly fascist Greenshirts
.The Greenshirts was the name used for followers of Eoin O'Duffy's openly fascist National Corporate Party following the split from Fine Gael. In 1936 O'Duffy led a volunteer Irish Brigade for Franco in the Spanish Civil War and retired on his return. Without him both the Greenshirts and National...

 in Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

. Despite the declaration by the Irish government
Irish Government
The Government of Ireland is the cabinet that exercises executive authority in Ireland.-Members of the Government:Membership of the Government is regulated fundamentally by the Constitution of Ireland. The Government is headed by a prime minister called the Taoiseach...

 that participation in the war was unwelcome and ill-advised, 700 of O'Duffy's followers went to Spain. They saw their primary role in Spain as fighting for the Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, some of whose priests and nuns had been attacked (see Red Terror (Spain)
Red Terror (Spain)
The Red Terror in Spain is the name given by historians to various acts committed "by sections of nearly all the leftist groups" such as the killing of tens of thousands of people , as well as attacks on landowners, industrialists, and politicians, and the...

). They also saw many religious and historical parallels in the two nations, and hoped to prevent communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 gaining ground in Spain.

Initial involvement

Following the well-publicised murders of over 4,000 clerics in the first weeks of the war, the Irish Catholic
Roman Catholicism in Ireland
The Catholic Church in Ireland is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, the Christian Church with full communion with the Pope, currently Benedict XVI...

 primate Cardinal MacRory was approached in early August 1936 by the Spanish nationalist Count Ramírez de Arellano, a Carlist from Navarre
Navarre , officially the Chartered Community of Navarre is an autonomous community in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Country, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Aquitaine in France...

, for help for the nationalist rebels. MacRory suggested that O'Duffy was the best man to help, as his politics were supportive and he had organised the enormous Dublin Eucharistic Congress in 1932. In 1935 O'Duffy had formed the National Corporate Party
National Corporate Party
The National Corporate Party was a Fascist political party in Ireland founded by General Eoin O'Duffy in June 1935. It split from Fine Gael when O'Duffy was removed as leader of that party, which was originally founded by the merger of O'Duffy's Blueshirts, formally known as the National Guard or...

, a small fascist group, and hoped that its involvement in Spain would increase its popular vote. He travelled to Spain later in 1936 to meet Franco and Ramírez, promising that 5,000 volunteers would follow him.

Franco's desire for Irish support then changed in an opportunist manner. Early in the war when Franco was one of a group of rebel generals, he felt that encouraging the Irish involvement would cement his support from the equally religious-minded Carlist groups, and so ensure his leadership of the nationalists. By December 1936 he was certain of the Carlists' support, and thereafter played down the need for any Irish volunteers.

Support for the brigade

Support for Irish involvement was based primarily on the Catholic ethos of most Irish people, as distinct from their opinion on Spanish politics per se. Many Irish Independent
Irish Independent
The Irish Independent is Ireland's largest-selling daily newspaper that is published in both compact and broadsheet formats. It is the flagship publication of Independent News & Media.-History:...

 newspaper editorials endorsed the idea, and on 10 August 1936 it published a letter from O'Duffy seeking assistance for his "anti-Red Crusade". The Catholic Church was naturally on side. Many local government County Councils passed resolutions in support, starting with Clonmel
Clonmel is the county town of South Tipperary in Ireland. It is the largest town in the county. While the borough had a population of 15,482 in 2006, another 17,008 people were in the rural hinterland. The town is noted in Irish history for its resistance to the Cromwellian army which sacked both...

 on 21 August. While the Irish leader de Valera
Éamon de Valera
Éamon de Valera was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland, serving as head of government of the Irish Free State and head of government and head of state of Ireland...

 remained strictly neutral, in line with the multi-national Non-Intervention Committee
Non-Intervention Committee
During the Spanish Civil War, several countries followed a principle of non-intervention, which would result in the signing of the Non-Intervention Agreement in August 1936 and the setting up of the Non-Intervention Committee, which first met in September...

, his publicist Aodh de Blacam wrote "For God and Spain".

This support was mirrored outside the Irish Free State
Irish Free State
The Irish Free State was the state established as a Dominion on 6 December 1922 under the Anglo-Irish Treaty, signed by the British government and Irish representatives exactly twelve months beforehand...

. In the USA the largely Catholic Irish American
Irish American
Irish Americans are citizens of the United States who can trace their ancestry to Ireland. A total of 36,278,332 Americans—estimated at 11.9% of the total population—reported Irish ancestry in the 2008 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau...

 community was in a minority that supported Franco and the rebels, but a proposal in the US Congress to allow sales of arms to the Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

 was opposed successfully by a campaign led by the Catholic Joseph Kennedy. In Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland is one of the four countries of the United Kingdom. Situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, it shares a border with the Republic of Ireland to the south and west...

, support was so strong in the Catholic minority that it largely abandoned the Northern Ireland Labour Party
Northern Ireland Labour Party
The Northern Ireland Labour Party was an Irish political party which operated from 1924 until 1987.In 1913 the British Labour Party resolved to give the recently formed Irish Labour Party exclusive organising rights in Ireland...

, whose leader Harry Midgley
Harry Midgley
Henry Cassidy Midgley, PC , known as Harry Midgley was a prominent politician in Northern Ireland. Born to a unionist family in Belfast, he worked in the textile industry before joining the Royal Engineers during World War I....

 supported the Spanish Republic (Midgley was greeted at one party meeting with chants of "we want Franco").


In late 1936 some 7,000 men volunteered, of whom about 700 were selected. By now Franco was less keen on having an Irish Brigade, and O'Duffy had difficulty persuading him to arrange a ship to transport his men; a ship expected in October was cancelled. 200 travelled to Spain in small groups, and eventually 500 others embarked on the German ship Urundi at Galway
Galway or City of Galway is a city in County Galway, Republic of Ireland. It is the sixth largest and the fastest-growing city in Ireland. It is also the third largest city within the Republic and the only city in the Province of Connacht. Located on the west coast of Ireland, it sits on the...

 in November 1936. O'Duffy had had to charter the ship himself, and so presented Franco with a fait accompli when it docked at El Ferrol.

Training and deployment

From their training base at Cáceres
Cáceres, Spain
Cáceres is the capital of the same name province, in the autonomous community of Extremadura, Spain. , its population was 91,131 inhabitants. The municipio has a land area of 1,750.33 km², and is the largest in geographical extension in Spain....

 the volunteers were attached to the Spanish Foreign Legion as its "XV Bandera" (roughly, "fifteenth battalion
A battalion is a military unit of around 300–1,200 soldiers usually consisting of between two and seven companies and typically commanded by either a Lieutenant Colonel or a Colonel...

"), divided in four companies. Their uniforms were German ones dyed a light green, with silver harp badges. Two of their officers, Fitzpatrick and Nangle, were Irishmen who had formerly served as officers in the British army; O'Duffy worried that they were actually agents of British imperialism
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 and in turn Fitzpatrick considered O'Duffy to be "a shit".

On 19 February 1937 they were deployed to the Jarama
Battle of Jarama
The Battle of Jarama was an attempt by General Franco's Nationalists to dislodge the Republican lines along the river Jarama, just east of Madrid, during the Spanish Civil War...

 battle area, as part of the right flank at Ciempozuelos
Ciempozuelos is a town in Spain. It is located in the south of the Community of Madrid. It had a population of 17,769 in 2005 Its origins appear to be Moorish and the name refers to the number of wells that existed in the town. It is clearly not as well-known as its neighbours Chinchón and Aranjuez...

, but when approaching the front line they were fired upon by a newly-formed and allied Falangist unit from the Canary Islands
Canary Islands
The Canary Islands , also known as the Canaries , is a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, 100 km west of the border between Morocco and the Western Sahara. The Canaries are a Spanish autonomous community and an outermost region of the European Union...

. In an hour-long exchange of friendly fire
Friendly fire
Friendly fire is inadvertent firing towards one's own or otherwise friendly forces while attempting to engage enemy forces, particularly where this results in injury or death. A death resulting from a negligent discharge is not considered friendly fire...

 4 Irish and 13 Canarians were killed.

In its only offensive action, against the village of Titulcia in a rainstorm, two brigaders were killed before they were repulsed; the following day the brigade refused to continue the attack and was placed in defensive positions at La Maranosa
La Marañosa
La Marañosa is a locality of Madrid, Spain. Its hills overlook both banks of the Jarama river.The locality is known for being home of The "Fabrica Nacional de Productos Quimicos" which supplied the Spanish Army of Africa with chemical warfare agents during the Rif rebellion between 1923 and...


Mixed reputation

As Franco no longer needed the brigade for political reasons, he never sent a second ship for the next 600 volunteers who had assembled in Galway in January 1937. The brigaders in Spain had a problem coping with oily food and the unaccustomed profusion of cheap wine; on one occasion a volunteer on parade vomited down the neck of a Spanish general. In April 1937 O'Duffy's adjutant Captain Gunning made off with the wages and a number of passports. O'Duffy's men started to nickname him "O'Scruffy" and "Old John Bollocks".

Withdrawal and reaction

O'Duffy, who had conducted his war from a series of comfortable hotels, then offered to withdraw his unit, and Franco agreed. The new Foreign Legion general Juan Yagüe
Juan Yagüe
Juan Yagüe y Blanco, 1st Marquis of San Leonardo de Yagüe was a Spanish army officer during the Spanish Civil War, one of the most important in the National side.-Early life:...

 loathed O'Duffy. Most of the brigade returned to Cáceres and was shipped home from Portugal. On its arrival in late June 1937 in Dublin it was greeted by hundreds, not thousands as expected, and O'Duffy's political career was over.

The Irish government destroyed its files relating to the Brigade in May 1940.

See also

  • Foreign involvement in the Spanish Civil War
    Foreign involvement in the Spanish Civil War
    The Spanish Civil War had large numbers of non-Spanish citizens participating in combat and advisory positions. Foreign governments contributed varying amounts of financial assistance and military aid to Nationalist forces led by Generalísimo Francisco Franco and those fighting on behalf of the...

  • Irish Socialist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
    Irish Socialist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
    Irish Socialist volunteers in the Spanish Civil War describes a grouping of IRA members and Irish Socialists who fought in support the cause of the Second Republic during the Spanish Civil War. These volunteers were taken from both Irish Republican and Unionist political backgrounds but were bonded...

  • Ireland and the Spanish Civil War
    Ireland and the Spanish Civil War
    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...

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