Seán Russell
Seán Russell was an Irish republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

 who held senior positions in the IRA
Irish Republican Army
The Irish Republican Army was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation. It was descended from the Irish Volunteers, an organisation established on 25 November 1913 that staged the Easter Rising in April 1916...

 until the end of the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

. From 1922 until his death he remained a senior member and chief of staff of the IRA, while it divided and was outlawed, and removed itself to the political fringe of Irish society.

Early life

Born in Fairview, Dublin
Fairview, Dublin
Fairview is a coastal district on the Northside of Dublin, Ireland, in the jurisdiction of Dublin City Council. Part of the area forms Fairview Park, on land reclaimed from the sea.-Location and access:...

 in 1893, Russell joined the Irish Volunteers
Irish Volunteers
The Irish Volunteers was a military organisation established in 1913 by Irish nationalists. It was ostensibly formed in response to the formation of the Ulster Volunteers in 1912, and its declared primary aim was "to secure and maintain the rights and liberties common to the whole people of Ireland"...

 in 1913. He participated in the 1916 Easter Rising
Easter Rising
The Easter Rising was an insurrection staged in Ireland during Easter Week, 1916. The Rising was mounted by Irish republicans with the aims of ending British rule in Ireland and establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily engaged in the First World War...

 as an officer in Dublin Brigade’s 2nd Battalion, under Thomas MacDonagh
Thomas MacDonagh
Thomas MacDonagh was an Irish nationalist, poet, playwright, and a leader of the 1916 Easter Rising.-Early life:MacDonagh was born in Cloughjordan, County Tipperary...

. Following the Rising he was interned in Frongoch
The village of Frongoch is located in Gwynedd, Wales. It lies close to the market town of Bala, on the A4212 road in north Wales.It was the home of the Frongoch internment camp, used to hold German prisoners-of-war during First World War, and then Irish Republican prisoners from the 1916...

 and Knutsford
Knutsford is a town and civil parish in the unitary authority area of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, in North West England...

. After the Irish War of Independence
Irish War of Independence
The Irish War of Independence , Anglo-Irish War, Black and Tan War, or Tan War was a guerrilla war mounted by the Irish Republican Army against the British government and its forces in Ireland. It began in January 1919, following the Irish Republic's declaration of independence. Both sides agreed...

 began, he was attached to the IRA General Headquarters Staff (GHQ) and became IRA Director of Munitions in 1920. In 1925, after the Irish Civil War
Irish Civil War
The Irish Civil War was a conflict that accompanied the establishment of the Irish Free State as an entity independent from the United Kingdom within the British Empire....

, he was jailed in Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison
Mountjoy Prison , founded as Mountjoy Gaol, nicknamed The Joy, is a medium security prison located in Phibsboro in the centre of Dublin, Ireland. It has the largest prison population in Ireland.The current prison governor is Mr...

 but escaped on 25 November in a breakout he helped organise.

Post-Civil War activism

Russell was one of those within the much-reduced IRA pushing for more militant activities in 1926. That year he and Gerald Boland
Gerald Boland
Gerald Boland was an Irish Fianna Fáil politician. A founder-member of the party, he served in a number of Cabinet positions, most notably as the country's longest-serving Minister for Justice.-Early life:...

 travelled to the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 on an IRA weapons buying mission. On his return from Moscow Russell reported back to Sean Lemass
Seán Lemass
Seán Francis Lemass was one of the most prominent Irish politicians of the 20th century. He served as Taoiseach from 1959 until 1966....

.He was appointed IRA quartermaster general
IRA Quartermaster General
The IRA Quartermaster General runs a department which is responsible for obtaining, concealing and maintaining the store of weaponry of the Irish Republican Army....

 in 1927 and held that position until 1936. He travelled widely throughout Ireland reorganising the IRA during 1929-31. Russell was due to give the oration at the 1931 Bodenstown
Bodenstown is a townland on the outskirts of Sallins in County Kildare, Ireland.The most notable local features are a golf club and the parish cemetery for Sallins. The cemetery is best known as the gravesite of Theobald Wolfe Tone, the eighteenth century Irish revolutionary and leader of the...

 commemoration but was arrested on its eve.

He visited the United States in the autumn of 1932. During the 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...

 rail strike of 1933 he organised IRA intervention from Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

. Russell remained aloof from the IRA's political debates and following the split of 1934 chaired the court-martial
A court-martial is a military court. A court-martial is empowered to determine the guilt of members of the armed forces subject to military law, and, if the defendant is found guilty, to decide upon punishment.Most militaries maintain a court-martial system to try cases in which a breach of...

 of Mick Price and Peadar O'Donnell
Peadar O'Donnell
Peadar O'Donnell was an Irish republican and socialist activist and writer.-Early life:Peadar O'Donnell was born into an Irish speaking family in Dungloe, County Donegal in northwest Ireland, in 1893. He attended St. Patrick's College, Dublin, where he trained as a teacher...

 who had left the IRA to form the left wing Republican Congress
Republican Congress
The Republican Congress was an Irish republican political organisation founded in 1934, when left-wing republicans left the Irish Republican Army. The Congress was led by such IRA veterans as Peadar O'Donnell, Frank Ryan and George Gilmore. It was a socialist organisation and was dedicated to a...

. He met Éamon 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...

, President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State
The President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State was the head of government or prime minister of the Irish Free State which existed from 1922 to 1937...

 at Government Buildings during 1934.

While in the United States during 1936 he seems to have conceived along with Joseph McGarrity
Joseph McGarrity
Joseph McGarrity was born in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, Ireland. He emigrated to the USA in 1892 at the age of 18 and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From 1893 until his death he was a leading member of the Clan na Gael organisation. He also was a successful businessman; however, his...

, the plan for the bombing campaign in England. In January 1937, Russell was accused of misappropriating funds by the IRA leadership and was court martialled. He had also embarked on his American tour without Army Council
IRA Army Council
The IRA Army Council was the decision-making body of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, more commonly known as the IRA, a paramilitary group dedicated to bringing about the end of the Union between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. The council had seven members, said by the...

 permission. He stayed out of Dublin until October 1937, when he approached the IRA leadership in an attempt to convince them that the campaign in England should go ahead. In April 1938 an IRA General Army Convention was held, and Russell and his supporters (including McGarrity and IRA members from 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...

) secured enough support to get a majority on the IRA Army Executive and to get him re-instated in the organisation and elected to the Army Council. This has been described as a "take over" by historian Brian Hanley. After becoming IRA chief of staff, he put into motion the bombing campaign and contacts with Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and during the summer of 1938, the IRA held training classes in explosives throughout the country.

Believing it to be the legitimate government of the Irish Republic
Irish Republic
The Irish Republic was a revolutionary state that declared its independence from Great Britain in January 1919. It established a legislature , a government , a court system and a police force...

, in January 1939, the Army Council under Russell's leadership declared war on Britain. The so-called Sabotage Campaign commenced some days later with bomb attacks on a number of English cities. Following this Russell was also involved in a meeting with German Intelligence (Abwehr
The Abwehr was a German military intelligence organisation from 1921 to 1944. The term Abwehr was used as a concession to Allied demands that Germany's post-World War I intelligence activities be for "defensive" purposes only...

) agent Oscar Pfaus.

The Sabotage Campaign (S-Plan) in USA 1939

To pursue the propaganda arm of the S-Plan Russell travelled to the United States in April 1939. The aim of his journey was to 'show the flag' and place himself in the public mind as the leader of militant Irish nationalism. While there Russell made several public addresses. He was detained by the Secret Service
United States Secret Service
The United States Secret Service is a United States federal law enforcement agency that is part of the United States Department of Homeland Security. The sworn members are divided among the Special Agents and the Uniformed Division. Until March 1, 2003, the Service was part of the United States...

 in Detroit during the American visit of King George VI
George VI of the United Kingdom
George VI was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death...

. The incident immediately aroused enormous indignation among Irish-Americans, culminating in a protest by seventy-six Irish-descended members of Congress. They demanded an explanation from President Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 about the 'Russell Case', failing which they would not participate in the Congressional reception for the King.

While in the United States Russell met with his Clan na Gael
Clan na Gael
The Clan na Gael was an Irish republican organization in the United States in the late 19th and 20th centuries, successor to the Fenian Brotherhood and a sister organization to the Irish Republican Brotherhood...

 host Joseph McGarrity and Robert Monteith, one of Casement's colleagues in 1916, and at that time director of Father Charles Coughlin
Charles Coughlin
Father Charles Edward Coughlin was a controversial Roman Catholic priest at Royal Oak, Michigan's National Shrine of the Little Flower church. He was one of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, as more than thirty million tuned to his weekly broadcasts during the...

's National Union for Social Justice. Anxious to skip his bail, which expired on 16 April, he made contact through the offices of McGarrity with German agent 'V-Rex', also known as Carl Rekowski. 'V-Rex' contacted John McCarthy, a steward on the steamer George Washington berthed in Tampa, Florida
Tampa, Florida
Tampa is a city in the U.S. state of Florida. It serves as the county seat for Hillsborough County. Tampa is located on the west coast of Florida. The population of Tampa in 2010 was 335,709....

. The George Washington then sailed to then-neutral Italy. McCarthy met with Abwehr agent 'Professor' Franz Fromme on 19 and 30 March 1940 in Genoa
Genoa |Ligurian]] Zena ; Latin and, archaically, English Genua) is a city and an important seaport in northern Italy, the capital of the Province of Genoa and of the region of Liguria....

. This meeting arranged for Russell's journey across the Atlantic, arrival in Genoa on 1 May, and reception in Berlin four days later.

Arrival in Berlin May 1940

Once in Berlin, Russell was informed of Operation Mainau
Operation Mainau
Operation Mainau was a German espionage mission during the Second World War. It was sanctioned and planned by the German secret service and executed successfully on May 1940...

, the plan to parachute Dr. Hermann Görtz
Hermann Görtz
Hermann Görtz was a German spy in Britain and Ireland before and during World War II.-First trip to Broadstairs:Hermann Görtz arrived in Britain on the 29 August 1935 with a secretary, Marianne Emig. They spent a few weeks in Suffolk and eventually moved to Broadstairs and rented a house...

 into Ireland. Russell was asked to brief Görtz on Ireland before his departure that night but missed his takeoff from the Kassel-Fritzlar airfield. Russell is known to have liased primarily with SS-Standartenfuhrer
Standartenführer was a Nazi Party paramilitary rank that was used in the so-called Nazi combat-organisations: SA, SS, NSKK and the NSFK...

 Edmund Veesenmayer
Edmund Veesenmayer
Edmund Veesenmayer was a German politician, officer and war criminal. He significantly contributed to The Holocaust in Hungary and Croatia...

. Russell is also thought to have talked with the German Foreign Ministry and Abwehr about raising an "Irish Brigade" from Irish national POW's captured fighting for the British Army. The Germans were to eventually give up on this idea in 1943 after only being able to select ten suitable volunteers from the approximately 180 who joined Stalag XX A (301)
Friesack Camp
Friesack Camp or Camp Friesack is a name commonly used to refer to a special World War II POW camp where a group of Irishmen serving in the British Army volunteered for recruitment and selection by Abwehr II and the German Army. The camp was designated Stalag XX A and located in the Friesack...

 in Germany.

By 20 May 1940, Russell had begun training with Abwehr in the use of the latest German explosive ordnance. This training was conducted at the Abwehr training school/lab at Quentzgut near Brandenburg
Brandenburg is one of the sixteen federal-states of Germany. It lies in the east of the country and is one of the new federal states that were re-created in 1990 upon the reunification of the former West Germany and East Germany. The capital is Potsdam...

 which specialised in the design of explosives as everyday objects. Russell also visited the training area for the Brandenburg Regiment, the 'Quenzgut', where he observed trainees and instructors working with sabotage materials in a field environment. As he received explosives training, his return to Ireland with a definite sabotage objective was planned by German Army Intelligence. His total training time with German Intelligence was over 3 months.

Ironically, at this time the British government secretly offered to end the partition of Ireland, Russell's main policy, if the Irish government would join the war against Germany and Italy. The offer was refused and remained a secret until 1970.

Operation Dove and death aboard U-65

On 15 July 1940, Frank Ryan
Frank Ryan (Irish republican)
Frank Ryan was a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army, editor of An Phoblacht, leftist activist and leader of Irish volunteers on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War....

 - an IRA man who had fought on the Republican side in 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...

 and was captured by 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...

 forces - was handed over to the Abwehr and taken to Germany. The capture of the German agents from Operation Lobster I
Operation Lobster I
Operation Lobster I was an Abwehr plan to infiltrate three German agents into Ireland, , in July 1940...

 did not prevent Abwehr Chief Canaris
Wilhelm Canaris
Wilhelm Franz Canaris was a German admiral, head of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944 and member of the German Resistance.- Early life and World War I :...

 sanctioning the transport of Russell to Ireland. Both Russell and Frank Ryan, (who had arrived in Berlin on 4 August), departed aboard U-65 from Wilhelmshaven on 8 August- the mission was titled Operation Dove
Operation Dove (Ireland)
Operation Dove also sometimes known as Operation Pigeon, was an Abwehr sanctioned mission devised in early 1940...

 ("Unternehmen Taube" in German).

Russell became ill during the journey and complained of stomach pains. U-65 was not equipped with a doctor and he died on 14 August, 100 miles short of Galway. He was buried at sea and the mission aborted. Following the return of the submarine to Germany an inquiry was set up into Russell's death by the Abwehr. This inquiry included the interrogation of U-65's crew and Frank Ryan. The conclusion drawn was that Russell had suffered a burst gastric ulcer and without medical attention he had died.

A number of conspiracy theories arose around the subject of Russell's death including that he was poisoned onboard ship, shot by the British Secret Service in France, or murdered by Kurt Haller. However, Russell's brother, Patrick, confirmed after the war that he suffered from pre-existing stomach problems and as a result did not drink alcohol.

Legacy to republicanism

Russell became the idol
Idolatry is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god, or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honour and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although...

 of traditionalist republicanism during the 1950s and a memorial to him was unveiled by Cumann Uaigheann Na Laochra Gael, (the National Graves Association
National Graves Association
The National Graves Association is an Irish non-governmental organisation which seeks to maintain the graves of Irish republicans who died in the pursuit of a united Ireland...

 group), in Fairview Park
Fairview Park, Dublin
Fairview Park is an urban park to the north of central Dublin, Ireland, in the district of Fairview. The park is noted for its seasonal bedding displays but also has playing fields, a childrens playground and tree-lined walks...

, September 1951. A prominent role in the ceremony was taken by Cathal Goulding
Cathal Goulding
Cathal Goulding was Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army and the Official IRA.One of seven children born into a republican family in East Arran Street in the north inner city of Dublin, Goulding was involved as teenager in Fianna Éireann, the IRA youth wing which he joined with his...

 and other participants included Brendan Behan
Brendan Behan
Brendan Francis Behan was an Irish poet, short story writer, novelist, and playwright who wrote in both Irish and English. He was also an Irish republican and a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army.-Early life:...

 and Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh
Ruairí Ó Brádaigh is an Irish republican. He is a former chief of staff of the Irish Republican Army , former president of Sinn Féin and former president of Republican Sinn Féin.-Early life:...

 (see). The group claims its mission is to:

Russell's legacy is deeply contested. Both Provisional Sinn Féin and Republican Sinn Féin
Republican Sinn Féin
Republican Sinn Féin or RSF is an unregisteredAlthough an active movement, RSF is not registered as a political party in either Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. minor political party operating in Ireland. It emerged in 1986 as a result of a split in Sinn Féin...

 continue to commemorate him as an Irish patriot. Others condemn him as a Nazi collaborator despite it being said he cared little for Nazi ideology and he was accused of being a communist spy. Irish historian Brian Hanley
Brian Hanley
Brian Hanley is an Irish hurling manager and former player. He is the current manager of the Westmeath senior hurling team....

 suggests that Russell was not a Nazi but concludes that his letters to his German contacts "betray astonishing political naiveté". In September 2003, then Sinn Féin MEP Mary Lou McDonald spoke at a rally to commemorate Russell held at the site of the memorial. The same rally was also addressed by then Provisional IRA Army Council member Brian Keenan
Brian Keenan (Irish republican)
Brian Keenan was a former member of the Army Council of the Provisional Irish Republican Army who received an 18-year prison sentence in 1980 for conspiring to cause explosions, and played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace process.-Early life:The son of a member of the Royal Air Force,...

 who said:

Attacks on memorial to Seán Russell

Dublin has a long history of vandalism or destruction of public statues for political reasons, dating back to the 18th century. The subjects were generally associated with the period of British rule before 1922. The vandalism on Russell's statue is notable and unique in that it has endured for decades and as the subject was a republican
Irish Republicanism
Irish republicanism is an ideology based on the belief that all of Ireland should be an independent republic.In 1801, under the Act of Union, the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland...

. After the memorial was erected, the raised right arm was broken off by right-wing activists. They explained the vandalism by claiming the arm had been raised in a communist salute rather than oratorical pose. Following this the damaged arm was replaced posed downward instead of raised.

The 31 December 2004 attack saw the decapitation
Decapitation is the separation of the head from the body. Beheading typically refers to the act of intentional decapitation, e.g., as a means of murder or execution; it may be accomplished, for example, with an axe, sword, knife, wire, or by other more sophisticated means such as a guillotine...

 of the memorial by an unnamed allegedly anti-fascist group. The memorial's right forearm was also removed. A statement issued to the press in justification of the vandalism read (verbatim):
However, in the interests of impartiality, it should be noted that the Wannsee conference
Wannsee Conference
The Wannsee Conference was a meeting of senior officials of the Nazi German regime, held in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee on 20 January 1942. The purpose of the conference was to inform administrative leaders of Departments responsible for various policies relating to Jews, that Reinhard Heydrich...

 did not take place until after Russell's death, but the Nuremberg Laws
Nuremberg Laws
The Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were antisemitic laws in Nazi Germany introduced at the annual Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party. After the takeover of power in 1933 by Hitler, Nazism became an official ideology incorporating scientific racism and antisemitism...

 had been well publicized since 1935.

The missing pieces of the memorial have not yet been recovered. A spokesman for The National Graves Association
National Graves Association
The National Graves Association is an Irish non-governmental organisation which seeks to maintain the graves of Irish republicans who died in the pursuit of a united Ireland...

 announced that the memorial to Seán Russell will be rebuilt in more permanent bronze to deter vandals. In May 2009 the plinth was cleaned and the new bronze was erected. The new statue allegedly has alarms to detect attempted vandalism and a GPS tracker.

The plinth of the memorial was again vandalised on 9 July 2009 with graffiti proclaiming Russell to have been a Nazi.


  • Culleton, Brendan & Maldea, Irina, Seamróg agus Swastica (English: Shamrock & Swastika), Dublin (Akajava Films), 2002. (Broadcast on TG4
    TG4 is a public service broadcaster for Irish language speakers. The channel has been on-air since 31 October 1996 in the Republic of Ireland and since April 2005 in Northern Ireland....

    , 24 January 2002.
  • Hanley, Brian, The IRA. 1926-1936, Dublin (Four Courts Press), 2002. ISBN 1851827218
  • Terence O'Reilly, Hitler's Irishmen , ( Mercier Press), 2008 ISBN 1856355896
  • Mark M. Hull, Irish Secrets. German Espionage in Wartime Ireland 1939-1945 2003. ISBN 071652756
  • Enno Stephan, Spies in Ireland 1963. ISBN 1-131-82692-2 (reprint)
  • Carolle J. Carter, The Shamrock and the Swastika 1977. ISBN 0870152211

External links

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