Contradictions

‘Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the Yids…’

From The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn by The Pogues

That’s how Principia Dialectica kick off their tribute to Bob Doyle, the last of the Irish to fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War, who died on Valentine’s Day. Will Rubbish and Shiraz Socialist have also paid tribute.

Eamonn McDonagh notes that Frank Ryan was a man who spent the last four years of his life actively collaborating with Nazi Germany. Terry Glavin adds: “Aye. The same way Christy Moore ruined a perfectly good song.” He’s referring to “Viva La Quinta Brigada“:

Ten years before I saw the light of morning
A comradeship of heroes was laid.
From every corner of the world came sailing
The Fifteenth International Brigade.
They came to stand beside the Spanish people.
To try and stem the rising Fascist tide
Franco’s allies were the powerful and wealthy,
Frank Ryan’s men came from the other side.
Even the olives were bleeding
As the battle for Madrid it thundered on.
Truth and love against the force af evil,
Brotherhood against the Fascist clan.

Apparently, it was written while he was in Spain, reading from a book by Michael O’Riordan, The Connolly Column.

There is no doubt that Bob Doyle was a heroic man, but it is also worth thinking about the fact that he carried his Stalinism to his grave, and that the International Brigades helped crush the Spanish revolution and were responsible for the deaths of many non-Stalinist anti-fascists. As Bob commented, on the passing of Moe Fishman, another veteran of the Brigades,

As a child, the “International Brigade” conjured up the noblest form of heroism. As I got older, and developed politically, I came to see the ignoble side of the International Brigade, its use by Moscow to destroy dissident forms of anti-fascism in Spain. I realised things were not as black and white as fascism versus anti-fascism. So the passing of people like Fishman touches me in another way too: the tragedy of noble impulses used so wrongly.

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s always a difficult balancing act, assessing people whose politics you hate, but whose motivation you can sympathise with – especially when they ae also, into the bargain, people of considerable personal courage.
    That was what I tried to balance as I wrote what I did about Bob Doyle – a genuine hero, despite his Stalinism.

    Frank Ryan is an altogether different matter: though his motives and personal courage may ne comaparable. Collaborating with the Nazis can *never* be forgiven, no matter how heroic your pre-history may be. May Ryan rot in hell!

  2. Maybe you should actually learn about Frank Ryan, instead of swallowing right-wing smear attempts against socialists and republicans, before condemning the man.

  3. Ryan was taken from a Spanish prison to Berlin. He did not have a choice. He did not broadcast for the Nazis. He tried to hitch a ride home with the IRA leader Russell (Russell was an apolitical militarist who seemed not very impressed by what hew saw.). There is klittle or no evidence of collaboration.
    Google Manus O’Riordan, a son of CPI leader Mick who fought in Spain for a defence of both.
    One Irish Communist was kidnapped in Barcelona and died in the Gulag, Brian Verschoyle-Gould.
    I do not share Ryans CP fellowtraveller politics.

  4. […] I was tempted to pick “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn”,  some of the backstory here. […]

  5. […] this from one of the organisers: Roma [Marquez Santo] was born in 1916, the same year as Bob Doyle[1] and one of his earliest memories is being told by his mother of the death of Terence MacSweeny. […]


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