Irish involvement in the Spanish Civil War

Published in Artefacts, Issue 3 (May/June 2016), Volume 24

By Lar Joye

Autograph book belonging to a volunteer with the 15th (Irish) Bandera of the Nationalist Spanish Foreign Legion. (NMI)

Autograph book belonging to a volunteer with the 15th (Irish) Bandera of the Nationalist Spanish Foreign Legion. (NMI)

In the 1930s, nearly 1,000 Irishmen followed in the long tradition of foreign service by enlisting to fight in the Spanish Civil War; some fought with the Nationalist forces and others joined the Republicans. What was different with this war was the passion of those who fought—they believed fervently in a cause; their fierce commitment lasted for decades and, for their families, lasts even to this day. Irish support for the Republicans came from the small ranks of Irish socialists, including some veterans of the IRA who had fought in the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War. About 150 Irishmen went to Spain as part of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of international volunteers, forming a ‘Connolly column’. Sadly for them, the Republicans were overwhelmed and defeated in 1939. The surviving volunteers returned home or were interned in France, and this banner lists their fallen comrades.

Public opinion in Ireland generally supported the Nationalist side, mainly because they had the support of the Catholic Church in Spain. Over 700 Irishmen served as part of the Spanish Foreign Legion, many of them veterans of the Blueshirt movement of the early 1930s in Ireland. The unit saw little action and suffered few casualties compared to those Irishmen fighting with the Republican forces. This autograph book belonged to a volunteer with the 15th (Irish) Bandera in Spain and has the signature of General Eoin O’Duffy, who recruited and led the Irish group fighting for the Nationalists in Spain. 

Lar Joye is curator of military history at the National Museum of Ireland (Decorative Arts).

Above: Banner of the pro-Republican ‘Connolly Column’. (Irish Labour History Museum)

Above: Banner of the pro-Republican ‘Connolly Column’. (Irish Labour History Museum)

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