International Brigades, Spain 1936-1938

My interest in the Spanish Civil War dates back almost fifty years, after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and Gerald Brenan’s The Spanish Labyrinth. While researching for my Ph.D. in Vienna in the early 1980s I made the acquaintance of many Austrian brigadistas. I had known their comrade in Spain Michael O’Riordan since the 1970s and subsequently visited the homes of Peter O’Connor (Waterford) and Bob Doyle (London), met their families and stayed in touch with all three over the years. I was a friend of Bert Ramelson, the Canadian volunteer and trade union bogey-man of British politics in the 1970s and 1980s, and was in correspondence with the equally amusing Dublin brigadista Joe Monks (London), U.S. veterans (Paul Burns, Abe Smorodin, Carl Geiser, Albert Prago) the Canadian IB Association (Len Norris) and the English volunteers Bill Alexander and Maurice Levine. What kept the Spanish war in my focus were the many fruitful hours I spent with Hans Landauer (the youngest Austrian brigadista who went to Spain in 1937 at the age of sixteen), for whom I found material in Russian archives on Austrians in the 11th Brigade. Hans was the chronicler of the Austrian contingent, a painstaking historian, a good friend and neighbour. For my views on Stalin, the Comintern and the International Brigades, click here for the essay in German.

Irish in the 15th International Brigade

Emmet O’Connor, Peter’s son and Ireland’s foremost labour historian, and I are working on a definite monograph about the Irish in the Brigades. Quite an amount of new material has been examined by us in Russia and Spain. In 2014 I published Fighting for Republican Spain on the six volunteers from Limerick, including Frank Ryan (see Published Work). The book is available on the internet and in bookshops in Limerick and Galway. For the biographies of the 240+ Irish volunteers, click here. On a visit to Spain that same year (see Historical Tours), Christian Lendl filmed battle sites (Gandesa, Corbera, Sierra Caballs, Belchite) and interviewed Richard Baxell, the expert on the British volunteers. Our short video on the men from Limerick in the Brigades is now online:

Frank Ryan

Being from the same part of Munster, I have been interested in Frank Ryan since the mid-1970s when I carried out research into Irish-German relations during World War 2 for my MA (UCD 1980) in the Political Archive of the German Foreign Ministry in Bonn. Due to the fact that my aunt, Maureen Ryan from Goatstown, was very friendly with the Early couple (Packy and Lou) from Clonskeagh, I got to know Sean Cronin, an old friend of the Early’s. We talked a great deal about Frank Ryan and I was glad to be able to translate for Sean some documents about Ryan from German archives. Cronin included them in his biography of Frank Ryan: The Search for the Republic (1980)

In 2017 I was contacted by the active archaeological and historical society in Knockainey, Co. Limerick, a village close to Frank Ryan’s parental home in Bottomstown, Elton. My suggestion to hold a “Frank Ryan Day” in Knockainey’s cultural centre (a deconsecrated Protestant church) bore fruit on the sunny Saturday 22 July. For the text of the talks on Ryan by Emmet O’Connor, Barry Whelan and myself, see Talks/Vorträge, see also Picture Gallery.

For translations of archival documents about the Brigades into English see here.