Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fallen Heroes

The last couple of years, since we had broadband, I have come to depend on the BBC website to get my daily fix of entertainment. For those that haven't used it, you can access a week or more radio broadcasts on demand. An example would be today I enjoyed Radio 7's Sunday broadcast of "The Groucho Letters", with Groucho Marx being as funny in his correspondence as in his movies. What I didn't get to hear was "A Short History of Ireland" in 240 parts as it finished on Friday.

Radio 7 had been repeating this series from, I think an original Radio Ulster program. They cheated a little by putting two of the seven and half minute episodes together so it only took 120 weekdays. It finishes in the 1930s. I was hoping to hear something about Frank Ryan, but although they did have a little on his enemy Eoin O'Duffy they ended just before Ryan really gets well known.

I first run into the name of Frank Ryan while reading about the Spanish Civil War. Ryan was a left-leaning IRA man who joined the fight against Franco, bringing quite a large contingent of men with him. He was a commander in the International Brigade and he was captured by Italian forces and imprisoned in Spain. The bit that caught my eye was that he had been handed over to German Intelligence and died in Germany during the war.

When I first read this I thought he must have been taken to Germany against his will and killed there. I was wrong of course. It was probably his only way out of a Spanish prison, but he did agree to help the Germans in their fight against Britain. He had no love for the British, but he had been fighting fascists both at home and in Spain. Whether by design or by circumstance he never did that much to help the Germans and he died of pleurisy in 1944.

I wonder if he had survived and managed to stay out of the clutches of the British army and get back to the Republic, would he be a hero or a villain? There is good 2004 book by Adrian Hoar called "In Green and Red, The Lives of Frank Ryan" if you would like more than Wikipedia will give you. BTW Eoin O'Duffy was also IRA but confirmed fascist and founded the Blue Shirts in Ireland modeled on the other European fascist movements. He also took a contingent to Spain, but fought on Franco's side.

Frank Ryan on the right next to Ernest Hemingway

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