David Granville reviews Irish Volunteers for Spain - a short history of the Northern Irish volunteers who fought in defence of the republican government of Spain 1936-1939 by Raymond John Quinn, Belfast Cultural and Local History Group, £4.99
WHILE We await a revised edition of Michael O'Riordan's classic study of the Irish involvement in the fight against fascism in Spain, expected sometime in 2005, the recent publication of Raymond John Quinn's short history arrives as another welcome contribution which will expand our understanding of the the role of volunteers from the north east who fought in the conflict.
Quinn, an east Belfast community-based writer and historian, points out that of the 275 Irish volunteers who left their homes and families to join the International Brigades, 61 were from the north.
Placing the Spanish conflict firmly within the political and historical context of the ideological battles taking place between left and right throughout Europe in the 1930s, he points to particular developments in Ireland, where attempts to develop left-wing republicanism led to the short-lived Republican Congress.
Although his account, which includes a brief outline of the main battles and offensives, focusses on those from the north who fought on the side of Spain's republican government against the fascist forces of General Franco, the eventual victors, he does not ignore those who fought with O'Duffy's foreign legion on the opposing side.
Ex-IRA men fought on both sides, although Quinn suggests that it was loyalty to the Catholic faith and concerns about the persecution of their co-religionists in Spain rather than strict adherence to right-wing political ideology that attracted a majority of those who joined O'Duffy's ranks - including some who had taken the republican side in the Irish civil war.
Yet it would be difficult to describe the Catholic Church's support for Franco's armed rebellion against the democratically elected, left-leaning republican government of Spain, and its opposition to anything vaguely socialistic in character, let alone communistic, as being anything other than ideologically motivated.
What united the volunteers who fought on the republican side, whether communist, left-republican or anarchist, Catholic, Protestant or athiest, was a belief in socialism and staunch opposition to the growing fascist menace in Europe.
Quinn's excellent short account includes a number of interesting photographs , an alpahabetical list of of all the northern volunteers and six short biographical profiles of a number of volunteers: James Haughey, Paddy McAllister, Eamon McGrotty, Fred McMahon, Jim Straney and Liam Tumilson.
Although the Irish Democrat is referred to on a number of occasions, it should be pointed out that this is a different publication to the one associated with the Connolly Association. The Connolly Association's paper has only been known as the Irish Democrat since 1947. Before that, the Connolly Club's, and subsequently the Connolly Association's, paper was titled Irish Freedom. The link, in so far as there is one, probably rests with the fact that supporters of the Republican Congress in London were instrumental, along with members of the Irish section of the League Against Imperialism, former members of the Irish Self-Determination League and others, in the founding of the original Connolly Club in London in 1938.
Copies of 'Irish Volunteers for Spain' are available from the Four Provinces Bookshop in London. They can also be obtained directly from the Belfast Cultural and Local History Group, 537 Antrim Rd, Belfast BT15 3BU (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Connolly Publications Ltd, 244 Gray's Inn Road, London, WC1X 8JR
Copyright © 2005 John Quinn