From Ireland to Spain
This year is the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and the BBC has an interesting report on the thousand or so Irishmen who fought on both sides of the conflict. While people from around the world volunteered for the International Brigades that fought to defend Spain's Republican government, Ireland was the only country which generated a substantial force of volunteers to fight on Franco's side, in the form of the poorly trained 'Blueshirts' led by 'Ireland's answer to Mussolini', Eoin O'Duffy.
Writing in the Irish Post in 2001, Niall Cunningham noted that:
[T]he 'Crusade in Spain' became an unmitigated disaster that would ultimately cost the General his reputation. After a couple of months training, the Irish Brigade moved to the front at Ciempozuelos in early 1937. The farce began about a mile outside the town when a Francoist force from the Canaries took the Brigade for 'Reds' and opened fire killing two Irishmen. When they reached the front their biggest enemies were the water, the twin issues of diarrhoea and a lack of underwear, and frustration. Frustration due to a lack of engagement on a relatively quiet part of the line led to division.
Meanwhile, O'Duffy did not help matters by spending his time getting drunk miles behind the line. Franco's patience eventually broke and the Brigade was disbanded in July 1937. Three months later a former devotee, Captain Thomas Gunning, lambasted the General in a letter, which showed just how divided the Irish were. He wrote of O'Duffy: "I did a poor day's work for both Spain and Ireland when I helped that insane, uncultured lout to put his flat and smelly feet across the frontier last October."