More recent files devoid of O’Duffy-era detail

There is an extraordinary contrast in the state papers just released between the paucity of investigative material in relation the various gubus (grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented events) of 1982 and the wealth of interesting material that the Department of Justice has released dealing with events in the 1930s and 1940s.

Eamonn de Valera inspects a guard of honour during a visit to Collins Barracks, Cork during the emergency.19/08/1940

The latter provide a real insight into what is likely missing from the 1982 file, and this should prompt serious questioning about the manner in which material is being withheld.

The justice files, for instance, have considerable details of the investigation of a riot in Tralee on Oct 6, 1933. Eoin O’Duffy, the new leader of the United Ireland Party (Fine Gael), which was established four weeks earlier, was literally hammered and his car torched when he came to attend his party’s local convention.

Arrangements had been made to supplement the local garda force with 85 other gardaí from Killarney and Listowel. O’Duffy walked from the hotel where he was due to stay to the convention hall. Initially, there was some heckling with chants of “Up the Republic”, and “Remember Ballyseedy”, before things turned ugly.

“A melee took place,” the local chief superintendent reported. “General O’Duffy was noticed to put his hand to his head and shout for a doctor.” He had been hit on the head with a hammer.

The gardaí were overpowered and the delegates to the convention were roughed up. O’Duffy’s car was torched that night in the garage of the hotel where he was staying.

“Kerry’s entire record in the Black and Tan struggle consisted in shooting an unfortunate soldier the day of the truce,” O’Duffy said in Bandon the following week. “To hear such people shouting ‘up the Republic’ would make a dog sick.”

The Department of Justice material contains a detailed file on the formation of the Irish Brigade, which went to fight in the Spanish Civil War. In Aug 1936, Gen O’Duffy suggested the formation of the brigade. Resolutions were passed and sent to all daily papers “condemning the anti-God campaign of the Spanish Government and calling on our Government to break off diplomatic relations with Spain”.

“It is not a conflict between fascism and anti-fascism but between Christ and anti-christ,” O’Duffy contended.

“The Irish brigade will eventually be 10,000 strong.”

The Department of Justice was caught by surprise when a large Irish contingent set out for Spain from Galway on Sunday, Dec 13, 1936.

“We do not know whether the police had in fact any advance information in regard to the proposal to embark at Galway and simply did not think it worthwhile to report it in the absence of any clear indication that the proposed expedition was illegal or unwelcome to the Government, or whether the police were in fact altogether taken by surprise,” the secretary of the Department of Justice informed his counterpart in external affairs next day.

“The Attorney General has advised that no offence is committed by persons joining or encouraging others to take part on the side of the insurgents in Spain and it would seem that persons are equally free to join the Government forces,” the secretary added.

The only law that may have been broken was the possible overloading of the tender Dun Aengus, which brought the men out to the steamer anchored off the coast.

The files indicate that O’Duffy had problems getting on with his Spanish allies and many of his own men in Spain. General Franco and other Spanish leaders had “sized up O’Duffy who they consider has bluffed much and promised much whilst performing little”, Leo Kerney, the Irish minister to Spain, reported on Jun 8, 1936.

“They thought originally that O’Duffy had the military experience and science of a general; they now know from conversations with him and otherwise, that his military knowledge is very limited,” Kerney added. “O’Duffy seems to have completely lost credit with Franco, who now looks upon him as a bluffer, if not a duffer.”

O’Duffy wished to return to Ireland and a split developed with those who wished to fight on. O’Duffy insisted that all should return with him.

“He sneered at some of his officers as being ‘Protestant Englishmen’,” according to Kerney. “Several of these officers were suffering from venereal diseases,” according to O’Duffy, who suggested that this was why they wished to remain on.

O’Duffy and most of his brigade arrived back at the North Wall, Dublin on Jun 21, 1937 on the SS Mocambique.

“There is no doubt that there was dissension in the ranks of the Brigade for most of the time it was in Spain,” Garda Insp Michael Mansfield reported next day. “This was chiefly due to O’Duffy’s selection of officers to lead the Brigade in Spain. It appears that the selection was not made on a basis of ability as soldiers, but as politicians to act in his interests when the Brigade returned to Ireland.”

Gardaí suspected that the Spanish venture was just a preparatory programme for O’Duffy’s ambitions to establish a powerful fascist organisation in Ireland. Hence the gardaí kept a close watch on him in the following months amid rumours that he planned to send another brigade to Spain, or that he was even planning to launch an anti-partition campaign in conjunction with the IRA.

“A present it would appear to be no more than a coincidence that the IRA Organisation and the agents of General O’Duffy are ascertaining the extent or the nature of support likely to be forthcoming to proposed military action in connection with the partition issue,” Chief Supt WP Quinn reported from Thurles on Dec 29, 1938. But he added that there was no evidence of “any understanding between the two parties up to the present”.

Little over a fortnight later the IRA launched its bombing campaign in Britain, but O’Duffy never did get involved.


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