Frank Ryan from Knocklong, Co Limerick, played an important role within the International Brigades which confronted General Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War from 1936.
Comintern papers from Moscow have given a revealing insight into the role of 230 Irish who sided with the communists in Spain.
Almost a third of the volunteers died and researcher Emmet O’Connor from the University of Ulster said Ryan showed courage and leadership in battle.
“It is to his credit that he managed to get about 25 men sent home, and his motivation was based on the very high losses among volunteers he himself had brought to Spain in December 1936,” said Dr O’Connor.
Ryan was wounded during the Battle of Jarama near Madrid in February 1937.
Dr O’Connor said: “He had two other important tasks: first, to help rebuild the British battalion decimated after the Battle of Brunete [July 1937] and, second, on his own initiative, to get as many Irishmen as possible repatriated if he felt that they had done enough.”
He said Ryan envisaged a propaganda tour of America.
“It speaks volumes for his courage and decency that he dropped all such plans when the Republican front collapsed in Aragon in early March 1938,” said Dr O’Connor. “He was captured on March 31 1938.”
The 1991 release of files of the brigades held in Moscow has greatly increased our knowledge about the Irish in Spain.
The Communist International library has about 60,000,000 pages of documents, of which about 4,000 relate to Ireland.
“The size and global scope of this material created a unique opportunity to study an international movement, and was itself a factor in the promotion of transnational history, which is now at the cutting edge of historiography,” said Dr O’Connor.
Emmet Ryan, of the Desmond Hotel, Limerick City, also appeared in the records.