Wednesday 16 April 2014

Memo warned of civil war 'martyrs'

Government ministers were urged to turn a blind eye to the fact that hundreds of Irish men and women were volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War

The Government of 1936 was warned not to make martyrs out of Irishmen and women who fought and died in the Spanish civil war, State papers show.

Ministers were urged to turn a blind eye to the fact that hundreds of men and women were volunteering to fight both for and against General Francisco Franco and the fascists.

In an undated memo for a minister but contained in a file of papers from 1936, advisers said news of the reality of war would soon act as the biggest deterrent for others to enlist.

"The first casualty list from Spain will probably prove to be an effective check to recruiting and there is something to be said for anticipating the announcement of casualties by an official statement to the effect that the Government can take no responsibility for any of its citizens who choose to participate in the Civil War in Spain.

"To go further than this would, I think, be a gratuitous advertisement for the political adventurers. There should, I suggest, be no martyrs."

A separate but attached document from the 1936 file acts like a roll call of the men and women who left Ireland to fight in the war and includes ages, addresses and other detail. Denis McGuinness, born in Blackrock, Co Dublin, in 1914, went to Spain in December 1936 and died in November this year. He was believed to have been the last veteran to die.

Between 1936 and 1939 over 35,000 men and women, from over 50 countries, volunteered for the Republican forces. It is thought about 700 Irish joined Franco's Nationalists, and about 300 republicans and socialists joined the International Brigade to fight for the republic.

The memo called on the Government to make Ireland the last to ban volunteer fighters. It said: "There is no doubt that, whatever the real issues may be, the Spanish and Irish hierarchy and large sections of the Catholic population consider that Franco is engaged in a 'holy' war.

"Any interference by the Saorstat Government in excess of its clear duty under the existing law, is bound to be criticised and might put the Government in a false position.

"There are some 27 members of the Non-Intervention Committee and so long as the other countries do nothing (but talk) it seems to me that the Saorstat Government would be well advised to turn the blind eye to the question of volunteers. For obvious political reasons, I respectfully submit we should be the last country in Europe to forbid our people to participate."

Press Association

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