Tuesday 16 October 2018

Sligo woman's links to the Old IRA and Nazi Germany

Sligo woman Elizabeth 'Budge' Clissman (née Mulcahy), who has died aged 98, was a central eyewitness to many important events relating to the struggle for Irish freedom and the impact of Nazi Germany. Dr David O'donoghoe, who has written extensively on bo

BORN IN SLIGO on August 5th, 1913, 'Budge' was the eldest of four daughters of Denis Mulcahy and Mary Murray, both teachers at Sligo Technical College.

The Mulcahys were a fiercely republican family and Denis was interned in Newbridge camp during the War of Independence for refusing to take the oath of allegiance to the crown.

While he was interned his wife ran Sligo Technical College.

During the Civil War, nine-year-old Budge acted as a courier for anti-treaty IRA men on the run.

After attending school at Sligo's Ursuline Convent, she studied Irish and French at University College Galway.

After graduating in 1933, she spent a year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris.

By the time of her 1938 marriage to German academic Helmut Clissmann (1911-1997), German military intelligence was already forging links with the IRA leadership in Dublin under Chief of Staff, Seán Russell.

In 1940, Kerney, Budge and her husband Helmut were pivotal in getting Frank Ryan(who had fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War) freed from death row in Burgos prison.

Returning to Dublin, she sat the Department of External Affairs' entrance exam, but was not appointed. She told her family she had heard 'that de Valera said they could not appoint a woman because the British foreign office had not yet appointed a woman'.

A year later, she sat the Department of Finance entrance exam and, as she put it, 'was taken on as a token woman'.

In 1931, Helmut Clissmann made his first visit to Ireland as part of the left-wing Prussian Youth League, and was befriended by Frank Ryan, then editing the IRA journal 'An Phoblacht'.

Helmut returned to Ireland the following year accompanied by Jupp Hoven, who would be best man at the German's December 1938 marriage to Budge in University Church, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin. Helmut and Jupp, both friends from Aachen, worked as military intelligence agents during the war.

In 1934, Helmut was sent to Dublin to run the German academic exchange service-a body that encouraged Irish students to study and/or teach in Germany for one academic year, while German students attended Irish Universities.

Following Hitler's rise to power in January 1933, all students leaving the Fatherland to study abroad were obliged to join the Nazi party as a prequisite for obtaining travel papers and funding.

Thus, Helmut Clissmann's party membership dated from May 1st, 1934. Budge recalled: "You couldn't get an exchange student place unless you were a member of the party. So he just joined but that does not mean that you were a member with any enthusiasm."

Using Budge Mulcahy's contacts, Helmut met leading republicans. They included Moss Twomey (IRA Chief of Staff 1926-1936), Seán Macbride, who was brieft Chief of Staff in 1936, Tom Barry COS 1936-1937 and Séan Russell, COS 1938-1939. The German also met James O' Donovan, an ESB manager, who acted as the IRA'S liaison officer with Nazi Germany from 1938 to 1941.

The contacts proved valuable during the war years when Helmut worked for a time on the Irish desk at the foreign office.

Budge recalled how the 1940 plan to spring Frank Ryan from jail arose when her husband and Jupp Hoven 'put it up to army intelligence that Ryan was rotting away in jail in Spain and..... could be very useful to the Germans if he was sent back to Ireland.'

"The Germans helped Franco in the civil war in Spain so they called in the chips and said 'you owe us this one'. He was 'allowed to escape' over the border into France. It was really Helmut and Jupp who did it," Budge explained.

After the plan to send Frank Ryan and Séan Russell back to Ireland on a U-boat in August 1940 failed (Russell died aboard and Ryan opted to return to Germany), the Clissmanns kept in close contact with Ryan, as did the writer Francis Stuart.

Budge Clissmann spent most of the war in Copenhagen, where three of her children were born. Her husband had worked for the German academic exchange service there.

In March, 1944, Mrs. Clissmann travelled to Luxembourg to visit the studios of German Radio, which had been moved from Berlin to avoid bombing. Unknown to her family, she obliged Dr. Hans Hartmann, head of the Irish radio service, by participating in a special St. Patrick's Day programme.

Francis Stuart was also working at the radio station and Frank Ryan had considered going there too, but ill-health prevented him. He died in a Dresden sanatorium in June, 1944. Budge was one of the few to attend his funeral.

In January, 1945, she undertook a perilous journey from Copenhagen to Dresden carrying a carved oak cross to place on Ryan's grave.

She remembered leaving the cross with the graveyard attendant, who couldn't put it up straight away because the ground was frozen to a depth of a metre. He put up the cross as promised as soon as there was a thaw.

Some 30 years later, Budge worked with Fianna Fáil TD Niall Andrews, assisted by Mick O'riordan, the head of the Communist Party of Ireland, to get Ryan's remains repatriated.

The immediate post-war period saw Helmut interned for three years by the British authorities in Germany. On his release in 1948, Budge went straight to Séan Mcbride, the new Minister for External Affairs, requesting a visa for Helmut to return to Ireland, which he did via a long trek over the Alps and a flight from Rome to Shannon.

Helmut anhd Budge managed to re-establish their lives in Ireland and were instrumental in founding St. Kilian's German School in Clonskeagh and the Irish section of Amnesty International. The family business was built on representing various German firms in Ireland, including the giant Schering pharmaceutical company.

Budge is survived by her children Dieter, Helmut, Maeve, Frank, Alma, Inge and Conn.