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National studies of the International Brigades

In the autumn of 1991 an event occurred which was to transform the understanding of the role of the International Brigades in Spain. The opening of the archives in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Recent Historical Documents in Moscow opened up a colossal amount of material to scholars, which had been virtually untouched for fifty years. Initially boxed up and shipped to the Soviet Union just shortly before the end of the civil war, the archive contained thousands of highly controversial files relating to the operation of the Brigades and military and political assessments of the units and individuals within them. The involvement of the International Brigades was, at last, able to come under detailed scrutiny from researchers.

Since the opening of the archives, a number of books have used the material in studies of the national groups within the International Brigades. The process began with Peter Carroll’s ground-breaking study of the American volunteers, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, published in 1998. As the material was only opened up to overseas scholars immediately prior to publication, the author did not have time to research extensively in the archives. However, he did manage to look at a number of documents and Odyssey remains the set text on the American volunteers.

The following list – arranged alphabetically by country – is of the most recent studies of the various national groups within the International Brigades. Those in bold (published after 1998) make use of the Moscow archives:

Argentina: Lucas González et al. Voluntarios de Argentina en la Guerra Civil Española. 2008.

America: Peter Carroll. Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. 1998.

Australia: Amira Inglis: Australians in the Spanish Civil War. 1987.

Canada: Michael Petrou. Renegades: Canadians in the Spanish Civil War. 2008.

China: Hwei-Ru Tsou and Len Tsou. Los brigadistas chinos en la Guerra Civil: La llamada de España 1936-1939. 2013.

Cyprus: Paul Philippou Strongos. Spanish Thermopylæ: Cypriot Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War. 2009.

France: Rémy Skoutelsky. L’espoir guidait leurs pas. Les volontaires français en Espagne républicaine. Les volontaires français dans les Brigades internationales, 1936-1939. 2000.

Great Britain: Richard Baxell. Unlikely Warriors: The British in the Spanish Civil War and the Struggle against Fascism. 2012.

Ireland: Robert Stradling. Crusades in Conflict: The Irish and The Spanish Civil War. 1999.

New Zealand: Mark Derby ed. Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War. 2009.

Scotland: Daniel Gray. Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War. 2008.

Wales: Robert Stradling. Wales and the Spanish Civil War: The Dragon’s Dearest Cause? 2004.

From The Shannon to The Ebro

View across the River Shannon from Limerick
View across the River Shannon from Limerick

Organised and hosted by the Limerick International Brigade Memorial Trust, the weekend 0f 12-14 September 2014 saw three days of events related to the Spanish Civil War, culminating in the unveiling of a new memorial to the volunteers from Limerick who served in the International Brigades.

Friday evening began with the launch of an edited volume, From the Shannon to The Ebro at the Mechanic’s Institute in Limerick. The event proved to be hugely popular, with people spilling not just out of the reception room, but out of the building itself. The launch was followed by a screening of the musical GoodBye Barcelona with a Q&A with myself and the producer, Karl Lewcowicz. While most of the questioners focused on the history of the Brigades and Spain, there was also an interesting philosophical discussion on the nature of good and evil in civil wars such as Spain and Syria. One contributor wryly noted that there had been no mention of the Irish volunteers for Franco, who outnumbered those for the Republic by more than two to one. I’m glad he did; while I personally believe that O’Duffy’s volunteers fought on the wrong side, I don’t doubt their commitment or bravery.

Saturday was taken up with a day of lectures and discussions on the civil war and the involvement of the foreign volunteers:

  • Cinta Ramblado: Because it matters: memory, citizenship and responsibility in contemporary Spain
  • Harry Owens: The social and political origins of the Spanish Civil War
  • Brian Hanley: Limerick in the 1930s
  • David Convery: The International Brigades and the fight against fascism in Spain
  • Emmet O’Connor: The Republican left and the Irish Labour movement
  • Richard Baxell: The Irish in the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade
  • Manus O’Riordan: Frank Ryan, collaborator or patriot?

For many, I suspect, Sunday was the highlight of the weekend. Again, a huge number of supporters and well-wishers turned out  for the unveiling of a memorial to the six volunteers from Limerick for the International Brigades: Paddy Brady, Gerard Doyle, Emmet Morris Ryan, Frank Ryan, Joe Ryan and Jim Woulfe. There is a full report of the unveiling in the Irish Times.

I’d like to thank the organisers from the Limerick International Brigade Memorial Trust, first, for inviting me to speak and, second, for all their hard work in making the weekend such a great success.