Celebrations have been muted …
Judith Keene, Malcolm notices, is reminding us that today is the 70th (not the 60th as her story on the BBC website says) anniversary of the ending of the siege of the Alcazar. This was the decisive defeat of the Republicans in stifling Franco’s revolt. Colonel Jose Moscardo Ituarte’s Falangist rebels, holed up in the ancient fort of Toledo, were relieved after seventy-one days. The Time Magazine accounts are on line, and illustrate just how “unbiased” that organ was.
Keene then proceeds to puff her account of the international volunteers who went to Spain to support Franco. While Keene’s book is useful, it is really little more than a sequence of lectures she has delivered on the topic. It tends to be biographical rather than a full-blown analysis of an extraordinary phenomenon.
Maurice Manning dealt with a smaller aspect, specifically the Irish context, of the nationalist volunteers in a better book, The Blueshirts. This originally appeared as an academic tome by the University of Toronto, some 35 years back, and has been recently re-issued, updated, as a paperback. Manning is swomething of a sympathetic critic of the Blueshirts: he was a Fine Gael TD and a member of Seanad Éireann, and his book deals in some detail with the curious relationship between Fine Gael, Eoin O’Duffy and the National Guard. On the other hand, we may respect Manning’s credentials as a liberal, which are justified by his Presidency of the Irish Human Right Commission.
All of which brings up Malcolm’s bile about O’Duffy. This is the man about whom stories are legion, and are almost-wholly unpleasant. The recent biography by Fearghal McGarry is a “warts-and-all” enlightenment, and is (for the moment at least) the last word. And O’Duffy, puffed, opinionated, vicious, was no Cromwell. Any one not up for McGarry can have a two-minute summary of some of O’Duffy’s follies (though omitting O’Duffy’s sexual proclivities) in a piece by Niall Cunningham on Ciaran Crossey’s site.
O’Duffy, in retrospect, was unpleasant and contemptible, but largely pig-ignorant. There were others around him who could not be excused on that ground. The tendency to fascism and the blatant anti-semitism of Thirties Ireland can never be excused. There were a very sinister clique of political-academics (Michael Tierney and James Hogan, Ernest Blythe, Yeats indeed) and members of the Catholic hierarchy who were deeply stained. If O’Duffy saw himself as Ireland’s Mussolini, others would have welcomed a Salazar. Malcolm would rarely defend Kevin O’Higgins, one of “the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution”, but at least he opposed this tendency in Cumann na nGaedhael.