My goodness, my Guinness

The Sunday Times [£] went big (well, bottom of page 4 in English edition) on this:


140Note we are talking of 1936. Nor should we be surprised that Guinness in Dublin were looking for new markets — bear in mind the “Economic War”. Nor that Guinness in Acton, NW10, could see a down-side. Nor that SH Benson should use military contexts (compare the stuff produced for the UK market, as right!).

An uncomfortable truth

When we trawl Liffey waters a bit deeper, though, the waters become murkier.

First of all, Pope Pius XI’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, promulgated 15 May 1931, on the “reconstruction of the social order”, both reflected and drove attitudes — and particularly so in faithful Ireland. It goes beyond a mere wish to address the ethical challenges facing workers, employers, the Church and the state as a result of end of the industrial revolution and the onset of the Great Depression. It has a few too many Corporate State assumptions for comfort, all summed in a killer sentence in paragraph 95:

The various classes work together peacefully, socialist organizations and their activities are repressed, and a special magistracy exercises a governing authority.

Here lay the theological underpinings of the Latin Fascist régimes, of Mussolini, Salazar and Franco.

And Ireland, too, had its adherents.

Beyond the Blueshirts

Let’s have a bit of history, then,

The original Army Comrades Association, founded in February 1932, explicitly had no party allegiance. That same August, though, Dr Tom O’Higgins (brother of  Kevin, and TD for Laois-Offaly) took charge, and things changed.

Brian Maye proposes “three main reasons why the ACA became a major political force”:

One was that Cumann na Gaedheal supporters were becoming convinced that, with the government ‘s cooperation, the IRA and Fianna Fail were determined to deprive Cumann na nGaedheal public representatives of the rights of free speech and assembly. The party and its supporters felt intimidated by the IRA with its ominous slogan ‘No free speech for ‘traitors’ . A second was the belief that communist forces were making progress and would soon pose a real threat. Finally, ex-army members were no longer given preference in the awarding of public posts, as had been the practice during the years when Cumann na nGaedheal was in power, and there were growing fears that they were being victimised. From August 1932 onwards, the ACA began to protect Cumann na nGaedheal public meetings, and this led to an increasing number of clashes with Fianna Fail and IRA elements.

Then came the January 1933 General Election, with Fianna Fáil achieving, for the first time for any single party, an absolute majority. For CnaG this was a disaster.


Was it a coincidence that the ACA promptly became a uniformed movement, complete with raised arm salute? From March 1933 they were, indeed, the Blueshirts. De Valera had dismissed General Eoin O’Duffy as Gárda Commissioner, and in July he succeeded O’Higgins , and the ACA formally became the National Guard.

Noses had sniffed the wind. Something had to change. So talks began to bring together CnaG, the parallel Centre Party, and the National Guard. O’Duffy was huffy; but FF cut the turf from under him by banning the National Guard, and he needed respectable support. And so O’Duffy would be party leader of the United Ireland – Fine Gael Party, while W.T. Cosgrave would lead the Dáil party. Each constituent nominated six to a clumsy executive of 25 — which had the advantage of diluting any power base.

After the 1934 local elections, when the new party took another pasting, O’Duffy was out; and he hoved off to form his explicitly fascist operation.

Two factions in Fine Gael

There was a cleavage between the parliamentarian approach of Cosgrave and the more-physical O’Duffy. Cosgrave may have “mis-spoken” on occasions — for example, most infamously:

.. the Blackshirts were victorious in Italy and that the Hitler Shirts were victorious in Germany, as, assuredly, in spite of this Bill and in spite of the Public Safety Act, the Blueshirts will be victorious in the Irish Free State.

— but O’Duffy had a notoriously loose mouth. This was much in evidence on the Border issue. Cosgrave and Co. honoured the Treaty, and willed an Ireland inside what was to become the Commonwealth: O’Duffy was a Monaghan man and never forgot it.

O’Duffy lacked subtlety. Patrick Hogan and Michael Tierny, both academics, represented what went for Fine Gael’s ideologues; and they had evolved a corporatist compromise between Quadragesimo Anno and how continental fascists were applying their version thereof. O’Duffy was no thinker — and more attracted to the continental school.

The Irish Times, 16th February 1934

Had we any doubts of Irish links to fascism, indeed to the newly-arrived Nazism, this one issue should raise them.

  • On page four we have Helmut Clissmann (an Abwehr agent, if not with direct links to Yeats, at least with very strong ones to Maude Gonne and her family and entourage, and then on to Sean Russell who was on his way to being head of the IRA Army Council) orating to Trinity students.
  • On page six, Tomás O Cleirigh of the National Museum waxes lyrical on Adolf Hitler (with some minor detractions) and on German contribution to Celtic Studies.
  • On page seven we (and the man himself, it seems) are informed:

Dr W.B.Yeats has been awarded the Goethe Plaque of the City of Frankfurt. The Municipal Prize office point out that, contrary to the practice of the ‘old regime’, the plaque is now given only in exceptional cases to persons distinguished in cultural life, and that it was therefore a rare distinction for Dr Yeats and for the German poet, Herr Hermann Stehr, who received the award at the same time. [Stehr is known, if at all, as an old-fashioned God-bothering novelist of the Heimat-Roman]

Is there a link in there, somewhere? The only apparent one is Clissmann. He received a passing mention in Cathal O’Shannon’s 2007 RTÉ documentary, for Hidden History, and even more cursory treatment in the Daily Telegraph‘s report thereon:

Helmut Clissmann was a World War II German spy involved in failed missions with the IRA. He later became a successful Dublin businessman.

Another issue of the Irish Times, for 8th November 1997, had one those extended Saturday obituaries for Clissmann:

Mr Helmut Clissmann, who has died in Dublin, was the best-informed German about Ireland and the IRA during the second World War. The Nazis twice failed to smuggle him into Ireland to act as an intelligence agent and link with the outlawed IRA.

Mr Clissmann first came to Ireland as a young student in the 1930s. He studied in Trinity College, worked on a doctoral thesis on “The Wild Geese in Germany”, and just before the war was sent again to Dublin as representative of the German Academic Exchange.

During these stays, he made contact with the then illegal IRA and married Budge Mulcahy, who was from a strongly republican family in Co Sligo. He also became friendly with the writer Francis Stuart.

When war broke out in 1939, Mr Clissmann was ordered, along with other Germans living in Ireland, to return to Germany. This was later seen by the German intelligence services as a bad mistake, but they tried to use his expert knowledge to find out the strength of the IRA and whether Germany could use it to launch guerrilla attacks and sabotage in Northern Ireland.

Mr Clissmann also played a role in the release of Frank Ryan from a Spanish jail where he was under sentence of death for fighting on the republican side in the Civil War. Mr Clissmann knew Ryan as an IRA activist when in Ireland.

The first attempt to send Mr Clissmann back to Ireland was Operation Lobster in August 1940, when a Breton trawler was to land him and a radio operator in Sligo Bay. With the help of IRA contacts, they were to travel to England and prepare for the planned German invasion. The German skipper, Christian Nissen, decided to abort the mission, however, after a storm disabled the engine off the west coast.

A year later, Mr Clissmann was involved in Operation Sea Eagle in which a German seaplane would land on Lough Key, Co Roscommon, to let him, Frank Ryan and a radio operator get ashore in a rubber dinghy. Mr Clissmann would bring £40,000 to the IRA and encourage it to become active in Northern Ireland while Ryan was to try to persuade the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, to co-operate with the IRA instead of interning and executing its members.

Admiral Canaris, head of the German Abwehr intelligence service, called off Operation Sea Eagle before it got under way.

Clissmann got his Irish visa in 1948, courtesy of Sean MacBride — son of Maud Gonne MacBride, and brother-in-law of Francis Stuart. Stuart was in Berlin between 1939 and 1945, reading news-bulletins and doing other work for Redaktion-Irland, the Nazi propaganda broadcasts to Ireland, for much of that time.

All in all, it wasn’t Guinness that was good for fascists.


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Filed under advertising., Dublin., Fascists, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, Sunday Times, Trinity College Dublin, WB Yeats

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