Sunday, 1 March 2015


In 1933, Fascist Eoin O'Duffy made a speech in South Armagh in which he ordered the Murphy's "Give 'em the lead !"

Eoin O¹Duffy ... his life and legacy

Probably one of the most controversial Irishmen of all time was born at Cargaghdoo, near Lough Egish, in the parish of Aughnamullen East, on 30th October 1892. He was Eoin O¹Duffy, later better known as general Eoin O¹Duffy, and he would become one of the most prominent figures in the history of the GAA, not just in Co. Monaghan, but throughout Ulster, and also the ŒLeading Light¹ in the ŒStruggle for Independence¹ of the 1919-21 period in his native Co. Monaghan. By Seamus McCluskey.

Completing his primary, secondary and third level education, O’Duffy became an engineer and worked as a surveyor for Monaghan County Council in the Clones area. Following the formation of the Volunteers and the 1916 Rising, he became one of the movement’s most active members, and his organisational abilities were soon to become very evident during the ensuing War of Independence. By September 1918 he was already a Brigade Officer in the IRA and became the foremost organiser in the county. Jailed in 1918, he was released in 1919, and soon threw himself completely and wholeheartedly into the work of gaining independence for his country.

He had already been very active in GAA circles and he would now use that organisation as a recruiting ground for his Volunteers.
Starting with his GAA activities, Eoin O’Duffy became secretary of the Monaghan Co. Board in 1912, when he was a mere youth of twenty, and his organisational abilities here led to his then being elected Secretary of the Ulster GAA Council the following year. He would remain as Ulster Secretary right up until 1923, and would then become Treasurer from 1925 until 1934.

During all this period his GAA and Volunteer activities went hand-in-hand.
One of his most unusual exploits in 1918 was on the occasion of ‘Gaelic Sunday’, 4th August of that year. The 1918 Ulster Final on 7th July had had to be cancelled when British soldiers occupied the Cootehill venue and banned the playing of Gaelic Games. To defy the ‘ban’, all nine counties organised challenge matches for Sunday 4th August, and the GAA Central Council followed suit. No permits were applied for anywhere. It would be called ‘Gaelic Sunday’ and over 100,000 took part, leaving the authorities totally helpless.

The ‘proclaimed’ game at Cootehill on 7th July had a unique sequel. Ulster secretary O’Duffy, along with Dan Hogan of Clones, who was to have refereed the Final, and about thirty others, all cycled home from Cootehill towards Newbliss, but were followed by a party of RIC men on their heavy bicycles. O’Duffy knew they were being followed and led the unfortunate RIC men on a fifteen miles wild-goose chase over the by-roads around Newbliss. The sweltering heat and the heavy official uniforms, made matters extremely unpleasant for the pursuers, who must have lost a lot of sweat trying to push their cumbersome machines in such conditions.

The first major event of the War of Independence in the county, in which O’Duffy was involved, was the ‘Siege of Ballytrain’ RIC barracks on 13th February 1920. O’Duffy himself led the attack, in which thirty Volunteers formed the assault party, drawn from companies in Monaghan, Donagh, Clones, Wattlebridge and Corcaghan. The other companies of the county were involved in blocking roads and dismantling telephone wires. The RIC garrison eventually surrendered and O’Duffy’s pattern of attack was soon imitated in later attacks on several other RIC barracks throughout the country.

On the following 17th March (1920) the Ulster GAA Convention was held in Conlon’s Hotel in Clones and O’Duffy, now very much a ‘wanted man’ by the British Authorities, had to enter the meeting in disguise, as RIC spies were waiting outside to arrest him. However, O’Duffy had already departed when the police eventually raided the hotel. The ‘Adjourned Convention’ was held in Armagh on 17th April 1920 and O’Duffy, now even more wanted by the police, again attended, but this time without a disguise. Quickly arrested, it became obvious that O’Duffy actually wanted to be arrested on this occasion as it was his intention to organise a hunger-strike among the Monaghan Prisoners then being held in Crumlin Road jail in Belfast. This he duly did, and very successfully too, and all the Monaghan prisoners were later released.

O’Duffy realised the importance of getting arms for his Volunteers and, consequently, he organised a major raid on several Unionist houses throughout North Monaghan to obtain them. Many guns were captured in these raids but four Volunteers lost their lives that same night, while several others were wounded when stiff resistance was offered. The ‘Night of the Raids’, as it became known, took place on 31st August 1920 and was the brainchild of O’Duffy.

Because of these activities and the continuing ’Troubles’, as they were called, all GAA competitions in Ulster fell very much into arrears. The 1921 Ulster Final was not played until October 1923, as several of the Monaghan players had been arrested by ‘B Specials’ at Dromore, Co. Tyrone, when on their way to play Derry, in Derry, for the original fixture. All of them were ‘O’Duffy Men’, and O’Duffy was instrumental in obtaining the later release of all ten. The 1922 Final was not played until April 1923, and the 1923 Final on 2nd September. The 1923 Ulster Convention had been held in Clones on 17th March, when O’Duffy was replaced as secretary.

One of the great memories of that same year, however, was the Official Opening of Breifne Park in Cavan on 22nd July, the name having been suggested by Eoin O’Duffy.

Following the cessation of hostilities and the Treaty of 1921, O’Duffy rose in the ranks of the Irish Free State army, becoming chief-of-staff in 1922. Fortunately, there was very little activity in Co. Monaghan during the unfortunate Civil War that then ensued and lasted for ten months in 1922-23. Now O’Duffy could concentrate more on his GAA activities but, unfortunately, he was unavoidably absent from the 1929 Ulster Convention held in March 1929.

With the setting up of the new Irish Free State and the establishment of the Garda Siochana in 1922, O’Duffy was put in charge with the rank of Commissioner. Here he again showed remarkable ability in the establishment of our first national police force, and was Chief Marshall at the Catholic Emancipation Centenary celebrations in 1929 and again at the Eucharist Congress of 1932. However, he then incurred the disfavour of the new Taoiseach, Eamon DeValera, and was dismissed from his post on 22nd February 1933.

The Army Comrades Association was founded in 1933 and was basically a welfare organisation for former members of the Irish Free Stage army.

Political meetings of Cumann na nGaedheal, the pro-Treaty party, were frequently disrupted by IRA and the Association adopted the role of protecting these meetings from interference. Members wore a blue shirt and black beret, and became known as ‘The Blueshirts’. Eoin O’Duffy joined the Blueshirts in 1933 and was soon promoted to the post of Leader of the movement, which then became known as the ‘National Guard’. A proposed ‘March on Dublin’, however, was banned by the Government of the day, and the name was duly changed again, this time to ‘Young Ireland Association’. Rallies were held throughout Ireland, one of the largest taking place in Monaghan town on 20th August 1933.

O’Duffy’s recruiting abilities continued and the ranks of the Blueshirts duly swelled. He held a parade of over two hundred in Ballybay in November 1933 and another two hundred in Newbliss three months later. His greatest show-of-strength, however, was in Monaghan on 18th February 1934. O’Duffy had come to Monaghan as President of Fine Gael on 19th November 1933, and the aforementioned rallies and parades then followed. O’Duffy’s unquestionable popularity in the county since his Sinn Fein days, and the fact that he was a native of the county, probably accounted for the remarkable rise of the Blueshirts throughout the county.

Despite his absence from Ulster Convention in February 1934, O’Duffy was still the central figure. He had been the most tireless worker for the GAA in Ulster for the previous twenty-two years, first as secretary, and later as Ulster Delegate on the Central Council, where he proved himself a fearless fighter for the Ulster cause, particularly since the National Games were so vehemently opposed by a majority in the northern province. However, when he became embroiled in party politics, and with his involvement as leader of the Blueshirts, this created a position where many of his former associates now became his enemies. GAA rules also make it quite clear that involvement in controversial politics would preclude him from membership. By 1933 it was generally accepted that O’Duffy had resigned, but by the time of the 1934 Convention, this resignation had still not yet been officially received. No wonder there was a record attendance, and there was a tense atmosphere throughout the entire proceedings.

A letter from O’Duffy proved somewhat ambiguous and did not clearly indicate that he was withdrawing from the post of Treasurer, so his name had to be allowed to go forward. Even Co. Monaghan had nominated an opponent to O’Duffy in the person of Michael Markey, while Gerry Arthurs of Armagh also allowed his name to go forward. Arthurs proved a decisive victor in the ensuing vote at this unique Convention, which heralded the end of O’Duffy’s official association with the GAA, and it was held in Dungannon on 28th February 1934.

In 1936 Eoin O’Duffy recruited and formed an ‘Irish Brigade’ to go to the assistance of General Franco in the Spanish Civil War. 700 strong, they contributed to the success of the Catholic leader of Spain and were even blessed by Irish bishops prior to their departure for what was a most unusual expedition, and which has been vividly described by O’Duffy’s himself in his ‘Crusade in Spain’.

Eoin O’Duffy was later elected President of the NACA, the body controlling Irish athletics, and held this post until his death on 30th November 1944. On the 2nd December 1944, Eoin O’Duffy was given a full military funeral and was then laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, alongside his friend and ally, Michael Collins.

Taken from Monaghan's Match
December 2004

Eoin O'Duffy Becomes Leader

In January 1933, the Fianna Fáil government called a surprise election, which the government won comfortably. The election campaign saw a serious escalation of rioting between IRA and ACA supporters. In April 1933, the ACA began wearing the distinctive blue shirt uniform.Eoin O'Duffy was a guerrilla leader in theIRA during the Irish War of Independence, a National Army general during the Civil War, and the police commissioner in theIrish Free State from 1922 to 1933. After de Valera's re-election in February 1933, Valera dismissed O'Duffy as commissioner, and in July of that year, O'Duffy was offered and accepted leadership of the ACA and renamed it the National Guard. He re-modelled the organisation, adopting elements of European fascism, such as the Roman straight-arm salute, uniforms and huge rallies. Membership of the new organisation became limited to people who were Irish or whose parents "profess theChristian faith". O'Duffy was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, and the Blueshirts adopted corporatism as their chief political aim. According to the constitution he adopted, the organisation was to have the following objectives:

To promote the reunification of Ireland.
To oppose Communism and alien control and influence in national affairs and to uphold Christian principles in every sphere of public activity.
To promote and maintain social order.
To make organised and disciplined voluntary public service a permanent and accepted feature of our political life and to lead the youth of Ireland in a movement of constructive national action.
To promote of co-ordinated national organisations of employers and employed, which with the aid of judicial tribunals, will effectively prevent strikes and lock-outs and harmoniously compose industrial influences.
To cooperate with the official agencies of the state for the solution of such pressing social problems as the provision of useful and economic public employment for those whom private enterprise cannot absorb.
To secure the creation of a representative national statutory organisation of farmers, with rights and status sufficient to secure the safeguarding of agricultural interests, in all revisions of agricultural and political policy.
To expose and prevent corruption and victimisation in national and local administration.
To awaken throughout the country a spirit of combination, discipline, zeal and patriotic realism which will put the state in a position to serve the people efficiently in the economic and social spheres.

Because of the later attraction of the group's leader Eoin O'Duffy to authoritarian nationalist movements on the European Continent, the Blueshirts are sometimes compared to the MVSN(Blackshirts) of Italy and to some extent performed a similar function.[8][9] Some of the Blueshirts later went to fight forFrancisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and were anti-communist in nature, however historian R.M. Douglas has stated that it is dubious to portray them as an "Irish manifestation of fascism".
March on Dublin

The National Guard planned to hold a parade in Dublin in August 1933. It was to proceed to Glasnevin Cemetery, stopping briefly on Leinster lawn in front of the Irish parliament, where speeches were to be held. The goal of the parade was to commemorate past leaders of Ireland,Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins and Kevin O'Higgins. It is clear that the IRA and other fringe groups representing various socialists intended to confront the Blueshirts if they did march in Dublin. The government banned the parade, remembering Mussolini's March on Rome, and fearing a coup d'état. Decades later, de Valera told Fianna Fáil politicians that in late summer 1933, he was unsure whether the Irish Army would obey his orders to suppress the perceived threat, or whether the soldiers would support the Blueshirts (who included many ex-soldiers). O'Duffy accepted the ban and insisted that he was committed to upholding the law. Instead, several provincial parades took place to commemorate the deaths of Griffith, O'Higgins and Collins. De Valera saw this move as defying his ban, and the Blueshirts were declared an illegal organisation.
Fine Gael and the National Corporate Party[edit]

In response to the banning of the National Guard, Cumann na nGaedheal and theNational Centre Party merged to form a new party, Fine Gael, on 3 September 1933. O'Duffy became its first president, with W. T. Cosgrave and James Dillonacting as vice-presidents. The National Guard changed into the Young Ireland Association, and became part of a youth wing of the party. The party's aim was to create a corporatist United Ireland within the British Commonwealth. The 1934 local elections were a trial of strength for the new Fine Gael and the Fianna Fáil government. When Fine Gael won only 6 out of 23 local elections, O’Duffy lost much of his authority and prestige. The Blueshirts began to disintegrate by mid-1934. The Blueshirts floundered also on the plight of farmers during theEconomic War, as the Blueshirts failed to provide a solution. Following disagreements with his Fine Gael colleagues, O'Duffy left the party, although most of the Blueshirts stayed in Fine Gael. In December 1934, O'Duffy attended theMontreux Fascist conference inSwitzerland. He then founded the National Corporate Party, and later raised an "Irish Brigade" that took General Francisco Franco's side in the Spanish Civil War.

Eoin O'Duffy - A Cautionary Tale
Eoin O'Duffy - A Self-Made Hero

by Fearghal McGarry, Oxford University Press,

Fearghal McGarry first made his mark as a historian with Irish Politics and the Spanish Civil War (1999), described by me as "the definitive textbook on the subject" in the Fall 2003 issue of Irish Literary Supplement. This was in the context of a review of his second book, Frank Ryan (2002), a biography criticised as both disappointing and sensationalist, with little evidence of the depth of research and analysis required to do justice to its subject. The hope was nonetheless expressed that the author's future work would demonstrate a return to the "high standards of scholarship, balanced presentation and conscientious evaluation" that he had previously shown.

How then does McGarry's third book, a biography of the Irish fascist leader Eoin O'Duffy, measure up to such hopes? The author states that he has attempted to explain rather than condemn such a life, but that he has uncovered little to warrant revision of previous negative assessments of O'Duffy. But this is not for the want of trying. In contrast with his previous biography, this work is meticulously researched. It is the story of a one-time avowed champion of democracy who had fought to vindicate the will of the Irish people in the 1918 election, being transformed into a convinced fascist who sought to crush the will of the Spanish people after their 1936 election; of a highly disciplined and impressive military leader who had led by selfless example during the War of Independence, becoming the high-living commander who selfishly abandoned his own troops during the Spanish Civil War.

McGarry begins by portraying the younger O'Duffy's devotion to duty through tireless work on behalf of the Gaelic Athletic Association. His leadership qualities would subsequently come to the fore as IRA leader in his native County Monaghan during the War of Independence. In contrast with much latter-day writing of Irish history, it is to the author's credit that he begins by clarifying the essential character of that war: "Established by democratic means, the Republic would be defended by violence". And when O'Duffy personally led the attack on Ballytrain RIC barracks in February 1920 he took the opportunity to give the police the following lesson in democracy: "At the general election the people had voted for freedom. The police were acting against the will of the Irish people. He appealed to them to leave the force and join their brother Irishmen."

A year later, in January 1921, there was a sharp escalation in the Monaghan war. McGarry conscientiously chronicles the complexity of such a war in an Ulster border county that not only had a 25 percent Unionist minority, but also a sullen hardcore of defeated Redmondites, which ensured that local hostility to the Republic amounted to as much as a third of the population. The minority was furthermore a very powerful one, in terms of property, influence and guns. McGarry describes the town of Clones as "a Protestant stronghold", while there were as many as 1,800 UVF members throughout Monaghan county as a whole.

In such a frontier society it was inevitable that there would be an inter-ethnic aspect to the conflict. McGarry, however, does himself an injustice by comparing his own detailed narrative of the war in Monaghan with Peter Hart's earlier approach to Cork in The IRA and the Enemies (1998), although he does acknowledge that other historians have questioned the accuracy of Hart's research. But it should also be pointed out that Cork was no border territory. The minority of Cork Loyalists who supported Britain's war against the Republic were against self-government for any part of Ireland. In contrast, the two Ulster communities involved in a conflict of nationalities in County Monaghan can be viewed, at least in retrospect, as having been engaged in creating their own de facto Boundary Commission, through a struggle to determine on which side of a future border they would lie. That this was essentially a conflict between two national allegiances rather than a religious war was underscored by O'Duffy's willingness to embrace an Ulster Protestant like Ernest Blythe who had crossed over from his own community in order to give his allegiance to the Irish independence struggle.

It was, of course, a conflict that could very easily have degenerated into something far more ugly. McGarry writes that "Republican violence in Monaghan was inevitably more sectarian than much of the rest of the country", but he also gives credit to O'Duffy for "the relative restraint demonstrated by the IRA during this period." In terms of the ruthless pursuit of informers, the author recognises that "order could not be maintained without discipline." He concedes that notwithstanding the high proportion of Protestant targets, "few, if any, people were shot solely because of their religion." And where he does speak of "questionable murders", it is to his credit as a historian that he presents the pros and cons of each individual case surveyed, allowing the reader to come to different conclusions than his own. For this reviewer there is just one such killing that remains questionable as to whether the motivation might have been less a suspicion of informing and more a desire to eliminate a vociferous political opponent who had disrupted a local authority vote of sympathy on the death of Cork Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney. However, that particular victim had not been some Unionist opponent but rather a Redmondite Hibernian one; not at all a Protestant Orangeman but a Catholic "Molly Maguire".

Eoin O'Duffy emerged from the War of Independence with a well-deserved reputation that his Civil War opponent Ernie O'Malley described as "energetic and commanding". How then, in the years before his death in 1944, did O'Duffy end up being described in intelligence reports as the "representative of the Axis powers in Ireland" and a "potential Quisling, suffering from acute alcoholic poisoning"? McGarry retells the story of O'Duffy's disastrous 1937 intervention on behalf of the fascist side in Spain that "cost Franco a small fortune - and killed more of his own soldiers than the enemy." He presents some new research in this area, notably O'Duffy's recently found diary of that escapade, and he quotes the description of O'Duffy as an "Operetta General" penned by one of Franco's own generals. McGarry concludes that Spain destroyed O'Duffy's reputation as a man of action, as previously "the General's reputation as a politician had been destroyed by his leadership of Fine Gael." But how had this degeneration come about?

McGarry devotes a lot of attention to O'Duffy's position as a protégé of IRB President Michael Collins, who would eventually promote him to Treasurer of that body's Supreme Council. While the IRA itself was a democratically structured organisation, the continued existence within its ranks of a secret society like the IRB was to have a profoundly destabilising effect, both North and South. Collins hailed O'Duffy as "the coming man", proceeding in July 1921 to pull off a stunt behind the back of Minister for Defence Cathal Brugha by unilaterally making O'Duffy Deputy Chief of Staff of the IRA for the post-Truce period. Collins brought O'Duffy with him to London for the start of the Treaty negotiations and it was O'Duffy who would obtain the artillery from Britain's General Macready in order to commence the Civil War in July 1922.

Meanwhile the IRB leadership was the behind-the-scenes manipulator of another little war. In the summer of 1921 O'Duffy had already explicitly criticised deValera for suggesting that counties with a Unionist majority should be allowed to opt out of a unified Ireland if Britain would agree to a Republic for the rest of the country. With Collins by his side, O'Duffy delivered an inflammatory speech in Armagh in September 1921 in which he threatened the majority of people in Belfast that, if they were not going to accept being part of the Irish nation, "they would have to use the lead against them." Such bombast only had the effect of intensifying the horrific Orange pogroms against that city's Catholic minority, just as in the post-Treaty month of March 1922 the murder of the McMahon family followed a Collins/O'Duffy military offensive in West Ulster. Without the knowledge of the Free State cabinet, O'Duffy and Collins were to be responsible for yet another failed Northern offensive during the month of May that ended in further disaster for Northern Ireland's Catholic minority. O'Duffy had indeed subdued the Unionist minority in his native Monaghan, but to ham-fistedly dream of similarly taking on the Unionist majority in Antrim and Down was quite a different proposition.

During the course of the Civil War, as well as in his capacity as Commissioner of the Garda Síochána for the first decade of its existence, O'Duffy continued to employ the rhetoric of democracy in his public utterances. McGarry, however, also highlights O'Duffy's cultivation of a highly orchestrated personality cult on his own behalf, at the same time as the Commissioner's private reports to Cabinet were complaining that "the Irish public is rotten." The General even began to alarm his own ruthless Minister for Home Affairs Kevin O'Higgins who, in the months prior to his 1927 assassination, had been on the point of sacking O'Duffy.

Knowing the threat that O'Duffy had come to pose to their own regime makes the Cumann na nGaedheal leadership all the more culpable in their attempt to bring down the Fianna Fáil Government in 1933 with a strategy of installing Blueshirt leader O'Duffy as the first President of Fine Gael. McGarry provides chapter and verse to demonstrate just how thoroughly fascist-minded and anti-democratic O'Duffy's own personal philosophy had become at this stage. And while quibbling with a statement of my own in a 1984 study - that anti-semitism had also come to form an integral feature of O'Duffy's personal ideology - he nonetheless provides year-by-year examples of such anti-semitism that actually confirm my conclusions. But McGarry does not always get his facts right. When he quotes Seán MacEntee's accusation that one particular Blueshirt had personally murdered a Dublin Jew, he states in a footnote that this had occurred during the Civil War. It had not. It had occurred six months after the conclusion of that particular conflict, in November 1923, and the subsequent escape to America of the army officer charged with that murder had been facilitated by both Garda and Free State Army authorities.

The very last words of McGarry's narrative sum up O'Duffy's biography as "a cautionary tale". What makes it all the more so is the author's determination to demonstrate that O'Duffy was not just some solitary freakish individual. He highlights how the Cumann na nGaedheal leadership's own virulent propaganda had already begun to publicly question the legitimacy of the Fianna Fáil Government's election victories of 1932 and 1933, before they ever came a-courting O'Duffy to become the leader of their blueshirted second coming. But McGarry also says a lot more. In the first history of that movement, The Blueshirts (1970), Maurice Manning of Fine Gael had expressed some disquiet at one or two of Ernest Blythe's 1933 utterances. Blythe's importance as an ideologist of the corporate state was more specifically highlighted by Mike Cronin in The Blueshirts and Irish Politics (1997). McGarry, however, takes research in this area very much further by providing a systematic narrative of the highly racialist and violently anti-democratic hate-propaganda penned by Blythe throughout the course of 1933 and 1934.

O'Duffy's own personal pietism has sometimes led to a far too simplistic classification of Blueshirt fascism as being little more than an excess of Catholic zeal. Blythe, of course, also knew how to opportunistically play the Papal encyclical card, but he himself never ceased to be an Ulster Protestant. Blythe's fascism was profoundly political and was in many ways much more alarming than that of O'Duffy, because it was all the more coherently thought out. McGarry notes that Blythe's fascism continued unabated throughout the war years and that Irish military intelligence also viewed him as another potential Quisling. Blythe surely merits a biography in his own right. Having produced such a comprehensive biography of O'Duffy, one hopes that Fearghal McGarry might be motivated to do just that.

Manus O'Riordan

No comments: