Death of Spanish Civil War veteran Bob Doyle

An Phoblacht, January 29, 2009

BOB DOYLE, who died last week in London aged 92, was a legendary figure among the Irish republicans who fought for the freedom of the Spanish Republic against Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

A native of the north inner city of Dublin, Doyle was brought up in the midst of the appalling poverty of Dublin’s tenements in the 1920s and 1930s. Living in North King Street, just off of Smithfield, he knew from personal and family experience just what landlordism and money-lending were, and even at an early age understood that a republic that didn’t champion the rights of the poorest citizens was no republic at all.

He joined Fianna Éireann in his early teens and was from the start involved in resisting the Blueshirts, Ireland’s domestic fascists. Modern Ireland likes to skirt over the fact that the Blueshirts under Eoin O’Duffy established the Fine Gael party but their reality on the streets was one of violence, intimidation and a contemptuous disregard for democracy as they sought to seize with the cudgel the power they lost at the ballot box.

The Blueshirts’ hysteria was fanned by the victory of Fianna Fáil in the 1932 general election, a victory that opened up the chance to start building a real republic, a chance which – as we know – was never carried through to completion as de Valera settled for doing a deal with Britain in the first Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement of 1938 and as Dev continued the inherited Free State civil service and judiciary, themselves largely inherited from the old British regime.


Bob Doyle literally cut his political teeth in the fights against the Blueshirts, and was on one occasion badly beaten up by Animal Gang thugs. He suffered permanent damage to one eye in that episode.

Joining the IRA, he came under the influence of the veteran Tipperary freedom fighter, Kit Conway, who had an exemplary war record from the Tan War and the fight against the Free State. Conway was another who understood that the fight for the Republic was a fight for ordinary working men and women to have a better life.

Many of these were involved in the various efforts in the 1930s to develop a strong republican involvement in the social struggles of the people, including the Republican Congress initiative launched by Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore. Others, including Kit Conway and Frank Ryan, joined the young Communist Party of Ireland, established in the same year as the Blueshirts’ Fine Gael but at the opposite end of the political spectrum.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out, with the attempt by the military and landlord classes there to overthrow the democratic republic, Irish republicans responded with solidarity and support. And, despite the anti-Spanish hysteria inspired by elements of the Catholic Church, many republicans and communists joined the International Brigades to fight for Spanish freedom, among them Kit Conway who later died in action at Jarama in 1937.

This was the event that determined Doyle to join up too. Along with other IRA Volunteers, he was valued for the military training he already had, and which was used to train in the new international recruits.

But the war was now going Franco’s way and the remnants of the Irish contingents of the International Brigades were captured at Gandesa by Italian fascists. Among them were Frank Ryan and Bob Doyle.

The prisoners were kept in atrocious conditions and regularly subjected to beatings and torture but that failed to break their spirit, though Frank Ryan never regained full health after what was done to him. Doyle was eventually released in a prisoner exchange.

But he never gave up the fight against fascism. He joined the Spanish Communist Party and continued even after the withdrawal of the International Brigades to play a part in the clandestine struggle against fascism in Spain, risking death on a daily basis as he made secret journeys into Spain to network the resistance.


When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union, Doyle sought other ways to play his part. He couldn’t bring himself to join the British Army as such but he enlisted in the Merchant Navy to ensure the supplies needed for a now international war against fascism.

After the war he settled in London with his Spanish wife, Lola, but remained active – both in the clandestine resistance to fascism in Spain and in the struggles of printers and other workers in London. Doyle’s own account of his experiences in Spain and the political reasons which brought him there can be found in Brigadista: An Irishman’s Fight against Fascism.

And why did he go? As an Irish republican who fought against reaction in Ireland, he saw that a victory for fascism in Spain would strengthen the fascists in our own land. The battle he fought at Jarama was a continuation of the fight he fought against the Blueshirts on the streets of Dublin. We salute a freedom fighter of exceptional integrity and courage. Salud!


To honour Bob Doyle and all of Ireland’s International Brigaders in the Spanish Civil War, Bob’s family and friends are organising a ‘Bob Doyle Fiesta’ in Dublin on Saturday 14 February. A parade at 12 noon from the Garden of Remembrance to the Spanish Republic Plaque at Liberty Hall will be followed by a function at a trade union venue. Everyone is welcome.

[Note by CC - the function is also at Liberty Hall.]

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