Bob Doyle

Veteran of Spanish Civil War remained fighter to the end

Lives remembered - Valerie Robinson, Irish News, February 7, 2009

The singer Christy Moore will perform at a ceremony next Saturday to mark the death of the last surviving Irishman to fight in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War.

Bob Doyle was born in Dublin's inner city on February 12 1916 at a time marked by poverty and conflict. After their mother Margaret was committed to Grangegorman asylum, Mr Doyle and his four siblings were taken into care by nuns. The children spent much of their childhood working on farms, experiencing hunger and violence at the hands of their supposed carers.

Returning to Dublin's tenements as a young teenager, Mr Doyle trained as an upholsterer and joined the Dublin Battalion of the IRA after being recruited by activist Kit Conway. It was while training as an IRA engineer that he became convinced that a united Ireland would have to be a socialist Ireland.

At the age of 20 he decided to join the republican struggle against the Falangist nationalists in Spain after becoming alarmed by stories about brutal acts by Franco supporters and their German Nazi backers.

In December 1937 he tricked his way over the Franco-Spanish border, reporting to a battalion at Figueras in Catalonia. His International Brigade comrades included Kit Conway, the English writer Laurie Lee and the Dungannon poet Charles Donnelly.

He was fighting in a battle against right-wing troops and tanks in the town of Belchite in February 1938 when he was captured by Italian fascist troops. He remained a prisoner for 11 months before being released to the French as part of a prisoner exchange.

After the Second World War broke out Mr Doyle enlisted in the British merchant navy and later settled in London with his Spanish wife Lola, where he worked as a printer.

A communist activist and trade unionist, he negotiated with media mogul Robert Maxwell for a 40-hour week for print workers.

He later campaigned for the recognition of fallen International Brigade colleagues - 60 Irish brigaders died in Spain - and finally helped convince the Spanish authorities to allow mass graves to be marked.

In 2006 Mr Doyle published his autobiography Brigadista: An Irishman's Fight Against Fascism.

The 93-year-old died in London on Thursday January 22. He is survived by his sons Bob and Julian, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

His funeral will take place in London on Tuesday, with family members also travelling to Dublin next Saturday for a commemoration that will start at Parnell Square at 12 noon before heading to Liberty Hall.

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