Bob Doyle

Hero is laid to rest

The Irish Post, February 11, 2009

THE LAST surviving Irish volunteer who fought on the Republican side against Franco in the Spanish Civil War has died in London. He was 92.

Bob Doyle was born into poverty in Dublin in February 1916.

After being beaten up in street fights with the Blueshirts which left him with permanent damage to one eye, he was recruited into the IRA by Kit Conway, whom he later followed into the Communist Party and the Republican Congress. Conway was killed in action in the Battle of Jarama on Doyle's 21st birthday, but Doyle was not to be dissuaded from joining the fight against fascism. Among the group he led into Spain was the writer Laurie Lee.

After fighting at Belchite, he was captured at Gandesa by Italian fascist troops in 1938, along with Irish International Brigade leader Frank Ryan. He was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp near Burgos.

There he was regularly tortured by Spanish fascist guards and interrogated by the Gestapo before being released in a prisoner exchange. He enlisted in the British merchant navy during the second World War before settling in London with his Spanish wife, Lola.

He became active in the Fleet Street print trade unions and was one of the leaders of a successful six-week national strike in 1959 for a 40-hour week. During the Notting Hill race riots of 1958, Doyle, who lived in the area, organised patrols to protect immigrant West Indians. In October 1993 he starred in the BBC2 Video Diaries documentary Rebel Without A Pause which showed him travelling to Spain to campaign for a memorial at the unmarked mass grave containing the International Brigade dead of the Battle of Jarama of February 1937, including Kit Conway and the Irish poet Charles Donnelly, whose niece, Cluna Donnelly, made the film. An inscribed plaque was subsequently unveiled in October 1994.

It was not Doyle's first time in front of the camera. His son Julian was a cameraman on the Monty Python films and Bob featured as a human doorbell in Jabberwocky. In 2002 Doyle published his Spanish-language autobiography, Memorias de un Rebelde Sin Pausa, followed in 2006 by an English-language edition, Brigadista: An Irishman's Fight Against Fascism.

"Memorials are important," Bob Doyle told The Irish Post in an interview in 1993, "because they remind people of the significance of historical events. With fascism and racism on the rise today, it is important history isn't swept under the carpet. In the twilight years of my life I recognise more and more the proudest thing I ever did was to participate in a noble, worthwhile struggle and it's the last thing I'm going to do."

His funeral took place on Tuesday, February 10, in Golders Green crematorium, north London. His family will hold a commemoration in Dublin this Saturday, February 14, at noon at the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, before heading to Liberty Hall where a wreath will be laid at the plaque with the names of 60 Irish Brigadiers who died in Spain.

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