The Irish Times, February 14, 2009

Spanish Civil War veteran and avowed communist

Bob Doyle, who has died aged 92, was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, having served with the International Brigade in support of the elected government against the nationalist rebellion led by Gen Franco.

He was one of 160 Irish anti-fascists who volunteered to fight in Spain. But theirs was not a popular cause at the time, and in what was depicted by the Irish Independent as a fight between the Faith and Antichrist he and his comrades were widely seen to be on the wrong side.

Today, however, they are viewed more benignly. In 2005 he was one of four surviving Irish brigade members to be received by President Mary McAleese at Áras an Úachtaráin. This followed a reception some years previously at Dublin s Mansion House and the unveiling of a plaque at Liberty Hall.

Born in February 1916, he was one of the five children of Peter Doyle, a seaman, and his wife Margaret (née Aldridge). The family lived in North King Street, Dublin.

Found to be incapable of looking after children, his mother was confined as a religious lunatic to Grangegorman asylum (more than likely she was suffering from post-natal depression).

The children were taken into care, and Bob and his sister Eileen were placed with a family in Sandyford, Co Dublin. They were not well treated, but conditions improved after they were placed with another family in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow.

He enjoyed life in the countryside, although he was frequently flogged at school. At 10 he began to work as a labourer on a farm where the rations were as stingy as the conditions were harsh.

Happy to be reunited with his family two years later at their new home in Stafford Street (now Wolfe Tone Street), he subsequently worked as a houseboy in Sandymount and as an apprentice upholsterer.

He later worked as a clothes presser and shared digs in Capel Street with Kit Conway who recruited him into the IRA.

He later followed Conway into the Communist Party. He took part in street battles with the Blueshirts and the Animal Gang, and one such confrontation left him with permanent damage in his left eye.

In 1937 he decided to join the International Brigade, partly prompted by the fact that Kit Conway had been killed in action in the Battle of Jarama.

His initial attempts to get to Spain ended in failure when, after stowing away on a boat, he was arrested and expelled from Valencia.

However, he successfully entered Spain later that year, crossing the Pyrenees and reporting to a battalion at Figueras. Assigned to train new volunteers because of his IRA training, he disobeyed orders and joined a group heading for the front.

Having seen action at Belchite, he was captured at Gandesa by Italian fascist troops, along with Frank Ryan, commander of the Irish unit.

He was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp near Burgos. While interned there he was once brought out to be shot, and he was regularly tortured by Spanish guards and interrogated by the Gestapo before his release in a prisoner exchange.

Returning in 1939 to Ireland, he failed to find work. In England he got a job building air-raid shelters, and later joined the merchant navy. Based in Liverpool, he witnessed the Luftwaffe s raid on the docks at close quarters. After his discharge, he worked in the printing trade and became active in the Fleet Street unions. Arrested in 1959 during a mass picket in support of the 40-hour week, he was charged with riotous assembly but cleared by an Old Bailey jury.

A member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, he stood as a candidate in local elections. He also was an enthusiastic campaigner, marching in support of the miners, dockers and steelworkers and against the poll tax.

He spoke regularly at Hyde Park Corner, and sold the Irish Democrat and An Phoblacht. He never disavowed his communist beliefs.

Late in life he discovered marijuana and grew cannabis plants at home for his own use. But burglars brought an end to his illicit husbandry. It all got pinched, he said of the theft, and I couldn't go to the police about it.

He visited Spain several times to support the anti-Franco underground.

In 1988 he organised a contingent to visit Barcelona for the unveiling of a memorial to mark the 50th anniversary of the International Brigades farewell to the city.

He was due to accept honorary Spanish citizenship in the coming months. He had not taken up an offer several years ago from the Spanish government as it would have required giving up Irish citizenship. An alteration in the law means that non-Spaniards are now entitled to retain their original citizenship.

Predeceased by his wife Lola in 1997, his sons Julian and Robert survive him.

Bob Doyle: born February 12th, 1916; died January 22nd, 2009

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