Bob Doyle

The Sunday Independent, February 1, 2009

He was the last of the Irish who fought for Spanish democracy, writes Eugene McCartan

Bob Doyle, the last member of the Irish Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), died in London last week.

Born in a tenement inNorth King Street, Dublin, two months before the EasterRising, he was one of a family of five placed in foster care with nuns in Co Wicklow. He describedhis experience there: "Most of the time we had religion, Irish and Catholic nationalism. The nuns were severe and sadistic."His father was at sea and his mother was confined to a mental asylum. Later, the family was reunited and lived in Stafford Street, Dublin.

He joined the Dublin battalion of the IRA, and in 1933 Bob followed his mentor and close comrade Kit Conway into the Republican Congress and the Communist Party of Ireland.

Like many of the Irish volunteers he identified the struggle to defend the democratically elected Republican government of Spain as a fight for democracy everywhere and held that the participation of the Blueshirts on the side of Franco had besmirched the good name of the Irish people.

He made his own way to Spain, landing in Valencia. In Cadiz Bob witnessed the docked German and Italian battleships which, according to the British and French governments (with their policy of non-intervention), did not officially exist. He returned to Spain in December 1937, crossing over the Pyrenees on foot like thousands of other volunteers from across Europe.

He became a weapons instructor with the International Brigade. Reports from the Kremlin archives picture him as a plain-speaking, tough but kind and considerateofficer.

Bob, eager to join in the fighting, disobeyed orders and joined a group going to the front line. After heavy fighting at Belchite he, along with another Irishman Frank Ryan of the International Brigades,was taken prisoner by Italian fascist troops on the Aragon front in March 1938.

Despite what many have subsequently said and written about the role of the Soviet Union and its aid to the Spanish Republic, Bob would recall his own experiences of the important contribution made by Soviet fighter pilots and weaponry to the forces of the Spanish Republic.

He was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp in the disused monastery of San Pedro. He was interrogated and photographed by visiting Gestapo officers and brutally beaten by camp guards for minor breaches of the prison rules. Bob was released as part of a prisoner exchange and returned to Dublin.

During the Second World War he enlisted in the British Merchant Navy. It was in London that he met and married his wife, Lola, who worked at the Spanish Embassy in London. After the war Bob made frequent trips back to Spain to engage in clandestine work for the underground left-wing and trade union movement.

Settling permanently in London after the war he became a militant print worker and shop steward and a lifelong member of the Connolly Association and the Communist Party. Bob spent the last number of years encouraging young people to stand up for social justice and world peace.

His ashes will be brought back to his native city of Dublin on Saturday, February 14, with a public march from the Garden of Remembrance, Parnell Square, at 12 noon to Liberty Hall, for a memorial event to mark his life.

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