An(other) Irish Flashman

For all the current aping by Catalan hypernationalist Josep Lluís Carod-Rovira of Gerry Adams’ sniper chic, and the corresponding romanticisation of IRA-Sinn Fein by Catalan fascists, Irish nationalism has in the past often been closer to Spanish conservative nationalism and fascism than to the tradition of atheistic, centralist republicanism represented by Carod and his followers.

The Spanish Civil War memoirs of Captain Charles J McGuinness–“sailor, soldier, rebel, pearler, gold digger, polar explorer, gun-runner, jail-breaker, rum-runner”–are the most bizarre I have read (the oral history of the man who broke the bank at Teruel will have to wait for another day), and the tale of the rest of his life resembles few others. Published in January 1937 in the Irish Independent, a right-wing, Catholic, nationalist, Franco-supporting Dublin daily, McGuinness’ pieces claim to document his rapid disillusionment with life in Republican ranks. Here he is with the International Brigades in Albacete, being driven to the graveyard:

I noticed the direction we were heading. I knew of the murder in the barber’s shop. I had seen the trucks drive off and I felt our destination was similar to where they went.

‘We are going to the cemetery, I imagine,’ I said. But as none of the column bore arms I did not grasp the real meaning of our mission.

An hour’s march brought us to the cemetery gates. As in all Spanish cemeteries today, sentries were posted all around. We passed through into the beautifully kept central walk and soon arrived at the further wall. We halted in marching alignment, three deep, facing inwards.

‘About turn!’ we turned about–

And so on.

There’s nothing in this particular tale that stands out as being untrue, and the British consul in Barcelona confirmed that McGuinness did actually desert from Republican ranks (see Feargal McGarry, Irish Politics and the Spanish Civil War). Nevertheless, McGuinness is too much of a prudish Frank Harris to be able to believe too much of what he writes, and he doesn’t provide the level of detail that would enable one to refute him; also, these articles formed part of the propaganda campaign that accompanied the raising of the 15th Bandera (which of course was not at all the same as Christy Moore’s quince brigada) and should be seen in that light.

(Doiminic Bell has a very interesting dissertation / site dealing with the Irish and the Spanish war. One day I may get round to posting on the O’Neills, too.)

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