The Spanish Civil War has an enduring fascination, not least for the way it drew some 35,000 non-Spaniards to risk their lives to halt the march of fascism. It has also acquired renewed relevance from the surge of neo-fascism in Europe. At the same time, the representation of International Brigaders as champions of liberty and stainless heroes has been subject to increasing scrutiny, notably since the opening up of former Soviet archives.
This definitive study of the Connolly Column – the Irish who fought for Republican Spain – reassesses the Irish experience in the light of sources at home and in Russia, Spain, Germany, Austria, and Britain, driven by a conviction that Ireland was not so isolated in the 1930s and needs to be understood in a more comparative way. Interrogating the publicity generated by the supporters of the Spanish Republic in Ireland, north and south, it shows too how communist groups in Spain waged the war with one eye on its propaganda value back home and uncovers fresh evidence on the controversial career of Frank Ryan.
The account is exceptional in providing a detailed narrative of what the Irish actually did in Spain. In graphic descriptions of combat and army routine behind the lines, it illustrates how International Brigades units operated, how politics affected their efficiency, and what their command systems meant for the life, and death, of ordinary brigadistas.