Fearghal McGarry teaches history at Queen's University Belfast. He is the author of several books on twentieth-century Irish history including Eoin O'Duffy: A Self-Made Hero (OUP, 2005) and The Rising. Ireland: Easter 1916 (OUP, 2010). Rebels: Voices from the Easter Rising will shortly be published by Penguin Ireland.
One of the most famous revolutionaries in Irish history, Frank Ryan fought in the War of Independence and Irish Civil War, before becoming a leader of the inter-war Irish Republican Army. Embracing socialist republicanism in the 1930s, Ryan became a founding member of the short-lived but influential Republican Congress, and led the Irish contingent within the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Following his capture by Franco's forces, his release was secured by the efforts of German military intelligence which sought to use him to further its wartime alliance with the IRA. He spent the final years of his life as an advisor to the Nazi regime. This study provides a concise reinterpretation of Ryan's controversial life and legacy based on primary sources, including much previously unpublished material. Setting Ryan's career within the wider context of the violent politics of inter-war Europe, it examines his remarkable ideological journey from socialist republicanism to Nazi collaboration. It concludes by examining why - despite his lack of political success - Ryan became such a widely admired figure in modern Irish politics.
Socialist Republican, 1932-6
'Bookworm [History Ireland] is always on the lookout for publications that appeal to a particular type of reader: Leaving Cert and A-level student, languid undergrad, or general readers whose enthusiasm for history is not matched by the necessary leisure time to plough through academic monographs … A case in point was the 'Life and Times' series published by the Historical Association of Ireland in the 1990s, which aimed 'to place the lives of leading figures in Irish history against the background of new research'. The good news is that the series is back, with the same mission statement, this time published by UCD Press.'
'Also welcome is the new series of the Historical Association of Ireland’s Life and Times concise biographies, which started out some years ago under the Dundalgan Press imprint. It has now been taken over by the excellent UCD Press and given a makeover and smart new livery, keeping the bright blue colour scheme of the originals. The aim of the series is to provide scholarly and accessibly brief biographies of major figures in Irish history by experts in the field, suitable for Leaving Certificate, A level and undergraduate students but also for the general reader.'
‘Is it that Ireland only produces flawed heroes or that we cannot refrain from looking for flaws in great men? Only has only to think of Daniel O’Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and Patrick Pearse to think of heroes who have had their flaws picked over by historians and others. Ryan is a particularly ambiguous case and questions over his integrity have marred his reputation. A left-leaning Republican, he fought in the Spanish civil war but it is his involvement with the Nazis that mars his standing. That bald statement is misleading since his involvement was as their prisoner, but he was suspected of collaboration. The outstanding Irish historian of this period, McGarry, delivers a brief but complex account of Ryan’s life from his early days as a Republican to his alleged collaboration with the Germans during the second world war. He deals in some detail with the accusations about Ryan’s time in Germany but generally comes down in favour of recognising his integrity.’
‘Frank Ryan is one republican figure who hasn’t been enshrined in the Gaelic pantheon. Ryan joined the Civil War anti-Treatyites as a boy in 1922 and was a leading IRA dissident through the heated 1930s. Between bouts of prison and his journalistic career – he was editor of An Phoblacht – he exasperated de Valera, as he and his men repeatedly refused to ‘bahave themselves’. Cultivated, swarthy and attractively reckless, Ryan counted among his paramours Rosamond Jacob, whose diary extracts add allure to this monograph. McGarry’s writing is fresh, critical and impartial. The shadowy twilight of Ryan’s life is, however, evasively handled. Ryan’s fight against fascism in the Spanish Civil War ended sadly in Germany, where he became an adviser to the Nazis, and this remains a subject of intrigue. Anyone interested in the anomalies of Irish history should read McGarry’s book.’
'Fearghal McGarry’s painstakingly accurate and brutally honest biography is a welcome antidote to the romantic nonesense and humbug which still surrounds the public perception of Frank Ryan.'
Read more here: Irish Catholic Frank Ryan review 24 Feb 2011
J. Anthony Gaughan
24 February 2011