Brendan Byrne, Eugene Downing's nephew, has worked as a trade unionist all his life and has written regularly for publication relating to Irish labour and working-class history including Irish Labour History and Saothar. Mícheál Ó hAodha is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Limerick, Department of History and has also worked as Visiting Lecturer in the School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice, UCD, and the Department of Education, NUIG. His books have been published with many publishers in Ireland and internationally. He also works as a translator and recent translations from the Irish include: Seán Ó Ríordáin: Life and Work (Mercier, 2018); Exiles (Parthian, 2020); This Road of Mine (Lilliput, 2020). Barry McLoughlin retired as Senior Lecturer for Irish and Contemporary History at Vienna University in 2016. He is the author of Left to the Wolves: Irish Victims of Stalinist Terror (2007) and five books (as co-author and editor) on aspects of Stalinism and Soviet State terror. Other published work includes Fighting for Republican Spain 1936-38: Frank Ryan and the Volunteers from Limerick in the International Brigade (Lulu Press, 2014) and In Spanish Trenches: The Mind and Deeds of the Irish Who Fought for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War (UCD Press, 2020).
Eugene Downing (1913-2003) was not your usual Irish brigader: a communist from his teenage years, an urbanised skilled worker, and an Irish language enthusiast. Downing had no immediate Republican record, joining the communist Workers Groups in Dublin just out of his apprenticeship as an electrician. Despite this backdrop, Downing spent nine months in the International Brigades Spain before being invalided home (amputated lower left leg) in December 1938. His memoirs are presented here in English for the first time.
One Foot in a Spanish Grave: Eugene Downing's Memoir of the International Brigades in Spain - published in the Irish language as La Nina Bonita agus An Róisín Dubh: Cuimhní Cinn ar Chogadh Cathartha na Spáinne - has been long worthy of a translation into English. The structure of the original Irish text has been altered slightly, with some appendices omitted. Translated by Micheál Ó hAodha, edited and introduced by Barry McLoughlin, One Foot in a Spanish Grave begins with Brendan Byrne, Eugene's nephew, sharing his memories of a highly non-conformist uncle.
Downing's portrayal of life in the International Brigades is often humourous, greatly generous when judging others, but ultimately critical of political zealotry. He proves himself to be a wry observer of his fellow volunteers and of his own youthful militancy in the virulently anti-communist Dublin of the 1930s.
This text is a translation of Eoghan Ó Duinnín's (Eugene Downing's) book La Nina Bonita agus An Róisín Dubh: Cuimhní Cinn ar Chogadh Cathartha na Spáinne (An Clóchomhar, Baile Átha Cliath, 1986). The Irish-language rights for this book lie with Cló Iar-Chonnacht, Indreabhán, Co. na Gaillimhe.
'This is the kind of book that gives academic anthologies a good name.' - Books Ireland, November 2023. Read the full review here.