20 May 2006

Hitler's Useful Idiot? more on Sean Russell

The notion that Sean Russell’s collaboration with the Third Reich was shameful is not universally accepted. The following is an extract of a letter by Matt Doyle, the Secretary of the National Graves Association, an organisation that seeks to commemorate Irish republicans. The letter is representative of those who take a contrary view

“Over the Christmas period cowardly mindless thugs vandalised a National Monument in Fairview Park. The Sean Russell Monument.

There has been for a number of years a deliberate orchestrated attempt to misinform the public as to the role of Sean Russell’s fight for Irish Freedom……

Sean Russell was no fascist ; he was a proud, dedicated Irish Republican. On board the U-Boat with Russell was the great Irish Socialist Frank Ryan who fought against fascism during the Spanish Civil War.

The dirty tricks used to blemish the good name of this great Irishman are reminiscent of those used to blacken Roger Casement……

The monument not only honoured Russell but the IRA Volunteers of the forties……The National Graves will repair the damage. An appeal fund will be set up to restore the monument.”

I am not sure where this letter was originally published but it can be found on an Indymedia forum discussing Sean Russell (see below).

The letter’s arguments are interesting but are misleading.


That Sean Russell offered his services and those of the IRA to Germany is a matter of fact. Even in 1940 the ugly face of Nazi ideology would have been clear to even the most naïve. Events such as Kristallnacht or the invasions of Poland, Norway, the low countries and France hardly went unreported in Ireland! Brutal as British rule in Ireland was it pales in comparison to the actions of Germany in occupied nations. The pro-German tone of IRA publications during WWII is also a matter of record.

Frank Ryan

Frank Ryan did indeed accompany Russell and there is no doubting his anti fascist credentials. Frank Ryan’s was a republican socialist who led the Irish contingent of International Brigade volunteers in Spain. He was taken prisoner and sentenced to death by the Franco regime but his sentence was subsequently commuted and the Abwehr secured his release in 1940. After Russell’s death Ryan returned to Germany where he died in 1944. I will return to his wartime in a separate post as it deserves far greater consideration.

It is worth noting that Frank Ryan left the IRA in 1934 after a failing to obtain agreement for the creation of a revolutionary mass movement. Doyle also conveniently forgets that IRA members also fought on the Francoist side as part of Eoin O Duffy’s Bandera Irlandesa.


At the time of Sir Roger Casement’s treason trial the British government attempted to stifle support for him by circulating extracts from his “Black Diary” which showed him to be promiscuous homosexual. This was a disgraceful act indeed. The Diary, however, was not a forgery. Drawing comparisons between Casement and Russell is perhaps fair in other respects: both sought assistance from Germany during world wars to advance the Irish cause.

Finally the monument is intended to commemorate other IRA volunteers from the 1940’s. I appreciate that this is a partisan comment on my behalf (it may come as no surprise that I have little love for the IRA or their Unionist counterparts for that matter!) but Russell collaborated with one of the most disgraceful regimes of the 20th century. Imagine the outrage if Germany sought to commemorate its WWII dead with a statue of Hitler.

Sources and further reading

Hitler's Useful Idiot (indymedia forum)

Ireland and the Spanish Civil War This is a treasure trove of information on Irish support for both sides in that conflict.

Frank Ryan(wikipedia entry)

BBC article on Casement's Black Diary

See also my previous post "X’s difficulty is y’s opportunity" for other sources.


Frank Partisan said...

Being in a situation of trying to play off Germany against the UK, is a side effect of narrow nationalism.

Socialists support national struggles, but socialism is not nationalism.

Agnes said...

No, it is not. Or shouldn't be. The nationalism of the "new left" often scares me.

Anonymous said...

"cowardly mindless thugs" for decapitating a statue ? I would have though "cowardly mindless thugs" would be more appropraite for some who collarborated with the worlds greatest tyrant (ok Stalin runs him close) to attempt to kill innocent men, women & children, not to mention any indirect contribution it made to the murder of millions.