Eoin O'Duffy

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Eoin O'Duffy
Eoin O'Duffy.png
Born 20 October 1892
Lough Egish, Monaghan, Ireland
Died 30 November 1944 (aged 52)
Nationality Irish
Occupation politician, soldier, police, engineer
Party Sinn Féin (1917–1923)
Cumann na nGaedheal (1923–1933)
Fine Gael (1933–1935)
National Corporate Party (1935–1937)
Religion Catholic

Teachtaí Dála for Monaghan
Term 24 May 1921 – 27 August 1923
Predecessor new post
Successor Patrick Duffy

Commissioner of An Garda Síochána
Term September 1922 – February 1933
Predecessor Michael Staines
Successor Eamon Broy

Eoin O'Duffy (Irish: Eoin Ó Dubhthaigh; 20 October 189230 November 1944) was an Irish politician, soldier, engineer and police commissioner, who played a central role in shaping the political landscape in Ireland during the 20th century. He led the Monaghan Brigade of the IRA during the armed conflict in which Irish nationalists were seeking to secede from the United Kingdom. He was elected to the Irish parliament—the Dáil—as a TD for Sinn Féin in 1921. O'Duffy became Chief of Staff for the IRA and supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty; during the ensuing Irish Civil War he defended the new state, supressing red-republican subversives.

After the war he became the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the Army Comrades Association (also known as the Blueshirts) and then the first leader of Fine Gael (1933–34). O'Duffy put together a 750-strong group of Irishmen who, as the XV Bandera Irlandesa del Terico fought for the Nationalist side in the Spanish Civil War. Later, O'Duffy offered to put together an Irish brigade during war against the Soviet Union, but this was not taken up.

Early life

Eoin O'Duffy was born Owen O'Duffy in Lough Egish, near Castleblayney, County Monaghan. O'Duffy did an apprenticeship as an engineer in Wexford before working as an engineer and architect in Monaghan. In 1919 he became an auctioneer. O'Duffy was a leading member of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ulster in the 1910s. A stand in a ground in Clones, County Monaghan, is named after him.

War of Independence

In 1917 O'Duffy joined the Irish Republican Army and took an active part in the War of Independence. In February 1920, he (along with Ernie O'Malley) was involved in the first capture of a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks by the IRA in Ballytrain, in his native Monaghan. He was imprisoned several times but became director of the army in 1921. In May 1921, he was returned as a Sinn Féin TD for the Monaghan constituency to the Second Dáil. In January of the following year he became IRA Chief of Staff, replacing Richard Mulcahy. O'Duffy was the youngest general in Europe until Francisco Franco was promoted to that rank.

Civil War General & An Garda Síochána

In 1921 he supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He served as a general in the Free State Army in the ensuing Irish Civil War and was one of the brains behind the Free State's strategy of seaborne landings into Republican held areas. He successfully took Limerick city for the Free State in July 1922, before being held up in heavy fighting south of the city. The enmities of the civil war era were to stay with O'Duffy throughout the rest of his political career, particularly as many units under his command committed many brutal atrocities during the civil war, such as the Ballyseedy Massacre.

After the war, O'Duffy became Commissioner of An Garda Síochána (the Civic Guard) when the Irish Free State was established in 1922.

Following another general election in 1933 Éamon de Valera dismissed O'Duffy as Garda Commissioner. In the Dáil de Valera explained the reason for his dismissal,

"he [O'Duffy] was likely to be biased in his attitude because of past political affiliations".

The true reason, however, appears to have been the new government's discovery that in 1932, O'Duffy's was one of the voices urging Cosgrave to resort to a military coup rather than to turn over power to the incoming Fianna Fáil administration. O'Duffy refused the offer of another position of equivalent rank in the public service.

Leader of the ACA and Embrace of Fascism

In July 1933 O'Duffy became leader of the Army Comrades Association, which had been ostensibly set up to protect Cumann na nGaedhael public meetings, which had been disrupted under the slogan "No Free Speech for Traitors" by Irish Republican Army men newly confident since the elections. O'Duffy and many other conservative elements within the Irish Free State began to embrace fascist ideology, which was very much in vogue at that time. He immediately changed the name of this new movement to the National Guard. O'Duffy was an admirer of the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and his organisation adopted outward symbols of European fascism, such as the straight-arm Roman salute and the distinctive blue uniform. It was not long before they became known as the Blueshirts.

In August 1933 a parade was planned by the Blueshirts in Dublin to commemorate Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, both of whom had died 11 years earlier. This was a clear imitation of Mussolini's March on Rome and was widely perceived as such despite claims to the contrary by Blueshirt apologists. De Valera feared a similar coup d'état and as a result the parade was banned.

By September the Blueshirts were declared an illegal organisation. To circumvent this ban the movement once again adopted a new name, this time styling itself the League of Youth.

O'Duffy and some of his men also made an appearance at the 1936 International Fascist conference in Montreux where he argued against antisemitism.[1]

Fine Gael

In September 1933 Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party and the Blueshirt movement merged to form Fine Gael. O'Duffy, though not a TD, became the first leader, with former President of the Executive Council, (prime minister) W. T. Cosgrave serving as parliamentary leader. The National Guard, now rechristened the Young Ireland Association, was transformed from an illegal paramilitary group into the militant wing of a political party. However, meetings were often attacked by IRA men. O'Duffy proved to be a weak leader - he was a military leader rather than political, and he was temperamental. In September 1934 O'Duffy suddenly and unexpectedly resigned as leader of Fine Gael. He went on to form the National Corporate Party.

Spanish Civil War

The Blueshirt movement had begun to disintegrate also, so much so that by 1935 the organisation no longer existed. In June 1935 O'Duffy launched the unabashedly fascist National Corporate Party with a military wing was the known as the Greenshirts. The following year the General organised an Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Despite the declaration by the Irish Government that participation in the war was ill-advised and unsupported, 700 of O'Duffy's followers went to Spain to fight on Franco's side (around 250 other Irishmen went to fight for the Republicans). They saw their primary role in Spain as fighting communism, rather than defending Spain's territorial integrity. As a result, O'Duffy's men saw little fighting in Spain and were sent home by Franco, returning in June 1937. A contingent of Anti-Treaty IRA veterans fought on the opposite side in the Spanish Civil War (see the Connolly Column).[2]

Retirement and Death

O'Duffy returned to Ireland from Spain in disarray. He retired from politics completely, apart from a low-level dalliance with National Socialism. He is thought to have met with IRA figures and members of the German consulate in the summer of 1939. In the summer of 1943 O'Duffy approached the German Legation in Dublin with an offer to organise an Irish Volunteer Legion for use on the Russian Front. He explained his offer to the German ambassador as a wish to "save Europe from Bolshevism". He requested an aircraft to be sent from Germany so that he could conduct the necessary negotiations in Berlin. The offer was "not taken seriously".[3] By this time his health had begun to seriously deteriorate and he died on 30 November 1944, aged 52. He was afforded a state funeral by the government. Following requiem mass in the Pro-Cathedral he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Following his return from fighting for the nationalists against communism in Spain, O'Duffy authored a book.

  • Crusade in Spain (1938)


  1. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,754480,00.html
  2. Thomas Gunning, former secretary to O'Duffy, was also a "suspect" for Irish military Intelligence (G2) having remained in Spain after the rest of the Irish volunteers for Franco departed under a cloud of recrimination. Gunning worked as a newspaper correspondent in Spain for a short time then made his way to Berlin where he worked for the Propaganda ministry until his death in 1940.
  3. See Stephan, Enno: Spies in Ireland (1963) P.232

Further Information/Sources

See also