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Andrew Flanagan and the International Brigades

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Bob Doyle (12th February 1916-22nd January 2009)
 

Statement issued by Manus O'Riordan earlier today. (slightly edited, CC)

The last surviving Irish combatant on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War has died, leaving one surviving Irish veteran, Paddy Cochrane.

Bob Doyle passed away in London on Thursday, aged 92, after a short illness.

Doyle was born in Dublin on February 12, 1916, shortly before the Easter Rising, and became politically active himself in the 1930s, joining the IRA after being beaten up in street fights with the Blueshirts which left him with permanent damage in one eye.

But he quickly became more interested in social issues and, in 1937, decided to volunteer for the International Brigade, motivated in part by the fact that his former flatmate Kit Conway had been killed in action at the Battle of Jarama on Doyle's 21st birthday.

He was foiled in his initial attempts, arrested and expelled from Valencia after he had stowed away on a boat. Undeterred, he eventually made it back to Spain later that year by crossing the Pyrenees.

Initially deployed to train new volunteers, as a result of his IRA experience, he disobeyed orders in order to join a group heading for the front line. After engaging in battle at Belchite, he was taken prisoner by Italian fascist troops on the Aragon front in March 1938, along with Irish International Brigade leader Frank Ryan.

He was imprisoned for 11 months in a concentration camp established in the disused monastery of San Pedro, near Burgos, where he was regularly tortured by Spanish fascist guards and interrogated by the German Gestapo and, once, taken out to be shot.

Released as part of a prisoner exchange deal, Doyle enlisted in the British Merchant Navy for the duration of the Second World War before settling in London with his Spanish wife Lola.

Active until the very end, Doyle was a regular visitor to both his native Ireland and to Spain for International Brigade commemorations and, in 1996, along with all other survivors of the Brigades, was offered Spanish citizenship. He delivered his last speech at the rededication of Belfast’s International Brigade memorial on November 8.

He published an account of his experiences in Since Michael O'Riordan's passing in May of that year, Doyle had been the last surviving Irish combatant in the International Brigade.

Doyle is survived by his sons Bob and Julian, grandchildren and great-grandchildren

From Geocities website

See Ireland and the Spanish Civil War for extensive material on Bob Doyle's life and times on Ciaran Crossey's website.

 
 
The death has occurred in London of Bob Doyle, the last surviving Irish soldier of the XV International Brigade of the Spanish Republican Army. Bob, whose health had been failing for some time had survived a recent double heart attack, before passing peacefully last night surrounded by his family. He was a few weeks short of his 93rd birthday.

Bob's career as an political activist has been recorded in his book Brigadista, which recounted his early life in Dublin as a Republican volunteer and later as a member of the Republican Congress, prior to his abortive first attempt to fight against Franco in July 1937, which saw him stow away on a ship to Valencia.

On his return to London (which he was to make his home for the remainder of his life) Bob contacted the CP and arrived in Spain by the more usual route, walking over the Pyrenees in a group of 15 volunteers, including the writer Laurie Lee. Bob was given basic military training and promoted quickly due to his aptitude and experience. Assigned to a training base behind the lines, Bob disobeyed orders and left with a detachment of British volunteers to take part in the second battle of Belchite in February 1938. He was captured at Calaciete with Frank Ryan and survived the concentration camp of San Pedro, before being released in a prisoner exchange in February 1939.

Bob joined the merchant navy on the outbreak of the second world war, where he received a medical discharge for an ulcer. He spent the remainder of the war as a firewatcher on the roof of the CP offices in central London.

He threw himself into political activity after the war and was one of the Communist leaders of a major printworkers' strike in 1959 and the fight for a 40 hour week. Bob was also undertaking more dangerous work, frequently travelling to Franco's Spain helping to organise the underground unions there.

Bob was an unusual Communist. This writer first encountered him in London during a Poll Tax demonstration, dressed in a top hat and tails. Bob was to be seen on many demonstrations in London throughout this period for a variety of causes and was not shy of confrontation with the bosses or the police. Bob was also a firm advocate of the legalisation of cannabis and was an enthusiastic grower of the herb in his north London greenhouse.
 
More recently, Bob has been in involved with Spanish Civil War commemorations both here in Ireland and in Spain and he was due to accept honorary Spanish citizenship in the coming months. He hadn't taken up an offer extended several years ago from the Zapatero government as it would have required giving up his Irish citizenship in exchange. Under a new law, however, non-Spaniards are entitled to retain their original citizenship.

Bob attended his last commemoration at Jarama last February where he delivered a a speech fired with passion and anger attacking global capital and the hold it still has on the world.

Bob's funeral arrangements are to be announced next week.

No Pasarán
 
 
For more information see Ireland and the Spanish Civil War