This biography by Sean Cronin, the former Washington correspondent for the Irish Times concerns a largely forgotten Republican leader, orator and journalist who I think deserves greater attention.
Frank Ryan was active in the East Limerick brigade from his teenage years during the Treaty negotiations and also later on while a student in UCD he fought on the Anti Treaty side. An active member of the Gaelic League Ryan took a hard line after the Civil War and broke with De Valera over the Oath of Allegiance and Partition. He was active politically in the twenties and thirties both through his journalism in An Phoblacht and public speaking pushed his ideas of promoting the union of Republicanism and the Labour movement in opposition to the social conservatism of the Free State and naturally opposed the Fascist Blueshirt movement of Eoin O’Duffy.
The bulk of the IRA split from him because of his more radical views. As the thirties went on he found it more difficult to get his ideas published and after the outbreak of the Spanish Civil war left to fight with the international brigade on the government side. Ryan was held as a prisoner of war up to 1940 by Franco. Saved from execution by his status as a leader, the Irish government did not pay for his release unlike other surviving brigade fighters and his release was in fact into Nazi Occupied France. He was brought to Berlin and the Nazis planned to send him and Sean Russell back to Ireland to lead the IRA in a fight against the British.
Russell died on the U-boat voyage and Ryan felt he had to return to Berlin. Stranded in Nazi Germany he became friendly with Francis Stuart but Ryan had been sufffering from poor health since injury and imprisonment in Spain and he died before the end of the war. He was only 41. He was definitely one of the more outward looking, progressive leaders in Ireland and might have lead an opposition to the stultifying conservatism which affected the country from the thirties onward. It’s a well-researched interesting biography written at a time (1980) when many of Ryan’s contemporaries were still alive who were interviewed for the book. Due for a re-issue, I hope!
You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.