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11 September 2008 Edition

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Remembering the Past: Frank Ryan

RYAN, 1933: Resigned as An Phoblacht editor

RYAN, 1933: Resigned as An Phoblacht editor


FRANK RYAN, IRA leader, editor of An Phoblacht, founder of Republican Congress and officer of the International Brigade in Spain, was a native of Elton, near Knocklong, County Limerick.
Educated at the local national school and at St Colman’s College, Fermoy, and Rockwell College, near Cashel, Ryan joined the IRA at an early age. He was a member of the East Limerick Brigade during the Tan War. He entered University College Dublin in September 1921 and opposed the Treaty. In September 1922, he was on the run in the mountains of Tipperary when he and his comrades were captured after a short gunfight with the Free State Army.
Ryan was interned in Hare Park in the Curragh where he first showed his talent as a journalist, editing the camp journal An Giorria (The Hare). On his release, Frank returned to his studies in UCD, where he was active in An Cumann Gaelach. He won a gold medal for oratory in Irish (which was presented to him by Douglas Hyde) and he edited the journal An Réult. He became O/C of the UCD Company of the IRA and founded the Universities Republican Club.
The IRA appointed him editor of its internal monthly bulletin, An tÓglach, and Adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. In 1926, Ryan became assistant editor of An Phoblacht, under the editorship of Peadar O’Donnell. He succeeded O’Donnell as editor and the paper played an increasingly effective role in opposing the Free State government of WT Cosgrave and championed the campaign against land annuities. 1929 was the centenary of ‘Catholic Emancipation’ and Ryan published a pamphlet giving the republican view of Daniel O’Connell as an enemy of Irish freedom.

In April 1931, the IRA adopted the Saor Éire programme, a socialist republican manifesto. Saor Éire held its first Congress in Dublin in September 1931 but a month later was banned by the Cosgrave regime along with the IRA. The ban was followed by a denunciation from the Catholic bishops. Further state repression saw republicans tried before a military tribunal and locked up in Arbour Hill. An Phoblacht was suppressed and was replaced by Republican File, edited by Ryan, before he too was lodged in Arbour Hill.
After the general election victory of Fianna Fáil in 1932, republicans were able to organise openly again but the IRA leadership was divided over the way forward. Activists like Ryan and Peadar O’Donnell and George Gilmore argued for putting the IRA’s socialist policies into practice and organising politically. Frustrated at lack of progress and interference in his editorship, Ryan left An Phoblacht in spring 1933.
After a spell organising Fianna Éireann - in which Brendan Behan was one of his recruits - Ryan pressed the idea of a congress of republican opinion. A motion to this effect was narrowly defeated at the IRA Convention of March 1934 and Ryan, O’Donnell and Gilmore left the IRA, establishing the Republican Congress in Athlone the following month. Ryan edited the weekly Republican Congress. Congress itself split later that year, divided between those seeking a broad front and those for setting up a socialist party.

In November 1936, Frank Ryan set out to fight for the Spanish Republic against General Franco’s fascists. “We want to show that there is a close bond between the democracies of Ireland and Spain,” Ryan told reporters. “Our fight is the fight of the Spanish people, as it is of all people who are the victims of tyranny.”
Ryan was a key figure in the International Brigade, which included scores of Irishmen, many of them former IRA members. He was wounded in the Battle of Jarama in 1937, captured and sentenced to death the following year. A campaign for reprieve led to de Valera’s intervention and after the death sentence was commuted, Ryan was handed over to the German authorities in August 1940. That same month he travelled by U-boat with IRA Chief of Staff Seán Russell, who died on board before they could land in Ireland. Russell was buried at sea and Ryan returned to Germany, where he remained until his death in June 1944.
Frank Ryan was born on 11 September 1902, 106 years ago this week.

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