Frank Ryan (Irish republican)

Frank Ryan (Irish republican)

Frank Ryan (1902, Elton, Co. Limerick—June 10 1944, Dresden) was a prominent member of the Irish Republican Army, editor of "An Phoblacht", leftist activist and leader of Irish volunteers on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

Early life

Frank Ryan attended University College Dublin where he was a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) training corps, but left before graduating in order to join the IRA's East Limerick Brigade in 1922. He fought on the Republican side in the Irish Civil War, and was wounded and interned. In November 1923 he was released and returned to University College Dublin, graduating in 1925. He briefly edited two IRA publications, "An Reult" and "An tÓglach". In 1926, he was appointed adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. In 1929, Ryan was appointed editor of "An Phoblacht" and was elected to the IRA Army Council.

In 1931, Ryan was imprisoned for publishing seditious articles in "An Phoblacht". Later that year, he was again imprisoned for contempt of court.

In 1933, Ryan, along with George Gilmore and Peadar O'Donnell, proposed the establishment of a new left-republican organisation to be called the Republican Congress. This would form the basis of a mass revolutionary movement appealing to the working class and small farmers. At an IRA Army Convention, they narrowly failed to gain approval for the proposal. Ryan and his allies therefore left the IRA to set it up, with Ryan becoming editor of its eponymous newspaper. In 1935, he also established two publishing concerns, the Cooperative Press and Liberty Press, to circumvent the difficulties in publishing left-wing material.

Involvement in Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Frank Ryan devoted himself to publicising the Spanish Republican cause in public meetings. This was no easy task, given the strength of pro-Franco feeling whipped up by the Catholic Church and its political allies. Pro-Republican meetings were frequently attacked by mobs, and on one occasion Ryan had to climb up a lamp-post to escape from a crowd which attacked a meeting he was addressing in York Street; he was eventually rescued by his former comrades in the IRA.

Despite his deafness in late 1936 Frank Ryan travelled to Spain with about 80 men he had succeeded in recruiting to fight in the International Brigades on the Republican side. Ryan's men are sometimes referred to as the "Connolly Column".

He served in the Lincoln-Washington Brigade rising to Brigadier. He fought in a number of engagements until he was seriously wounded in March 1937, and returned to Ireland to recover. He took advantage of the opportunity of his return to launch another left-republican newspaper, entitled "The Irish Democrat". On his return to Spain, he again served in the war until he was captured by Italian "volunteer" troops fighting for the Nationalists in March 1938. He was accused of murder, court-martialled, and sentenced to death before being incarcerated in Burgos Prison in 1938. His sentence was later commuted to thirty years hard labour in January 1940.

'Escape' from Burgos Prison 1940

In October 1938 Ryan was visited in Burgos Prison by the Irish Minister to Spain, Leopold Kerney. [Eamon Kerney, "Leopold H. Kerney - Irish Minister to Spain 1935 - 1946"] , at the Ireland and the Spanish Civil War website; also available at [ Leopold H. Kerney Website] ] Kerney hired a lawyer for Ryan, (Jaime Michel de Champourcin), but in spite of all his efforts, could not secure his release. It was through de Champourcin's contacts with Abwehr chief Wilhelm Canaris, and within the Franco Government that saw Ryan released into Abwehr hands on 15 July 1940. [Carter in "Shamrock and the Swastika", page 114, claims that the Irish Government did make efforts on Ryan's behalf, including the commutation of his death sentence to 30 years hard labour and brokering of a deal via de Champourcin, Abwehr, German Foreign Ministry and Franco whereby Ryan could be released on condition he never returned to Spain again. The theory also exists that Seán Russell had made attempts to pressurise the Germans into having Ryan released.] The handover took place on the Spanish border at Irun-Hendaye. A cover story that Ryan had "escaped" was released at the time. Ryan was taken to the Spanish border by Madrid based Abwehr agent Wolfgang Blaum and handed over to Sonderführer Kurt Haller. From the border, Ryan was first taken to the resort town of Biarritz then on to Paris where he received several days hospitality courtesy of the Abwehr. He was then transported to Berlin, and reunited with Seán Russell on 4 August 1940.

Activities in Germany 1940 - 1944

On his arrival in Berlin Ryan was introduced to SS Colonel Dr. Edmund Veesenmayer. Veesenmayer, as part of his roving SS and German Foreign Ministry brief, was intimately involved in the planning of all Abwehr operations in Ireland during 1940 - 1943, particularly those involving Russell and Ryan. Within 3 days of arriving Ryan set out to return to Ireland as part of Operation Dove ("Unternehmen Taube" in German). Although Ryan had not been involved in the training or preparation for Dove both he and Russell departed aboard U-65 on 8 August 1940. When Russell became ill and died during the journey, Ryan asked the Captain of U-65, Hans-Jerrit von Stockhausen, to cable Germany and ask for fresh instructions before proceeding. The mission was subsequently aborted and Ryan returned to Germany via Bordeaux. [Carter in "Shamrock and the Swastika" points out that Ryan considered himself more a passenger returning home than a part of the mission.]

After the failure of Operation Dove, Ryan remained in Berlin and occasionally met with Francis Stuart. Between Autumn 1940 and January 1943 he lived in Berlin with Abwehr intelligence assets Helmut Clissmann and Hans Ritter. During this time he used the cover name "Mr. Richard" and it is reported that his deafness had worsened by this stage of his life. Around the end of 1940, a "Where is Frank Ryan?" campaign began in the "Irish Press". In response to this Frank Ryan wrote a letter to Leopold Kerney, Irish Minister in Madrid, explaining his whereabouts. Abwehr II's war diary records that the Government of the Republic of Ireland ('Éire'), (the territory formerly known as the Irish Free State), was made aware of Ryan's whereabouts between 11 December and 19 December 1940 by Abwehr agent Elizabeth Clissmann who had hand delivered the letter on Ryan's behalf. Ryan instructed Clissmann not to tell Kerney that Russell had died onboard U-65 although this information appears to have already been leaked. [Carter in "Shamrock and the Swastika", page 119, has it the other way around from Hull in "Irish Secrets". Carter claims the Abwehr, not Ryan, contacted Kerney via Clissmann to inform Kerney of Ryan's whereabouts. This was in an effort to quieten Irish public opinion on the subject so they could utilise Ryan "without incriminating Germany". Clissmann is also reported to have told Kerney that Russell had died in France.]

In May 1941 Abwehr Operation Whale ("Unternehmen Walfisch" in German) a plan to land a seaplane on a lake in Ireland was expanded to include resupply of the IRA with money and a transmitter. Ryan was to be the IRA contact. After these changes to the plan it became known as Operation Sea Eagle ("Unternehmen Seeadler" in German). [Also known as Operation Dove II ("Unternehmen Taube II") by the German Foreign Ministry.] Ryan was asked for his co-operation in the planning for Operation Sea Eagle. The written proposal for Operation Sea Eagle gives some supposedly biographical details for Ryan composed by Veesenmayer. It is not known whether Ryan lead Veesenmayer to include these statements in the proposal or whether Veesenmayer added them to increase the chances of Operation Sea Eagle being sponsored; either way Veesenmayer did not stress Ryan's Communist sympathies and included a number of inaccuracies, and embellishments:

"... he is one of the leading Irish nationalists [and] has been for many years a member of the leader's council of the Irish Republican Army, and a participant in numerous fights against England."

"In 1929 the [British] Secret Service carried out an unsuccessful assassination attempt against him and he has often been in jail since."

"He has extensive connections with the Irish republican circles up to de Valera's closest entourage and with de Valera himself, as well as to the Irish regular army, the nationalist Irishmen in Northern Ireland and especially the leading Irishmen in America."

"Unternehmen Gastwirt"). Ryan had groomed Codd using the pseudonyms "Frank Richards" and "Mr. Maloney".

Once a feared invasion of Éire by US Troops stationed in Northern Ireland in 1942 failed to materialize, Ryan was dropped as a mission specialist in further covert Abwehr and Foreign Ministry plans and operations. [An invasion by American troops was anticipated in Germany, and to a lesser extent in Ireland. de Valera has vigorously protested the deployment of American troops to Northern Ireland. See article: for more details.] He was approached late 1943 for his opinion on the feasibility of a "Geheimsender" (secret transmitter) propaganda operation in Ireland for broadcast to the United States, but the plan never reached fruition. It is also known that he discussed Francis Stuart's radio broadcasts with him prior to their commencement.

He died in June 1944 at a hospital in Dresden-Loschwitz. His funeral in Dresden was attended by Elizabeth Clissmann and Francis Stuart. Clissmann eventually forwarded details of Ryan's fate to Leopold Kerney in Madrid. According to Stuart and Clissmann, the cause of death was pleurisy and pneumonia.

Outside of Abwehr planning, during the four years he spent in the Third Reich, there is no indication that Ryan ever approached the German authorities about returning to the island of Ireland.

Events after Ryan's death

In 1963, historian Enno Stephan located Ryan's grave in Dresden, German Democratic Republic. Ryan's remains were repatriated to the Irish Republic in 1979. His coffin was borne to the grave by surviving Irish veterans of the Spanish Civil War.


* Irish singer Christy Moore's song "Viva La Quinte Brigada" is in large part a tribute to Frank Ryan and his efforts in the Spanish Civil War.
* The character Liam Devlin in the Jack Higgins 1975 thriller "The Eagle has Landed" seems to be based on Frank Ryan. Higgins's Devlin, like Ryan, is an IRA man who has fought on the Republican side in Spain, was captured and was afterwards passed on to the Germans - but in the book he is then recruited to join a (fictional) commando raid into England, aimed at capturing Churchill.
* He is referenced by The Pogues in their song "The Sickbed of Cuchulainn", with the line "Frank Ryan bought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid".


ources and further information

* "Frank Ryan, The Search for the Republic", Seán Cronin, Repsol: Dublin, 1980 ISBN 0-86064-018-3
* "In Green and Red: The Lives of Frank Ryan", Adrian Hoar, Kerry: Brandon. 2004. ISBN 0-86322-332-X.
* "Connolly Column: The story of the Irishmen who fought for the Spanish Republic 1936-1939", Michael O'Riordan, Torfaen: Warren & Pell. 2005 [2nd edition] . ISBN 0-9548904-2-6.
* "Irish Secrets. German Espionage in Ireland 1939-1945", Mark M. Hull 2003 ISBN 0-7165-2756-1
* "Spies in Ireland",Enno Stephan 1963 ISBN 1-131-82692-2 (reprint)
* [ Major Frank Ryan: Some recollections of conversations with him during our internment at De Burgos Penitentiary and suggestions as to how he escaped and later died in Germany] Written by Welsh vol. Tom Jones in 1975.
* "The Shamrock and the Swastika" Carolle J. Carter 1977 ISBN 0-87015-221-1
* [ "Hitler's Useful Idiot"] , 02 January 2005
* [ Ireland and the Spanish Civil War]
* [ "Frank Ryan - patriot or collaborator".] Review by Manus O'Riordan of a recent book on Ryan. Linked to several other reviews.
* [ New web site about L Kerney and WW2] - site reviewed by Manus O'Riordan.
* [ Leopold H. Kerney Website]

ee also

*Irish Socialist Volunteers in the Spanish Civil War
* IRA Abwehr World War II - Main article on IRA Nazi links
*Friesack Camp
*John Codd
*Liam Devlin - Fictional character inspired by Frank Ryan.

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