On This Day – 20.8.1933   Eoin O’Duffy becomes leader of the Army Comrades Association



It all sounds pretty innocuous. I mean what harm would you expect from an organisation called the Army Comrades Association?  Doesn’t it conjure up images of old codgers who served in uniform together meeting up for the odd drink, a game of darts or snooker maybe, then home to bed after a nice warm cup of cocoa.

That might well be the case today. But back in 1933 the Army Comrades Association had a nickname based on the colour of their apparel. They were better known as the Blueshirts, and they were led by a man who was lost in admiration for the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. His name was Eoin O’Duffy, and his career was far more vivid than the colour of the chemise worn by his supporters.

In 1922 he had, briefly, been Chief of Staff of the IRA, and had then fought alongside Michael Collins as a general in the pro-treaty forces during the Civil War. He was the youngest general in Europe, at the tender age of twenty-eight, until an even younger Spanish chisler was promoted to that rank in 1926. You may have heard of him, his name was Francisco Franco.

In September 1922 O’Duffy became the second Commissioner of the Garda Siochana. Eleven years later he became the first Garda Commissioner to be dismissed. Newly elected Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, decided that O’Duffy’s Civil War loyalties would make it difficult for him to serve the new Fianna Fail administration. As O’Duffy had been advocating that W.T.Cosgrave’s defeated government should refuse to hand over power to Fianna Fail, you have to think that Dev might well have got that one right.

O’Duffy wasn’t idle for long. The soft and mushy sounding Army Comrades Association was formed in 1933, ostensibly to defend public meetings of the defeated Cumann no nGaedheal party. O’Duffy became its leader and changed the name to the far less fluffy National Guard. Neither name stuck, and they were rarely known as anything other than the Blueshirts, the colours brown and black having already been taken, by the Nazis in Germany and the Fascisti in Italy.

A month after the name change the Blueshirts announced plans for a huge demonstration to commemorate the all-important eleventh anniversary of the deaths of Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. The whole scheme sounded just a little bit too much like Mussolini’s infamous 1922 March on Rome—albeit with a greater risk of squally showers. It was after the March on Rome that Il Duce had seized power in Italy. De Valera, not unreasonably, banned the demonstration, and then declared the National Guard an illegal organisation. O’Duffy cleverly got around the ban by changing the name of the Blueshirts to the League of Youth. The organisation then merged with Cumann na nGaedheal, to form Fine Gael—you may have heard of them too—and the Blueshirts underwent another name change, now becoming the Young Ireland Association. One can only imagine what Thomas Davis and John Mitchel would have made of thatact of plagiarism.

O’Duffy found Fine Gael just a bit too stuffy and left-wing for his liking and he lasted only a year in the new party. By then the Blueshirts were beginning to fall apart as well, and O’Duffy generously raised a brigade to go and fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War, despite the fact that the generalissimo had taken away his heavyweight ‘youngest general in Europe’ title a decade before. The mythology surrounding the Irish Brigade in Spain is that seven hundred men travelled there, twiddled their thumbs for twelve months or so, and came home without having heard a shot fired in anger. It’s an unfair version of the actual facts, but not that unfair.

When World War Two broke out O’Duffy, who in the interim had founded the far from cuddly-sounding National Corporate Party, made overtures to Germany, and offered to organise a volunteer brigade to fight on the Russian front. The Germans didn’t take him seriously and, by then, no one in Ireland did either. He died in 1944, aged only fifty-two, and was given a state funeral. It certainly beat freezing to death somewhere near Stalingrad. I should also point out, that Micheal McLiammóir claimed to have had a brief affair with O’Duffy, which, if true, would not have gone down well in the pietistic Catholic circles in which he lived and moved. But then McLiammóir had a puckish sense of humour and might just have been spreading scandal about someone he had little cause to like.

Eoin O’Duffy, a serious fan of the colour blue, took command of the Army Comrades Association eighty-five years ago, on this day.


On This Day – Drivetime – 21 February 1922 – Recruitment begins for An Garda Siochana




An Garda Siochana are in the jobs market again. Although only 250 trainees will be taken on, already there is no shortage of young men and women keen to join.

There was no doubt, in early 1922, in the minds of the country’s founding fathers that one of the first colonial institutions to go would be the paramilitary Royal Irish Constabulary. The Dublin Metropolitan Police, an unarmed force, some of whose members had provided Michael Collins with valuable intelligence, was left intact for the time being. Among the agents of Collins was Ned Broy – who subsequently became Garda Commissioner –making a remarkable recovery from having been murdered in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins movie. The DMP wasn’t subsumed into the newly created an Garda Siochana until 1925.

New recruits had to sit an exam in reading, spelling and arithmetic.  They had to be 5 foot 9 inches tall and between 19 and 27 years of age to become cadets. The very first Civic Guard – the name originally chosen for the force – was, as it happens, an ex-RIC man P.J.Kerrigan.

The second Garda Commissioner was the infamous Eoin O’Duffy, founder of the Blueshirts. O’Duffy was dismissed by the newly elected Fianna Fail govt in 1933. There have been 19 Commissioners to date.

Perhaps the most famous Guard was Dubliner Jim ‘Lugs’ Branigan, who regularly used his fists, officially and unofficially, in the course of his duties. Branigan was in his pomp at the time of the so-called Animal Gangs in 1930s and 40s. In May 1940 at the so-called Battle of Baldoyle, Branigan (and other Guards) were forced to wade in and disarm gang members equipped with bayonets, butchers knives, swords and razors. Challenged on their way to the confrontation they had claimed to be going to a wedding.  Injuries included a knife through the lung of one gang member and a rusty bayonet through the thigh of another. It appears that while there were plenty of grooms and best-men the bride never showed.

Branigan retired on 6 January 1973. He received many tributes, but was particularly touched by a canteen of cutlery and a set of Waterford glass from a group of Dublin prostitutes, who regarded him as something of a father figure.[ii]

According to the Garda Roll of Honour a surprising 86 members of the Force have died on active duty. While some deaths were accidental many Guards have been murdered since the force was established. One of the earliest was Henry Phelan on 14 November 1922. Garda Phelan was killed by armed men when he went to a shop in Mullinahone, Co. Tipperary to purchase hurleys.

In the early days of the Troubles, in 1970, Garda Richard Fallon pursued armed members of the Republican splinter group Saor Eire and was fatally wounded when shot by one of the raiders. Two years later Inspector Sam Donegan was conducting searches on the Cavan/Fermanagh border when he was killed by a booby-trap bomb in a country lane.

The Scott medal, awarded to Gardai for bravery, has become something of a yardstick of troubled times in Ireland. In the 1970s when paramilitary activity was at its height there were 96 Scott Medals awarded. Contrast that with a total of six between 1951-60

A recruitment drive for the Civic Guards began 92 years ago, on this day.