Frank Ryan (1902-1944). One of the best-known and most controversial revolutionaries of Irish history, Frank Ryan fought in the War of Independence and Irish Civil War, becoming a leader of the Irish Republican Army by the late 1920s. Embracing socialist republicanism in the 1930s, Ryan became a founding leader of the short-lived but influential Republican Congress, and led the Irish contingent within the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Following his capture by Franco’s forces, his release was eventually secured by the efforts of German military intelligence which sought to use Ryan to further its wartime alliance with the IRA. Despite his anti-fascist background, he spent the final years of his life in Hitler’s Germany as an adviser to the Nazi regime.
Sean Russell (1893-1940). A veteran of 1916 and the War of Independence, Sean Russell opposed the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He fought in the Irish Civil War and was imprisoned until 1924, spending forty-one days on hunger strike. He was a prominent IRA leader during the inter-war period, visiting the USSR in an attempt to buy arms in 1925, and serving as quartermaster general. A hard-line militarist, Russell chaired the court-martial of republicans who left the IRA to form Republican Congress in 1934. In 1938, despite having being recently court-martialed and suspended from the IRA, Russell became IRA chief of staff, initiating a disastrous bombing campaign in Britain. He travelled to Berlin in 1940 to secure Nazi support for the IRA. While there, he was reunited with Frank Ryan but died in Ryan’s arms as they travelled to Ireland on board a U-boat. A statue of Russell in Dublin’s Fairview Park remains the site of both an annual commemoration and sporadic attacks by self-proclaimed anti-fascists.
Rosamond Jacob (1888-1960). A suffragist, republican and novelist, Rosamond Jacob came from a Quaker family background. A member of numerous cultural nationalist and radical political organisations, Jacob became a republican activist during the Great War but she continued to support a variety of other less popular radical causes (including socialism, feminism, agnosticism and vegetarianism) throughout her lifetime. She was imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail during the Irish Civil War, and visited the USSR in 1931 as a delegate of the Friends of the Soviet Union. She became Frank Ryan’s lover during the 1920s, although their relationship had ended by the mid-1930s. She played a leading role in the political campaign to secure Ryan’s freedom from Nationalist Spain, and later worked to defend his reputation after news of his death in Nazi Germany became known.
Eamon de Valera (1882-1975). The most dominant Irish politician of the last century, Eamon de Valera was the most senior rebel leader to avoid execution after the Easter Rising. He served as both president of Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers during the Irish revolution. An opponent of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he was imprisoned following the Irish Civil War, but rebuilt his political power base after he left Sinn Fein to found Fianna Fail in 1926. By entering the Free State parliament in 1927, de Valera’s republican movement parted company with the militant IRA tradition represented by figures such as Ryan and Russell but a decisive break between ‘constitutional’ and militarist republicans did not occur until the mid-1930s. Although personally sympathetic to his former comrades, de Valera acted decisively and ruthlessly to suppress the IRA (whose alliance with Nazi Germany represented a threat to Irish neutrality) during the Second World War.
Edmund Veesenmayer (1904-1977). A politician, SS officer and war criminal, Edmund Veesenmayer joined the Nazi Party in 1925. A well-connected and influential member of the party, he became an SS Brigadefuhrer and an influential subordinate of the German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. A coup d’etat specialist, who specialised in cultivating links with disaffected nationalist organisations such as the IRA, he played a significant role in the persecution and extermination of Jews in Croatia, Serbia and (as Reich plenipotentiary) in Nazi-occupied Hungary. He was sentenced to twenty years’ imprisonment for war crimes in 1949 but released in 1951. He participated in the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, denying any knowledge of the existence of extermination camps.
Helmut Clissmann (1911-1997). Born in Aachen, Clissmann first travelled to Ireland as a socialist-minded exchange student in 1929 where he soon developed contacts with leading IRA figures including Frank Ryan. A member of the Nazi Party from 1 May 1934, he was employed by the German Academic Exchange Service and Goethe Institute between 1936 and 1939, marrying Elizabeth (Budge) Mulcahy, a friend of Frank Ryan, in 1938. He served in the Brandenburg Regiment during the Second World War, a role which offered him the opportunity to interest Abwehr (German military intelligence) in securing Ryan’s release from imprisonment in Franco’s Spain. He was subsequently seconded to the Foreign Office in Berlin to oversee Irish affairs. On his release from internment after the war, he returned to Ireland, establishing a successful family business and becoming a founder member of the Irish German Society, St Kilian’s German School, and the Irish section of Amnesty International.
Hans Hartmann. A member of the Nazi Party who studied in UCD’s Department of Folklore as an exchange student, Professor Hans Hartmann remained in Dublin during the late 1930s to study the Irish language. He taught Celtic Studies in Berlin University during the Second World War until his appointment as head of Irland-Redaktion, the Luxembourg-based radio service responsible for broadcasting German propaganda to Ireland. In January 1944 Frank Ryan reluctantly agreed to meet Hartmann, who wished to employ him as a propagandist, but the meeting was postponed due to Ryan’s rapidly deteriorating health.
Leopold Kerney (1881-1962). Kerney (who was based in France during the War of Independence) was appointed Irish commercial representative in Paris by the revolutionary Dáil government in 1919. He lost his position as a result of his opposition to the Anglo-Irish Treaty but was one of the few anti-treatyites reinstated to the civil service by de Valera in 1932. He was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Spain in 1935 and, on de Valera’s instructions, played a leading role in efforts to secure Frank Ryan’s release from Franco’s Spain. Kerney’s efforts brought him to the attention of British and Irish military intelligence who became aware of his role as a conduit for correspondence between Frank Ryan and the Clissmanns and their relatives in Ireland. The revelation that Kerney secretly met Edmund Veesenmayer on several occasions in Spain in 1941 and 1942 placed him under a cloud of suspicion within official circles in Dublin but he remained a serving diplomat until his retirement in 1946.
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