Éamon de Valera denounced the Blue Shirts organisation as unlawful, yet despite the Government’s ban, the Blueshirts also known as the National Guard paraded throughout the country.
The Army Comrades Association (ACA), later the National Guard, then Young Ireland and finally League of Youth, but better known by the nickname The Blueshirts, was a far-right organisation in the Irish Free State in the early 1930s. The organisation provided physical protection for political groups such as Cumann na nGaedheal from intimidation and attack by the anti-Treaty IRA.
While peace had reigned in Ireland the past 18 months, de Valera identified one of the aims of the Blueshirts was to overthrow representative government. Noting that the Irish had fought for centuries to gain control of their own affairs, they had not the least intention of surrendering that control to any dictator or militarist group. De Valera argued that the aims and methods of the “so-called national guard” are hateful to the vast majority of people. He continued that “the national guard would have to choose between disappearance or conversion in to a peaceful, non-military organisation”.
The key force in shaping the Garda Síochána, a founder member of Fine Gael and the youngest army general in Europe at the time, Eoin O’Duffy’s achievements were considerable. But today if one thinks of him at all it is in connection with his latter-day flirtation with fascism.
The man who was one of the most respected figureheads of the fledgling Irish Free State saw his successes being eclipsed by a decade of failures before he died in 1944.
But this complex character played a vital role in the creation of modern Ireland and reflects a wider European malaise in the late Twenties and Thirties that led many to see liberal democracy as bankrupt and hail a new era of authoritarian nationalism.
Born in Co Monaghan, O’Duffy emerged from the War of Independence with a strong reputation. Following a brief spell as the IRA’s chief of staff in 1922, O’Duffy became the Commissioner of the newly formed unarmed Civic Guard.
O’Duffy’s anti-democratic tendencies were heightened by Fianna Fail’s election victory in 1932 as O’Duffy believed the party was intent on destroying the State he had put so much effort into bolstering. It took a year for Éamon de Valera and his new Fianna Fail government to dismiss O’Duffy as Garda Commissioner and it was this decision which tipped him over the edge. Now he was just an ordinary citizen and of a country which had voted in his arch-enemies, Fianna Fail.
Seen as a charismatic leader, the newly formed Fine Gael party chose him as its first president but his activities with the Blueshirts and increasingly extreme speeches made him a liability and he was pushed aside after a year. Of O’Duffy’s genuine admiration for Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Mussolini’s Italy at this time there can be little doubt. He was a fascist.
O’Duffy is remembered as a figure of ridicule: as the buffoon whose Irish brigade, when sent to Spain to aid the Fascist coup led by General Franco in 1934, was sent home for its incompetence and drunkenness.
Photo: Banner of the Blueshirts