Military Wiki
Eoin O'Duffy
O'Duffy in 1922 as police commissioner.
Teachta Dála

In office
24 May 1921 – 27 August 1923
Constituency Monaghan
Commissioner of the Garda Síochána

In office
September 1922 – February 1933
Preceded by Michael Staines
Succeeded by Eamon Broy
Personal details
Born (1892-10-20)20 October 1892
Lough Egish, Monaghan, Ireland
Died 30 November 1944(1944-11-30) (aged 52)
Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Sinn Féin (1917–23)
Fine Gael(1933–34)
National Corporate Party (1935–37)
Religion Catholic

Eoin O'Duffy (Irish language: Eoin Ó Dubhthaigh

30 October 1892 – 30 November 1944) was an Irish political activist, soldier, and police commissioner, best known for his advocacy of fascism.

O'Duffy was the leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the successful Irish War of Independence and in this capacity became Chief of Staff of the IRA in 1922. He was one of the Irish activists who along with Michael Collins accepted the Anglo-Irish Treaty and fought as a general in the Irish Civil War on the pro-Treaty side.

Professionally, O'Duffy became the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, the police force of the new Irish state, after the resignation of Michael Staines. In his political life O'Duffy had been a member of early Sinn Féin, founded by Arthur Griffith. He was elected as a Teachta Dála (TD) for his home county of Monaghan during the 1921 election. After a split in 1923 he became associated with Cumann na nGaedheal and led the security organisation known as the Army Comrades Association (Blueshirts). After the merger of various pro-Treaty factions under the banner of Fine Gael, O'Duffy was the party leader for a short time.

A staunch anti-communist, O'Duffy was attracted to the various authoritarian nationalist movements on the Continent. He raised the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War as an act of Catholic solidarity and was inspired by Benito Mussolini's Italy to found the National Corporate Party. He also offered to Germany the prospect of raising an Irish Brigade to fight in Operation Barbarossa during World War II on the Eastern Front against the Soviet system, but this was not taken up.

Early life

Eoin O'Duffy was born Owen O'Duffy in Lough Egish, near Castleblayney, County Monaghan. O'Duffy did an apprenticeship as an engineer in Wexford before working as an engineer and architect in Monaghan. In 1919 he became an auctioneer. O'Duffy was a leading member of the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ulster in the 1910s. A stand in a ground in Clones, County Monaghan, is named after him.

War of Independence

In 1917 O'Duffy joined the Irish Volunteers and took an active part in the Irish War of Independence. In February 1920, he (along with Ernie O'Malley) was involved in the first capture of a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks by the IRA in Ballytrain, in his native Monaghan. He came to the attention of Michael Collins, who enrolled him in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and supported his advancement in the Nationalist hierarchy.[1]

He was imprisoned several times but became director of the army in 1921. In May 1921, he was returned as a Sinn Féin TD for the Monaghan constituency to the Second Dáil.[2] He was re-elected at the 1922 general election.[3]

In March 1921 he was made commander of the IRA's 2nd Northern Division. Following the Truce with the British in July 1921, he was sent to Belfast. Following the rioting known as Belfast's Bloody Sunday, he was given the task of with liaising with the British to try to maintain the Truce and also to defend Catholic areas against attack.[4]

In January of the following year he became IRA Chief of Staff, replacing Richard Mulcahy. O'Duffy was the youngest general in Europe until Francisco Franco was promoted to that rank.

Civil War General and Garda Síochána

In 1921 he supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He served as a general in the National Army in the ensuing Irish Civil War and was one of the brains behind the Free State's strategy of seaborne landings into Republican held areas. He successfully took Limerick city for the Free State in July 1922, before being held up in the Battle of Killmallock south of the city. The enmities of the civil war era were to stay with O'Duffy throughout the rest of his political career.

In September 1922, minister for home affairs Kevin O'Higgins was experiencing indiscipline within his recently established Garda Síochána (police) and O'Duffy was appointed commissioner. At this stage of his career O'Duffy was a fine organiser and has been given much of the credit for the emergence of a respected, non-political and unarmed police force. He insisted on a Catholic nationalist ethos to distinguish the gardaí from their RIC predecessors.[1]

Following a general election in 1933 Éamon de Valera dismissed O'Duffy as Garda Commissioner. In the Dáil de Valera explained the reason for his dismissal,

"he [O'Duffy] was likely to be biased in his attitude because of past political affiliations".

The true reason, however, appears to have been the new government's discovery that in 1932, O'Duffy's was one of the voices urging W. T. Cosgrave to resort to a military coup rather than to turn over power to the incoming Fianna Fáil administration. O'Duffy refused the offer of another position of equivalent rank in the public service.

Ernest Blythe revealed many years later that the outgoing Government had become so alarmed by O'Duffy's conduct that had they returned to power they would have acted precisely as De Valera did.[5]

Leader of the ACA and Embrace of Fascism

In July 1933 O'Duffy became leader of the Army Comrades Association, which had been ostensibly set up to protect Cumann na nGaedheal public meetings, which had been disrupted under the slogan "No Free Speech for Traitors" by Irish Republican Army men newly confident since the elections. O'Duffy and many other conservative elements within the Irish Free State began to embrace fascist ideology, which was very much in vogue at that time. He immediately changed the name of this new movement to the National Guard. O'Duffy was an admirer of the Italian leader Benito Mussolini and his organisation adopted outward symbols of European fascism, such as the straight-arm Roman salute and the distinctive blue uniform. It was not long before they became known as the Blueshirts.

In August 1933 a parade was planned by the Blueshirts in Dublin to commemorate Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith, both of whom had died 11 years earlier. This was a clear imitation of Mussolini's March on Rome and was widely perceived as such despite claims to the contrary by Blueshirt apologists. De Valera feared a similar coup d'état and as a result the parade was banned.

By September the Blueshirts were declared an illegal organisation. To circumvent this ban the movement once again adopted a new name, this time styling itself the League of Youth.

O'Duffy and some of his men also made an appearance at the 1934 International Fascist conference in Montreux where he argued against anti-semitism.[6]

Fine Gael

In September 1933 Cumann na nGaedheal, the Centre Party and the Blueshirt movement merged to form Fine Gael. O'Duffy, though not a TD, became the first leader, with former President of the Executive Council, (prime minister) W. T. Cosgrave serving as parliamentary leader. The National Guard, now rechristened the Young Ireland Association, was transformed from an illegal paramilitary group into the militant wing of a political party. However, meetings were often attacked by IRA men. O'Duffy proved to be a weak leader – he was a military leader rather than political, and he was temperamental. In September 1934 O'Duffy suddenly and unexpectedly resigned as leader of Fine Gael as his extreme views and poor judgement became an embarrassment to his party.[7] He went on to form the National Corporate Party.

Spanish Civil War

The Blueshirt movement had begun to disintegrate also, so much so that by 1935 the organisation no longer existed. In June 1935 O'Duffy launched the unabashedly fascist National Corporate Party. The following year the General organised an Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Despite the declaration by the Irish Government that participation in the war was ill-advised and unsupported, 700 of O'Duffy's followers went to Spain to fight on Franco's side (around 250 other Irishmen went to fight for the Republicans). O'Duffy's men saw little fighting in Spain and were sent home by Franco, returning in June 1937.[8]

Retirement and death

O'Duffy returned to Ireland from Spain in disarray. He retired from politics completely, apart from a low-level dalliance with Nazism. He is thought to have met with IRA figures and members of the German consulate in the summer of 1939. (See main article.) In the summer of 1943 O'Duffy approached the German Legation in Dublin with an offer to organise an Irish Volunteer Legion for use on the Russian Front. He explained his offer to the German ambassador as a wish to "save Europe from Bolshevism". He requested an aircraft to be sent from Germany so that he could conduct the necessary negotiations in Berlin. The offer was "not taken seriously".[9] By this time his health had begun to seriously deteriorate and he died on 30 November 1944, aged 52. He was afforded a state funeral by the government. Following requiem mass in the Pro-Cathedral he was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.


Following his return from fighting for the nationalists against communism in Spain, O'Duffy wrote a book.

  • Crusade in Spain (1938)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Fearghal McGarry, 'O'Duffy, Eoin (1890–1944)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011
  2. "General Eoin O'Duffy". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  3. "Eoin O'Duffy". Retrieved 26 March 2012. 
  4. Fearghal McGarry, Eoin O'Duffy, A Self-Made Hero,Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, ISBN 978-0-19-922667-2 p78-80
  5. McGarry ,pp188,386
  6. "INTERNATIONAL: Pax Romanizing". Time. 31 December 1934.,9171,754480,00.html. 
  7. MGarry pp260-269
  8. Thomas Gunning, former secretary to O'Duffy, was also a "suspect" for Irish military Intelligence (G2) having remained in Spain after the rest of the Irish volunteers for Franco departed under a cloud of recrimination. Gunning worked as a newspaper correspondent in Spain for a short time then made his way to Berlin where he worked for the Propaganda ministry until his death in 1940.
  9. See Stephan, Enno: Spies in Ireland (1963) P.232

Further Information/Sources

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