‘Faith or Antichrist’ – An Irishman’s Diary on Irish newspapers and Franco
Gen Francisco Franco. Newspapers in Ireland held competing views on the Spanish conflict.
The siege of Madrid during the Spanish civil war during the winter of 1937 was a crucial juncture in the formation of Irish public opinion. The coverage of the siege by Franco’s forces in Irish newspapers helped to crystalise opinion in Ireland over the war. The siege was implicitly a litmus test for supporters in Ireland.
Newspapers in Dublin and Derry held competing views on the conflict, with the Derry Journal and the Irish Independent pursuing an editorial line for a Franco victory, whereas The Irish Times and the Londonderry Sentinel backed the democratically elected Madrid government.
The Irish Independent was particularly passionate in its defence of its position on the conflict and Franco’s crusade: “For almost four months Christianity has been fighting for its life in Spain. The Communists in every country, and their sympathisers in the Press, have propagated the lie that the fight is one between Fascism and Democracy. It is not. It is a fight between the Faith and Antichrist. All the subsequent events have proved how correct was the Irish Independent when it declared in the first week of the civil war that this is ‘a fight to the death between Communism... and all who stand for the ancient Faith and traditions of Spain’”.
For the Irish Independent to quote from an editorial at the beginning of the war arguing that it was right to back Franco’s insurgency was not particularly unusual. The Independent, one could argue, felt the fulcrum was tilting towards Gen Franco’s insurgency and the religious crusade was prevailing in Spain. The Irish Independent’s coverage on November 6th was strident in its belief that it was not a war between fascism and democracy; it was between “Faith and Antichrist”, and the final stage in Madrid had proved that.
In the same edition, with the headline “Reds making last stand”, it stated that according to “patriot headquarters”, the fighting in Madrid’s suburbs was fierce and key staff were being mobilised to take control of “railways, telegraph systems and other public services”.
The reporting of The Irish Times of the battle for Madrid had no grand gestures proclaiming a victory was near, but rather captured the intensity of the battle. Its first editorial on the siege of Madrid was sombre and said that although the resistance was courageous, the city was “doomed”. “Although Madrid has not yet fallen there seems to be little doubt that the Spanish capital’s doom is sealed ... Men and women of good-will throughout the world only can hope and pray that a great people’s agony may be brought to an end as soon as possible, and that the victor, in starting his mighty task of rebuilding, may bring true peace to a tortured land.”
The two principal newspapers in Derry, like The Irish Times and the Irish Independent in Dublin, reported the attack on Madrid in diametrically opposite ways. The Sentinel, a unionist newspaper in the predominantly Catholic city, reported the civil war in much the same fashion as The Irish Times. Franco’s forces were reported as the insurgents and Republican forces were the legitimate Spanish government. Where the Sentinel differed from The Irish Times was in its adherence to the British government’s line throughout the civil war that non-intervention by Britain was the most effective way to contain the escalating civil war.
The Sentinel reported the battle for Madrid from a British standpoint and one that was at odds with its rival newspaper across the Foyle river. The Derry Journal was ideologically akin in its attitude to the civil war to The Irish Independent. “The Reds abandoned their defence works as soon as the Insurgents advanced on Alcorcon and Villaviciosa, and turning tail ran back to Madrid They are now erecting their defences in the capital itself, the centre of which is reported to be in flames.”
The editing of press agency reports, and editorials, framed a narrative for their readers played and played an important role in the formulation of public opinion and entrenchment of ideologies in Ireland. The reporting of the siege of Madrid would ensure that these ideologies would continue to dominate the reporting of the civil war until Madrid’s final surrender in April 1939.