Blueshirts and fascism
Sir, – I am puzzled by Barry Walsh’s assertion (August 16th) that “The lazy and oft-repeated contention that the Blueshirts were a fascist group is something which has effectively been debunked by historians”. While scholars such as Maurice Manning and Mike Cronin have complicated reductive characterisations of the Blueshirts as an Irish simulacrum of the Nazi Brownshirts or Italian Blackshirts, both emphasise the influence of continental fascist ideology and aesthetics in shaping the rhetoric and activities of the movement.
Blueshirt members such as Michael Tierney of University College, Dublin; James Hogan and John Marcus Sullivan of University College, Cork; and Ernest Blythe and Desmond FitzGerald, both ex-ministers in the Cumann na nGaedheal government of the 1920s, were influenced deeply by contemporary Catholic social teaching and openly expressed admiration for the illiberal policy reforms implemented in Mussolini’s Italy and Engelbert Dollfuss’s Austria. Indeed, the Blueshirt leader, Eoin O’Duffy visited Rome to meet Mussolini in 1935 and openly conceded that his movement’s shirt, salute, and corporatist policy had been inspired by Italy.
Prof Fearghal McGarry of Queen’s University, Belfast has documented the scale and variety of Irish support for fascist movements in Italy, Austria, Spain and Portugal in great depth, and while many Irish corporatists were critical of the consciously post-Christian ideology of Nazi Germany (though in many cases tolerating or approving of the regime’s murderous anti-Semitism), figures such as Blythe and his former Cumann na nGaedheal cabinet colleague, JJ Walsh endorsed the Axis powers during the second World War and joined Gearóid Ó Cuinneagáin’s short-lived fascist party, Ailtirí na hAiséirghe in 1942. Indeed, this group is examined by RM Douglas in Architects of the Resurrection: Ailtirí na hAiséirghe and the Fascist ‘New Order’ in Ireland (Manchester University Press, 2009).
Mr Walsh’s attempt to draw a clear distinction between Catholic corporatist thought and interwar fascism is also unconvincing when one accounts for the fact that Pope Pius XI’s 1931 encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno was crucially shaped by anxieties regarding the rise of Soviet communism and effectively sanctioned Catholic toleration of fascist governments as a bulwark against what was perceived as a greater secular threat. This subject is examined in exceptional detail in James Chappel’s Catholic Modern: The Challenge of Totalitarianism and the Remaking of the Church (Harvard University Press, 2018).
At a time when fascistic movements are recrudescent across Europe, it is imperative that we disabuse ourselves of the fiction that such ideologies never gained a foothold in Irish political culture. – Yours, etc,
(PhD candidate at