Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Sean Russell - Nazi collaborator and IRA terrorist

In Dublin there is a statue of Sean Russell (1893-1940), who was the IRA chief of staff.  It is said to be unique in being the only statue in Europe to someone who collaborated with the Nazis.

Russell was born in Fairview, Dublin, in 1893 and he joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913.  He was an officer in Dublin Brigade's 2nd Battalion, serving under Thomas MacDonagh, and took part in the 1916 Easter Rising but afterwards he was interned in Frongoch and Knutsford.

By 1926 the IRA was much-reduced but Russell was one of those who pushed for more militant activities.  Along with Gerald Boland he travelled to the Soviet Union on a mission to purchase weapons for the IRA.

He was appointed IRA quartermaster general in 1927 and held that position until 1936.  As such he travelled widely throughout Ireland between 1929 and 1931 reorganising the IRA. 

Russell visited the United States in the autumn of 1932 and he returned in 1936.  During that second visit he seems to have conceived, along with Joseph McGarrity, the plan for an IRA bombing campaign in England.

Russell was elected chief of staff of the IRA in April 1938 and he put in motion the bombing campaign.  He also established contact with Nazi Germany and and declared war on Britain.  Under his leadship the IRA launched their bombing campaign in Britain and in February 1939 the Germans sent Oscar Pfaus as an agent to Ireland to establish direct contact with the IRA.  Pfaus met with its inner circle which included Sean Russell and Jim O'Donovan, who said Pfaus made a good impression and they trusted him.

Sean Russell travelled to the United States in April 1939 and met with his Clann na Gael host Joseph McGarrity and Robert Monteith, who was director of Father Charles Coughlin's National Union of Social Justice.  Coughlin was a controversial priest whose radio broadcasts were described as 'a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture'.  Indeed Woody Guthrie described Coughlin as having 'Hitler on the brain'. In America Russell made contact through McGarrity with a German agent and this led to arrangements for Russell to travel across the Atlantic to Genoa, where he arrived on 1 May, and then for a reception in Berlin, where he arrived four days later.

In Berlin he liaised with SS-Standartenfuhrer Edmund Veesenmayer and by 20 May Russell had begun training with Abwehr (German military intelligence) in the use of the latest German explosives.  The training lasted three months and was conducted at the Abwehr training school near Brandenburg, which specialised in the design of explosives as everyday objects.

On 15 July 1940 Frank Ryan, an IRA man who had fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and had been captured by Franco's forces, was handed over to the Abwehr and taken to Germany.

Abwehr chief Wilhelm Canaris sanctioned the transport of Russell to Ireland and both Russell and Ryan, who had arrived in Germany on 4 August, sailed from Wilhelmshaven on 8 August aboard the U-65.

Russell became ill during the journey and complained of stomach pains but U-65 did not have a doctor on board and he died on 14 August 1940, 100 miles short of Galway.  He was buried at sea and the mission was aborted.

During the 1950s Sean Russell became the idol of traditional Irish republicanism and a memorial to him was unveiled by the National Graves Association in Fairview Park in September 1951.  Among the most prominent participants in the ceremony were Cathal Goulding, Brendan Behan and Ruairi O Bradaigh.

In September 2003 the Sinn Fein MEP Mary Lou McDonald spoke at a rally at the site of the Sean Russell statue.  The rally was also addressed by Brian Keenan, who was then a member of the Provisional IRA Army Council.

However the statue has attracted a series of acts of vandalism.  On 31 December 2004 the statue was damaged and decapitated but the NGA announced that it would be replaced in bronze to deter vandals.  The new bronze statue was unveiled by the NGA on 28 June 2009 but it was vandalised again on 9 July 2009 with graffiti proclaiming Russell to  have been  a Nazi. 

That may or may not have been the case but there are two things about Sean Russell which are absolutely certain.  The first is hat he collaborated with the Nazis and was therefore a Nazi collaborator.  The second is that he was an IRA terrorist who planned a campaign of terrorist bombings against targets in Great Britain.

According to a Channel 4 documentary, directed by Gerry Greg and broadcast in 1997, Sean Russell's quartermaster was Dominic Adams, an uncle of Gerry Adams.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post Nelson.
    Its amazing how these facts always get swept away by the tide of Irish republican propaganda and how the 'Left' in England support the fascism that is the IRA and the republican movement.

    Keep up the good work!
    Support & friendship from Manchester, England.

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