No. 163 NAI DFA Madrid Embassy 10/11

Confidential report from Leopold H. Kerney to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(S.J. 10/1) (Copy)

St Jean de Luz, 13 April 1938

Frank RYAN

Further to my minute of 4th inst.1, relating to the capture of Frank RYAN by Franco's forces in Spain, I give you hereunder a summary of information obtained by me last night from Carney, the correspondent of the 'New York Times' in Franco's territory. I would, however, remind you of an opinion expressed by me on more than one occasion to the effect that Carney's outlook is prejudiced by his partisan feelings which make it impossible for him to take a detached and purely objective view of matters relating to the civil war in Spain.

Frank RYAN was captured with his battalion on the road between Alcaniz and Gandesa on the day on which Gandesa was occupied by Franco's forces, either Friday 1st or Saturday 2nd April. Ryan is a Captain in the Major Attlee Battalion of the 15th International Brigade and Carney believes that he is actually Commander of that Battalion. He was captured with about 350 others of British, American and other nationalities, having been taken by surprise by Italian troops. Carney says that if these men had been captured by other than Italian troops they would have been shot out of hand; he says that the Italians are anxious to avoid reprisals on Italian prisoners in the hands of their enemies and saw to it that these men were loaded up in lorries for removal to Zaragoza. He states that other 'guarantees', without specifying the nature of these, were taken by the Italians for the safety of their prisoners. It is apparently quite a normal thing for prisoners to be put to death on the roadside by their captors whilst being escorted from the front to the rear. Carney says that the Tercio (Foreign Legion) and the International Brigade are particularly ferocious towards each other and that it is definitely established practice not to take any prisoners alive when these forces meet in battle.

Reuter's agent did not see Frank Ryan when he sent his report of latter's capture; he obtained this information from Spanish journalists who had noted the names of several of these prisoners; a photograph of Ryan was taken either by these journalists or by the authorities but no copy is available. Carney saw Frank Ryan at the prison in Zaragoza on Monday 4th April being accompanied by Colonel Jusset, Franco's military juridical assessor; he was the only foreign newspaper correspondent allowed to see him. Colonel Jusset, who was with Carney during the evening and till a late hour at night, told Carney that there had been some intervention on behalf of Frank Ryan and that Franco 'was very annoyed' that there should be any intervention on behalf of such a man. For this reason it was desired that there should be no publicity at all given to Ryan's case and instructions had been given accordingly to the different journalists, although too late to prevent Reuter's message.

I would here mention that my telegram from San Sebastian on Monday 4th April2 would have reached Burgos probably at about 3 p.m. and, if the intervention referred to by Colonel Jusset was mine, news of it must have been transmitted to him by telephone from Burgos to Zaragoza the same afternoon.

Carney states that Arnold Lunn, an American author and occasional newspaper correspondent who is now in Spain and who is very much pro-Franco, has been interesting himself on behalf of Frank Ryan but Carney was not very communicative on this point and did not know Lunn's present whereabouts. He states that no other Irish volunteers from Ireland were arrested with Ryan; he had not heard anything about a man named Byrne from Dublin mentioned in Reuter's message. Carney could hardly find words emphatic enough to express the bad opinion he had formed of Ryan, who, it appeared, had glowered at and insulted his visitor and who 'looked like a gorilla'. Ryan accused Carney of doing fascist propaganda in the 'New York Times' and of being in the pay of the fascists; when Carney remarked in the course of conversation that the I.R.A. had been dissolved he was told that he knew as little about Spain as he did about Ireland and this insult rankles very much in Carney's mind; he accuses Ryan of being an atheist and anti-religious, of wanting to have nothing to do with the Church or the priests who are on the side of fascism. He states that the man's whole attitude is such as to turn everybody against him and make his case even worse and that he declares himself to be a separatist republican just like the Basques and the Catalans.

Colonel Jusset told Carney that Ryan was fighting with the Republicans when Brunete was taken from Franco in July 1937 and that he had found on Ryan certain documents, apparently of a compromising nature, and also some jewellery which had been the property of one of Franco's officers who had been taken prisoner and killed on that occasion. Colonel Jusset said that Ryan would be tried juridically and given a fair trial. Carney was told by some American prisoners that Ryan was 'a tough guy' and that anybody might not be very safe in his company and that he frequently killed prisoners. It appears that Ryan has a certain military reputation both on his own side and with Franco's people. One of the men captured with him was a Scot who, after a previous capture about a year ago, had been released by Franco with about 50 others to each of whom a sum of Frs.500 had been given when they had been put across the frontier.

Ryan and the other prisoners were removed from Zaragoza to a concentration camp on Wednesday 6th or Thursday 7th April. Carney does not know to what camp Ryan may have been sent but he states that there are four such camps - 1 at Miranda de Ebro, 1 in the vicinity of Burgos, 1 at Deus, near Santona, and 1 at Santona (near Santander) which is in reality a prison.

I asked Carney whether trials of prisoners were always public; his reply was that many such trials were public.

I took the opportunity of point out to Carney, who is persona grata with the Franco authorities, that if Ryan were to be executed this might and probably would tend to alienate some of the sympathy which exists for Franco in Ireland, where public opinion might jump to the conclusion that any charges of murder and looting made against Ryan were not justified in fact, and that the life of this man would mean very little to Franco but possibly very much to Franco's cause in Ireland. Carney says that when prisoners are executed information on the subject is not usually allowed to transpire for a considerable time afterwards.

As your appeal for clemency has been received in Burgos and as Ryan was still alive at the time this appeal was received, and, as the Viscount de Mamblas will in all probability have reminded General Jordana3 of your interest in this case, it does not appear as if there were any further effective steps which could be taken at the present moment. I do not think that even any visit of mine to Burgos for this express and unique purpose would be likely to carry any weight. It might, however, be worth while considering whether the British Agent in Salamanca should not be instructed at some early date - in the event of no news reaching us from other sources - to enquire at the Ministry for External Affairs in Burgos as to Ryan's fate4.

[copy letter unsigned]
Aire Lán-Chómhachtach

1 Not printed.

2 Not printed.

3 General Count Gómez Jordana y Sousa (1876-1944), Spanish Foreign Minister (Jan. 1938-Aug. 1939).

4 This final sentence has been highlighted by two lines drawn in the left-hand margin.

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