Eoin O'Duffy (Irish: Eoin Ó Dubhthaigh; 20 October 1892 – 30 November 1944), was in succession a Teachta Dála (TD), the Chief of Staff of the Irish Republican Army, the second Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the Army Comrades Association and then the first leader of Fine Gael (1933–34), before leading the Irish Brigade to fight for Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. He once proclaimed himself the "third most important man in Europe" after Adolf Hitler and fellow fascist Benito Mussolini.
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.
In 1917, O'Duffy joined the Irish Republican Army and took an active part in the 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 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.
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, to was tasked with liasing with the British to try to maintain the Truce and also to defend Catholic areas against attack.
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.
In 1921, he supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He served as a general in the Free State 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.
After the initial phase of the war, O'Duffy became Commissioner of An Garda Síochána (the Civic Guard) when the Irish Free State was established in 1922.
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 politicalThe 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.
In July 1933, O'Duffy became leader of the Army Comrades Association, which had been ostensibly set up to protect Cumann na nGaedhael 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 1936 International Fascist conference in Montreux where he argued against antisemitism.
In September 1933, Cumann na nGaedhael, 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. He went on to form the National Corporate Party.
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.
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.
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". 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.
It was alleged, in 1999, that O'Duffy had had a homosexual liaison with the flamboyant actor Micheál Mac Liammóir in the 1930's.
Following his return from fighting for the nationalists against communism in Spain, O'Duffy authored a book.
- Crusade in Spain (1938)