Fine Gael Past Leaders
GEN. EOIN O'DUFFY(1892 - 1944)
Born 20th Oct 1892, near Castleblayney, County Monaghan
General Eoin O'Duffy (20 October 1892 - 30 November 1944), was the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána, leader of the 1933 quasi-fascist Blueshirts and the first (extra-parliamentary) leader of Fine Gael (1933-1934).
Eoin O Duffy was born on 20 October 1892 in 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.
In 1917 O Duffy joined the IRA and had an active part in the War of Independence. He was imprisoned several times but became director of the army in 1921. The following year he became chief of staff of the IRA, replacing Richard Mulcahy.
In 1921 he supported the Anglo-Irish Treaty. O Duffy became commissioner of an Garda Síochána (the Civic Guard) when the Irish Free State was established in 1922. It has been claimed, though not substantiated, that O Duffy was Michael Collins's choice as his successor. However neither W.T. Cosgrave nor Richard Mulcahy viewed him as fit for national leadership.
It has also been suggested that Cosgrave and Mulcahy intended to remove him as Garda Commissioner had Cumann na nGaedhael won the 1932 general election. However Cumann na nGaedhael lost power in 1932 to Fianna Fáil under Eamon de Valera.
Following another general election in 1933 Eamon de Valera dismissed O Duffy as Garda Commissioner. In the Dáil de Valera explained the reason for his dismissal, "he was likely to be biased in his attitude because of past political affiliations". O Duffy refused the offer of another position in the public service.
In July 1933 O Duffy became leader of the Army Comrades Association, which had been set up to protect Cumann na nGaedhael public meetings, which had up to that point been disrupted under the slogan "No Free Speech for Traitors" by IRA men freed by de Valera when he gained power. He immediately changed its name 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 wasn't long before they became known as the Blueshirts.
In August 1933 a parade was planned by the Blueshirts in Dublin to commemerate Michael Collins and Arthur Griffith. De Valera, remembering Mussolini's March on Rome, feared a similar coup d'etat, though no evidence has been founded of plans for a coup. The parade was banned. By September the Blueshirts were declared an illegal organisation.
In September 1933 Cumann na nGaedhael, the Centre Party and the Blueshirts 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 became the youth wing of the party. However, meetings were often broken up by scuffles with the IRA.
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.
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 National Corporate Party. The following year O Duffy organised an Irish Brigade to fight for Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Despite the declaration by the Irish Government that participation in the war was illegal 700 of O Duffy's followers went to Spain.
O Duffy returned to Ireland in disarray. He retired from politics completely as his health was beginning to deteriorate. He died on 30 November 1944.