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Sean Russell's statue in Fairview Park, Dublin (Eric Jones / CC BY-SA 2.0)

So far as I know there was only one public statue erected in Europe after the war to commemorate a Nazi. And on a recent visit to Dublin I finally managed to visit it.

During the 1920s and ’30s while he was a senior figure in the IRA, Sean Russell cosied up to almost anyone he could in order to gather arms and allies for the war against the British. In the ’20s he headed to the Soviet Union and America looking for support. It took till the late ’30s for him to find his truest ally. Sure enough, in 1939 the IRA declared war against the British on the side of the Nazis. In the mind of people like Russell the ultimate defeat of the British would mean an Irish Republic without partition. I suppose they imagined they were thinking big at the time.

The IRA began its campaign of bombings in English cities just before the Luftwaffe took its turn. The IRA-Nazi pact did so well that in 1940 Russell went to Germany on behalf of the IRA Army Council to be trained by the Nazis’ intelligence service.

It was Russell’s personal tragedy to die on the German U-boat returning him to Ireland, meaning he never managed to put his new bomb-making skills to use. His statue was erected in Fairview Park, Dublin, after the war, and has remained there ever since.

It has suffered intermittent bouts of vandalism. An arm was removed quite early on by a group complaining that its posture suggested Russell was a communist rather than a fascist (presumably the vandal’s own preferred side). Then during the decade before this one the statue was decapitated by an anonymous group professing opposition to the mass murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, Roma and others by Sean Russell’s friends.

This should have been the perfect excuse for the Irish authorities to end the embarrassment and permanently remove the statue. Amazingly, in 2009 they commissioned a fresh one, this time cast in bronze, so as to deter further vandalism.

I am happy to report that I was the only visitor to see Sean Russell on a recent, wet Sunday morning. Some local boys were returning home in the drizzle from football practice. Otherwise the park was deserted. As I scuffed my shoes on the railings that now surround the statue and looked at his face (is it a good likeness?), I wondered about the past, and these islands and the awful complexity of our continent.
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