Robert Burns took a great interest in world affairs. In his “Elegy on the Year 1788” he notes that “The Spanish empire’s tint a head”, an allusion to the death of King Charles III of Spain on 13 December that year. Spain had fought with France against Britain, and in 1763 had swapped Florida for Havana in an imperial peace deal with Britain. This was at the end of the Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War. Charles had brough back the Inquisition, which nobody expected. The Spanish Empire, founded on 17 April 1492, soldiered on for another 200 years after it lost its head in 1788, suffering a major loss in Spanish Morocco on 2 March 1956, finally dying with another despot, Franco, on 20 November 1975, although others say it ended on 12 October 1968 with the declaration of Spanish Guinea as an independent republic renamed Equatorial Guinea. But as Burns well knew, “rank is but the guinea’s stamp”, and class and colonialism are closely connected. If the seeds of fascism in Spain were planted in Morocco in the 1920s with the formation of the Spanish Legion and the Army of Africa, then they sprouted on Spanish soil in the 1930s. (1) Empire was, as Paul Preston has shown, a major driver of fascism. The Spanish Civil War was a colonial war: “the right coped with the loss of a ‘real’ overseas empire by internalizing the empire … by regarding metropolitan Spain as the empire and the proletariat as the subject colonial race”. (2) The British Empire and the Spanish Empire were both virulently anti-communist. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the British imperial monarchy viewed Franco as the lesser of two evils. Gibraltar was a bargaining counter for Franco’s fascist state. (3) Don’t touch the rock and your system’s safe with us. (4) As well as Gibraltar, Spain also had the Canaries up the leg of its drawers. (5) It was from his outpost in Tenerife on the Canary Islands that Franco made his way to Las Palmas de Gran Canarias to board the plane on 15 July 1936 that would take him to Tetuán in Spanish Morocco in advance of the military rising against the democratically elected government of Spain on 18 July. A secret meeting of the British Cabinet at the end of 1936 discussed “The Situation in Spain” and noted that: “If General Franco had won the war earlier, no great difficulties would have arisen”. (6)

The influence of Robert Burns was felt across the Spanish-speaking world. Burns made his way to Spain through the book trade from an early date. As John Stone notes, “in the 1780s, maritime trade with Scotland could keep John Hunter abreast of William Creech’s edition of Robert Burns’s poems, to which he and two other Cádiz Anglophones subscribed. Cádiz- and nearby sherry-merchants continue to appear on British subscribers’ lists well into the nineteenth century; and sons were regularly schooled in British Catholic institutions”. (7) But the link appears tenuous at times. Nigel Leask examines the evidence for one suggested source: “During the U.S. invasion of Mexico from 1846 to 1848 (itself prompted by the U.S. annexation of the newly independent republic of Texas in 1845) a favorite marching song for the U.S. troops was Robert Burns’s “Green Grow the Rashes O” – hostile Mexicans quickly dubbed the invaders “Gringos,” parroting the opening words of their marching song. There may be some truth in this – the OED records its first usage in 1849, on the U.S./Mexican border – and the Mexicans certainly had good reason to be bitter, given that fifty-five percent of their sovereign territory was ceded to the U.S. government at the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. But if the story is true, it is ironic that Burns’s tender love lyric in praise of the female sex should have been converted into a marching song, and then provided ammunition for Mexican resentment of their northern neighbours”. (8)
This threadbare etymology was unpicked some time ago by Father Charles Ronan, an expert on the colonial period of Latin American history: “While the story of the song-singing and the name-calling may be true, the etymological explanation is incorrect. The word was in use at least a century before the outbreak of the conflict of 1846. The word gringo was mentioned in Spanish literature as early as the eighteenth century. In his famous Diccionario compiled before 1750, Esteban Terreros y Pando, a Spanish Jesuit states that gringo was a nickname given to foreigners in Málaga and Madrid who spoke Spanish with an accent, and that in Madrid the term had special reference to the Irish. The pertinent passage in the Diccionario reads (in translation): ‘Gringo – in Málaga, what they call foreigners who have a certain kind of accent which prevents their speaking Spanish with ease and spontaneity; and in Madrid the case is the same, and for the same reason, with respect to the Irish’”. (9) Ronan acknowledges that the origins of “gringo” have been kicked into the long grass: “Scholars are not in agreement about the correct etymology of the word. According to one opinion, gringo is a corrupted form of griego, as used in the ancient Spanish expression hablar en griego – that is, to speak an unintelligible language, or to speak ‘in Greek’”. (10)
There are certainly ties between Burns and Mexico in the nineteenth century. That country’s national poet of the time, Guillermo Prieto (1818-1897) was lauded as a Burnsian Bard: “The most popular poet in the republic is the venerable Guillermo Prieto, who […] has […] been called the Robert Burns of the republic, and, like the Scottish poet, he sings the songs of the people. Identifying himself with them in feeling, he is able to express their every emotion, and in their own tongue.” (11) By the end of the nineteenth century Burns was becoming a byword for popular poetry, poetry of resistance, radicalism, and republicanism.

Federico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet killed by Franco’s forces in 1936, has been compared with Burns on several occasions and has been translated into English with Burns in mind: “For Philip Cummings, author of the first English version of Canciones, Lorca’s status as an Andalusian Robert Burns complicates the translation of his poems: ‘Just as Robert Burns needs interpretation for the non-Celt, so does Lorca require much explanation to the reader … The innate pattern of a people can only be fully comprehended by that folk [and] this is usually disaster for the translator’”. (12) Another translator of Lorca, the Hemingwayesque pro-Franco, anti-communist catholic convert and all-round eccentric Roy Campbell also invoked Burns: “We are reminded, in Lorca’s American venture, of Burns when he went into high society at Edinburgh and started to write like a courtier and gentleman of the world. It was a fiasco. Lorca’s talent is not cosmopolitan, and it did not flourish far from the scent of the orange groves of the South”. (13) Going back to “gringo” for a moment, influenced by Burns, a later translator of Lorca’s “Gypsy Ballads” renders “Verde que te quiero verde” as “Green grows my love, my love grows green”. (14) The translator concedes that he has “scoured the English tradition of Robert Burns” for suitable analogues for Lorca’s verse. (15)

Burns, as the people’s poet, has been associated with communism and socialism for a long time. Marx was a great admirer: “Dante and Robert Burns ranked among his favourite poets and he would listen with great pleasure to his daughters reciting or singing the Scottish poet’s satires or ballads”. (16) If the French Revolution had made its mark on Burns then the Russian Revolution impacted on his twentieth-century admirers: “Robert Burns in the highly esteemed translations by Samuil Marshak became ‘a Russian’ […] According to the catch phrase by Aleksandr Tvardovskii ‘On sdelal Bernsa russkim, ostaviv ego shotlandtsem’ [He made Burns a Russian while keeping him a Scot]”. (17) From 1917 onwards the Scottish socialist reception of Burns was picking up steam. (18) In 1930 a pamphlet appeared from the Scottish Office of the Communist Party in Glasgow, entitled Burns Belongs to the People. This short booklet, just 24 pages, covers a lot of ground, part biography, part history, part criticism. It claims Burns as an internationalist: “Burns is much more than a National Poet. He is international in his appeal, and one of the greatest Lyric Poets of all time. To-day, in Russia, he ranks next to Shakespeare among foreign poets, and that must be very pleasing to Robert if his Shade has been watching what has happened in that great country since the Revolution”. (19) Interestingly, the pamphlet makes no claims for Burns as a socialist, seeing this as out of step with the period in which he lives and wrote: “The question, ‘Was Burns a Socialist’, has been asked ever since there has been an active Socialist Movement , and there have always been foolhardy propagandists prepared to answer it in the affirmative. Naturally much of Burns’ work contains angry protests against the social injustices of his day […] But protests against the inequalities and injustices of a class society have been common in all ages and do not add up to Socialism. Burns was a radical democrat, living in the era of the American and the French Revolutions, who used his poetry as a vehicle for his progressive opinions”. (20) The pamphlet concludes with a vision of a future that places the specific national predicament of Scotland in an international frame: “There cannot, of course, be a flourishing Scotland in the midst of an oppressed and disintegrating world; that is why Burns was interested in the great international events of his day – the American and French Revolutions. But that ought not to mean that we are not to tackle any Scots problems until the world has been finally put right. Because of the character of its industries, Scotland will face a more difficult transitional period than many other countries, and its workers must begin now to demand from the Government a policy that will prevent the country going down in a welter of mass unemployment”. (21) And the booklet ends with a verse of Burns’ chosen for its rousing finale: “Scotland’s working-class representatives must be foremost in the fight against those who would prevent Scotland from taking her true place in the new world order of peace and brotherhood –
‘Now, for my friends’ and brethren’s sakes,
And for my dear loved Land-o’-Cakes,
I pray with holy fire,
Lord, send a rough-shod troop o’ hell,
O’er a’ wad Scotland buy, or sell,
To grind them in the mire’.” (22)
This closing call to arms sums up a certain view of the poetry of Burns as a rallying cry for popular protest.
Scottish anarchist Stuart Christie was certainly radicalised at school by Burns: “To me, Burns expressed, in its most succinct form, the ideal and the essence of socialism – which had to do with justice, liberty and the overthrow of tyranny […] nothing […] could match Burns’ spine tingling call to liberty and resistance to oppression in Bruce’s Address to his army at Bannockburn. Equally, who could grow up to be anything but a class war socialist on reading Burns’ clarion call to egalitarianism in A Man’s A Man For A’ That”. (23) Christie was arrested in Madrid in August 1964, aged eighteen, and charged with being part of a plot to blow up Franco at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium during the final of the Generalissimo’s Cup. The penalty, had it been carried out, was death by garrotte, which involved slow strangulation by an iron collar, topped off by a bolt through the back of the neck. But not all readers of Burns grow up to be class war socialists.
Leading Burns scholar Murray Pittock takes a dim view of the communist version of Burns: “The intensity of sentiment and dislike of repression evident to many in Burns’s poetry did not prevent him from being used as an instrument of Communist repression, however, in a Russia familiar with Burns translations since 1800. The Communist Party office in Scotland issued Burns Belongs to the People in 1930, and it is perhaps a moot point whether this text was influential on the rapid development of the poet’s popularity in the Soviet Union, where Samuel Marshak’s translations (published 353 times between 1938 and 2006) became dominant. They portrayed a poet who was indeed the voice of the people, and was indeed a political poet: but his voice was that of the proletariat devoted to Marxist-Leninist ideology. […] For a poet used as a tool of Soviet ascendancy, the successor states of the USSR and the freed countries of Eastern Europe continue to be home to many published translations of Burns, with sixty-nine appearing in these countries since the fall of Communism, despite the official Russian view apparently remaining that Burns was a ‘socialist poet.’ Burns’s association with Stalinist propaganda has not damaged his standing as a writer linked with the national independence of former Communist bloc countries, a collection of his poetry in translation being published early in the days of in an independent Croatia.” (24)
This triumphalist tone is not merely the dying embers of Cold War rhetoric. In the 1930s, many Catholics in Scotland – and in Ireland – supported Franco, with fascism viewed as preferable to communism by the Catholic church, pulpit and press. Calling something “Soviet” or “Stalinist” may be a convenient shorthand, even for an academic, but those terms are no more straightforward than, say, “Scottish”, which covers a multitude of sins and sinners, or “Burnsian”, which might embrace the most egalitarian republican and the most conservative nationalist, or even “Catholic”, which can embrace imperial monarchists and socialist republicans. The complexity of taking sides on the Spanish Civil War as a catholic can be captured by the fact that radical Roscommon priest Father Michael O’Flanagan was a vigorous opponent of fascism, while Brendan Kielty from Belfast, a veteran of the Irish Republican movement, signed up with the Blueshirts and went off to fight for Franco, rejoining the IRA on his return. Nothing is black and white when it’s blue and green and red. (25)
Transnational Francoism was certainly a notable phenomenon, with the Friends of National Spain (FNS) formed in London in October 1937, quickly followed by a matching outfit north of the border: “Less than six months after the FNS was officially established in England, a Scottish branch was inaugurated in Glasgow under the gaze of General Franco’s portrait. An Edinburgh branch followed in June 1938. Echoing the objects of the London-based FNS, the Scottish branch explained that the society aimed at spreading the ‘true facts about the present conflict in Spain and thereby defend the Christian religion against the attack of the anti-God campaign’”. (26) Despite the best efforts of Scottish socialists like John Wheatley in the 1920s to characterise Catholicism as “the church of the proletariat”, the hierarchy in Scotland and in Ireland consistently came out against the radical left. (27) Tom Gallagher noted that “By the end of the 1920s, it was becoming apparent that in Scotland the new atheistic and marxist CPGB was gaining many of its recruits from among Catholic workers”. Gallagher, ‘Scottish Catholics and the British Left, 1918-1939’, 34. Gallagher says of the fight against Franco: “While it lasted, the Spanish civil war had a destructive effect on the fabric of politics in the west of Scotland. It divided Catholic families in a city which gave more recruits to the pro-republican International Brigade than any other in these islands. More importantly it produced disillusionment with the aims of socialism, the triumph of authoritarianism in 1939 being only the latest in a series of body-blows which had included the 1926 general strike and Macdonald’s betrayal of the 1931 Labour government. But a severance of the relationship between Catholic voters and the Labour party was avoided after 1936 because those disaffected with the left over Spain had nowhere else to go”. (28) The British Catholic press – The Catholic Herald, The Month, The Tablet, The Universe – had come out in support of Franco, but that did not stop Scottish catholic socialists, republicans, and internationalists from going to fight the fascism that the leaders of their faith were backing. (29)
Douglas Woodruff, editor of The Tablet, declared on 11th February 1939 that “no sane and instructed man would hesitate to prefer Fascism to Communism […] and it is the plain duty of the Catholics, for the sanity of their fellow-countrymen, not to join or encourage this antiFascist crusade”. In Britain as a whole it’s been claimed that fascism drew its strongest support from Catholics, reflected in membership of the Blackshirts: “The closest to a concrete estimate of the number of Catholics in the movement comes from a Blackshirt article in May 1935 which claims that they made up 12 per cent of the leadership”. (30) And then there were the Blueshirts. Christy Moore’s great song about the International Brigades nails beautifully the effects of reactionary right-wing religious indoctrination: “Many Irishmen heard the call of Franco/ Joined Hitler and Mussolini too/ Propaganda from the pulpit and newspapers/ Helped O’Duffy to enlist his crew/ The word came from Maynooth: ‘Support the Fascists.’/ The men of cloth failed yet again/ When the bishops blessed the blueshirts in Dun Laoghaire/ As they sailed beneath the swastika to Spain.”
In Scotland, Willie Gallacher, Communist MP for West Fife, was heckled at meetings in his constituencies by Catholic supporters of Franco. (31) A very vocal Scottish Friends of National Spain organisation held a banquet at the Grosvenor Restaurant in Glasgow on 2 February 1939 to celebrate the fall of Barcelona to Franco. Charles Sarolea, Belgian-born Professor of French at the University of Edinburgh, and voluble anti-Communist was guest of honour. (32) Elsewhere, International Brigader and ILP member David Murray warned that with Franco’s victory: “Spain would be pushed back to the time of Columbus […] Spain under clerical-fascist domination […] will be a mass cemetery”. (33) But despite the propaganda from the pulpit very many working-class radicals brought up in the faith defied the church to fight for the Spanish Republic. International Brigaders from Ireland and Scots from Irish-Catholic backgrounds fought for the British Battalion of the XVth International Brigade. My father, James Maley, was among them, and although I was brought up outside of the church he always said to me when I told him everyone assumed I was a Catholic: “Just let them stew in their own juices”.
Personally, I prefer the image of a radical Burns as envisaged by Robert Crawford, who writes of Burns with a poet’s sensitivity as well as with a mind open to European and wider democratic movements: “We should see Burns as part of the mind of Europe not least for his incipient republicanism”. (34) According to Crawford, “Being bardic meant being bolshie”, and Burns produced work with “a bolshie political edge”. (35) Crawford insists on seeing Burns as a poet of radicalism and resistance: “Burns’s glory as a political poet lies in a democratic impulse subtly inflected in ways that are republican and Scottish nationalist. This makes him awkward for a British establishment which has constantly tried to tame him”. (36) The kind of poet Crawford imagines Burns to be is quite in keeping with the impact he had on Scottish socialists in the 1930s and after: “Relishing a sense of his rebellious past, Burns’s conversation moved readily from Jacobite convictions to Jacobin, republican ones”. (37) For Burns, “the Scottish muses were all Jacobites”, and as Crawford says, “Jacobites were generally opposed to the 1707 political Union between Scotland and England”. Crawford, The Bard, 26. Crawford remarks that “It takes a tin ear and narrow mind to miss the sense of conviction and protested radical idealism in” Burns’ poetry. (38) But tin ears and tinfoil hats abound in Burns studies.

Alec Piper spoke of the entertainment the International Brigades enjoyed at Madrigueras on the eve of Jarama: “The Popular Front authorities of the village have provided every facility for our training and recreation; they have lent the cinema for the concerts which we put on for our members. These are always very successful and have revealed a lot of talent among the lads, such as the Scottish comrades who celebrated their Hogmanay and Burns nights with traditional parties”. (39) The Burns Supper at the “Republican Café” in Madrigueras had songs and speeches, including a recitation of “A Man’s a Man for a’ That” by Peter Kerrigan: “The greatest social evening ever celebrated by the volunteers in Madrigueras was on January 25th, the night dedicated by all Scotsmen to Robert Burns, the people’s poet […] But next day nearly everyone had dysentery, and the English and Irish blamed it on to Burns”. (40) The supper may have been an issue, or maybe it was the drink that took its toll. The local vino was a new beverage to many of the men, and my father, James Maley, who was at Madrigueras at the time and was a teetotaller recalled having to carry some comrades wounded by the wine.
James Hopkins, in his excellent study of the Spanish Civil War, Into the Heart of the Fire (1998), remarks on the significance of the Burns Supper before the Battle of Jarama that would prove to be a last supper for many of the men who celebrated the bard that evening: “The large number of Scottish volunteers in the battalion ensured that the anniversary of Robert Burns’ birthday on January 25, 1937, would be celebrated with special exuberance, and with as much wine as could be obtained. […] Typically, there is a special meal, a Burns Supper, consisting of haggis, turnips, and potatoes. In the absence of these ingredients, the boisterous volunteers ate sardines with their bayonets. On this night, which would be the last such celebration for many Scots in the battalion, Peter Kerrigan remembered that Burns’ ‘lovely haunting love songs and folk ballads were sung. We even permitted the English, Welsh, and Irish to make their contributions, and right well they did’. Several Scottish brigaders actually wore kilts, much to the consternation of the Spaniards. The gravest difficulty arose, however, when no copies of Burns’ poems could be found. Nevertheless, some of the men remembered the words to his poems. And none of the more than 100 Scots celebrating the evening would have forgotten Burns’ poem, ‘A Man’s a Man for A’ That.’ Certainly not on this night […] To quote from and speak on Robert Burns was much more than an evening of cultural reminiscence. Burns was the poet laureate of Scotland’s poor, as well as any other reader who believed in the artificiality of Britain’s class distinctions and could agree with Burns that, ultimately, ‘rank is but the guinea’s stamp.’ Consequently, no one had to be prompted to emphasize the political importance of Burns to the volunteers. Victor Kiernan points out that in contrast to the English workers many volunteers from Scotland possessed an instinctive rather than an intellectual internationalism, attributing it to Scotland’s historically greater openness to continental influences and interests. But the Burns’ Night celebrated in Spain suggests that their poet spoke to his fellow countrymen of a world that was one because all men were brothers, a concept that was equally powerful to militants on both sides of the Tweed.” (41)
This claim for the comradeship and internationalism invoked by Burns is borne out by the correspondence of one English brigader: “David Crook wrote to friends in England of this January night in 1937. There were ‘excellent talks’ on Burns ‘as a poet of the poverty-stricken Scottish peasantry.’ Crook said that his comrades spoke powerfully on Burns’ ‘revolutionary equalitarianism, his support of the French Revolution and international outlook.’ With an astonished pleasure as he remembered those gathered for the occasion, Crook wrote, ‘All are honest to God British proletarian types.’ When Crook said, ‘Never has there been such a Burns night’, surely he was correct. Facing battle, could British soldiers previously assembled from different classes, ethnic backgrounds, and ways of life agree: ‘That man to man, the warld o’er / Shall brithers be for a’ that’? In less than three weeks many of those who attended this most extraordinary of Burns’ Nights would be lying dead or wounded a few miles away on their first and final battlefield.” (42) The influence of Robert Burns was felt in a whole Scottish radical tradition, one that saw the fight for the Spanish Republic as a key moment in the history of the Left. (43)

In an important article on Spanish translations of Burns, or their relative absence com pared to other writers, even allowing for censorship under Franco, Andrew Monnickendam remarks: “There are four […] reasons that might explain Burns’s low profile. First, and most obviously, is the problem of language. This initially seems the most convincing and material argument of all. Spanish readers found him difficult to read in the original. In addition, the lack of any translation until 1940, with the exception of individual poems, meant that Burns was inaccessible. […] However, if language was a barrier, there were translations in French. […] So Burns was available both in original editions and translations. Second is the question of periodization. Burns is applauded for his contribution to Romanticism, yet this is not necessarily commendable. […] Burns’s and Blake’s fates shows that Spanish culture, perhaps more than most, depends heavily on categorization, as no author, composer or artist, it would seem, can exist outside a period or movement. So, however great Burns is, he is always going to be located at the margins; or, to be able to fit in somewhere, the new category of pre-Romanticism has to be concocted. […] Third is the matter of canonicity. [The] Romantic, nineteenth-century canon is the standard one of English poetry. It is completely masculine and deeply conservative […] Within this intellectual framework, Burns has no place. Finally, there is the counterproductive influence of Scott. Burns would seem to be an ideal model for Spanish romanticism: both for national romanticism – Spain as a whole — or for its diverse autonomous regions. There are many reasons for this, but I will restrict myself to two, both related to language. With an emerging interest and respect for cultural difference, Burns would seem to fit the bill better than Scott. In addition, within Spain, there is also a tradition of collecting and publishing songs and ballads, or imitating them […] Although Burns would seem to be an equally relevant reference, Scott’s fame makes him unrivalled; there seems to be no room for any other Scot.” (44)
Sergi Mainer has written of the challenges facing those who sought to publish Burns in Spanish in Franco’s Spain, beginning with the pioneering translation of 1940: “Even more than other writers from the British Isles, Burns’s political, religious and personal views were the antithesis of Spain’s reinvention of itself as an authoritarian Catholic dictatorship. Politically, Burns was a fervent admirer of the American Revolution, an early sympathizer with the French Revolution and a later supporter of Republicanism […] Added to this, his language of expression, Scots, and culture were at odds with Franco’s unifying conception of the nation, in which minority cultures and languages were to be suppressed. Finally, Burns was a Calvinist who hated religious bigotry whereas the Spanish state defined itself as Catholic and acted according to a very conservative, narrow understanding of religion.” (45)
Mainer argues that the Spanish translation was an intervention into history, reframing Burns as a poet of minority voices and marginalised people: “In the 1940s publication of his poems by Yunque, Robert Burns is transculturalized and assimilated into the aftermath of the Civil War. His universal themes of freedom, human suffering and vindication of one’s culture are temporally and spatially recontextualized, potentially giving a voice to social, political and cultural minorities. In 1940 Spain, when Franco’s repression of dissident ideologies was at its peak, Burns’s poems challenge the official discourse by putting forward an alternative vision of war. Instead of celebrating the Nationalists’ victory and heroism, it contemplates a much more tragic perspective in which the horrors of war and the consequences of exile are expounded”. (46)

I began with Robert Burns, and I’ll end with another Burns, two in fact, a journalist and author by the name of Jimmy Burns, and his father, Tom Burns, a leading Catholic publisher and later editor of The Tablet (1967-82), who served the British government in Spain during World War Two. Jimmy is the author of splendid book entitled La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football. Like all the best books about football, La Roja offers a rich cultural and political history. Burns discusses the Spanish Civil War and the vicious nature of the fascist dictator who emerged victorious: “Franco was brutal on and off the pitch”. Born in Madrid in 1953, Jimmy Burns grew up with football and Franco: “During Franco’s dictatorship between 1939 and 1975, football was a pastime that was actively encouraged by the State – that is as long as it was not exploited by the enemy. And the enemy ranged from communists, Freemasons and freethinkers to Catalan and Basque nationalists, most of them decent human beings whose clubs were rooted in local cultural identities. It gave Spanish football, when I was growing up, its political edge, it separated us football lovers into democrats and fascists”. (47)
Jimmy Burns has a close connection to Franco. His father, Thomas Ferrier Burns (1906-1995), was educated at Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school in Clitheroe, Lancashire in the 1920s. One of Tom’s classmates was Pablo Merry Del Val, later Chief Liaison Officer for the foreign press under Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and later still Cultural Relations Consul of the Spanish Embassy in Washington, tasked with selling Franco to the Americans after the war, and afterwards Spanish ambassador to the United States. (48) The Merry del Vals were a fascinating family. The man who interrogated James Maley was one of the sons of Alfonso Merry Del Val, the former Spanish ambassador to Britain. Pablo Merry Del Val, educated at Stonyhurst College, a Jesuit boarding school in Clitheroe, Lancashire, was part of a prominent lineage of clerics and diplomats of Irish descent – ‘Wild Geese’ from Waterford. His brother Alfonso, also educated at Stonyhurst, was Franco’s unofficial representative in England at the time. Jimmy Burns wrote a memoir of his father. (49) Jimmy recounts the visit of Tom Burns to Guernica in the company of his former classmate: “Franco’s chief liaison officer with the foreign press, Merry del Val, offered Burns a tour of Gernika as part of the extended propaganda battle fought in print and on the wireless following the Basque town’s bombing. The two had been contemporaries at Stonyhurst, when Del Val’s father was Spanish ambassador in London. Del Val appears to have harboured few doubts that Burns, by now a director of the rabidly pro-Franco Tablet, would be receptive to whatever propaganda was laid before him”. Jimmy Burns quotes his father’s own words: “Pablo (Merry del Val) took us to Gernika and patiently explained that the extensive destruction of the main streets had been the work of the retreating Reds. Dynamite, not bombs of the German Condor Legion, was responsible”. The ploy didn’t work. Tom Burns was smart enough to see through the claims. The child of a Scottish businessman, David Burns, and Clara, a Chilean mother of English and Basque descent, he was an influential publisher who mentored great writers like Graham Greene. Tom’s Scottish Uncle Willie was a poor man and a poet. (50)
I have a sense of six degrees of separation with Tom Burns, and not just because we were both the seventh of nine children. You see, Tom Burns was a classmate – in every sense – of the man who interrogated my father at the Model Prison in Salamanca in April 1937. When Pablo Merry Del Val asked my father what religion he was, James Maley answered: “I’m a Catholic”, and recited a couple of Hail Marys, or as he put it in an interview, “Hail Maleys”: “I just said Catholic. I’m a Catholic. So he asked me to say […] one or two of the Hail Maleys and that you, I done that. I could say them. So that satisfied him.” Pressed on his attitude to religion in a later interview with Conrad Wood of the Imperial War Museum, my father said: “I wasn’t opposed to the Catholic church, well I mean I never mentioned religion, if people want to go, go, but I mean […] see when I was at school I realised that I was asked to become a priest a lot of times at school but I realised to become a priest well it wasn’t an easy job to become or do, I mean if you believed in religion then it was something you’d have to… be different from other people. I mean you’d have to be, live different from the ordinary person, whereas at the present time if I stood at the corner, I realised if I stood at the corner and watched people passing by, even where I lived I couldn’t say that’s a Catholic, that’s a Protestant. I mean there was nothing to define them, they all just lived the same. But to be a priest you’d have to live different. And that’s something, well, I wasn’t prepared to do.”
Like Tom Burns, James Maley was a cradle catholic, and in his working life he was often on the receiving end of anti-Catholic, anti-communist, and anti-Irish sentiment. Like Robert Burns, James Maley was an internationalist who spoke up for the downtrodden and dispossessed. My father went to Spain to fight for a socialist republic, not an imperial monarchy. Sadly, neither Spain nor Britain went down the road of socialism in his lifetime, but he never stopped believing that the cause of the Left was right road, and that he was in the right company: No. 2 Machine Gun Company, to be precise. As Dolores Ibárruri, “La Pasionaria”, said on the departure of the International Brigades from Spain: “Communists, Socialists, Anarchists, Republicans – men of different colours, differing ideology, antagonistic religions – yet all profoundly loving liberty and justice, they came and offered themselves to us unconditionally.”
No Pasaran!

(1) See José E. Alvarez, The Betrothed of Death: The Spanish Foreign Legion During the Rif Rebellion, 1920-1927 (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing, 2001). See also See Don Alfonso Merry del Val, ‘The Spanish Zones in Morocco’, The Geographical Journal 55, 5 (1920): 329-349; & 55, 6 (1920): 409-419, and Arthur Hardinge and Alfonso Merry del Val, ‘The Spanish Zones in Morocco: Discussion’, The Geographical Journal 55, 6 (1920): 419-422.
(2) Paul Preston, ‘The Answer Lies in the Sewers: Captain Aguilera and the Mentality of the Francoist Officer Corps’, Science and Society 68, 3 (2004): 277-312, at 281.
(3) See Norman J. W. Goda, ‘The Riddle of the Rock: A Reassessment of German Motives for the Capture of Gibraltar in the Second World War’, Journal of Contemporary History 28, 2 (1993): 297-314; Norman W. J. Goda, ‘Franco’s Bid for Empire: Spain, Germany, and the Western Mediterranean in World War II’, Mediterranean Historical Review 13, 1-2 (1998): 168-194.
(4) See Nick Sharman, ‘The Second World War: Revival and Demise of Britain’s Informal Empire in Spain’, in Britain’s Informal Empire in Spain, 1830-1950: Free Trade, Protectionism and Military Power (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 121-145. For a more recent view, see Maria Mut Bosque, ‘Brexit and the Commonwealth: New Challenges for Gibraltar’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 106, 4 (2017): 483-485. For the background see George Hills, Rock of Contention: A History of Gibraltar (London: Hale, 1974). See also Ian Jack, ‘Gibraltar’, Granta 25 (1988): 13-85. British Parliamentary Papers for 1856 include a reference to a “Report on the past and present state of Her Majesty’s colonial possessions at Gibraltar” and information on “1. State of the Colony; 2. Convict Establishment; 3. Trade and Shipping”. There is useful information too on the “Quantities of foreign and colonial merchandise exported to Gibraltar, 1851-1855”. For an excellent Scottish dramatic depiction of growing up in Gibraltar at the time of the Malvinas crisis see Gregory Burke, The Straits (London: Faber and Faber, 2003).
(5) See Marta García Cabrera, ‘British Geographic Intelligence during the Second World War: A Case Study of the Canary Islands’, Intelligence and National Security (2021): DOI: 10.1080/02684527.2021.2002208. See also Teresa Ruel, ‘Mapping the Cases: The Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands’, in Political Alternation in the Azores, Madeira and the Canary Islands (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021), 35-67. For a deeper historical perspective, see Mohamed Adhikari, ‘Raiders, Slavers, Conquistadors, Settlers: Civilian-driven Violence in the Extermination of Aboriginal Canary Islanders’, in Mohamed Adhikari (ed.), Civilian-Driven Violence and the Genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Settler Societies (London: Routledge, 2019), 31-60.
(6) Meeting of the British Cabinet held at 11am on Wednesday 16th December 1936, Cabinet 75 (36), 241.
(7) John Stone, ‘The Earliest Spanish Dickens? The 1844 Alborada Translation of Pickwick’s Madman’s Manuscript’, Dickens Quarterly 38, 2 (2021): 140-162, at 142. For connections between the book trade and the slave trade see Sean D. Moore, Slavery and the Making of Early American Libraries: British Literature, Political Thought, and the Transatlantic Book Trade, 1731-1814 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
(8) Nigel Leask, ‘Robert Burns and Latin America’, in Murray Pittock (ed.), Robert Burns in Global Culture (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011), 149-164, at 134.
(9) Charles E. Ronan, ‘Observations on the Word Gringo’, Arizona and the West 6, 1 (1964): 23-29, at 23-4. For the original Spanish article, see Charles E. Ronan, ¿Qué significa gringo?, Historia Mexicana 8, 4 (1959): 549- 556.
(10) Ronan, ‘Observations on the Word Gringo’, 25.
(11) Fanny Chambers Gooch, Face to Face with the Mexicans: The Domestic Life, Educational, Social, and Business Ways Statesmanship and Literature, Legendary and General History of the Mexican People, As Seen and Studied by an American Woman During Seven Years of Intercourse With Them (London: Sampson Low & Co, 1890), 384-5. On Prieto as historian as well as popular poet see Malcolm D. McLean, ‘Guillermo Prieto (1818-1897), a Forgotten Historian of Mexico’, The Americas 10, 1 (1953): 79-88.
(12) Christopher Maurer, ‘Lorca, From Country to City: Three Versions of Poet in New York’, in Regina Galasso and Evelyn Scaramella (eds.), Avenues of Translation: The City in Iberian and Latin American Writing (Ithaca, NY: Bucknell University Press, 2019), 32-51, n.27, citing Philip Cummings, trans., Lorca: Songs, ed, Daniel Eisenberg (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1976), 171.
(13) Maurer, ‘Lorca, From Country to City’, n.27, citing Roy Campbell, Lorca: An Appreciation of His Poetry (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1952), 95. Campbell had apparently planned to write a book on Burns but it was never published. See Peter Alexander, review of Roy Campbell by John Povey, Research in African Literatures 9, 1 (1978): 129-134, at 134.
(14) Carl W. Cobb, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano: A Ballad Translation and Critical Study (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983), 7.
(15) Cobb, Lorca’s Romancero Gitano, 70.
(16) Paul Lafargue, ‘Reminiscences of Marx’ (September 1890), cited in Lee Baxandall and Stefan Morawski (eds.), Karl Marx, Frederick Engels on Literature and Art: A Selection of Writings (St Louis/Milwaukee: Telos Press, 1974), 152.
(17) Nataliia Rudnytska, ‘Translation and the Formation of the Soviet Canon of World Literature’, in Christopher Rundle, Anne Lange and Daniele Monticelli (eds.), Translation Under Communism (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022), 39-71, at 39-40, and 65 n1, citing Aleksandr Tvardovskii, ‘Robert Berns v perevodakh S. Marshaka’, Novyi Mir 4 (1951): 225-229, at 227.
(18) See Paul Malgrati, ‘MacDiarmid’s Burns: The Political Context, 1917-1928’, Scottish Literary Review 11, 1 (2019): 47-66. For a different perspective see Antony Howe, ‘Red History Wars? Communist Propaganda and the Manipulation of Celtic History in the Thirties’, Journal of the Sydney Society for Scottish History 13 (2010): 68-93.
(19) Burns Belongs to the People (Glasgow: Scottish Office of Communist Party, 1930), 5. University of Glasgow Library, Special Collections Broady A83. I am grateful to my colleague Dr Bob MacLean for helping me to access this work. For a later example of the Scottish Communist Party line on Burns see John Ross Campbell, Robert Burns the Democrat (London: Communist Party of Britain, 1991; first published by the Scottish Committee of the Communist Party in 1945).
(20) Burns Belongs to the People, 21.
(21) Burns Belongs to the People, 23.
(22) Burns Belongs to the People, 24.
(23) Stuart Christie, My Granny Made Me an Anarchist (Hastings, East Sussex: Christie Books, 2002), 85.
(24) Murray Pittock, “‘A Long Farewell to All My Greatness”: The History of the Reputation of Robert Burns’, in Murray Pittock (ed.), Robert Burns in Global Culture (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011), 25-46, at 38.
(25) See J. Bowyer Bell, ‘Ireland and the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939’, Studia Hibernica 9 (1969): 137-163, at 148, n.27. I discuss Catholic support for fascism in ‘They Stood Beside the Spanish People’, The Irish Voice 18 (January 2015), 8-9. For an early discussion of Scottish Catholic support for fascism, see John McGovern, Why Bishops Back Franco: Report of Visit of Investigation to Spain (London: Independent Labour Party, 1936). For Irish responses see M. Le S. Kitchin and Fulton J. Sheen, ‘Storm over Communism’, The Irish Monthly 65, 766 (1937): 219-232, and Hispanista, ‘Should Irish Labour Favour Franco?’, The Irish Monthly 65, 767 (1937): 310-319. For an interesting perspective on one particular institution see Regina Whelan Richardson, ‘The Irish in Asturias: The Footprint of the Irish College, Salamanca, 1913-1950’, Archivium Hibernicum 65, (2012): 273-290. For modern criticism see David Convery, ‘Ireland and the Fall of the Second Republic in Spain’, Bulletin of Spanish Studies 89, 7-8 (2012): 215-225; Fearghal McGarry, ‘Irish Newspapers and the Spanish Civil War’, Irish Historical Studies 33, 129 (2002): 68-90; Fearghal McGarry, Eoin O’Duffy: A Self-Made Hero (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005); and John Newsinger, ‘Blackshirts, Blueshirts, and the Spanish Civil War’, The Historical Journal 44, 3 (2001): 825-844. See more recently John Rodden and John Rossi, ‘Ireland’s Quixotic Cruzada: The Irish and the Spanish Civil War’, Society 58 (2021): 95-103.
(26) Bàrbara Molas, ‘Transnational Francoism: The British and the Canadian Friends of National Spain (1930s–1950s)’, Contemporary British History 35, 2 (2021): 165-186, at 168-69. If communism gave the catholic Church a fright, at least in Europe, then fascism gave it a fillip and a focus.
(27) Cited in Tom Gallagher, ‘Scottish Catholics and the British Left, 1918-1939’, The Innes Review 34, 1 (1983): 17-42, at 29. See also W. W. Knox, ‘Religion and the Scottish Labour Movement c.1900-39’, Journal of Contemporary History 23, 4 (1988): 609-630.
(28) Gallagher, ‘Scottish Catholics and the British Left, 1918-1939’, The Innes Review 34, 1 (1983): 17-42, at 37.
(29) See Tom Villis, British Catholics and Fascism: Religious Identity and Political Extremism Between the Wars (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 41-76. For an example of the kind of propaganda that Franco’s spokespersons had a platform for in England see Alfonso Merry del Val, The Conflict in Spain: Communistic Misstatements Refuted (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1937).
(30) Villis, British Catholics and Fascism, 27.
(31) Daniel Gray, Homage to Caledonia: Scotland and the Spanish Civil War (Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2008), 132.
(32) Gray, Homage to Caledonia, 139.
(33) Cited in Gray, Homage to Caledonia, 152.
(34) Robert Crawford, ‘Robert Burns and the Mind of Europe’, in Murray Pittock (ed.), Robert Burns in Global Culture (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2011), 47-62, at 53.
(35) Robert Crawford, The Bard: Robert Burns, A Biography (London: Random House, 2011; first published by Jonathan Cape, 2009), 155, 354.
(36) Crawford, The Bard, 406.
(37) Crawford, The Bard, 396.
(38) Crawford, The Bard, 383.
(39) Frank Graham, The Battle of Jarama 1937: The Story of the British Battalion of the International Brigade’s Baptism of Fire in the Spanish War (Newcastle: Howe Brothers Ltd, 1987), 8.
(40) William Rust, Britons in Spain: The History of the British Battalion of the XVth International Brigade (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1939), 35-6.
(41) James K. Hopkins, Into the Heart of the Fire: The British in the Spanish Civil War (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 183-4, citing Victor Kiernan, ‘Labour and the War in Spain’, Scottish Labour History Society Journal 11 (1977): 4-16, at 10.
(42) Hopkins, Into the Heart of the Fire, 184.
(43) Tom Britton, ‘Faur distant: Burns, MacColl & the Spanish Civil War’,, accessed 22 January 2022.
(44) Andrew Monnickendam, ‘Robert Burns and Spanish Letters’, in Murray Pittock (ed.), The Reception of Robert Burns in Europe (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 143-153, at 152-3.
(45) Sergi Mainer, ‘Translation and Censorship: Robert Burns in Post-Civil War Spain’, Translation Studies 4, 1 (2011): 72-86, at 75. See Isabel Abelló and Tomás Lamarca, Robert Burns: Poesía (Barcelona: Editorial Yunque, 1940).
(46) Mainer, ‘Translation and Censorship’, 84.
(47) Jimmy Burns, La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Football (London: Simon & Schuster, 2012), 1.
(48) See Neal M. Rosendorf, Franco Sells Spain to America: Hollywood, Tourism and Public Relations as Postwar Spanish Soft Power (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 14.
(49) Jimmy Burns, Papa Spy: A True Story of Love, Wartime Espionage in Madrid, and the Treachery of the Cambridge Spies (London: Bloomsbury, 2011).
(50) Tom Burns, The Use of Memory: Publishing and Further Pursuits (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 1993), 2.