The Emergency (Ireland)

The Emergency (Ireland)

The Emergency ( _ga. Ré na Práinne) was an official euphemism used by the Irish Government during the 1940s to refer to its position during World War II. The state was officially neutral during World War II, but declared an official state of emergency on 2 September 1939, [cite journal
date = 1939-09-02
title = Existence of National Emergency
journal = Dáil debates
volume = 77
pages = 19–20
publisher = Government of Ireland
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-02
] and enacted the "Emergency Powers Act" the following day. [cite web
date = 1939-09-03
title = Emergency Powers Act, 1939
publisher = Government of Ireland
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-02
] This gave sweeping new powers to the government for the duration of the Emergency, such as internment, censorship of the press and correspondence, and the government control of the economy. The term has remained in use, for example, as a cultural and historic context in school books. The "Emergency Powers Act" finally lapsed on 2 September 1946. [cite web
date = 1945-07-29
title = Emergency Powers (Continuance and Amendment) Act, 1945
pages = §4(1)
publisher = Government of Ireland
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-02
quote = The Principal Act shall, unless previously terminated under subsection (2) of this section, continue in force until the 2nd day of September, 1946, and shall then expire unless the Oireachtas otherwise determines.
] [cite journal
date = 1976-09-01
title = National Emergency: Motion (Resumed)
journal = Dáil debates
volume = 292
pages = 119–256
publisher = Government of Ireland
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-02
quote = Mr. Kelly: All the 1939 emergency legislation lapsed not later than 1946.
] Although the state of emergency itself was not rescinded until 1 September 1976, [cite journal
date = 1976-09-01
title = National Emergency: Motion (Resumed)
journal = Dáil debates
volume = 292
pages = 119–256
publisher = Government of Ireland
url =
accessdate = 2007-11-02
] no emergency legislation was ever in force after 1946 to exploit this anomaly.


In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the War of Independence, 26 of the 32 counties of Ireland became an autonomous dominion, known as the Irish Free State, while the remaining six counties, known as Northern Ireland, remained part of the United Kingdom. This settlement was followed by the bitter Irish Civil War that followed immediately (between the pro-Treaty and anti-Treaty factions of the Irish Republican Army), which was strongly to affect Irish responses to the coming global war.

Since 1932, the governing party of the new state had been the republican "Fianna Fáil", led by Éamon de Valera (a veteran of both Irish wars). In 1937, de Valera successfully introduced a new constitution, which had distanced the state further from the United Kingdom, and which changed its name to "Ireland" (in Irish, "Éire").

De Valera had good relations with the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain and not only had been able to gain British recognition of the new constitution, but had negotiated the return of the Treaty Ports (three Irish ports ndash the coastal defences at Cork Harbour and Bere Island in Co. Cork, and Lough Swilly in Co. Donegal that had remained under British jurisdiction after the Treaty), and resolved their economic differences. The major remaining disagreement between the countries was the status of Northern Ireland. The Irish saw it as an integral part of the nation of Ireland, while the British were unwilling to coerce the Unionist majority there into a united Ireland. Within Ireland itself, armed opposition to the treaty settlement took the name of the anti-treaty IRA, seeing itself as the "true" government of Ireland. This IRA mounted armed attacks both in Great Britain (most notably the S-Plan in 1939) and Ireland.

Militarily the State was weak. In the 1930s the Department of Finance had refused to give priority to increased defence spending as it thought Britain would defend Ireland in any attack [Girvin, p.74] . The army was then only 14,000-strong and lightly armed, and the navy and air force negligible.

Declaration of The Emergency

By September 1939, a general European war was inevitable. On 2 September, de Valera told the "Dáil Éireann" (the lower house of parliament) that neutrality was the best policy for the country. In this he was almost uniformly supported by the "Dáil" and the country at large (including the pro-British elements). [There was only one vote against neutrality in the "Dáil", from James Dillon, who argued that the State should side with the Allies. He eventually resigned his Dáil seat and from Fine Gael, the main opposition party, because of their support for neutrality. (He rejoined Fine Gael in 1953 and served as their leader from 1959 to 1965.] The Irish constitution was amended to allow the Government to take emergency powers, and then the Emergency Powers Act 1939 was passed that included censorship of the press and mail correspondence. The government was able to take control of the economic life of the country under the new Minister of Supply Seán Lemass. Liberal use was made of all of these powers. Internment of those who had committed a crime or were about to commit one would be used extensively against the IRA. Censorship was under the charge of the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures, Frank Aiken. It was necessary to prevent publication of matter that might undermine the neutrality of the State and to prevent it becoming a clearing house for foreign intelligence, though over the period of The Emergency, the Act started to be used for more party political purposes such as preventing the publication of the numbers of Irish soldiers serving in the United Kingdom armed forces or industrial disputes within the state [ Girvin, pp.84"ff"] . In addition, the information made available to Irish people was also carefully controlled. De Valera performed the duties of Minister of External Affairs, though the secretary for the Department of External Affairs, Joseph Walshe was very influential.

On the declaration of the emergency, Walshe asked for assurances from the German minister in Dublin, Eduard Hempel that Germany would not use its legation for espionage nor attack Irish trade with Britain. He then travelled to London on 6 September where he met the Dominions Secretary, Anthony Eden, who was conciliatory and defended Irish neutrality in subsequent Cabinet meetings. In addition, the appointment of Sir John Maffey as a British representative in Dublin was agreed.

For the Irish government, neutrality meant not showing partiality to either side. On one hand, that meant the open announcement of military activity such as the sighting of submarines or the arrival of parachutists, and the suppression of any foreign intelligence activity. Ireland's geographical position meant that this policy (which was applied fully and consistently)Fact|date=April 2007 tended to benefit the Allies more than Germany. For example, British servicemen who crashed over the State were allowed to go free if they could claim not to have been on a combat mission, otherwise they were released "on licence" (promise to remain). Many chose to escape to Great Britain via Northern Ireland. [All Allied servicemen were released from internment by October 1944 while all Axis servicemen remained at the Curragh. Until 1942, it was not even a technical offence to aid the escape of an internee. Surface ships were excluded from the deal. See Fisk pp.176–177. An example of this policy is the release into Northern Ireland of six officers including four generals that had crash landed in Galway on route from Africa on 15 January 1943. See Duggan p.184. Hempel reported in November 1943 that only eleven out of the forty allied internees remained interned. See Duggan p.171.] Also, Allied mechanics were allowed to retrieve crash landed Allied aircraft. There was extensive cooperation between British and Irish intelligence and the exchange of information such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean; the decision to go ahead with the D-day landings was decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo. [See Duggan p.180 ]

On the other hand, the government did not show any sort of public preference to either side, unlike the United States when it was neutral, for example. This is partly because de Valera had to keep national unity, which meant accommodating the large swathe of Irish society that rejected anything to do with the British, and that admired Germany to some extent (largely owing to Germany's historical role as an ally of Ireland,Fact|date=May 2008 having failed in an attempt to supply a small cache of arms, possibly to the rebels of 1916). These attitudes were shared by Aiken [Girvin, p.199] , and Walshe [Girvin, p.125. Walshe seemed to be quite comfortable with the largely Catholic government in Vichy France.] , and to a large extent by de Valera himself. The Fianna Fáil government ruled alone and did not accommodate any other party in decision-making. [Girvin, pp.143"ff"]

The IRA and The Emergency

In the early months of the emergency, the greatest threat to the State came from the IRA. In the Christmas Raid in 1939, one million rounds of ammunition were stolen from the Irish Army by the IRA (though it was mostly recovered in the following weeks) [Girvin, p.76] and there were a number of killings, mostly of policemen. [ There were a number of IRA attacks between 1935 and 1945, including ten murders, mostly between late 1939 and early 1941. Notably, these included the murder of Detective Officer John Roche by Tomás Mac Curtain in Dublin in January 1940 and of two policemen in August . See Girvin, p.76.] In addition, the existing emergency legislation was undermined by the obtaining of a writ of "habeas corpus" by Seán MacBride resulted in the release of all those who had been interned. The government responded with the Offences Against the State Act, which established the Special Criminal Court, and rearrested and interned IRA activists. A hunger strike was started in Mountjoy Prison in an attempt to gain political status, which collapsed after the death of two prisoners. In retaliation Dublin Castle was bombed and there were a number of serious incidents throughout the country.

The IRA fostered links with German intelligence (the Abwehr) and Foreign Ministry, with men such as Francis Stuart travelling to Germany to talk, though these attempts were largely ineffectual due to a combination of Abwehr and Foreign Ministry incompetence and IRA weakness. [See main article and series on IRA liaisons with Abwehr in World War II IRA Abwehr World War II.] Germans also came to Ireland, the most notable of whom was Hermann Görtz, who was captured in possession of "Plan Kathleen"- an IRA plan that detailed a German supported invasion of Northern Ireland.

Two IRA men were executed for the murder of two policemen in September 1940, and the IRA became increasingly ineffective in the face of the resolute use of internment, the breaking of hunger strikes, and the application of execution for capital offences. During 1941, the hope of a German invasion had faded and funding from the United States had been cut off. The IRA leadership were mostly interned within the Curragh internment camp, where they were treated increasingly harshly, or on the run. The IRA remained active, particularly in Northern Ireland, but they ceased to be a major threat to the stability of Ireland.

Ireland and the United Kingdom 1939–1941

After the German invasion of Norway in April 1940, Winston Churchill became the British Prime Minister. This and the subsequent fall of France in June 1940 brought the war close to Ireland.

The United Kingdom was now the only major impediment to Germany. A major British concern was now whether Germany would invade Ireland. The British view was that the Irish Army was not powerful enough to resist an invasion for long enough for reinforcement from the UK, particularly with the IRA as a potential fifth column, and wished to be able to forestall this by stationing troops and ships within the Irish state. In addition, this view made the UK reluctant to provide military supplies because of the risk of them falling into German hands after an invasion. The Irish government's view was that they would be more successful against the Germans than the states already occupied, and there could be no agreement for joint military measures while partition continued, and would not commit themselves beyond neutrality for the whole island should it end.

Unification refused?

By June 1940, the British representative in Ireland, Maffey, was urging that "the strategic unity of our island group" should take precedence over Ulster Unionism, and Churchill was making clear that there should be no military action taken against Ireland. [Girvin, pp.108–109.] The Minister for Health, Malcolm MacDonald, who had negotiated the 1938 trade agreement with Ireland whilst Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, was sent to Dublin to explore possibilities with de Valera. From these Chamberlain produced a six-point proposal that committed the UK government to a united Ireland and proposed the setting-up of a joint body to effect this. A Joint Defence Council would be set up immediately and the State provided with military equipment. In return the State would join the Allies and intern all German and Italian aliens. Rejected by the Irish government, the proposal was then amended to strengthen the steps towards a united Ireland, and no longer requiring Ireland to join the war, but only to invite British forces to use Irish bases and ports. De Valera rejected the revised proposal on 4 July and made no counter proposal. One reason for this would have been the difficult calculation of how damaging the inevitable split in Ireland would be if such a proposal was accepted. One of the main reasons was that the Irish Government thought that the UK would lose the war and did not want to be on the losing side: during the negotiations Walshe had produced two memoranda for de Valera (one entitled "Britain's Inevitable Defeat") predicting the isolation of Britain, the dismemberment of its empire, and finally its inevitable crushing by Germany. Walshe also wrote approvingly of the character of the Pétain government. [Girvin, pp.124–125] Walshe's memoranda affected de Valera, with him telling MacDonald that Britain "could not destroy this [German] colossal machine". [Girvin, p.129]

Ports and trade

The great majority of Ireland's trade was with the United Kingdom, and most of its supplies came from there. This created great difficulties for the Irish government as Germany tried to blockade the UK. In September 1940, an advantageous trade agreement to the state fell through, owing to the refusal to allow transshipment facilities following German pressure, including the threat to blockade Ireland and the bombing of Ambrosetown and Campile in County Wexford. [Duggan p. 112, p. 132, Girvin p. 161] . In the autumn of 1940, the threat of German invasion had receded, but relations between the UK and Ireland deteriorated, largely as a result of the increased losses of Allied shipping to U-boat attack. To try to prevent some of these losses, the UK wanted sea and air bases in western Ireland. [In the end, probably at Lough Swilly and the Shannon estuary rather than the Treaty Ports, Girvin, p.175.] On the 5 November, in the House of Commons, Churchill complained:

The fact that we cannot use the South and West coasts of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect the trade by which Ireland as well as Great Britain lives, is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed on our shoulders, broad though they may be.

The Irish government chose to interpret this sentence (out of a seven page speech) as a threat of invasion. Some sort of armed occupation was a real possibility [The UK had occupied Iceland in May 1940] , but the balance of evidence is that there was never a serious threat. [Girvin pp. 171 "ff"] Large elements of the British cabinet and government and those of its allies were opposed to any armed intervention in Ireland; however, in late 1940 and early 1941, relations between the two countries did worsen. The British stopped informing Ireland of its order of battle in Northern Ireland, while the Irish Army drew up plans for defence against the British. The United Kingdom also started to restrict trade to Ireland, reasoning that if Ireland would not do anything to protect the lives of those bringing in supplies, it should at least share in the deprivations being felt in the UK. Relations between the UK and Ireland only really eased in the middle of 1941 with the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany and an agreement to allow Irish immigration to Britain to work in the war industries, resulting in up to 200,000 Irish people doing so by 1945. [Girvin p.179]

Ireland and the neutral United States

At the beginning of the Second World War, the United States president was Franklin Roosevelt. The United States was neutral, and Roosevelt's actions were circumscribed by neutrality legislation; however, Roosevelt was a vehement anti-Nazi, an unequivocal supporter of the UK in the war, and personally close to Churchill. The U.S. minister to Ireland was David Gray, a personal friend of Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor. De Valera saw the U.S. as a bulwark against invasion from any party, while the U.S. saw the support of Britain in the war as the priority, and so while supportive of Irish neutrality was sceptical of it extending over the whole island and wanted an arrangement to be made with the UK over ports, possibly through the leasing of them. [Girvin, p.182] The Irish government wanted the U.S. to sell them arms. This was supported by Gray, and by the British government, but only if not at the expense of their own allocation. As a result, in 1940 all surplus U.S. arms were sold to the UK and Canada.

The strong support of the UK by the Roosevelt administration led the Irish government to try to bolster anti-Roosevelt isolationist opinion in the November 1940 presidential election and a Christmas radio broadcast by de Valera to the U.S. supporting isolationism. An attempt to influence Roosevelt's special emissary, Wendell Willkie on a visit to the Great Britain and Ireland January 1941, failed. In a further attempt to obtain arms from the U.S. de Valera decided that Aiken should visit Washington. Gray supported the idea of a visit, but had doubts over whether Aiken was the right person to make it, and stressed that the Irish were only likely to obtain arms if they co-operated with the British purchasing commission. Aiken left Ireland in March 1941. For his St Patrick's day address, de Valera claimed that Ireland was under blockade from both sides and that neutrality protected Ireland from "the hazards of imperial adventure". Aiken's visit was disastrous. [Girvin pp.208 "ff"] His anti-British views and, in American eyes, overestimation of Ireland's military capabilities went across all the administration's policies towards the war. As well as alienating Roosevelt and other members of the administration, he failed to use the letters of introduction to senior Democrats, including Eleanor Roosevelt, provided to him by Gray. Aiken spent the last seven weeks of his visit on what was seen as an anti-administration speaking tour, associating closely with isolationist opinion. The result was that the U.S. would not sell any armaments to the State, and relations between the two countries significantly worsened, the U.S. becoming even more unequivocal in its support of the UK. In October 1941 on receiving a note from the Irish government asking for its intentions with regard to Northern Ireland on the stationing of personnel associated with the lend-lease programme, the U.S. State Department referred them to the British government as Northern Ireland was, they insisted, part of the UK [ Girvin p.287]

ignificant events

Belfast Blitz

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland (as part of the United Kingdom) was at war and the Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast were among the strategic targets for German attack. The Luftwaffe carried out a bombing raid on Belfast on April 7 1941; eight people died. On Easter Tuesday, April 15 1941, 180 Luftwaffe bombers attacked Belfast. There was no defence from the RAF. There were only seven anti-aircraft batteries in Belfast. However they ceased firing lest they damage the (absent) RAF airplanes. Over 200 tons of explosives, 80 landmines attached to parachutes and 800 firebomb canisters were dropped. Over 1,000 died and 56,000 houses (more than half of the city's housing stock) were damaged leaving 100,000 temporarily homeless. Outside of London, this was the greatest loss of life in a night raid during the Battle of Britain mostly due to the lack of aerial defences over Belfast. At 4.30 AM Basil Brooke asked de Valera for assistance. Within two hours, 13 fire tenders from Dublin, Drogheda, Dundalk and Dún Laoghaire were on their way to cross the Irish border to assist their Belfast colleagues. De Valera followed up with his "they are our people" speech and formally protested to Berlin. Although there was a later raid on May 4, it was confined to the docks and shipyards.

Dublin bombing

In early January, 1941, there had been several minor German bombings of Irish territory. There were three deaths in Borris, County Carlow and other incidents in Wexford, Dublin and at the Curragh. The public mood was already agitated, fearing a German invasion and the implications of the bombings added to the concern. So as not to antagonise the Germans further, the Irish authorities initially declined to confirm that the bombs were German. Public speculation, and IRA claims, that the bombs were British, or German but released by British aircraft, later prompted Irish Government denials. [ cite book | last = Wills | first = Claire | title = That Neutral Island | publisher = Faber and Faber | year = 2007 | location = London | pages = pp. 208–210 | isbn = 978-0-571-22105-9 ]

On the night of May 30/31 of the same year, Dublin's Northside was the target of a Luftwaffe air raid. Thirty-eight were killed and seventy houses were destroyed on Summerhill Parade, North Strand and the North Circular Road. The German government claimed the raid was an error and Germany paid compensation after the war. The Irish government promptly protested and Germany apologised claiming that high winds were to blame or there had been British interference with navigation signals. Unlike the earlier bombing incidents, there was no public speculation that the perpetrators were other than the Luftwaffe. [ cite book | last = Wills | first = Claire | title = That Neutral Island | publisher = Faber and Faber | year = 2007 | location = London | pages = pp. 212 | isbn = 978-0-571-22105-9 ] On October 3, the German news agency announced that the German government would pay compensation for dropping bombs on Dublin. Winston Churchill later conceded that the raids might have been the result of a British invention which distorted Luftwaffe radio guidance beams so as to throw their planes off course [Tim Pat Coogan "de Valera ‘long fellow, short shadow’" p. 585] [Joseph T. Carroll "“Ireland in the War Years”" p. 109] .

The Allies and neutrality

*When, in 1941, the Irish police discovered "Operation Green" in a residence where German agent Hermann Görtz had been staying, the Irish promptly passed copies to MI5 in London, who in turn forwarded them to the RUC in Belfast. Joint plans of action were then drawn up between the British and Irish intelligence services and military under Plan W.
*General McKenna, the Irish Army's Chief of Staff, regularly visited British officers in Belfast and in 1942 twelve Irish officers undertook training with British special forces in Poyntzpass, County Armagh. Cooperation did not end there and also included the British signalling through GPO lines when it believed German planes were headed towards Ireland. [See Fisk pp. 175–176]
*From December 1940 onwards the Dublin Government agreed to accept over 2000 British women and children evacuated from London due to "The Blitz". These evacuees included over two hundred children orphaned by the bombing. [The British paid for the food and clothing allowance of the orphans, but the Irish paid for their lodgings, attempts were also made to have the British pay for their hospital treatment, but it was dropped when the request was "unfavourably received" in London. See Fisk pp.175–176]
*Attacks on Irish vessels, such as that on the "Kerlogue", which the British had initially attributed to the Germans, but later admitted responsibility for and offered to pay compensation when fragments of British ammunition were discovered embedded in the ship. [see Duggan p.173] The ship had been attacked by aircraft No. 307 Polish Night Fighter Squadron, after being mistaken for a French vessel. [ [ BBC - WW2 People's War - THEY SERVED NEITHER KING NOR FUEHRER BUT HUMANITY ] ]
*The mining of the St. George's channel to within seven miles of the Irish coast at Dungarvan, and the use of Irish waters for British shipping traffic. [see Duggan p.112]
*London was informed when U-boats were sighted. [see Girvin p.69]
*The Donegal Corridor allowed British flying boats based on Lough Erne to take a short-cut over Irish territory when flying patrols over the Atlantic [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Plaques mark secret wartime air corridor in Donegal
work =
publisher = Irish Independant
date = 19 April 2007
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-09-04
] cite web
last = McGowan
first = Joe
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Irish Neutrality: Sacred Cow or Pious Wish?
work =
publisher = SligoHeritage
month = March | year = 2005
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-09-04
] . The PBY Catalina which located the German battleship Bismarck when it was heading for France in 1941 was one example [cite book
last = Kennedy
first = Ludovic
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Pursuit: The Sinking of the "Bismarck"
publisher = Book Club Associates
year = 1975
location = London
pages = p.137
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0006340148
] .
* A British armed trawler, the "Robert Hastie", was stationed at Killybegs, from June 1941, for air/sea rescue duties.

The Axis and neutrality

*German pilots, aircrew and naval personnel who were discovered in Ireland were always interned and remained so for the duration of the conflict. [According to the Irish Defence Department, there were "no International Conventions specifically governing the treatment of belligerent internees and accordingly it appears open to neutral States…to prescribe conditions of internment in whatever manner they think fit." This is why the Irish felt they could release British pilots but retain German ones. See Fisk pp. 176–177. De Valera argued that blow by blow parity returning German aircrews to German could not take place as they could bring back militarily valuable information. See Duggan p.185 although Hempel was to find out in 1943 that the Irish had been negotiating with the British over returning German internees. See Duggan p.171.]
*In July 1940, three German Abwehr agents were arrested outside Skibbereen after landing near Castletownshend, County Cork. The agents' mission had been to infiltrate Britain via Ireland.
*The chief Abwehr spy in Ireland was Hermann Görtz. Approximately 12 spies were deployed, mostly with little success, including Günther Schütz, Ernst Weber-Drohl (a former circus strongman) and Henry Obed, an Indian.
*The activities of German agents in Ireland throughout the war years and their attempts to contact and court both Irish Republican Army and disaffected Irish Army personnel - many of these agents, if not all, were captured/exposed. (See main article on IRA Nazi links IRA Abwehr World War II.)
*The German ambassador at the German Legation in Dublin, Eduard Hempel, had his radio confiscated in 1943 to prevent him from passing information to his leaders. [This is thought to have occurred at the insistence of the American forces stationed in Northern Ireland. Hempel had been relaying Irish Army strength and troop movements to Berlin throughout the war, and he is also thought to have relayed weather reports to the German battleships "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" in February 1942. The British military had been intercepting and logging his transmissions. See Duggan p.180]
*The U-boat torpedo attack which sunk the vessel "Irish Oak" on 19 May 1943. De Valera said that "it was a wanton and inexcusable act. There was no possibility of a mistake, the conditions of visibility were good and the neutral markings on our ships were clear. There was no warning given." [See Duggan p. 185. In most cases, each Irish ship had "Éire" painted in large lettering on the side and decking, and flew the Flag of Ireland. Irish ships sunk by U-boat included the "Munster", the "Kerry Head", the "City of Limerick" and the "SS. Kyleclare". the "City of Bremen" was sunk by German planes south-west of Mizen Head on 2 June 1942.]
*The "North Strand Bombing" on 31 May 1941 [See Duggan p.112 & p.132] took place in Malin, County Donegal on 5 May 1941, and Arklow on 1 June 1941. [ See Duggan p.135.]
*Repeated attempts to offer captured British weaponry to de Valera if he would side with the Germans. [See Duggan pp.131–136.]

Relations with Germany

In pursuit of its policy of neutrality, the Irish Government refused to close the German and Japanese embassies. In 1939, the German Government had very little intelligence on Ireland and Britain. This is because Hitler had hoped for a détente or alliance with Britain, whom he considered the "natural allies" of Nazi Germany. [Hitler was a big fan of the British and their Empire, some recollections [ here] .] When concerted efforts to build a reliable picture of British military strength did begin around 1939–1940, efforts were first made to infiltrate spies to Britain via Ireland, but these attempts consistently failed (See Operation Lobster and Operation Seagull (Ireland)). The Abwehr also made attempts to foster intelligence gathering links with the IRA, but found that the IRA was in no condition to be of serious use — these attempts were to occur during the period 1939–1943. The German military also drew up plans detailing how an invasion of Ireland might take place. These plans were titled Plan Green and any invasion was to act as a diversionary attack in support of a main attack to conquer Britain titled Operation Sealion. Both of these plans were shelved by 1942. When U.S. Army troops began to be stationed in Northern Ireland in 1942, Plan Green was reprinted because there was a fear amongst the German High Command, (and the Irish Government), that the U.S. Army may attempt an invasion of Ireland, following its occupation of Iceland (after the British invasion) and Greenland in 1941. These fears led to another German intelligence plan – Operation Osprey – but it was abandoned when the feared American invasion failed to take place.

The British also had a plan to attempt the reconquest of the entire Island in the eventuality of a German invasion. They had always sought to privately reassure de Valera that any invasion by their troops would be by invitation only. This scheme was titled Plan W and intricate details were worked out with the Irish government and military over how to react to a German invasion. The Irish military shared details of their defences and military capabilities with the British and troops stationed in Northern Ireland. The reassurances from the British did not altogether console de Valera however, and he was frequently suspicious, while German forces still threatened Britain, that the British may invade the territory of the State. He did not know that the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Craigavon was urging London to seize the port at Cobh, or that attempts had been made to split the consensus over the Neutrality policy. Concessions such as relaxing of the claim on Lough Swilly to allow British navy and airforce patrols did go some way to easing the tension. As the war turned against Nazi Germany in their eastern campaign, and as the Abwehr became less and less effective, around 1943–1944, operations in the island of Ireland ceased to be of interest to the German Government and military and therefore the British. Overall, during the period the focus of de Valera was maintaining Irish neutrality. The Irish authorities pursuit of an aggressive campaign of internment against the IRA, including raising the Local Security Force (LSF), executions, and aggressive action by Irish Military Intelligence (G2) meant that the activities of the German Legation in Dublin were supervised closely and attempts to infiltrate spies into the country were quickly discovered.

After Hitler's death, and against the strong advice of his advisers, de Valera paid a controversial visit to Hempel to express sympathy with the German people over the death of the Führer. [Commentary on Taoiseach Éamon de Valera's visit to the German Legation, 2 May 1945 from the National Archives of Ireland available [ here] .] This action has been defended as proper given the state's neutrality. Sir John Maffey, the British Representative, commented that de Valera's actions were "unwise but mathematically consistent". [Gray, p. 233] Douglas Hyde, Ireland's president, also sent condolences, [ [,14058,1675795,00.html President sent sympathy on Hitler's death | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited ] ] an action which enraged the United States minister as no similar action had taken place on the death of the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. [On the death of President Roosevelt, de Valera made arrangements for a commemoration service in St Mary's (Catholic) Pro-Cathedral. The Ambassador said that he would not attend unless it was held in St. Patrick's (Church of Ireland) Cathedral, Dublin. Walsh tried to contact Gray, but was told that he was unavailable. Neither service was held. Since the Ambassador would be unavailable to receive condolences from de Valera, he sent his secretary to deliver his condolences rather than delivering them in person. He then instructed that flags be lowered to half-mast as a mark to respect to the late President.] [de Valera had protested vociferously to the American Government about its "invasion of Ireland" when U.S. troops had landed in Northern Ireland.] Yet all flags in Dublin were lowered to half-mast out of respect. [(1997, Hawley) "John D Kearney and Irish Canadian relations during World War II" Heather J Hawley, University of Western Ontario]

Jewish victims of the Holocaust

Elements of Irish public opinion were slow to accept the nature of the Nazi regime. A "Limerick Leader" editorial in 1945 noted that, "The campaign against war criminals is strangely confined to those who happen to fight on the wrong side." However it continued to say that

Allied atrocities cannot excuse the monstrous barbarism of the Reich. [In Kilkenny in 1945, a letter to a local newspaper declared that newsreel footage of Belsen was "all propaganda" and had been faked by the British using starving Indians.Also in Kilkenny the first prize in a fancy dress ball went to "the Beast of Belsen".See Fisk, Robert "In Time of War" pp. 430–431 for details on Anti-semitism in Kilkenny & Limerick.]

According to some sources, it appears that there was official indifference from the political establishment to the Jewish victims of the holocaust during and after the war. This was despite de Valera having knowledge of the crimes committed against Jewish victims of the Holocaust as early as 1943. [ Brian Girvin, 'De Valera's Diplomatic Neutrality', "History Today", 56(3), p.50 (2006)] Other sources report that de Valera was so aware in 1942 and the government sought to secure the release of Jews from then. ["In 1942 Rabbi Herzog warned de Valera that Jews were being systematically exterminated in German prison camps. The Taoiseach and his government made efforts to rescue various groups, especially groups including children, and bring them to Ireland. These included a large group of German Jews held at Vittel in Vichy France, who already possessed visas for various South American countries. De Valera, together with the Irish ministers in Berlin, Vichy, and at the Vatican worked to rescue the Vittel Jews, and later groups of Italian, Dutch, Hungarian, and Slovakian Jews, but without success. In no case were the Nazis willing to let such groups depart for Ireland or leave Europe under Irish auspices. There was also a mistaken belief that Jews with Irish visas might be imprisoned, but would not be sent to the death camps, a belief the Vittel episode destroyed." from Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought, Summer, 1999, The Jews of Ireland. Robert Tracy ] After the war had ended, Jewish groups had difficulty in getting refugee status for Jewish children – whilst at the same time, a plan to bring over four hundred Catholic children from the Rhineland encountered no difficulties. [Keogh, Dermot, "Jews in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Refugees, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust" pp. 209–210. The plan to bring over Catholic German children was known as Operation Shamrock.] The Department of Justice explained in 1948 that:

It has always been the policy of the Minister for Justice to restrict the admission of Jewish aliens, for the reason that any substantial increase in our Jewish population might give rise to an anti-Semitic problem. [Department of Justice Memorandum 'Admission of One Hundred Jewish children' 28 April 1948.]

However, de Valera over-ruled the Department of Justice and the 150 refugee Jewish children were brought to Ireland in 1948. Earlier, in 1946, 100 Jewish children from Poland were bought to Clonyn Castle in County Meath by a London Jewish charity. [ [ Ireland ] ] In 1952 he again overruled the Department of Justice to admit five Orthodox Jewish families who were fleeing the Communists. In 1966, the Dublin Jewish community arranged the planting and dedication of the "Éamon de Valera Forest" in Israel, near Nazareth, in recognition of his consistent support for Ireland's Jews. [The Jews of Ireland by Robert Tracy, published in the Summer 1999 edition of "Judaism"]

The Emergency after the end of World War II

De Valera's reluctance to recognise a difference between World War II and previous European wars was illustrated by his reply to a radio broadcast by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill on V-E Day. Churchill praised Britain's restraint in not occupying Ireland in order to secure the Western Approaches during the Battle of the Atlantic:

the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats. This indeed was a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland, we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr. de Valera, or perish from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I venture to say, history will find few parallels, His Majesty’s Government never laid a violent hand upon them, though at times it would have been quite easy and quite natural, and we left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content.

De Valera replied to Churchill in another radio broadcast, which was popular when broadcast in Ireland:

Allowances can be made for Mr. Churchill’s statement, however unworthy, in the first flush of victory. No such excuse could be found for me in this quieter atmosphere. There are, however, some things it is essential to say. I shall try to say them as dispassionately as I can. Mr. Churchill makes it clear that, in certain circumstances, he would have violated our neutrality and that he would justify his actions by Britain’s necessity. It seems strange to me that Mr. Churchill does not see that this, if accepted, would become a moral code and that when this necessity became sufficiently great, other people’s rights were not to count… that is precisely why we had this disastrous succession of wars — World War No.1 and World War No.2 — and shall it be World War No.3? Mr. Churchill is proud of Britain’s stand alone, after France had fallen and before America entered the war. Could he not find in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two, but for several hundred years against aggression; that endured spoliations, famine, massacres, in endless succession; that was clubbed many times into insensibility, but each time on returning to consciousness took up the fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept defeat and has never surrendered her soul?

Churchill's son Randolph Churchill later reported that Churchill had not liked de Valera's broadcast, and had remained silent for some time after listening to it. The British civil service establishment took the view that, by allowing de Valera to emerge from the exchange with dignity, Churchill had squandered the political advantage accruing from de Valera's condolences to Hempel on Hitler's death.

After the end of the war, Hempel remained in Ireland and de Valera first resisted the return to Germany of arrested German agents, and then, at Hempel's request, the Irish Government opposed the outcome of the Nuremberg trials. Documents produced by the Department of External Affairs refused to accept the concept of a war criminal and compared the Nuremberg trials to the British use of the judicial system in Ireland against Nationalists.

The returning Irish volunteers returned to indifference or even hostility. After the end of the war, United States personnel were allowed to wear their uniforms in Ireland, but not those who had served in the British forces. In addition, the Irish government cancelled the Remembrance Day march. Special legislation was introduced so that the 4,000 Irish soldiers who had deserted to Britain were punished more harshly for desertion on their return than those who had deserted under other circumstances. [Their punishment was brought under the Emergency Powers Legislation and they were excluded from public employment. Girvin, p.280.] In April 1995 Taoiseach John Bruton, leader of the Fine Gael Party, said

"volunteered to fight against Nazi tyranny in Europe, at least 10,000 of whom were killed while serving in British uniforms. In recalling their bravery, we are recalling a shared experience of Irish and British people. We remember a British part of the inheritance of all who live in Ireland."


ources and further information

* Duggan, John P. "Herr Hempel at the German Legation in Dublin 1937 – 1945" (Irish Academic Press) 2003 ISBN 0-7165-2746-4
* Fisk, Robert "In time of War: Ireland, Ulster, and the price of neutrality 1939 – 1945" (Gill & Macmillan) 1983 ISBN 0-7171-2411-8
* Gray, Tony "The Lost Years - The Emergency in Ireland 1939-45" (Little, Brown & Co) 1997 ISBN 0-316-88189-9
* Girvin, Brian "The Emergency: Neutral Ireland 1939–45" (Macmillan) 2006 ISBN 1-4050-0010-4
* Ó Longaigh, Seosamh "Emergency Law in Independent Ireland 1922-1948" (Four Courts) 2006 ISBN 1-85182-922-9

External links

* [ Article on 'The Challenge Of The Irish Volunteers of World War II']
* [ Article on the 'Belfast Blitz']
* [ Largely anecdotal account related to the British position on Irish neutrality and contacts with U-Boats]
* [ No.1 Internment camp "K-Lines" in the Curragh housed IRA, British, and German personnel]

ee also

* "Caught in a Free State" - a dramatised television series on German wartime spies in Ireland, made by RTE
* History of the Republic of Ireland
* Irish neutrality
* Irish neutrality during World War II
* Minister for Supplies
* Belfast Blitz
* Plan Kathleen
* Operation Green
* IRA Abwehr World War II - Main article on IRA Nazi links
* Ulster Defence Volunteers
* Oskar Metzke

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