note on Bernard Share¹s book The Emergency¹- Neutral Ireland
1939-45¹ contains the following: - ³Neutrality¹, Emergency¹
- Two words which almost forty years later can still evoke
extraordinary memories for those who remember the period
and a fascination for those who were too young.² The same
can be said to-day almost sixty years later. By: Joe McManus
Those of us who were then teenagers paid little attention
to forebodings of war published in daily newspapers. In
August, 1939 with friends from counties Meath and Tyrone
at the Gaeltacht of Rann na Feirsde, Co Donegal, we took
great delight in asking our Fear ATi -
An mbeidh cogadh ann? just to hear his reply
Ó, beidh, cinnte.
A few days after my arrival home to Cavan came the news
- outbreak of war in Europe, Mr. de Valeras declaration
that our part of the Island - Éire - would remain
neutral, at the same time stating that time of war should
cause an Emergency here. There were very few
radio sets in my area then. The Irish Press
which was sold in the local Grocery Shop, carried An Taoiseachs
statement in full.
At that stage I was about to commence my last term at Cavan
Town Vocational School - cycling to and from there daily
- a distance of approximately seventeen statute miles (return).
On a particular morning after the Christmas (1939) holidays
having entered Cavan Town and cycling through ORahilly
and Casement Streets I was amazed to see several uniformed
armed soldiers manning barricades and check-points. Afterwards
I learned that this was part of an operation in connection
with the search for arms and ammunition stolen from the
Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park.
Months passed and war continued to rage through Europe during
the long hot summer of 1940. Soon, scarcity of foodstuffs
began to bite. There was a limited amount of tea, bread,
clothing, paraffin oil (kerosene) which was necessary for
oil lamps. Coal was also a scarce commodity. Where possible
farmers cut turf by slean but where bog was cut away hand-made
mud turf was the order of the day.
Each person received a ration book. Ration coupons were
required for almost all purchases. A half-ounce of tea per
family per week became the allowance. With extraction of
certain substances from wheat batch bread took on a dark
colour. There was a severe shortage of tobacco and cigarettes.
Many families began to receive packets of nectar tea and
cut plug tobacco from their relatives in USA. Tea became
available on the black market at One Pound per pound. Bicycle
tyres were another valuable and scarce commodity. There
was little transport on the main Dublin/Cavan road other
than the G.N.R. and G.S.R. buses. Cavan Railway Station
continued in operation. The Government brought in a Compulsory
Tillage Order and advised farmers to grow more wheat, oats,
barley, potatoes, etc. Most small farmers took this in their
stride although the work had to be carried out with horses
and ploughs and in some cases by spade and shovel.
Rumours of invasion became rife.
The information on milestones and sign-posts were blotted
out. I remember one wall on which the words Stradone
Park Laundry were painted over, but appeared again
on rainy days when the wall became wet.
The scourge of T.B. continued and many families suffered.
All churches commenced devotions for peace. A story was
told about a priest and his gardener in our neighbouring
parish. The priest kept greyhounds and the gardener looked
after the animals. On one occasion the good priest heard
the gardener requesting his housekeeper to have evening
tea an hour earlier than usual. Fr. wanted to know the reason
and his assistant replied that they would have to be at
Clones Greyhound track at a particular time. We cannot
go this evening. Didnt I announce devotions for seven
Disappointed, the gardener posed the question What
are the Devotions for on a week-evening?. Devotions
for Peace, came the reply, to which the gardener responded
Let them go to hell and fight it out.
Houses with radio sets began to have many visitors and a
wonderful spirit of neighbourliness and co-operation existed
among the people.
New army and Red Cross Units were installed in Cavan Town,
Virginia and Ballyjamesduff. The 11th. Cyclists were in
Cavan and as far as I can recall there was an Infantry Unit
in Virginia which may have been the 8th Battalion. Here
I am open to correction. An S&T Unit occupied the A.O.H
Hall in Ballyduff. Civil Defence and A.R.P. began to receive
In June, 1940 An Taoiseach made a broadcast to the Nation
in which he announced the setting-up of a Local Security
In my own Parish of Lavey several young men who had earlier
been members of the Volunteer Force of the thirties left
to join the Emergency Army. Coming out from a Sunday Morning
Mass in St. Dympnas Church, Upper Lavey, I saw the
late Professor John M. Breen of St. Patricks College
speaking from a platform. He was recruiting for the Security
Forces - Groups A and B. Group A
later became the L.D.F and was under the control of the
Army. Group B became the L.S.F and assisted
the Gárda Síochana, often performing night
patrols. A number of those listening to Mr Breen gave in
their names for enlistment. Anyone under eighteen years
old was not accepted.
Our local L.D.F became a very strong unit and had its headquarters
at Garryowen, Upper Lavey, where training and drilling took
place. L.S.F Hqrs were in a vacated dwelling-house formerly
occupied by the Brady family at Greaghnagee.
In November, 1940 I secured a position as a clerical assistant
in the Social Welfare Office, Cavan (then known as Branch
Employment Office), which necessitated continuance of my
cycling journeys. I noticed that a Mr. Joe Delaney of Roscrea,
based in Cavan town, we had often lent assistance to other
cyclists and myself when on his twice daily cycle runs from
Cavan to New Inn, in his work with The Automobile Association,
had ceased to perform his patrols.
While at home in bed on an April night in 1941 I heard a
continuous sound like the droning of aeroplane engines.
This continued the following morning and although there
was a clear blue and cloudless sky no plans could
be seen. As I later passed the bus office in Cavan
town I saw several people outside, some wrapped in rugs,
bed-clothing etc., and people coming towards them with flasks.
Later that day I learned that Belfast had been bombed and
the people I saw were refugees from that city. I cannot
recall my reason for visiting the town on that morning as
work in the B.E.O was only available during an Employment
Period Order from 1st November to 31st March. Hundreds of
people from all over Co Cavan were then in receipt of Unemployment
Assistance and Unemployment Benefit. Emigration was also
a fact of life.
On the 31st May, 1941 I heard of the Dublin bombings. Later
that year I joined my local L.S.F. unit and was issued with
a blue uniform, red arm-bands and torches. Our Group Leader
was the late Michael Tracey, Killygrogan, Upper Lavey and
the District Leader was the late Stanislaus Lynch of Ballyjamesduff.
I may say that having performed innumerable patrols during
my lifetime I will always remember my first. With the late
Noel Donohoe of Killygrogan we were required to patrol from
our headquarters to Belasis Bridge on foot and to note any
suspicious vehicles or anything untoward which might be
of assistance to An Garda. The only vehicle we saw was on
our return journey at approximately three oclock am
- a lorry belonging to Montgomery, Cavan, which was laded
with boxes. The driver explained that all the boxes were
required for Montgomery eggs and that he was delivering
them to the companys premises at the market yard in
Another duty in which I assisted was making a survey of
all turf saved in our area.
A frequent visitor who came by bus to our parish was
one, Dr. Weber Drohl, a German who had landed in Ireland
from a U-Boat or by Parachute. His activities are outlined
in a book published after the war and entitled German
Spies in Ireland also on Page 64 of The Emergency
which I mentioned at the outset of this article.
In summer of 1941 and summer of 1942 I did clerical work
with Cavan County Council in The Courthouse, Cavan and in
November, 1942 did not return to work at the Branch Employment
Office. I joined the Emergency Army at Cathal Brugha Barracks,
Dublin on 3rd December 1942 but as I shall show did not
lose touch with Cavan.
Through all the terrible and stringent days
Cumann Lúthchleas Gael provided first-class entertainment
for young and old alike and helped to keep peoples
spirits high. Camogie flourished among the ladies. As Cristéoir
Ó Floinn put it in his Centenary when
describing the youthful voice of Michéal OHehir
A vibrant voice brought all the play
Alive in a radio commentary
To every house in the hushed country
Where family and neighbours gathered in
To hear whod lose and who might win,
and in the same poem said: -
When petrol was rationed and trains were scarce
And asses were almost a sacred race
On bikes, on foot, in lorries for cattle
Thousands came thronging to see teams battle.
Twice, my club, Upper Lavey, were able to provide a bus
in 1940 - once for a Junior Championship football match
v Drumalee (near Cavan Town). Second was for the two All-Ireland
semi-finals - Meath v Galway, Cavan v Kerry at Croke Park
on August 18th. This was due to petrol rationing. Afterwards
it was mostly cycling to games when the late Mrs. Donohoe,
Killygrogan, used say The road was black with bicycles.
I recall some players and supporters carrying girlfriends
on cross-bars. Occasionally black market petrol was obtained
for a motor-van. It was my pleasure to have been on the
first two bus runs I have mentioned.
In June, 1940 I had the privilege of travelling by car (Floods
of Cavan)to Armagh for a Minor Championship Game - Cavan
v Antrim. Some of the Seniors were with us and their team
won the Dr. McKenna Cup by beating Tyrone on the same day.
Cavan could then afford to experiment and had wee
Paddy Smith - punch the ball - the hero from Drumkilly
at centre half back with Big Tom OReilly at full-back.
After crossing the border we had an encounter with B
Specials, one of whom demanded to know the significance
of a badge I was wearing. It was the Fainne and I presume
he knew well its significance.
Ulster Championships were won rather easily and Cavan contested
All-Ireland semi-finals in 1940 v Kerry, 1941 v Galway,
1942 v Dublin, 1943 v Cork, final and replay v Roscommon,
1945 semi-final v Wexford and final v Cork. I was present
at the 1943 final replay, at the 1945 semi final v Wexford
and final v Cork. Earlier I had seen a wonderful Railway
Cup game - Ulster 3-7 Leinster 2-9 on St. Patricks
Day, 1943, followed by an equally brilliant hurling game
between Munster and Leinster. Ulster had won their first
Railway Cup in 1942. The 43 team I saw included six
Cavan men - J.D. Benson, B Cully, T OReilly, G Smith,
JJ OReilly and Simon Deignan. The previous 1942 team
had included five of those plus B Kelly and TP OReilly.
On the night of the Roscommon/Cavan replay, 1943, my uncle
took me to a Cavan Céili in Rathmines town hall where
I met numerous Cavan people including Andy Smith (Lavey)
and the late Commdt. Séan Sheridan. Several speeches
were made from the stage during an interval. The most encouraging
and prophetic was made by Simon Deignan in which he promised
that the Cavan players would contest All-Irelands in the
following ten years and win at least three.
This they did later.
In 1941 I saw Cavans Camogie Team (Ulster Champions)
play Dublin in an All-Ireland semi-final which ended in
a draw at Breffni Park following several incidents
and a dispute over the last Cavan goal.
On the club scene Junior Clubs abounded throughout the county
- there was no Intermediate grade then. I saw a great Senior
County Final, Cornafean v Killinkere at Breffni Park in
1939, was a side-line steward when the same two teams met
in an incident-packed final in 1940, saw the
41 final when Cavan Slashers beat Cornafean by a point
in a hurricane wind, again the great 42 final when
Mullahoran beat Cornafean by a point. I missed the 43,
44 and 45 finals but saw Stradone beat Kill
in the Junior final of 1944.
St. Patricks College won the McRory Cup in 1939 having
earlier done so in 35, 36 and 37. They
won again in 1943 with a team which included the late PJ
Cavan Vocational School won the Gerard McLovett Shield and
medals in 1939 and this competition ceased for the remainder
of the emergency.
In my parish there were two junior football clubs in 1940
- upper and lower Lavey. The clubs united in 1941. Both
ends of the parish had excellent fife and drum bands and
both had camogie teams.
In late 1943 I was an Orderly Room Clerk with the IV FA
Regiment at Columb Barracks, Mullingar. Lavey club were
due to play neighbouring Stradone in a Divisional final
at Breffni Park. I was anxious to play, but on the previous
Friday evening heard the Commanding Officer tell our adjutant
all week-end passes were to be taken up on dinner-parade
and week-end leave cancelled. A sympathetic Sergeant who
was in charge of our office told me he had a despatch to
send to Brigade Headquarters on the Dublin Road, Mullingar
and added You have your week-end pass. You wont
be on the dinner-parade.
Ill give you another pass for an Army bicycle and
when you deliver the despatch keep going provided you guarantee
me youll have the bike back here on Sunday night.
I did as I was told, cycled through Crookedwood, Castlepollard,
Oldcastle and Ballyjamesduff to home, a distance of approximately
thirty-three statute miles. On the following Sunday I cycled
to Cavan (81/2 miles), played my game, cycled out to Lisdarn
to visit my mother who was a hospital patient there, returned
home for tea, and set off for Mullingar where I delivered
the bike. When at County Board and club meetings in recent
years it sickened me to hear of players seeking huge amounts
for travelling expenses to training sessions etc., and hear
debates about how much per mile players should receive.
Apart from football and camogie other entertainments during
the Emergency were Dances (concerts during Lent) in all
the little halls throughout the county. Various bands played
céile and old-time but often changed to the Barn
Dance , Boomps-a Daisy, The Lambeth
Walk, the Hokey-Pokey, The long
and the short, and the tall - God Bless de Valera and Sean
McEntee, God Bless the brown bread and the half-ounce of
In these days of election talk I recall some Cavan Elections
during the Emergency. Cavan was then a four-seat constituency.
There was a local government election in 1941. Two canvassers
called on me seeking a vote for a neighbour who was an Independent
or Cavan Farmers Party candidate. The voting age was then
twenty one and I was not even eighteen. I was shown my name
on the registrar but my father correctly informed me of
the law on the matter and the likely consequences should
I attempt to vote.
When home on leave from the army I cast my first vote in
Knocknagilla School at The General Election of 30th, May
1944. The following were elected: Patrick Smith (F.F), Michael
Sheridan (F.F), P OReilly (Murmod) (Clann na Talmhan),
Big Tom OReilly (Independent). John J Cole (Ind.)
and B.C Fay (F.F) were the other candidates. I think, but
am not sure, that Mr. Cole was a TD following the Election
of the previous year (1943).
After the tension caused by the Allied Notere Axis representatives
in Dublin had died down, and D day in 1944 fears
of an invasion waned and people looked forward to better
In the Dance Halls Vera Lynns song There will
be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover, there will
be joy and laughter and peace ever after, to-morrow you
just wait and see became very popular.
However, through all those days of poverty and want, with
their enduring Faith the people of Cavan and the entire
Diocese of Kilmore contributed their pounds and shillings
to the new Cathedral of SS. Patrick and Felim. I first saw
its foundations rise on a Cavan hillside in September, 1939.
From my school and later from my place of work I watched
it grow and was privileged to attend its dedication ceremonies
in the summer of 1942. Surely, it was fitting that so many
hundreds returned there for a Te Deum and to say Deo
Gratias for our preservation from the more extreme
ravages of war.
Early in May, 1945 I was home again - this time on what
was known as Agricultural Leave. I was helping
my father with moulding of potatoes stalks on the brow of
a hill when a passing cyclist on the main road below us
held up a newspaper and called out: - The war is over.
Having played my last game for Lavey I was in the Garda
Siochana Training Depot at Phoenix Park when the atom bomb
finally brought an end to World War II but it was some time
later before our Emergency faded away.
A Athair Shíoraí, déan solas na bhFlaitheas
ar na daoine ar cuid den scéal iad áta ar
Shlí na Firinne anois.
Taken from Breffni Blue