Cavan¹s Emergency Years

A cover note on Bernard Share¹s book ŒThe Emergency¹- ŒNeutral Ireland 1939-45¹ contains the following: - ³Neutrality¹, ŒEmergency¹ - 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 A’Ti’ - “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 Valera’s 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 Taoiseach’s 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 O’Rahilly 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. Didn’t I announce devotions for seven o’clock?”
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 attention.

In June, 1940 An Taoiseach made a broadcast to the Nation in which he announced the setting-up of a Local Security Force.

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. Dympna’s Church, Upper Lavey, I saw the late Professor John M. Breen of St. Patrick’s 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 o’clock 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 company’s premises at the market yard in Cavan.

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 O’Hehir -

“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 who’d 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 (Flood’s 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 O’Reilly 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. Patrick’s 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 O’Reilly, G Smith, JJ O’Reilly and Simon Deignan. The previous 1942 team had included five of those plus B Kelly and TP O’Reilly.

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 Cavan’s 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. Patrick’s 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 Duke.

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 won’t be on the dinner-parade.

I’ll give you another pass for an Army bicycle and when you deliver the despatch keep going provided you guarantee me you’ll 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 tea.’

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 O’Reilly (Murmod) (Clann na Talmhan), Big Tom O’Reilly (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 times.

In the Dance Halls Vera Lynn’s 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. Germany surrendered.”
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
April 2002