When World War II broke out a state of emergency was declared
in Ireland and with it came social, political and economic
difficulties. It was feared that the Germans would make
contact with the IRA and thus make the countrys neutral
stance untenable. Petrol rationing was introduced and the
rate of income tax was raised to 7 shillings in the pound
For the IRA it was a case of Englands difficulty
being Irelands opportunity. Sean Russell spearheaded
their collaboration with Germany, but ultimately it proved
to be of little benefit to either side and Russell himself
died on August 14, 1940 on board a German submarine off
the coast of Galway, on its way to Ireland.
The authorities struck an early blow when Special Branch
raided IRA headquarters at Rathmines, Dublin and in addition
to making several arrests confiscated documents and a large
sum on money. Just before Christmas 1939, the IRA looted
the Army Headquarters in the Phoenix Park and made away
with over a million rounds of ammunition, most of which
was subsequently recovered.
In December, Gardai seized a transmitter used by the IRA
to communicate with the German Secret Service. The effects
of the war began to home in Northern Ireland with the introduction
of food rationing in January 1940. IRA prisoners in the
south began a hunger strike in late February, but ended
following the deaths of two protestors in April.
The German secret service sent Herman Goertz to make contact
with the IRA. He landed by parachute in Co. Meath on May
5. His radio transmitter came down in a separate parachute,
but he was unable to locate it. The IRA were unable to provide
him with an effective replacement and before his arrest
and internment, Goertz was scathing with regard to their
competence. You know how to die for Ireland,
he is reported to have told them, but to fight for
it you have not the slightest idea.
Neutrality was no defence against German bombs when three
women were killed at a creamery in Campile, Co. Wexford
late in August 1940. Viscount Craigavon, first Prime Minister
of Northern Ireland died aged 69 on November 24 the same
year and was succeeded by John Miller Andrews.
Despite the failure to establish a mutually beneficial working
relationship with the IRA, Adolf Hilter ordered Admiral
Raeder to investigate the possibility of invading Ireland,
but only if Ireland requested help.
A significant event in the social, political and religious
life in Ireland occurred in 1940 when John Charles McQuaid
was consecrated as Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin on
December 29. He reigned until his retirement in 1972.
The Irish artistic community suffered two bereavements in
January 1941. The artist Sir John Lavery died aged 84 on
January 10. His wife Hazel was featured on the Irish paper
currency. Three days later, the novelist James Joyce died
in Zurich aged 58. The sculptor Oliver Sheppard, whose works
included the 1916 memorial in Dublins GPO, The
Death of Cúchullainn died aged 76 in September.
In January 1941 the Government established the Local Defence
Force (LDF) and the effects of war began to bite deeper,
petrol rationing was made more stringent. But the war had
a tragic impact on both sides of the border. In April, German
bombing raids on Belfast left over 700 dead, 1,500 injured
and over 40,000 homeless. De Valera dispatched 13-fire engines
from Dublin, Dun Laoghaire, Drogheda and Dundalk to assist
the local fire service.
In May, a second wave of attacks left 150 people dead and
serious damage was done to Shorts Aircraft factory,
the Harbour Power Station, York Street railway station and
some shipyards. Dublin didnt escape either and on
the night of May 30 a 500-pound German bomb struck the North
Strand area of Dublin and killed more than 30 locals and
injured 90. Two 25-pound bombs fell on other parts of the
north inner city. The residence of President Hyde, Áras
an Úachtaráin and the American Embassy were
damaged when a 250-bomb landed in the Phoenix Park. The
German government later sent their apologies and paid £327,000
in compensation in 1958.
The threat to Ireland lessened when Germany invaded Russia
on June 22 and the USA joined the war after the bombing
of Pearl Harbour on December 7. The arrival of the first
US troops in Belfast in January 1942 prompted protests from
the Taoiseach Eamon de Valera. The following month the US
Atlantic Fleet Command set up a base in Derry.
James Dillon, the sole opponent in the Dáil to the
policy of neutrality, resigned from Fine Gael. In April
RUC Constable T.J. Forbes was killed by the IRA in Dungannon,
Co. Tyrone, the first policeman killed in Northern Ireland
in ten years.
Peader Kearney, author of Amhrán na bhFiann
(The Soldiers Song), the Irish National Anthem died
on November 24 aged 59. Examples of the literary censorship
in vogue at the time included the banning the Patrick Kavanaghs
poem, The Great Hunger and Eric Crosss
novel The Tailor and Ansty.
After less than three years in office, John Miller Andrews
resigned as Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and leader
of the Unionist Party having lost the confidence of his
party and was replaced by Sir Basil Brooke on May 1, 1943.
A General Election in June saw Fianna Fáil returned
as the largest party in the Dáil with 67 seats but
three short of an overall majority.
A civilian plane mainly carrying RAF passengers crashed
on the slopes on Mount Brandon, Co. Kerry in July. Fifteen
people survived but ten people were killed in the only civil
aircraft accident while Foynes in the Shannon estuary, was
in use as a seaplane airport.
William T. Cosgrave resigned as leader of Fine Gael in January
1944 and was succeeded by Richard Mulcahy. In February,
Eamon de Valera refused a request from the American Ambassador,
David Gray to have the German and Japanese representatives
A second General Election inside twelve months resulted
in Fianna Fáil winning 76 seats and an overall majority
of 14 seats in Dáil Éireann.
Two men who were on opposite sides in the Spanish Civil
War died in 1944. Frank Ryan, who fought on the Republican
side in the Spanish Civil War and who was instrumental in
trying to establish contact between the Germany and the
IRA died on June 10 aged 42. Three months later General
Eoin ODuffy, former Commissioner of the Garda Síochána
and leader of the Blueshirts died aged 52.
Despite the privations of the Emergency a record crowd of
79,245 saw Roscommon retain their All-Ireland senior football
crown by beating Kerry by 1-9 to 2-4 in the decider at Croke
Park on September 24.
Shannon Airport became a compulsory stopover for American
air traffic in February 1945. On May 2, de Valera sent condolences
to the German Ambassador, Edouard Hempel on the death of
Adolf Hitler and was widely criticised for his actions.
However, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) leader excelled
himself when responding to a speech made by his British
counterpart five days after the war in Europe ended. In
his radio broadcast Churchill attacked Irish neutrality
and bemoaned the loss of the Irish ports in the agreement
signed in 1938. He went to contrast their stance with that
of Northern Ireland and added;
had it not been for the loyalty and friendship
of Northern Ireland we should have come to we should
have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr de Valera
or perish forever from the earth. However with a restraint
and poise with which I say history will find few parallels
His Majestys Government never laid a violent hand
upon them though at times it would have been quite easy
and quite natural. And we left Mr de Valeras government
to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives
to their hearts content.
Three days later on May 16, de Valera responded through
the same medium but in a markedly different tone. Rather
than launch a scathing attack on the victorious war leader
he began quietly; I know the kind of answer I am expected
to make. I know the answer that first springs to the lips
of every man of Irish blood who heard or read that speech
and I know the reply I would have given a quarter
of a century ago. But I have deliberately decided that that
is not the reply I shall make tonight.
He went to put Churchills remarks down to the first
flush of victory, adding that he himself had no excuse for
an aggressive response. With regard to Churchills
justification for violating Irish neutrality if he felt
the need arose, De Valera commented:
It would seem strange to me that Mr Churchill does
not see this, if it be accepted, would mean that Britains
necessity would become a moral code, and that, when this
necessity became sufficiently great, other peoples
rights were not to count. It is quite true that other great
powers believe in this same code
That is precisely
why we have the disastrous succession of wars.
Later in the speech De Valera addressed the British Prime
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 spoliation, was clubbed many times into insensibility,
but that each time on returning consciousness took up the
fight anew; a small nation that could never be got to accept
defeat and never surrendered her soul?
De Valera was cheered as he left the Radio Éireann
studios and received a standing ovation in the Dáil
the next day. Churchill resigned from the national coalition
government on May 23 but remained as head of the caretaker
administration until after the General Election in July,
when Clement Attlee swept to power as head of the first
Labour administration with an overall majority in Britain.
The Fianna Fáil government remained in power until
February 1948, when Fine Gaels John A. Costello formed
the first inter-party government.
The state of Emergency was never officially lifted by subsequent
administrations and in January 1947 De Valera reminded the
country that the possibility is that a period of even
greater difficulty may occur.