Emergency' (1939-1945) in Monaghan
the opposite to the Celtic Tiger? The Emergency¹ perhaps?
Seamus McCluskey remembers a time of hardship.
The Emergency as it was known in Ireland, covered
the years of WW2 (1939 to 1945) and, for those of us who
lived through it, it was an unforgettable experience. Foodstuffs,
coal, petrol and oil, rubber tyres, clothing fabrics and
even footwear, tropical fruits, glass, and a host of other
necessities, were no longer available to us, and we all
had to make do with substitutes of various kinds.
Rationing became an everyday familiarity with coupons necessary
for the purchase of tea, clothing and a host of other essentials.
My own earliest memory of the War was the day it broke out
- the first Sunday of September 1939. I was on holiday with
my uncles in Co. Down and a thunder storm struck as we walked
to Mass in Leitrim parish church, where the priest announced
that war had broken out. Returning to Emyvale for the re-opening
of school a few days later we soon began to hear all sorts
of rumour and counter-rumour, with many of us youngsters,
in our youthful and probably misguided patriotism, hoping
that the Germans would win and that it would all be over
quite soon. How wrong we all were. Little did we know of
Nazi-ism, or of how long such a conflict might last, or
of how it would affect the lives of all of us.
Little seemed to happen to affect us during the first eighteen
months but then, as I did my Co. Council Scholarship examination
in the Model School, Monaghan, Easter week 1941, during
a break between papers, we looked over the wall
to the nearby Railway Station to see an amazing sight. A
train from Belfast had just pulled in and emptied itself
of hundreds and hundreds of people, complete with suitcases,
bags and belongings of all kinds, tied in bundles.
We later learned that Belfast had been bombed the previous
night and these were refugeees, fleeing from the blitz
to find refuge in Monaghan. I returned home that evening
to find a Jewish family of three, named Levine, billited
in my mothers house, where we suddenly had to make
new sleeping arrangements, and I found myself relegated
to a small bunk bed in the corner of my brothers bedroom.
To secondary boarding school, St Macartans College
the following September and suddenly things began to happen.
No coal meant that the boiler remained un-stoked and the
heating pipes all froze during the severe winter of 1941-2.
Breaking the ice in the hand-basins every morning was a
chastening experience while a huge turf-burning belly-boiler
was installed in the middle of the study hall. Those sitting
near in were roasted while those of us sitting at the far
corners of the hall froze.
Home for the 1942 summer holidays and we were packed off
to Bragan (Slieve Beagh) bog to cut turf. For those of us,
who knew little about turf-cutting, we soon learned and
we quickly became expert at capping, footing,
clamping stacking and finally carting home on
the only lorry in the village that had a permit to buy petrol.
It was hard work but at least we had fuel for the winter
While I had been away in school, my older brother had joined
the LDF, later to become the FCA, and he had been issued
with a rifle which he kept under his bed. When nobody was
looking, I examined it regularly, cocked it, pulled the
trigger and imagined myself a soldier. Luckily, there was
no live ammo. around, or if he had been issued with any,
he certainly had it well hidden. On week evenings we also
watched them drilling in a covered yard belonging to a local
merchant and then went to see a huge parade in Monaghan
town where Eamonn De Valera and James Dillon, of very different
political persuasions, stood shoulder to shoulder on the
reviewing platform. There seemed to be thousands upon thousands
of people in the town.
Smuggling became a regular pastime along the Border that
separated us from Tyrone, Armagh and Fermanagh. We only
had brown bread in the South, while white loaves were available
just across the dividing line. I was caught once by the
local customs patrol man who confiscated my two loaves which
I had tied on the carrier of my bicycle. The same official
lodged in my mothers house and usually demanded white bread
for his evening tea. When he realised that he might have
to forgo that treat later that evening, he relented and
returned the two precious loaves to me. On many occasions
I had saved the same officers skin, as it was my duty to
keep his bicycle hidden at the back of our house and whenever
his P.O. would call for him I had been detailed to lie and
inform him that the official had just gone out on duty,
whereas he was still sound asleep upstairs.
Probably the most amazing thing to happen to us during the
Emergency was the night that North Monaghan
was invaded. Sometime in 1942 at about 3am or
4am in the morning we first heard the unmerciful banging
of the front door and the shout from outside - Get
up at once and get ready to evacuate. The previous
week I had watched some workmen scoop out a big hole in
the stone papapet of the bridge over the river at the south
end of Emyvale and was told that it was to hold explosives
for the blowing up of the bridge should we be invaded.
Fully clothed and downstairs, the long wait began, though
what we were waiting for we didnt exactly know. The
local teacher, who also lodged in our house, was an officer
in the LSF, (an auxiliary police force as distinct from
the FCA which was a military force), soon took charge of
the situation. Some neighbours came in and the questioning
began - who was invading us and from which direction? The
teacher switched on the radio and began twiddling the knob.
There might be a message from Dublin, someone
had suggested, but the radio only emitted lots of static
and a series of squeaks and squeals that only made matters
worse. Then he found a morse signal of some sort and queried
Does anyone know morse code? Met by a series
of blank faces he then answered his own question - must
be a ship at sea.
On hindsight, one can only hazzard a guess as to why anybody
in their same senses up in Dublin would be sending signals
of any kind to a crowd of nut-heads in a remote area of
North Monaghan. Theyre coming across at Moybridge
(the frontier post at Aughnacloy) said someone out
in the street, so we decided that it was the Brits who were
invading. No theyre not, said another,
its German paratroopers and theyre landing
all round Dublin. By 6am everyone was tired out and
sleepy and, as no invasion had been forthcoming, we all
went back to bed. Later it transpired, that the whole thing
had been a test call out by the Irish Government,
just to discover how long it would take the local defence
forces to mobilise.
All local road-signs had also been removed, and even the
miles-stones in the north of the county were lifted and
hidden in an effort to confuse any potential invading force.
These same mile-stones had been laid down during the Ordnance
Survey of 1837, at one mile intervals all the way from Dublin
to Derry, but the mileages were given in Irish miles
which were much longer than statute miles, e.g. the numbers
on one at Emyvale gave the distance to Dublin as 66 miles
whereas, in actual fact, it is 87 miles. On hindsight ,
it might have been much more effective if the mile-stones
had been left in place, the mileages given would have confused
any invading force.
This aforementioned invasion however, might
only have been an exercise, but a serious touch of the real
thing took place elsewhere in Co. Monaghan. At 8pm
on the evening of Friday 20th December 1940 an unidentified
aircraft, stated to be flying in a southerly direction,
dropped two bombs near Shantonagh, some miles north-west
of Carrickmacross. The first of these bombs fell one hundred
yards from the home of Owen Finnegan and exploded, causing
a crater fifteen feet deep and 13 yards in diameter. Two
windows of the Finnegan house were blown in, but luckily,
neither Mr. Finnegan nor his family were injured.
A short distance from the Finnegan home was the two storey
house of Patrick Daly, in the townland of Bocks Upper, where
Patrick lived with his wife, three sons and a daughter.
On hearing the first explosion Patrick Daly rushed out to
see what had happened but suddenly a second bomb fell, dropped
from the skies with a noise like an express train
as Patrick himself would later describe it, and fell just
fifty yards from the Daly home. It exploded with terrific
force, smashing every window in the house, blowing the plaster
of the walls and causing serious damage to the roof and
ceilings. A shower of debris rained down on Patrick Daly
and he received arm and facial injuries. He was given first
aid treatment at home, and fortunately it was not found
necessary to move him to hospital.
German pilots, returning from raids on British cities, were
blamed for these bombings and it is doubtful if compensation
was ever forthcoming. For the Finnegan and Daly families,
it was an unusual and very unwanted Christmas gift
one that they could well have done without. This was easily
the most serious of all WW2 events as far as Co. Monaghan
Towards the end of the war, in 1945, the non-examinations
class of St. Macartans College in Monaghan was sent
out to cut turf in a nearby bog, and also to gather potatoes
in a nearby farm, owned by the college, and the students
apparently enjoyed the work as a very pleasant
change from the dull study routine they had become accustomed
to. As the old Irish proverb states - Is olc an ghaoth
nach seideann do dhuine eigin.
Taken from Monaghan's Match