The Emergency

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 country’s neutral stance untenable. Petrol rationing was introduced and the rate of income tax was raised to 7 shillings in the pound (35%).

For the IRA it was a case of “England’s difficulty being Ireland’s 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 Dublin’s 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 Short’s Aircraft factory, the Harbour Power Station, York Street railway station and some shipyards. Dublin didn’t 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 Kavanagh’s poem, ‘The Great Hunger’ and Eric Cross’s 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 sent home.

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 O’Duffy, 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 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 Mr de Valera’s 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 Churchill’s remarks down to the first flush of victory, adding that he himself had no excuse for an aggressive response. With regard to Churchill’s 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 Britain’s necessity would become a moral code, and that, when this necessity became sufficiently great, other people’s 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 Minister:

“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 Gael’s 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”.