seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Irish Neutrality During World War II

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0On February 19, 1939 Taoiseach Éamon de Valera states his intention to preserve Irish neutrality in the event of a second world war.

The policy of Irish neutrality during World War II is adopted by the Oireachtas at the instigation of De Valera upon the outbreak of World War II in Europe. It is maintained throughout the conflict, in spite of several German airstrikes by aircraft that miss their intended British targets and attacks on Ireland’s shipping fleet by Allies and Axis alike. De Valera refrains from joining either the Allies or Axis powers. While the possibilities of not only a German but also a British invasion are discussed in Dáil Éireann, and either eventuality is prepared for, with the most detailed preparations being done in tandem with the Allies under Plan W, De Valera’s ruling party, Fianna Fáil, supports his neutral policy for the duration of the war.

This period is known in the Republic of Ireland as “The Emergency“, owing to the wording of the constitutional article employed to suspend normal government of the country.

Pursuing a policy of neutrality requires attaining a balance between the strict observance of non-alignment and the taking of practical steps to repel or discourage an invasion from either of the two concerned parties.

Ireland maintains a public stance of neutrality to the end, although this policy leads to a considerable delay in Ireland’s membership of the United Nations (UN). Ireland’s applications for membership are vetoed by the Soviet Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, from 1946 to December 1955. Seán MacBride considers that the UN boycott of Ireland had been originally agreed upon at the 1945 Yalta Conference by Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Ireland’s acceptance into the UN is finally announced by John A. Costello on December 15, 1955.

Despite the official position of neutrality, there are many unpublicised contraventions of this, such as permitting the use of the Donegal Corridor to Allied military aircraft, and extensive co-operation between Allied and Irish intelligence, including exchanges of information, such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean. For example, the decision to go ahead with the Normandy landings is decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo.

(Pictured: Markings to alert aircraft to neutral Ireland during World War II on Malin Head, County Donegal)


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Royals Visit St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast

royals-visit-st-malachys-church-belfastCharles, Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Cornwall fly into George Best Belfast City Airport on February 4, 2011 for a one-day visit to Northern Ireland. The primary focus of their visit is to view a £3.5 million restoration project at St. Malachy’s Church in Belfast.

First Minister Peter Robinson, who greets Prince Charles on the doorstep of the building, is quoted as saying “Northern Ireland has entered a new era. It is the first time in recent history that we have had a royal in a Roman Catholic Church here.” Robinson adds, “So it is a good start. It should send of an indication that respect, understanding and tolerance is growing in Northern Ireland.”

St. Malachy’s Church was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1941, but in 2006 the Roman Catholic Diocese of Down and Connor embarked on a project to restore its original features. Robinson says, “It has been set out very well and has held on to the architecture of the original.”

Prince Charles also presides over the first inter-faith meeting of members of the four main churches, organised by the local branch of The Prince’s Regeneration Trust.

The Northern Ireland Trustee Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle says, “It’s a hugely exciting event. Not only does it celebrate the fantastic restoration of St. Malachy’s Church, but equally it is very significant because we brought together a group of very senior church figures to begin the discussion of unlocking the potential of redundant churches.”

The Royal couple also visits the Palace Barracks, Holywood for a medal presentation. They meet the soldiers of 2nd Battalion, Mercian Regiment who are preparing for service in Afghanistan.

(Pictured: First Minister Peter Robinson greets the Prince of Wales on the doorstep of St. Malachy’s Church; From a BBC article “Royal visit to St Malachy’s Church is historic,” February 4, 2011)


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German Bombing of the Shelburne Co-op

campile-bombingGerman aircraft bomb a creamery at Campile, County Wexford, a small village located fourteen kilometres outside the town of New Ross, on August 26, 1940 killing three women.

Ireland remains officially neutral during World War II. However, on August 26, 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombs Campile in daylight. Three women are killed – Mary Ellen Kent (30), her sister Catherine Kent (26), both from Terrerath, and Kathleen Hurley (27) from Garryduff. Four German bombs are dropped on the creamery and restaurant sections of Shelburne Co-op on that day. The railway is also targeted by the bombers. The 20-minute ordeal terrorises the peaceful village and leaves behind a trail of devastation. The attack has never been fully explained, although there are numerous theories as to why the bombing occurred.

One theory is that the German pilots were lost and had mistaken the southeast coast of Wexford for Wales. It is also suggested that butter boxes emblazoned with the Shelburne Co-op name were discovered by the Nazis a few months earlier following the evacuation of Dunkirk and that the bombing was in retaliation for supplying foodstuffs to the Allied armies.

However, Campile historian John Flynn, who wrote a book to mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster, argues that the bombing was a message from Adolf Hitler to Taoiseach Éamon de Valera warning him to keep his promise on Ireland’s neutrality.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bombing, a plaque is erected on the co-op walls in memory of the three women.

The local Harts bar and lounge contains many artifacts relating to the bombing. The description and history related to each artifact can be found in an old leather-bound book kept underneath the counter in the adjoining sweet shop.


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The Baltic Exchange Bombing

IRA Bombing of the Baltic ExchangeThe Baltic Exchange bombing, an attack by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) on London‘s financial centre, takes place on April 10, 1992, the day after the General Election which re-elects John Major from the Conservative Party as Prime Minister. The one-ton bomb, concealed in a large white truck and consisting of a fertilizer device wrapped with a detonation cord made from 100 lbs. of Semtex, is the biggest detonated on mainland Britain since World War II. The bombing kills three people, injures 91 others, and causes massive damage, destroying the Baltic Exchange building and severely damaging surroundings.

Since the PIRA’s campaign in the early 1970s, many commercial targets are attacked on the mainland which cause economic damage and severe disruption. Since 1988, Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and John Hume of the Social Democratic and Labour Party are engaged in private dialogue to create a broad Irish nationalist coalition. British Prime Minister John Major refuses to openly enter into talks with Sinn Féin until the IRA declares a ceasefire. The risk of an IRA attack on London increases due to the lack of progress with political talks, resulting in a warning being circulated to all police forces in Britain highlighting intelligence reports of a possible attack, as it is believed that the IRA has enough personnel, equipment and funds to launch a sustained campaign in England.

On April 10, 1992 at 9:20 PM, a huge bomb is detonated in front of the Baltic Exchange building at 24-28 St. Mary Axe. The façade of the offices is partially destroyed, and the rest of the building is extensively damaged. The bomb also causes heavy damage to surrounding buildings. It causes £800 million worth of damage, £200 million more than the total damage caused by the 10,000 explosions that had occurred during the Troubles in Northern Ireland up to that point.

The IRA gives a telephone warning twenty minutes before the explosion, saying there is a bomb inside a van outside the London Stock Exchange. This is a half mile away from the actual location by the Baltic Exchange.

The homemade explosive is inside a white Ford Transit van parked in St. Mary Axe. The components are developed in South Armagh, shipped from Ireland, and assembled in England. The attack is planned for months and marks a dangerous advance to the British of the IRA’s explosives manufacturing capabilities. The bomb is described as the most powerful to hit London since the Luftwaffe raids of World War II.

A few hours later another similarly large bomb goes off in Staples Corner in north London, also causing major damage.

The next day, the IRA claims responsibility in a statement from Dublin. It is believed the IRA are trying to send a message to the Conservative Party who won the election, which also sees Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams lose his unused seat in the Westminster Parliament.

Many of the damaged buildings are once again badly damaged by the Bishopsgate bombing the following year. Both incidents contribute to the formation of the “Ring of Steel” in the city to protect it from further terrorism.

The Exchange sells its badly damaged historic building to be redeveloped under the auspices of English Heritage as a Grade II* site. However, the City and English Heritage later allow it to be demolished, seeking instead a new landmark building. The site, together with that of the UK Chamber of Shipping at 30–32 St. Mary Axe, is now home to the skyscraper commissioned by Swiss Re commonly referred to as The Gherkin.

The stained glass of the Baltic Exchange war memorial, which suffered damage in the bomb blast, has been restored and is in the National Maritime Museum in London.

(Pictured: The scene of devastation following the IRA bomb which destroyed London’s Baltic Exchange. Image credit: Gulf News Archives)


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Initial Publication of “At Swim-Two-Birds”

at-swim-two-birdsAt Swim-Two-Birds, a novel by Irish writer Brian O’Nolan writing under the pseudonym Flann O’Brien, is published on March 13, 1939. It is widely considered to be O’Brien’s masterpiece, and one of the most sophisticated examples of metafiction.

At Swim-Two-Birds is accepted for publication by Longman on the recommendation of Graham Greene, who is a reader for them at the time. It is published under the pseudonym of Flann O’Brien, a name O’Nolan had already used to write hoax letters to The Irish Times. O’Nolan suggests using “Flann O’Brien” as a pen-name during negotiation with Longman. The novel’s title derives from Snámh dá Én, a ford on the River Shannon, between Clonmacnoise and Shannonbridge, reportedly visited by the legendary King Sweeney, a character in the novel.

The book does not sell well after it is published. By the outbreak of World War II it has sold scarcely more than 240 copies. In 1940, Longman’s London premises are destroyed during a bombing raid by the Luftwaffe and almost all the unsold copies are incinerated. The novel is republished by Pantheon Books in New York City in 1950, on the recommendation of James Johnson Sweeney, but sales remain low. In May 1959 Timothy O’Keeffe, while editorial director of the London publishing house MacGibbon & Kee, persuades O’Nolan to allow him to republish At Swim-Two-Birds. More recently, the novel is republished in the United States by Dalkey Archive Press.

The initial reviews for At Swim-Two-Birds are not enthusiastic. The Times Literary Supplement says that the book’s only notable feature is a “schoolboy brand of mild vulgarity.” The New Statesman complains that “long passages in imitation of the Joycean parody of the early Irish epic are devastatingly dull” and the Irish novelist Seán Ó Faoláin comments in John O’London’s Weekly that although the book had its moments, it “had a general odour of spilt Joyce all over it.”

However, most of the support for At Swim-Two-Birds comes not from newspaper reviewers but from writers. Dylan Thomas, in a remark that would be quoted on dust-jackets in later editions of the book, says “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” Anthony Burgess considers it one of the ninety-nine greatest novels written between 1939 and 1984. Graham Greene’s enthusiastic reader’s report is instrumental in getting the book published in the first place.

Stephen Fry has declared At Swim-Two-Birds one of his favourite books. In 2011, the book is placed on Time‘s top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.