The Emergency: Ireland in wartime, 27-28 June 2014




Bozena Cierlik (University College Cork)


Paper Title: “I think we should do all in our power to help, as neither the British nor the Americans are likely to do anything for these people” (Alfred O’Rahilly)


This paper examines the efforts made by Irish universities to accommodate Polish students in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. In 1945, the Polish government in exile in London asked that Polish students  be allowed to study in Cork, Galway, and Dublin. Some of these students were veterans of the Polish Army led by General Anders, and had fought alongside the Anglo-Americans in North Africa and Italy. In many cases, therefore, they could not (or did not want to) return to Communist Poland. The research on which this paper is based is still at an early stage, although a considerable amount of archive material has been collected to date.



Karen Devine (Dublin City University)


Paper Title: ‘Debunking the ‘Unneutral Thesis’’


This paper takes a comparative, empirical look at the practice of Irish neutrality during the Second World War. It critiques a model of neutrality, in a thesis on Irish neutrality called Un-neutral Ireland, consisting of factors derived from an analysis of “three well-established European neutrals, Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland”. These factors include “the rights and duties of neutrality; the recognition of Ireland’s status by belligerents and others; the disavowal of external help; the freedom of decision and action”. The paper focuses on the issues flowing from these latter obligations that are cited in the Unneutral thesis as proof of Ireland’s unneutral status, i.e. ideology; involvement in economic sanctions, partiality, Irish citizens joining the British army, including post-World War II factors such as EEC membership. This paper also deals with the perennial myths that crop up in ‘unneutral’ discourses on Irish neutrality, for example, the oft cited incidence of de Valera’s alleged visit to the German legation in Ireland to sign a book of condolences on Hitler’s death and the allegations of a deal on Northern Ireland in exchange for Ireland’s neutrality. The paper concludes that the practice of Irish neutrality is equivalent to or superior to the practice of other European neutral states, undermining the dominant discourse that Ireland’s neutrality is a myth and that Ireland is ‘unneutral’.



Bryce Evans (Liverpool Hope University)


Paper Title: ‘Farewell to Plato's Cave’


The historian F.S.L. Lyons famously invoked Plato's Cave when describing ordinary life in Emergency Ireland. The implication was stasis, boredom, and ignorance. New research has proved that this was no the case; yes, life was hard, but ordinary men and women displayed cunning, ingenuity and resilience in coping with the wartime expansion of the state and the simultaneous contraction of supplies.

This paper relays the details of the trade war between Britain and Ireland, including the significant use of Guinness supplies in barter arrangements. It goes on to outline the character of the interventionist state in Ireland and the shortcomings of the rationing and supply system. It discusses the impact of fuel and food shortages upon everyday life and concludes with racy accounts of the black market and cross-border smuggling in the period.

The paper is built on extensive research for the publication Ireland During the Second World War: Farewell to Plato’s Cave (Manchester University Press, 2014). This book is the first in-depth analysis of the moral and political economy of food and other resources in Ireland during the Second World War, incorporating the first comparative socio-economic history of the European neutrals by examining food politics and the operation of the black market in food in Portugal, Sweden, Spain, and Switzerland.



Mary Hawkins (NUI, Galway)


Paper Title: 'Business as usual?' Central Hospital Galway Nurses during the Second World War.


At the very outset of the Second World War, the ability of Galway authorities to deal with a major disaster was put to the test. En route from Liverpool to Montreal with more than 1,400 passengers and crew, the S.S. Athenia was sighted and sunk by a German U-Boat off the northwest coast of Ireland on 3 September 1939. Nearby vessels managed to locate and rescue c.1300 survivors, some 450 of whom were then conveyed to Galway aboard the Cathair na Gaillimhe. Widely covered by local and international media at that time (for the Athenia had the distinction of being the first British vessel to be sunk by Nazi Germany), the Galway rescue operation will form the core of this paper, which also addresses working conditions and the wider experiences of Central Hospital Galway nurses during the war years.   



Gisela Holfter (University of Limerick)


Paper title: ‘German-speaking refugees in Ireland (1933-45)’


This paper concentrates on German-speaking refugees who came to Ireland after Hitler came to power. While Exile studies are a well-developed research area and have benefited from the work of research centres and archives in Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the USA, Ireland has long been terra incognita in this regard. German-speaking exiles were the first main group of immigrants that came to the young Free State of Ireland from 1933 onwards, and they influenced the reception of immigrants to come. I will give an overview of who came, how they managed to overcome the restrictive Irish policy, what legacy they left and which lessons can be learned. Several case studies will give more in-depth insights into the situation of individuals of the different groups, including a number of academic refugees, their background as well as their influence in Irish institutions.  Issues of memory and identity will be discussed and while the main focus will be on the refugees, the Irish helpers will also play a role.





Bernard Kelly (University of Edinburgh)


Paper Title: ‘Who are we neutral against? The Irish myth of the Second World War’


Whereas other European neutrals fostered myths of unity and solidarity during the Second World War, the narrative which neutral Ireland constructed was a curious mixture of pride at remaining outside the conflict combined with an eagerness to claim Ireland’s contribution to Allied victory, particularly the fighting achievements of Irish regiments in the British army. An estimated 70,000 men and women from neutral Ireland joined the British armed forces during the Second World War; their presence allowed the de Valera government to claim that that Irish neutrality had been beneficial to the Allies, a assertion that has been echoed by historians, politicians and the Irish public ever since. Thus, the Irish war myth depicts Eire as existing simultaneously within and outside the war, maintaining neutrality while assisting the Allies to victory. It is a narrative that has grown in strength in recent years, particularly since the success of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

This paper will examine the role of the Irish government, ex-service organisations, and the media in creating the Irish war myth and will argue that we need to look beyond a simple comparison with European neutrals in order to understand the Irish connection to the Second World War.



Leo Keohane (Centre for Irish Studies, NUIG)


Paper title: ‘CIVIC – Council for Investigation of Vatican Influence and Censorship: A Protestant anarchist’s perspective on the Catholic Church in 1941’


The mutual suspicion between the Christian Churches in Ireland provided many conflicting opinions on both the war effort and the stance of the Irish Free State government. Captain Jack White, founder of the Irish Citizen Army, in an unlikely alliance with General Hubert Gough, the army officer who initiated the “Curragh Mutiny”, issued a statement to the nation in the above publication : “Separated in the  past, we have come together in this hour of crisis, when all liberty, religious, political, or economic, is equally threatened, to appeal for a free and united country in the most urgent and vital issue which now concerns all free men, namely, that of self defence”. This paper examines some of the religious opinions and debates around efforts to unite the island in a battle against the forces of Nazism.


Kevin McCarthy (University College Cork)


‘The G2 Surveillance of Robert Briscoe, 1939-1945’


Robert Briscoe was the only Jewish member of Dáil Éireann for nearly four decades from 1927 to 1965. This timeframe incorporated the most traumatic epoch in modern Jewish history; the incremental persecution process that culminated in the murder of more than 6,000,000 of his co-religionists in the Nazi Holocaust. Concerned at the increasingly vicious anti-Semitism of the pre-war Nazi state, Briscoe became involved with the militant New Zionist Organisation (Revisionists) led by the charismatic Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, in a desperate attempt to facilitate a mass immigration to Palestine of German and Austrian Jews.

Although Briscoe rapidly became a senior figure in the Revisionists and was involved in major political missions to Poland, America, and South Africa, historians have continuously downplayed his Zionist activities. Yet, when the archives are examined, they reveal the level of governmental consternation at Briscoe’s involvement with the Revisionists. Detailed files at the National Archives are reinforced by comprehensive G2 (Irish Military Intelligence) records, which prove that Briscoe was under intense surveillance throughout the war years. These sources focus on how his Revisionist involvement had the potential capacity to damage de Valera, and give a detailed overview of Briscoe’s interactions with William (Bill) Ziff, one of the organisation’s more radical members who advocated a direct military attack on British Mandatory forces in Palestine.



Pat McCarthy (Military History Society of Ireland)


Paper Title: ‘Battle, Blitz, Blockade, and Weather Forecast – the Luftwaffe and Neutral Ireland, 1940-1945’


In the early hours of 5 May 1940, a German aircraft approached the Irish coast. It made landfall near Clogher Head, proceeded inland, circled once or twice before turning and flying back to Germany. Five years later, to the day, indeed almost to the hour another German aircraft approached Ireland. It too made landfall near Clogher Head but this plane banked steeply to the left, dropped down through the clouds and in pouring rain landed at Gormanstown. These were the first and the last Luftwaffe aircraft to infringe Irish neutrality but they were atypical of the thousands of other instances in that their destination was Ireland. The first, a Heinkel III, piloted by Oberleutnant Edward Gartenfeld, was delivering a German agent, Hermann Goertz to Ireland. The last was a Junkers 88G nightfighter of 1/NJG3 piloted by Oberfeldwebel Giesecke, who was seeking refuge in Ireland as the war entered its final days. In between these dates, the German aircraft that overflew Ireland, attacked Irish ships, or their dropped bombs on Irish soil, were engaged in the air war against England. The purpose of this paper is to put these actions by the Luftwaffe in the context of that air war against England, not to detail the various incidents.




Neasa McGarrigle (Trinity College Dublin)


Paper Title: ‘Academic Refugees in Emergency Ireland


Two months before the outbreak of World War II Eamon de Valera introduced the Institute for Advanced Studies Act in the Dáil, which was eventually passed in July 1940. A crucial element in the plan for what came to be known as ‘Dev’s Institute’ was the attraction of international scholars to boost Ireland’s reputation for intellectual endeavours. Supporters of the Bill wanted Ireland to be a beacon of light in a violent world and stated that civilised progress was to be made through intellectual pursuits not war. While the mass exodus of academics from Germany and Austria in the 1930s made the attraction of scholars somewhat easier the isolationist attitude in Emergency Ireland towards refugees made the practicality of admitting renowned international scholars into the country problematic. This paper argues that through the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and De Valera’s interventions a small number of refugee academics were able to overcome the restrictive refugee policy of Emergency Ireland. In particular, it will discuss the case studies of Erwin Schrödinger, Walter Heitler, and Leo Wenzel Pollak. It will show that Irish efforts to help academic refugees relied heavily on the work of the British Society for the Protection of Science and Learning and the American Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Scholars and assess the overall successes and failures of Irish aid towards international academic refugees during the Emergency years.



Paul McNamara (NUI, Galway)


Paper Title: ‘Sean Lester, Irish Diplomat in Peacetime and Wartime, 1934-46’


Sean Lester, as a Belfast protestant and Irish nationalist, is a particularly interesting figure in both the history of Irish and international diplomacy. A former journalist, he joined the Dept. of External Affairs in 1923 and was appointed Irish representative to the League of Nations in Geneva in 1929. In 1934, he became one of Ireland’s first truly international diplomats when he took up the post of High Commissioner of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig. As his term coincided with the Danzig NSDAP’s attempts to gain complete control of the city, Lester made strenuous and courageous efforts to frustrate these plans. In mid-1936, Lester soon became the focus of a very aggressive, and eventually successful, Nazi campaign to have him forced out of the Free City. Poland’s position regarding these events is crucial and perhaps was more important than that of the League of Nations itself. I argue that the diplomat conflict concerning Sean Lester had the potential to stop Adolf Hitler in his tracks, at least three years before the subsequent outbreak of the Second World War, which occurred in Danzig in 1939.  Lester’s later efforts during the war to save the League of Nations from becoming a Nazi puppet are equally significant, if less dramatic, as they preserved the structures of the organization as a base on which to build the United Nations.



Mary Muldowney (Trinity College Dublin)


Paper Title: ‘The impact of class and gender on women’s paid work during the Second World War’


During the Second World War, women’s role in belligerent nations was redefined by the exigencies of the wartime situation. Many governments engaged in campaigns to enlist women into the armed forces (albeit in auxiliary organisations) and into war industry, where they were engaged in work that had previously been carried out only by men. These campaigns mirrored similar activities during the First World War.

The creation of new employment opportunities was welcomed by many women, including Irish women, who were enabled to increase their earning capacity and to benefit from the prospect of expanded horizons. The wartime situation had the potential to cut across the limitations imposed on women by both class and gender, particularly in terms of paid employment.

This paper will consider the extent to which that potential was realised for women living in neutral Éire and belligerent Northern Ireland and will compare their experience with that of women in other countries, particularly in Britain, France, and the United States. The main source used will be oral history interviews with women from different nationalities, who recalled their wartime experience in the light of perspectives that had been altered by changing attitudes to both class and gender in the years since the war.


Deirdre Mulrooney (University College Dublin)


Paper title: ‘Emergency Encounters of the Cultural Kind: Bohemian Refugees in Emergency Dublin, from the Ballets Jooss to Erina Brady’s Irish School of Dance Art


The Second World War threw an unlikely mix of pacifist Bohemian refugees together in neutral Dublin, transforming it temporarily into “a beacon of creative freedom”. New cultural narratives were emerging – from Patrick Scott’s encounter with the Ballets Jooss when they were stranded in Dublin at the outbreak of the war, to overlooked Irish-German Modern Dance pioneer Erina Brady, and her Mary Wigman-inspired Irish School of Dance Art on Harcourt Street. They formed part of a thriving cultural milieu, including the better known White Stag Art Group (who first exhibited Scott’s paintings), as well as founder of Irish Film Industry Liam O Laoghaire, his School of Film Techniques, Dublin Little Theatre Guild and Irish Film Society.  These flamboyant modernists did not escape the attention of detectives. This paper shall map out this unknown territory in advance of the Autumn screening of the TG4 Splanc! documentary, ‘Dance Emergency/Damhsa na hEigeandala’. 


Steven Murphy (University College Cork)


Paper Title: ‘Irish Neutral Diplomacy in World War II’


To date, and despite its obvious importance, Éire’s diplomacy vis-à-vis the other European neutrals has received little acknowledgement. With the onset of the first international conflict to test the fledgling state, the organs of the Irish government began, with greater impetus, to examine international methods of defending a policy of neutrality. Information regarding the operation of censorship, protection of shipping, economic controls, and over-flights of belligerent aircraft was requested for comparative examinations by Irish policy-makers. Reports were also sought on how the other neutrals were reacting to external pressures from both sides of the conflict. These enquiries were bolstered by the establishment, during the war, of formal diplomatic relations with two other small European neutral states, Switzerland and Portugal.

This paper will demonstrate that the expansion of the Irish diplomatic network signified the increased importance of neutral outposts on the continent. Through them, the Irish government gained valuable insights into the operation and maintenance of other successful neutrality policies. The importance of the Swiss legation, in particular, as a vital financial and communications hub for Irish diplomats in Axis-occupied territory will be highlighted.


Steven O’Connor (Trinity College Dublin)


Paper Title: ‘We were all Paddys’: Irish identity in the British forces, 1939-45’


Tens of thousands of Irish men and women, from both North and South, served in the British armed forces during the Second World War. In serving alongside recruits from England, Scotland, and Wales, this war service represented for many Irish volunteers their first experience of a quintessentially ‘British’ institution. Yet while it may have fostered a sense of Britishness among the Irish, the most remarkable aspect of their experience was that it saw the creation of a pluralist Irish identity within the British forces. Many Irish veterans remarked on the close friendship and solidarity that developed between Northern and Southern recruits, and the sense that once in British uniform their differences seemed irrelevant. This paper will examine the effect of an Irish background on the volunteers’ experience of the British forces. Firstly, it will review the evidence provided by oral history interviews. Then, the paper will test the veracity and usefulness of these insights by examining contemporary documents, such as the War Office’s morale reports and censorship reports on Irish soldiers’ mail.  In the second part of the paper, I will explore the ways in which the military authorities facilitated and encouraged the development of a pluralist Irish identity. Thus, the paper will demonstrate how the volunteers’ ideas of Irishness were influenced by British perceptions and it will conclude by assessing to what extent volunteers from North and South really shared a common Irish identity.


James T. O’Donnell (NUI, Galway)


Paper Title: ‘War News in Ireland: the effect of censorship and news supply restrictions on the coverage and comment of the Dunkirk evacuation and D-Day landings in Irish newspapers — a case study


This paper compares the coverage and comment of the Dunkirk evacuation (May - June 1940) and D-Day landings (June 1944) provided by the mainstream newspapers of neutral Ireland and Northern Ireland. Despite relying on primarily common news sources there are notable differences in how these publications presented these events to the populations of the two polities. Since 1870, Irish newspapers had shared a largely common source of international news, indeed a source common with the provincial press of Britain. This was largely provided by London-based news agencies, particularly the Press Association which also distributed Reuters’ international news. At the outbreak of World War II, still primarily reliant on a common source of news, for the first time Irish newspapers operated under markedly different censorship regimes. These restricted how they could present and comment on war news. As the war progressed both regimes evolved to reflect state backed news objectives in relation to Ireland. This paper will present a qualitative evaluation of news coverage relating to the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk and the Allied landings on D-Day. It aims to reveal how the reception and perception of news from a common source varied in the two polities over the course of the war, and how this was affected by differing state controlled mechanisms of distribution and censorship that operated in relation to Ireland.



Joseph Quinn (Trinity College Dublin)

Paper Title: ‘Worthy of little consideration’: Desertion from the Irish Army during the Emergency and the legacy of Government Policy towards the Absentees’

From a contemporary viewpoint, one of the most controversial aspects of Irish neutrality was the manner in which the de Valera government dealt with Irish Army deserters, or absentees. Over the course of the war just under 5,000 personnel from the Irish Defence Forces abandoned their posts, either to seek employment in Britain or to enlist in the British Armed Forces. For their part, the Irish authorities pursued a rigorous policy of round-ups and arrests in a largely ineffective bid to curb the rate of desertion from the Army. The men themselves often had persuasive reasons for deserting, with many desiring to play a role in the conflict that raged beyond Ireland’s shores. Deserters from the Irish Defence Forces took part in some of the toughest and most decisive battles of the war; some would make the ultimate sacrifice, and many others never returned to Ireland because of the vindictiveness of government policy. Indeed, the punitive legislation subsequently introduced by the Irish government recently became a matter of intense public debate in Ireland, culminating in an amnesty and State apology to the men involved. 

This paper will discuss the occurrence of desertion from the Defence Forces during the Emergency, and the measures that the government took to prevent desertion, along with the repercussive policy that was enforced after the war upon those who absented themselves from duty. It will refer to the testimony of Irish Army absentees who served in the British Forces during the war, and will seek to explore their feelings about how they were treated by de Valera’s government, and their attitude towards the Amnesty. 


Jennifer Redmond (NUI, Maynooth)


Paper Title: ‘Wartime Immigrants: Exploring the Irish diaspora in World War II Britain


Using travel permit applications made by Irish people all over Great Britain in the early years of the war, this paper explores the profile of Irish immigrants in Britain during World War II. This resource draws upon an incomplete collection of the records, but a substantial corpus nonetheless: over 23,000 adults and over 4,000 children, captured in the files of the Department of Foreign Affairs. This presentation will explore the rich demographic information provided in the documents, as well as the questions raised by the information in the records: what was the status of long-term emigrants in a belligerent nation? What methods were Irish immigrants adopting to maintain ties with their family during wartime? What evidence do we have of the direct impact of the war on Irish citizens, such as evacuation, employment in wartime industries, or on a more personal level, the emotional toll of living in a time of total war? And finally, what evidence do they provide of Irish people’s desire to abjure Irish neutrality in favour of direct involvement in the army and its auxiliary services?


Peter Rigney (Trinity College dublin)


Paper Title: ‘The wartime Irish railway system: problems and perspectives’


It has been a fixed part of Ireland’s Emergency story that rail transport was in a state of unremitting chaos. The cutbacks in coal supplies caused by the British squeeze of 1940 did cause disruption, but its effects have been misunderstood. Using evidence available in railway company archives and in the railway trade press, this paper will re-examine the operational difficulties experienced by the Irish railway companies at this time. Addressing individual phases of the Emergency, it will highlight differences between operations on the Great Southern Railway and those parts of the Great Northern Railway that operated in what was then known as Eire. The efforts of the Irish railway companies to bargain for more and better supplies of coal will also be examined. Additionally, the paper will place the Irish rail system in an international context, by looking at the experience of other neutrals such as Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and Turkey. It will also look at the hierarchies of supply in the two major coal producers in Europe - Britain and the Third Reich. Much of the national material used in this paper is found in the archives of the Irish Railway Record Society in Heuston Station, while much of the international material is taken from the railway trade press in the society's library.



Jackie Uí Chionna (NUI, Galway)


Paper Title: ‘The College President called us “my Americans,” everyone else called us “the Yanks”: The G.I. Bill and American medical students at University College Galway.’


Acknowledged as one of the most significant pieces of legislation ever produced by the U.S. federal government, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights— was designed to provide recently de-mobbed members of the American armed forces with the opportunity to avail of a wide range of educational opportunities, with the fees for such courses, and associated living and subsistence costs, paid for by a grateful U.S. government. It was a radical piece of legislation, and marked an equally radical departure in U.S. social policy. The response to the Bill was immediate, and, from the point of view of the U.S. education system, overwhelming. With the American colleges literally bursting at the seams - and with medical schools in particular receiving forty applications for each available college place - the Veterans Association which administered the scheme sought out universities in other English-speaking  countries (specifically Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland) which would be prepared to offer places to veterans who were eligible for G.I. Bill funding. This paper will examine the experiences of the American students who came to study Medicine at the only Irish college to be approved as an accredited school for G.I. Bill medical students in Ireland - University College Galway - and will also examine the impact of the arrival of the American students on a small medical school in the West of Ireland, on the university as a whole, and on the city which was to be their home for five years.



Barry Whelan (NUI, Maynooth)


Paper Title: ‘Behind the green curtain: Spanish perceptions of neutral Ireland during the Second World War’


On 1 April 1939, General Francisco Franco declared the Spanish Civil War to be over. His regime quickly set about aligning itself not only with fascist countries abroad but also with fellow Catholic states. His chosen representative to Ireland was Juan Garcia Ontiveros, a close confidant, who arrived in Dublin on 1 May to formally establish diplomatic ties with Éamon de Valera’s Fianna Fáil government. The shared religious faith, conservative values and historic friendship that linked Ireland and Spain was broadened once war broke out on the European continent on 1 September. With Ireland, like Spain, adopting an official policy of strict neutrality Ontiveros found himself behind the green curtain, where he reported not only on the mood of the population towards de Valera’s neutral policy but also on the effects the Emergency had on peoples’ daily lives. This paper will seek to illuminate an outsider’s perception of Ireland and its society during the Second World War.



Lili Zách (NUI, Galway)


Paper Title: ‘Irish Perceptions of Small Nation-States in the Context of the Second World War’


“The spectacle of a small nation standing up to a great Power is one that never fails to win the sympathy of the peoples of the world. The small nation is seldom, if ever, in the wrong.” As suggested by this extract from an Irish Press editorial (21 November 1939) shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War, small nations were held in high esteem in Irish political and public discourse. In fact, fighting for the freedom of small nations has been part of the Irish political rhetoric since the early 20th Century, most notably when the Central Powers   attacked Serbia and Belgium in 1914.

During the League of Nations era, and more specifically, following Éamon de Valera's ascent to power, protecting the rights of small nations became inseparable from the Irish political agenda on an international level. Due to the political changes in Europe after 1938, many European small states ceased to exist, or were transformed into different political entities. Therefore, in order to show the complexity of Irish perceptions, it may be fruitful to take a regional approach to these issues, as part of a larger transnational perspective. With that aim in mind, this paper will examine the responses (particularly in the context of rigid Irish censorship) of Irish diplomats, newspapers and the wider public to political developments in Northern and East-Central Europe from 1939 to 1945.