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Ireland during the Second World War.



At the outbreak of the second World War southern Ireland declared itself neutral while the six counties of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom became involved.

The Belfast Blitz.

Belfast during the war was a natural target for the German Air Force (Luftwaffe), the city's industries made a very significant contribution to the British war effort. The shipyard of Harland and Wolff made famous by The Titanic was at the time one of the largest in the world, during the period of the second World War the shipyard produced a vast range of vessels including aircraft carriers such as HMS Formidable and HMS Unicorn; the cruisers, HMS Belfast and HMS Penelope as well as 131 other naval vessels, they also built 140 merchant vessels of varying sizes, at its peak Harland's were sending a ship down the slips at an average rate of one a week, at the latter period of the war 35,000 people were employed by Harland and Wolff.

Shipbuilding was not the only industry clustered around the mouth of the river Lagan in Belfast Lough, Short Brothers manufactured aircraft the most famous of which is probably the Short Sunderland flying boat and the Short Stirling long-range heavy bomber. As early as 1936 Shorts were tooling up for the manufacture of 189 Handley Page Hereford bombers, Shorts had a workforce of around 20,000.

During the war the engineering firm of James Mackie & Sons famed for their linen production machines began producing Bofors anti-aircraft shells.

Belfast had many linen factories, linen was a commodity much in demand at the time companies such as The York Street Flax Spinning Co, Brookfield Spinning Co, Wm. Ewart's Rosebank Weaving Co.; and the Linen Thread Co. supplied Aero linen which was used to cover glider frames as well as the Hawker Hurricane.

It was from the port of Belfast that much of the industrial and agricultural production of Ulster was exported to the English mainland, small wonder then that Hitler's Germany decided to curtail Belfast's war effort.

It was on the night of Easter Tuesday 15th April 1941 that 200 bombers of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) began to rain their cargo of death and destruction on a city that was largely unprepared for such a deadly onslaught. By the time the last of the bombers headed back to their bases in Europe around one thousand lay dead with many more injured

Germany bombs Dublin.

Despite Irelands neutral state Germany bombed Éire on several occasions, on 26th August 1940 bombs fell on Duncormick and Ambrosetown in County Wexford causing no significant damage, however a restaurant in Campile was hit killing 3 persons, in 1943 the German government paid £9,000 compensation.

On the 20th December 1940 German bombs hit Carrickmacross in County Monaghan, the Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove railway stations, causing three injuries.

Further incidents occurred on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th of January 1941 in the counties of Dublin, Meath, Wexford, Kildare, Wicklow and Louth resulting in three fatalities and some 27 injuries.

The main raid took place on 31st May 1941 at 01.30 bombs began falling on the city in the areas of North Richmond Street, Rutland Place, Phoenix Park, the Dublin Zoo, and the North Strand which was badly damaged. Twenty eight lives were lost and some 90 injured, some 300 houses were damages and 400 people were rendered homeless, Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of Irish President was also damaged.

Twelve of the victims were buried on 5th June in a mass funeral that was attended by Éamon de Valera, the Taoiseach, and other government officials. On the same day De Valera made a speech in the Dáil Éireann, it is transcribed below.

Members of the Dáil desire to be directly associated with the expression of sympathy already tendered by the Government on behalf of the nation to the great number of our citizens who have been so cruelly bereaved by the recent bombing. Although a complete survey has not yet been possible, the latest report which I have received is that 27 persons were killed outright or subsequently died; 45 were wounded or received other serious bodily injury and are still in hospital; 25 houses were completely destroyed and 300 so damaged as to be unfit for habitation, leaving many hundreds of our people homeless. It has been for all our citizens an occasion of profound sorrow in which the members of this House have fully shared. (Members rose in their places.) The Dáil will also desire to be associated with the expression of sincere thanks which has gone out from the Government and from our whole community to the several voluntary organisations the devoted exertions of whose members helped to confine the extent of the disaster and have mitigated the sufferings of those affected by it. As I have already informed the public, a protest has been made to the German Government. The Dáil will not expect me, at the moment, to say more on this head.

In 1958 the then West Germany accepted responsibility for the raid and paid compensation amounting to £327,000, neither East Germany or Austria both part of 1941 Germany made a contribution.

Many reasons have been put foreword for the raid ranging from navigational error, a punitive measure warning the south not to assist Britain in its war effort, relating to help rendered by the Dundalk, Dublin and Dun Laoghaire fire brigades and perhaps also the formal protest presumably to the German Consulate in Dublin and the "They're our people speech" made by the Taoiseach Éamon de Valera after the air raids on Belfast.

Another theory put foreword was that Britain had managed to somehow bend the navigational beam transmitted from France down which bombers navigated.

It's hard to imagine navigational error was to blame when you consider Dublin did not observe a blackout as did Northern Ireland, also no matter how dark it is relatively easy to determine the difference between land and sea and therefore the profile of the coastline. So consider a squadron flying north up the relatively straight Irish coast from France, the Wicklow Mountains would be to port, conceivably these could be confused with the Mourne's in County Down however the lighted city of Dublin is situated almost immediately north of the Wicklow Mountains in a relatively shallow bay while unlit Belfast is set at the head of a deep bay some 20 miles north of the Mourne's with relatively flat land to the south, Cave Hill and the Antrim plateau to the north.

During the war Ireland no doubt found it more than a little difficult to maintain its declared neutrality, traditionally England had been its major trading partner, exporting food and livestock to England had been carried on for many centuries. Clues as to the motive of the German air raids on Dublin can be gleaned from the propaganda radio broadcasts of Lord Haw Haw, (William Joyce) who is said to have stated that the Amiens Street Railway Station in Dublin (Connolly Station) would be bombed because it was receiving a stream of refugees from the Belfast Blitz which took place on 15th April. Lord Haw Haw is said to have warned of the air raid on Dundalk harbour because it was used to export Irish cattle to United Kingdom.

A little known fact is that during the war English troops were drawn up at the border in preparation for an invasion of the south

During World war II many citizens of southern Ireland joined the British army and others crossed to England and took employment in munitions factories, in the majority of cases it was economic forces rather than political idealism which motivated these people.

Bombings in Ireland

At 1.00 am on Monday May 5th. 1941 the Luftwaffe bombed Ards Aerodrome near Newtownards in County Down, and 14 guards were killed

In 1995 Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) John Bruton claimed at least 10,000 Irish were killed serving in the British or Commonwealth armed forces. The civilian death figure includes 33 Irish merchantmen who were killed when a U-Boat torpedoed the Irish Pine and deaths caused by the presumably accidental bombing of Ireland in three instances.

Go to The History of Ireland home page.