At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939, the shaky fairly recently established Irish Free State, declared it would follow a path of neutrality. This period, as many of you will know was always referred to in Ireland as ‘The Emergency’; a euphuism coined by the then Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamonn De Valera for the greatest war in world history. Unfortunately, our neutrality didn’t always save us from the activities of German bombers who from time to time deposited their bombs on unsuspected locals. Whether this was by accident or intent we will never know, although it has been suggested that it could have been a veiled threat to the De Valera Government to stay neutral and not get involved with the Allies.
The first such incident occurred on the 20th August 1940 on Blackrock Island off the Mayo coast, when the local lighthouse was attacked and strafed by a German bomber. This resulted in damage to the roof and several lanterns in the lighthouse but no injuries were reported.
The second attack occurred six days later, in mid-afternoon on the 26th August when a Heinkel bomber dropped five bombs on the sleepy County Wexford Village of Campile, some 14 kilometres from the town of New Ross. One of the bombs landed on the premises of Shelbourne Co-Operative Creamery; which was probably the largest building in the village at the time. The bomb struck the canteen section killing three female staff members. Another incident occurred in December of 1940 when two bombs fell in Sandycove Dublin close to Dun Laoghaire, the first at Rosmeen Park and Summerhill Road and the second at Rosmeen Park and Rosmeen Gardens, resulting in the injury of three people. A third bomb fell about an hour later near Carrickmacross in County Monaghan.
The New Year started with bombs falling on the first and second of January in such scattered places as: Counties Meath, Carlow, Kildare, Wicklow and Dublin. In Meath five bombs fell in Duleek and three in Julianstown, in neither event were there any injuries. But in Knockroe in Carlow a house was bombed resulting in three deaths and two injuries.
In County Kildare incendiary bombs and high explosives rained down on the Curragh area, while two sea mines were dropped in the area of Enniskerry, some miles from the sea. Ballymurrin in Wexford had three bombs falling in the area without any loss of life.
In Dublin German bombs hit Terenure, two falling at Rathdown Park and another two at Fortfield Road and Lavarna Drive, resulting in some injuries but fortunately no deaths.
Again on the 3rd January 1941 German bombs fell on Donore Terrace in the South Circular Road area of Dublin with over 20 people injured. But the worst for Dublin was yet to come and on 31st May when four German bombs struck the North Strand area of Dublin. It levelled many small homes and shops in the area and resulted in the death of 32 people. On 2nd June, Arklow, County Wicklow had a number of bombs fall but no casualties reported and on 24th July some more bombs fell on Dundalk’s dock area in County Louth causing minor damage and no casualties.
In April and May of 1941 the Belfast blitz took place; with some 200 German bombers taking part in the raids with terrible loss of life and extensive damage to property. The primary aim of these raids would be to inflict serious damage on the world famous shipbuilding and repair facilities of Harland and Wolff. This firm, founded in 1861 was the world renowned builder of the ill-fated Titanic and was very heavily occupied with the war effort both with shipbuilding and repairs for the British Navy.
The civilian population of Belfast did not go unscathed in these raids. It has been estimated that over 900 people died and some 1500 people injured and over 50,000 houses damaged. The fires were so extensive that fire brigades from the Irish Republic were sent to aid the local fire services in bringing the fires under control.
There’s a story which says that the planes which bombed Belfast, came in over Wexford and followed the neutral lights north to get them to Belfast. I’m not too sure if they needed to follow the lights if they were already using the radio beams which seemed to be successful in bombing London, Birmingham and Coventry. As a small boy living in Dublin during the war years I do remember in our home we had black out curtains which my father closed very carefully every night.
There was also a story about cattle shipments to England from around the Dundalk area which apparently didn’t please the Germans too much ; some people say this may have resulted in some bombs falling on Dundalk by way of a warning; which apparently was mentioned by William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) on one of his propaganda broadcasts ‘German Calling’.
In our house we were very even handed about our listening and divided our time between the BBC and their propaganda and the German propaganda, my father’s rationale being that they were both lying and if we censured both broadcasts by half we might get something resembling the truth.
Dublin at that time and for the duration of the war had a functioning German Legation complete with an Ambassador. Eduard Hempel; described as an old-school career diplomat and according to the Irish Government; one who always behaved correctly. It was often hinted by the British the Legation was used for spying, although De Valera claimed all radio transmitters had been seized at the outbreak of war. The Irish Government were also very successful in rounding up German spies who parachuted into Ireland.
As a footnote to these events, in 1958 the West German Government paid £327,000 in compensation to the Irish Government for unintentionally bombing Ireland. This money came from funds supplied to Germany under the Marshall Aid plan.
(c) Mike Connolly
About The Connollys – A Nest of Irish Rebels:
This is the true story about an ordinary Irish family, the Connollys, who were caught up in historical events at the end of the nineteenth century and during the early years of the twentieth century. Many members of the family were involved in the nationalist struggle, which had its moment of glory in the Easter Rising of 1916. Each committed member played a significant role in the Rising, which resulted in the death of one of them. He was Captain Sean Connolly, the Abbey actor, who was described as “the player Connolly”, by William Butler Yeats in his poem Three Songs to the One Burden, one of the poems he wrote in response to the Easter Rising: Who was the first man shot that day? The player Connolly, Close to the City Hall he died; Carriage and voice had he; He lacked those years that go with skill’ But later might have been A famous, a brilliant figure Before the painted scene.
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