Author Archives: John

About John

Dia Duit! Hello. My name is John. I am retired. I live in Ireland. I am on a five year mission to visit every city, town, village and place of historic and scenic interest in Ireland.

County Limerick: Limerick Castle

Tuesday 29th August 2017. Pleasant with occasional drizzle.

Having enjoyed last week’s trip to Limerick, I returned to explore the “old” city and King John’s Castle.

An early start. A taxi at 5.30am and three trains to Dublin. Then the 9am Cork train from Heuston Station with a change at Limerick Junction for Limerick. I arrived at about 11.20am.

Limerick Map

Colbert Station, named for Con Colbert (executed for his part in the Easter Rising 1916) is at the bottom of the map. The main shopping area is to the west of the station in O’Connell Street, Henry Street, Thomas Street, Roches, Street and William Street. The oldest part of the city is on King’s Island an area bounded by the River Shannon and the smaller Abbey River. It was here that the ancient Celts and later the Vikings, Normans and English set up their fortifications and King John’s Castle dates from the early 13th century. So I turned right from Colbert Station and walked along Parnell Street and Gerald Griffin Street to St Johns Cathedral and Hospital at Garryowen. The statue of Patrick Sarsfield is in the Cathedral grounds.

1504003781502 It was at Garryowen that the fiercest fighting of 1690 took place when the civilian population aided the Jacobite defenders and lifted the first siege of Limerick.

Walking north along John Street and Broad Street and crossing Baals Bridge, I was crossing from the old Irish Town and into English Town and King’s Island. 15040040122601504003877440 These photographs were taken in Mary Street which is cobbled. The first photograph looks back towards Baals Bridge and the second photograph shows the first building in English Town (ironically a very big Irish language college). Past St Mary’s Church of Ireland Cathedral and past castle walls being restored. And interestingly a row of Alms Houses, the plaque states that they were built for widows of the 1691 garrison. Strangely the Castle café and gift shop acts as the fourth wall of the Castle.

1504004623861 1504004765798The entrance is via a building to the side. Admission is not cheap. My concession ticket was E8.90. A lot of galleries telling the story of the Castle thru the centuries and its role in the history of Limerick and Ireland. Audio visual displays where it is possible to meet a Coiner, a Stonemason and a Soldier.

1504005921310 1504006529779 Irish History often overlooks the Siege of 1642 (English besieged by and defeated by Irish Confederates) and even the Siege of 1650-51 (Irish Confederates besieged and defeated by English Parliamentarians), the latter infamous for atrocities. The two sieges of 1690 and 1691 are better known. In the former, the city held out against the Williamite forces, in part due to heroic defence at Garryowen and “Sarsfield’s Ride ” which destroyed William’s artillery train at Ballyneety. In the latter the city surrendered at the Treaty Stone and Sarsfield led his Wild Geese and dependents into exile.

There should be no false equivelance in History. Sharing blame on a 50:50 basis is not what the discipline of History is about. In terms of the Anglo-Irish conflict that has been going on for several hundred years, the balance of morality lies with the Irish.

Of course all Irish nationalists are raised on a sentimental and one dimensional view. I was brought up on stories like “Sarsfield’s Ride” and ballads like “Jackets Green”. It does not actually matter that Sarsfield’ men wore RED jackets. It does not detract from the morality or the heroism of a people who fought the odds.

Of course the later Jacobite sieges of 1690 and 1691 are my field of amateur expertise. “On far foreign fields from Dunkerque to Belgrade lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade” (Davis). Or indeed Savannah, Georgia. If the 1690 siege was a success from the Irish perspective, then the 1691 siege was a failure.

1504006682359 1504007095957

This is the list of Jacobite Intantry and Cavalry that fought in 1690/91. Regiments were named for their “colonel-propietors”, The Cavalry such as Sheldon’s Horse would in the 18th century become Nugents Horse and eventually Fitzjames Horse was based on the County Clare side of the River Shannon and used for harassing Williamite camps, foraging and scouting.

Limerick Castle3I like this diaroma, one of the final acts in 1691. Thomond Bridge. Irish defenders are pushed back by the Williamites and the French garrison commander closes the gates. Around 700 defenders were killed on the bridge or drowned in the River Shannon. Whether it was deliberate treachery on the French side or just incompetence is speculative but Patrick Sarsfield and his Irish generals assumed command in the Castle and prevented the lynching of the French officers. With discord in the defenders ranks, capitulation on honourable terms at the Treaty Stone was the logical outcome.

Ironic that the English parliament repudiated the generous terms. Ironic also that French re-enforcements arrived on the River Shannon two weeks later and were sent home by Sarsfield who felt committed to the Treaty he had signed. And ironic that Sarsfield and his army and their dependents would leave Ireland over the winter 1691/92.

Limerick Castle4  This is the view of Thomond Bridge and the River Shannon from the Castle battlements. It must have been horrific to see the massacre unfold below. To the right of the pic is The Toll House.

To be honest as an enthusiast for the Wild Geese, I was disappointed that it was just part of the story of Limerick Castle. There was a little too much emphasis on the Norman times from my perspective. But I suppose castles resonate of “knights” and “princesses” and “jousting” in the public imagination.

Although the underground archaeology was interesting. The courtyard seemed too much like a film set. The way that a non-European tourist would think of “castles”.

1504007895721 1504007511706 The pillory is almost standard fare in tours and likewise the work of masons, soldiers and blacksmiths.

The battlements are of course subject to safety regulations and the views are spectacular. There were few tour guides and usually in other castles that I have visited there is reference to the spiral steps facilitating right handed defenders against right handed attackers. And that the stairs contain some “trip steps” to unbalance attackers.

Limerick Castle2 Limerick Castle7

The rooms in the towers are used for audio-visual displays. A 1642 English defender talks to us. He “remembers” the tourists. He spoke to us in an earlier part of the tour when he was confidant that he and his comrades would prevail against the Irish Confederate besiegers. This time he is in despair…hungry, fatigued and awaiting his fate as he hears the voices of the attackers come closer with the gunpowder. Other rooms have heraldic displays of varying authenticity.

LimerickCastle9 Limerick Castle1

And then the Coffee/Gift Shop. …the apple pie, fridge magnets and quite a lot of fairly expensive items.

Did I enjoy the visit to Limerick Castle? Yes….it is my kinda thing. Obviously a compromise between History and Tourism. But that is to be expected.







County Limerick: Limerick City


Tuesday 22nd August 2017. Warm.

An early start. A taxi at 5.30am to Portadown and three different commuter trains to Dublin. I was at the Busaras (Bus Depot) in Dublin at 8.25am and chose Limerick as a destination. the bus was already loading.

Limerick is 200 kilometres (120 miles) from Dublin. The population of Limerick is about 110,000 people.

A long journey. Via County Kildare, County Laois (just one stop at Portlaoise), County Offaly and County Tipperary (with stops at Roscrea and Nenagh) and County Limerick (one drop off point at the University of Limerick on the outskirts of the city), I arrived at Colbert Station at about 11.45am.

I love Limerick City. In many ways a spiritual home. The Jacobite history in Ireland ends at Limerick in 1691 and the Franco- Irish history begins when Patrick Sarsfield leads an army of 10,000 men and about 4,500 wives into exile in France. A consequence of the Treaty that ended the siege of Limerick.

This is a story which has enthralled me for over fifty five years…since Mr Slattery told us the story in Primary 5 in 1962.

There are few success stories in Irish history. We are a defeated and humiliated nation. Do we need heroes? Brecht frames the debate but if you were a 10 year old Catholic boy in West Belfast in 1962, you needed a sense of Pride.

So the story of Sarsfield’s ride is epic. How he rode north out of Limerick Castle and picked up his cavalry in County Clare and rode across the River Shannon and avoided the Williamite army and aided by Galloping Hogan found his way to the siege train of guns which would have destroyed the city. It was less than ten files from Limerick and about four miles from the entire Williamite army. Whether or not, the password into the Williamite artillery train was “Sarsfield” and whether he really said “Sarsfield is the word. Sarsfield is the name” as he drew his sabre is not relevant to History. It is only relevant to the Legend.

What does matter is that the guns were destroyed and the Jacobites went on a different return route and reached Limerick with the loss of about twenty troopers. And it bought precious time and precious morale for the defenders. Inevitably the French allies knew the war was lost and wanted back to France. But not before closing the gates of the city to defending Irish soldiers on Thomond Bridge.

A Treaty was negotiated at a stone (used to mount horses) on Thomond Bridge. The Treaty Stone still stands, a monument to Treachery. The Irish Army and dependents were allowed to leave on condition they sailed for France. Another 2,000 mostly English Jacobites joined Williams army. This episode in Irish History…the Flight of the Wild Geese …is crucial as it deprived Ireland of a generation of fighting men. And of course over the next fifty years or so, many more joined them. To some extent it was a migration of fighters to which the English turned a blind eye. Unhappily for one recruiter in 1733, an ancestor of mine, they did not turn a blind eye…they hanged him.

Sarsfield himself was killed at the Battle of Landen (in modern Belgium) in July 1693, leading a victorious Irish cavalry charge against the same King William. Again, it is possible that his dying words were “If only this was for Ireland” is not relevant in History. More relevant is that thousands of Irish soldiers in infantry regiments like Dillons, Clarers, Bulkleys, Berwicks Roths and Lallys and the Fitzjames Horse cavalry regiment would follow him into graves…”in far foreign fields from Dunquerke to Belgrade lie the soldiers and chiefs of the Irish Brigade” (Thomas Davis) and for “every cause but our own” (Emily Lawless).

So impossible not to stand beside the Treaty Stone and not think of the men massacred on Thomond Bridge or the Treaty itself that guaranteed rights to Catholics …the Treaty was rejected by the English Parliament who wanted confiscated land. And not reflect on the battle cry of the Irish Brigade “Remember Limerick and English Treachery”.

Will the English renege on the Good Friday Agreement? Is it as worthless as the Treaty of Limerick…or British commitment to the European Union?


The pics show the Treaty Stone, and Limerick Castle.

There are two other bridges across the River Shannon in Limerick. One named for Sarsfield. The 1916 Rising monument is on Sarsfield Bridge. It depicts three executed leaders, Ned Daly who was from Limerick and Con Colbert who was from Athea, County Limerick. I would have guessed that the third figure Tom Clarke appears because he was married to Daly’s sister but according to the inscription, he had been awarded the Freedom of Limerick some years before 1916.


In the older part of the city is the district of Garryowen. Not just a name that resonates with fans of Rugby (it is a huge sport in Limerick and Munster), their former home is now a Football stadium and the rugby club have moved to the suburbs.. It is famous for giving its name to the tactic of kicking the ball high and following thru with a charge forward. It is also of course mentioned in a (sadly) British cavalry song later adopted as the US 7th Cavalry song. In modern Irish republicanism, it is mentioned in “Sean South of Garryowen”, an IRA man killed in the 1950s. Actually Sean South did not live in Garryowen.

1503409496989The monument to Patrick Sarsfield is in the grounds of St Johns Cathedral in Garryowen.

It is interesting that Limerick is unveiling new statues. This one, inscribed “Dockers” is on the Quays.

1503400291108Richard Harris, the Limerick-born actor (died 2002) and Terry Wogan, the Limerick born broadcaster (died 2016) are honoured with statues. Harris is depicted in one of his famous movie roles, King Arthur in “Camelot” and other movie roles such as “This Sporting Life”, “The Field” and “Gladiator” are mentioned. Richard Harris was unapologetically Irish…….a contrast with “Sir” Terry Wogan who became a part of the BBC and British establishment resulting in his knighthood. He despised Limerick and Ireland and in fairness he was the best broadcaster in Britain for four decades. Ironically part of his appeal was Irish charm.

Wogan would say and did say that the British fully accepted him in the 1970s when their soldiers were being killed in “Northern Ireland” and London was being bombed. To a large extent, he is right but fundamentally the English only really accept the Irish when we become one of them. Other entertainers like Eamonn Andrews and Val Doonican were accepted without ever selling their souls. But I am not convinced that Terry Wogan had a soul.

1503403486134 1503430703873

Another Limerick man with a mixed legacy is author Frank McCourt (died 2009). There is a statue but on this occasion, I did not see it. Most famous for writing “Angela’s Ashes” as a memoir of his Limerick childhood, it is either accepted as an honest exposé of a very grim life or dismissed (sometimes with reason and sometimes without reason) as exaggerations or lies.

Retired rugby player Anthony “Axel” Foley died at the end of last year. He had played for Shannon RFC in Limerick, Munster and for Ireland on over sixty occasions. He died while at a Munster training session in Paris. He was just 42 years old. Already a statue has been unveiled. It is situated along the River Shannon.

1503405620459I need to return to Limerick. I need to visit the Castle, the University and a few other places. I think my abiding memory is the friendliness. Asking for directions to the Richard Harris statue and I was actually brought to the statue. People in post offices and the railway/bus station went out of their way for me and offered advice freely. And seemed genuinely interested in me.

I took the 3.45pm train from Limerick and arrived in Dublin at about 6.05pm and in good time to catch the 7pm train from Dublin. I was home by 9pm.

County Antrim: Lisburn

Wednesday 16th August 2017. Cloudy.

Lisburn (population 72,000) is a city 15 kilometres (9 miles) south west of Belfast. The River Lagan which flows thru the city divides County Antrim from County Down but Lisburn is classed as being in Antrim.

I travelled by train. I arrived about 3.40pm.

The streets are still decorated with red, white and blue bunting to commemorate the Twelfth (12th July) and to underscore that Lisburn is a Protestant, unionist and British area. Most of the Catholic owned business were burned around 1920 and this produced an exodus of Catholics from Lisburn. The demographics have never fully recovered.

Lisburn4 Lisburn6

Lisburn retains a “bogey man” status in Catholic eyes.

Certainly around 1962, my aunt and uncle lived nearby and their son, a priest in England was on vacation. My mother brought me (and little sister) to Lisburn because I was going to serve as an altar boy. My first impression of Lisburn is my mother sheepishly asking a police officer for directions to “the RC (sic) church”. I recall this specifically because only Protestants referred to Catholics as “RCs” and it always seemed dismissive. In fairness the police officer was very professional and pointed up the hill. It is my mother’s passivity that made an impression on me.

The church was attacked many times during the Troubles.


Lisburn was a “plantation town”, settled by people from Wales in the early 17th century. And later became a centre for the Linen industry. The Museum in the square commemorates the Linen connexion.

Yesterday I was in Dundalk and this week I am focussing on statues and memorials, in part because of the controversy around the General Robert E Lee statue at Charlottesville and other “confederate” statues in the United States.

There is a statue on either side of the Linen Museum.


As a child, I was always impressed by the statue of Brigadier General John Nicholson, who was brought up in Lisburn. He was fatally wounded at the siege of Delhi in 1857 (the Indian Mutiny) and therefore a hero to the British. But closer examination and Nicholson was a particularly nasty piece of work.

He was an officer in the Indian Raj and had very unpleasant attitudes towards native Indians particularly at the time of the Indian Mutiny. He once arrived late for dinner at the officers mess, apologised for his lateness and said he had just hanged the cooks. Seemingly the cooks had intended poisoning the officers so he ordered them to taste the soup. The cooks refused so he fed the soup to a monkey who died. So the cooks were lynched.

Of course the citation on the monument makes no reference to this. I daresay the unionists in Lisburn would react badly if it was suggested the statue be taken down. But I wonder if the students at Dungannon Royal School in County Tyrone know this story. Nicholson was a schoolboy there and one of the “houses” in the school is named for him.

I note that another name has (recently?) been added to the monument, a corporal who won the Victoria Cross in the Crimean War.


The second statue is much more modern. It commemorates the Ulster Defence Regiment, a legal militia which operated as part of the British Army during the Troubles. It was formed around 1970 as a replacement for the paramilitary police, the B Specials which was totally loyalist and sectarian.

It was hoped that the UDR would have cross-community support but as the Troubles escalated in the 1970s, Catholic members resigned, partly because of its unionist nature and partly because of intimidation from the IRA.

The consequence was that the UDR became a de-facto unionist force and most unionists would claim that the regiment was their own militia. There was an unhealthy relationship  between the legal UDR and illegal loyalist paramilitaries which led to the UDR being absorbed into the British Army in 1992. This was one of the first steps in the Peace Process.

So the statue in Lisburn is really unionists commemorating their “own regiment”. There was a two hundred year old history of the British and unionist government acting thru local militia. And it made perfect sense. Frankly, in the small towns and villages of “Northern Ireland”, the UDR had first rate intelligence on their Catholic/nationalist neighbours. They knew the families who were politically nationalist and those who were more militant. But the IRA also had pretty good intelligence on their Protestant/unionist neighbours.

To some extent, the Nicholson monument has outlived its usefulness. Tales of heroism on the North West Frontier of the British Raj might have inspired a sense of pride in the British Empire for a century. But the UDR monument is more significant…a sense of pride in something specifically unionist. Indeed most unionists feel that disbanding the UDR was an act of betrayal by the British.

The Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 provides for parity of esteem and recognises that there is “shared space” but unionists and indeed nationalist dominate areas so they do push that concept to the limit.



County Louth: Dundalk


Tuesday 15th August 2017. Heavy rain

Dundalk (population 40,000) is a large town, just 10 kilometres (6 miles) from the border with “Northern Ireland”. It lies on the main Belfast-Dublin rail line. So a short 60 kilometres (36 miles) from my starting point at Portadown in County Armagh.

I got a train around 1pm and via Newry arrived at Dundalk at about 1.45pm.

In some ways, Dundalk is defined as a “border town”. It sometimes appears that when the “Republic’s” economy is doing well, then there are a lot of cross-border shoppers. And when the “North” is doing well, shoppers go to Newry. A lot also depends on the strength or weakness of the Euro against Pound Sterling.

But of course the Troubles also defined Dundalk. IRA volunteers from South Down and South Armagh often launched operations from safe houses and farmhouses in the Dundalk area.

It seemed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, that there were a lot of Northerners in Dundalk and they were either “on the run” or pretending to be “on the run”.

DundalkCourt Clinton The Courthouse dominates the Town Square along with 1798 Rebellion statue and a new (to me) statue commemorating the visit of USA President Bill Clinton. As monuments are much in the news in the past few days with Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis protesting the removal of  a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, I think that monuments are as much about the future as the past. It is a feature of so many towns in the Republic of Ireland that 1798 memorials were actually erected in 1898 for the centenary and to give a boost to the nationalist/republican sentiment which would manifest itself in 1916.

Across the road from these monuments is the constituency office of Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin leader who a few years ago de-camped from West Belfast. I note his office has a memorial to Martin McGuinness who died earlier this year and to “Sinn Féin” women from a century ago.

15028047715951502805107628 The women are Countess Markievicz, (third in command of the Irish Citizen Army, a leader of the Easter Rising in 1916), Dr Kathleen Lynn (also Citizen Army officer who took command at Dublin City Hall when Captain Seán Connolly was killed), Kathleen Clarke (widow of Thomas Clarke who signed the Proclamation and sister of Commandant Ned Daly …both were executed) and Grace Gifford, fiancé of Joseph Plunkett (a signatory of the Proclamation…she married him in the prison chapel hours before his execution.

In the Quay Street area, I spotted a memorial to a young man taken from his home and killed by British forces in 1921. Doubly poignant because just a few metres away wasa n identical monument to his brother.


On a cheerier note, the nearby Castle Bar has a very amusing sign.


Dundalk looks like a good base to explore more of County Louth.

Dundalk Train Station is named for Thomas J Clarke. there are fifteen stations in the Republic of Ireland, all named for the sixteen executed leaders of 1916. One station Pearse Station (Dublin) is named for the Pearse Brothers. Tom Clarke has no connexion with Dundalk but he was raised in Dungannon, County Tyrone and obviously there are no official monuments to the Rebels. I suppose Dundalk is the nearest station to Dungannon. As part of the 2016 Commemoration, these fifteen train stations have similar artwork.

1502815469815 Tom Clarke was the oldest signatory of the Proclamation . He was only 58 when he was shot by firing squad but he looks much older. He had spent fifteen years in British prisons in the late 19th century. He then moved to New York before returning to Ireland.

I think it is worth noting that these Rebels were in fact traitors to Britain. Rather like Robert E Lee, the Confederate general. But in the “Republic” at least, they are founding fathers of our nation. There is, I would argue no other comparison. The cause of Irish Freedom and the cause of the racist Confederacy cannot be reasonably compared.

And yet…it is only fair to say that Tom Clarke often talked about his life in New York in very racist terms.




County Wicklow: Enniskerry

Thursday 10th August 2017. Hot.

As the “Route 44 Enniskerry” bus passed southwards along O’Connell Street, I decided that this was my trip for the day. The bus passed by Pearse Street, Merrion and thru Ranelagh, Clonskeagh, Milltown and Dundrum, all in Greater Dublin but beyond Dundrum, it was a climb into the mountains thru the village of Stepaside and then into Enniskerry.

Enniskerry (population 2,000) is about 25 kilometres (15 miles) from Dublin. It is about 5 kilometres (3 miles) from Powerscourt House and Gardens, one of the top tourist destinations.

I first and last visited Powerscourt in the early 1970s. A few days after my visit, it was badly damaged in a fire (I didn’t start it…I have an alibi!). I had (still have?) little interest in “ascendency houses” …the big ruling Anglo-owned houses from the mid 18th century. It is not a history that I like but maybe I am mellowing and I cant choose the narratives that I like. At some point, when I am further along the way to Mellowness, I will re-visit Powerscourt.

For the record, it was built by Viscount Powerscourt in the middle part of the 18th century but built on a site of a castle built centuries before. The house has been owned by the Slazenger (sports goods company) and in fairness, it has been restored magnificently and it actually features as a location in several movies.

Enniskerry has been in its shadow for centuries. Attached to every big “ascendency” house is a quasi-feudal system of Anglican (Church of Ireland) vicars, tenant farmers, merchants and peasants.

Enniskerry retains some of that historical baggage. It would be grossly unfair of me to dismiss it as a “West Briton” oasis which backed the wrong side in the War of Independence. Having been defeated, they would have seen their future with the more moderate “pro-Treaty” Fine Gael and North Wicklow remains conservative and Fine Gael in 2017.

To make a grossly unfair comparison, there are people in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina who are not overly enthused about the United States of America but are making the best of it.

This comparison says more about me that it does about anyone in Enniskerry.

The challenge of my travels around Ireland has been confronting my self. Yes, some things about Ireland have stayed the same. Some things about Ireland have changed. But the real shock to the system has been how much I have changed/stayed the same.


A better and more accurate way to think of Enniskerry is “reconciliation”. The coming together of two communities, Church of Ireland and Catholic is under-scored by a local centre for Reconciliation. In a way, it is the perfect place because the Protestant population is large enough to be an important demographic in the immediate area. And there is a history of reconciliation…German refugee orphans were settled thru here after the Second World War.

Enniskerry1 Enniskerry3

And close by is a German War Cemetery…many of them sailors and airmen who were washed up or crash-landed into Ireland in two wars.

As you can see from the first postcard, there is not a lot a room in the “square”. This is where the bus from Dublin left me. There were two or three taxis to take taxis to Powerscourt but mostly the tourists I saw were coach parties.

Interestingly the Irish National Ski and Snowboard Association is based at a very large and very artificial slope on the Dublin side of Enniskerry. I had never really thought that some of my winter travel could be on cold and snowy days. is usually confined to high ground and is comparatively rare.


As I was waiting for a return bus to Dublin, an elderly German couple approached and asked me about a bus to Bray, the seaside town I visited earlier in the summer. They had been to Powerscourt and the German war graves. At that point I decided that I should also go a different route so I got on board the bus to Bray.

I assumed the Enniskerry-Bray journey would be more than 15 kilometres (9 miles) but in fact it is only about 6 kilometres (3 miles). A surprise to find that this quiet spot is so close to a busy commuter and holiday town.

I think I was surprised that I liked Enniskerry as much as I did.

This summer, I have already been in some of the districts and suburbs (Ranelagh and Dundrum) but at some point, I need to take a closer look at the village of Stepaside.

In Bray, I connected to the DART train to go back to Dublin.

Dublin City: Clarehall

Thursday 3rd August 2017. Warm. Cloudy.

Outside Connolly Station, I have seen the “Route 27 Clarehall” bs go north along Amiens Street. The name did not mean anything to me.

It is 11 kilometres (7 miles) to Clarehall. As I suspected, it was just another shopping mall. Tesco is the anchor tenant.

The interesting thing was the journey…Amiens Street, North Strand, Marino, Artane, Northside Shopping Centre and Coolock.

On the return journey “Route 27 Jobstown”, I stopped off at Northside Shopping Centre for lunch.

At a future date, I would like to see more of Marino, Artane and Coolock.

Dublin City: North Strand

Thursday 3rd August 2017. Dry. Occasional drizzle.

Northerners who arrive by train in Dublin  at Connolly Station usually cross Amiens Street and walk up Talbot Street to O’Connell Street. Few will turn right and walk about 300 metres to where Amiens Street becomes North Strand Road.

North Strand Road itself continues over two bridges at the Royal Canal and the small River Tolka and towards the districts of Fairview and Marino,

Just 300 metres from Connolly Station is an important but largely forgotten piece of Irish history. On the night of 31st May 1941, thirty civilians were killed and several buildings destroyed when the German Lufwaffe bombed neutral Ireland during World War Two.

The most obvious explanation is that the Germans mistook Dublin for Belfast.

I have not seen this rather neglected garden before. The monument marks the 50th Anniversary of the Bombing.


It does raise the question of Irish neutrality in the Second World War. And also the extent of that neutrality. Unlike the other English dominions, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and British colonies, there was no constitutional or emotional imperative for Ireland to go to war on behalf of the “mother country”, Britain. After all, it was less than twenty years since Ireland had fought the British to establish an independent nation.

To the British, Irish neutrality was a form of treachery and underscored by the Treaty provision that the British had to give up using Irish ports just a year before the Second World War broke out.

Ireland was of course neutral…but so of course was Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and the United States of America. Really those countries only became involved as British and French allies when they were attacked or had war declared on them by an Axis power.

Some good books have been written about Ireland during the “Emergency 1939-1945” but online message boards are not so academic. There is a lazy narrative.

The lazy narrative is that Ireland was pro-German but the evidence suggests that Ireland was neutral “on the Allied side” in much the same way that United States had been prior to Pearl Harbour. Simply put, Ireland would have resisted an invasion by any foreign power and of course the resistance would not have been prolonged. But certainly the Germans and Allies never tried to open up another front.

For the record, more citizens of the Republic of Ireland fought in the British Army in World War Two than loud-mouthed unionist flag wavers in “Northern Ireland”.

Belfast was of course a port and industrial complex which aided the British War Effort. But unlike any other part of the “United Kingdom”, there was no conscription in the North. Having been used as cannon fodder in the Great War, even the most patriotic unionist was in no hurry to be used the same way. Of course, Conscription would have been impossible in the North as it would have taken too much resources to round up unwilling Catholic-nationalists and quite a few Protestant-unionists.

The unionist narrative is that they were keeping an eye on the Catholic-nationalist minority within the Six Counties or working on vital war work or fire-watching from important factories in Belfast.

It is only partly true. Belfast was heavily bombed in early 1941. In a flagrant breach of neutrality, the Irish Government sent the Dublin Fire Service into the north. Countless lives were saved. And importantly, the Irish informed the Germans that any attack on “Northern Ireland” was an attack on the whole island.

The Germans heeded the warning. Now I am not suggesting that Nazi Germany feared the might of the Irish Army. But it wanted to keep Ireland neutral.

Of course Winston Churchill, who was a bastard anyway, never forgave the Irish. And he praised the debatable patriotism of “Northern Ireland”. And unionist politicians have traded on the myth since 1945.

It would have been politically impossible for any Irish Government to support Britain in 1939. There is an argument that a joint north-south war experience would have been beneficial in terms of Irish unity. And I think that the separate war experiences did copper-fasten Partition of North and South.

While I am glad that there is a monument, it seems an after-thought, almost an apology for a forgotten piece of History.

Beside the North Strand Memorial is a small apartment block named for Trade Union leader, Jim Larkin who coincidently died in 1941.

But as the demographic of Dublin changes, I wonder just how many residents have even heard of James Larkin. It is not just about new citizens from Poland, Nigeria, England and United States who have chosen Ireland as a home. It is as much about young Irish people.

Is there a Statute of Limitations on Memory? Can we bind future generations to the events that we find important.

Have we a shared History? Or shared Amnesia?