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?