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Ireland during the Second World War
Of all the neutral states of World War II, Ireland has by far the largest English-language literature explaining just what the nation did -- and didn't do -- during the conflict. Despite intense pressure from the United Kingdom and then the United States, the Irish government mostly refused to cooperate with the Allies and in particular refused to allow British air and naval forces to access the Treaty ports (which had been turned over to Ireland only shortly before the war) as bases in the war against the U-boats. Likewise, the kind of cooperation that Berlin desired with Dublin at the expense of London never materialized.
Different historians interpret the Irish stance in different ways. To some, Ireland's refusal to join the Allies, or at least provide bases, was little more than treachery. To others, such an uncompromising stand was the only means of preserving Irish independence in a war-torn world. Whatever the perspectives of authors and readers, much can be learned from studying all the aspects of Ireland's perilous neutrality.
Here are the most important books about Ireland during the Second World War.
Allen, Trevor. The Storm Passed By: Ireland and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1940-41. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1996
Unlike most of the books listed here, Allen pays little heed to the complexities of politics and diplomacy, instead delving into the air and naval operations over and around Ireland, looking in particular at Luftwaffe and U-boat activities and the German airmen and sailors who conducted those operations. Many details of individual actions. Well-chosen photos.
Carroll, Joseph. Ireland in the War Years. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1975
A brief but solid account, and one of the first to try to impart the full story of the war years. Covers all the bases, but leans a bit toward the relationship between Ireland and the UK. Utilizes British War Cabinet records and the papers of the British ambassador.
Carter, Carolle J. The Shamrock and the Swastika: German Espionage in Ireland in WWII. Palo Alto, CA: Pacific Books, 1977
While Carter writes mostly about German agents in Ireland, there is also a fair amount of general information about Ireland's position during the war and some interesting material on Irishmen in Germany, including efforts to recruit a unit from POWs to serve in the German army. Carter also claims the Irish government was more sympathetic to and supportive of the Allies than is usually acknowledged.
Coogan, Tim Pat. Eamon De Valera: The Man Who Was Ireland. New York: HarperCollins, 1995
A thick, thorough biography of the Taoiseach from his youth through the post-war years. The bulk of the book covers pre-WWII events and de Valera's rise to power, but a significant chunk is devoted to the war years.
Duggan, John P. Neutral Ireland and the Third Reich. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1985
This account examines the relationship between Ireland and Germany within the broader context of Dublin's unyielding neutrality and the Third Reich's wide-ranging ambitions. Very thorough on Berlin's plans and policies, including pre-war diplomacy. The papers of the German embassy in Dublin are the most important source.
Dwyer, T. Ryle. Irish Neutrality and the USA, 1939-47. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1977
Where Duggan focuses on the German connection and Carrol leans a bit toward relations with the UK, Dwyer examines the relationship between Ireland and the United States, the contradictory aims of their policies, and the interplay of domestic politics with international diplomacy. Extensive use of the wartime correspondence and papers of the American ambassador to Ireland.
Fisk, Robert. In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster, and Price of Neutrality, 1939-45. London: Andre Deutsch, 1983
The most complete, the most readable, and perhaps the most balanced of the books listed here, this is probably the best place to begin learning about wartime Ireland. In addition to politics and diplomacy, much more on military issues and events than most of the other accounts, plus a significant amount of information on espionage.
MacCarron, D. Step Together: The Story of Ireland's Emergency Army. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1999
It was not much of an army, even by the standards of a neutral nation, but this volume brings together more information about it than any other book, although mostly from the worm's-eye view. Quite the opposite end of the spectrum from O'Halpin. Especially strong in photos and anecdotes. Sadly lacking in OB and TOE material.
Nowlan, Kevin B. and T. D. Williams. Ireland in the War Years and After, 1939-51. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1969
Fourteen chapters by various contributors on topics such as "The Irish Economy during the War," "Irish Defense Policy," "Education and Language," "Industry and Labour." A broad, not especially detailed survey which leans toward the social aspects of Ireland's wartime experience.
O'Halpin, Eunan. Defending Ireland: The Irish State and Its Enemies since 1922. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999
A much more scholarly approach than MacCarron, but one dealing mostly with the formulation of plans and strategies at the uppermost levels of the government and the military. Very little OB and TOE material. About a quarter of the book covers the WWII period.
Share, Bernard. The Emergency: Neutral Ireland, 1939-45. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1978
The author was a boy of nine in 1939, and the memories of his youth seem to some extent to dictate the course of these somewhat personal ramblings about life in wartime Ireland. Not without value, but this book more than any other on the list seems more entertaining than informative. Illustrated with many period cartoons, advertisements, and newspaper clippings.
Reviewed 11 May 2000
Copyright © 2000 by Bill Stone
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