While there was no World War II in Ireland (don’t you just love the term ‘The Emergency’), there were many air raid shelters constructed in the Irish capital during the years of that conflict. The above image, showing an overground shelter, was taken from the top of the Nelson Pillar.
A September 1940 news-report gives some idea of how widespread shelters were in the city, and also highlights the fact overground shelters appeared primarily in the principal streets of the capital and in areas with tenement populations:
At the moment trench shelters have accommodation for 6,500 people, and they are situated at Fitzwilliam Square, the Custom House, Merrion Square, Oscar Square, St. Patrick’s Park Spitalfields, Pimlico and Ordmond Square. The overground shelters, which are situated in the principal streets and in the vicinity of tenements, will give accommodation to some eight thousand people.
Shelters were not only provided and constructed by Dublin Corporation, some emerged from private (and often subsidised) construction efforts. The Irish Press reported for example that “at least one Dublin cinema is providing its own air-raid shelter. This cinema was built on the site of a Turkish baths, and the old bath chamber, which as underground, has been adapted as a shelter. ”
The Irish Times noted in September 1940 that there was “much willful damage” being done to the shelters, quoting a Captain J.J Blake of the Irish Army who issued a radio appeal to citizens not to vandalise the structures. Blake explained that when first constructed the policy was to leave the shelters open, but “so great was the willful destruction and damage that the authorities were compelled to close them.”
Air raid shelters were incorporated into some housing plans in the city, for example Mary Aikenhead House, which were completed in April 1940. The buildings were also noted to include “front balconies large enough to take single beds for sleeping in open air”, perhaps as a means of combating tuberculosis outbreaks.
Though the Republic was neutral in the Second World War, bombs did fall on the Irish capital, killing innocent civilians. In January 1941 bombs fell on the Terenure and South Circular Road areas of the city, while there was tragedy in May 1941 when 28 people were killed by bombs dropped by fascist Germany that inflicted carnage on the North Strand area. Outside of the capital, bombs fell on Campile in Wexford in August 1940, killing three people.
The Irish Press, argued that while Ireland wished to stay out of the conflict, she could be pulled into it by surprise: “We must assume that if the Twenty-Six Counties are involved in this war it will be with a suddenness which will allow no preparation. All the preparations must be done beforehand and the announcement that more air raid shelters are to be constructed in Dublin reminds s forcibly of the fact.”
The question of funding air raid shelters was discussed on many occasions in both houses of the Oireachtas. In the early stages of the Second World War, before any bombs had fallen on Dublin, Senator Quirke made the point that urban areas were at much greater risk of bombing, but that he was confident those in remote rural parts would be quite prepared to contribute to the funding of shelters in areas most at risk:
Many people are ready to criticise the construction of air raid shelters. If we were to have an air raid here, it would probably take place in the big centres, and, regardless of what anybody may say to the contrary, I believe that people living in the farthest corner of Ireland are quite prepared to do their part and to take their share of the expense to defend the citizens of Ireland in any part of the country in which we may be attacked. I think the Minister is perfectly justified in the steps he is taking to defend the people.
There are shelters below us even today in Dublin. Thejournal.ie have looked at one on Grafton Street in detail in their Hidden Ireland series, noting that a company “was given a grant of £234 for the building and design of the air raid shelter to protect the 50 employees working at 69 Grafton Street. The shelter was completed on 24 September 1940.” This premises is now occupied by a clothing store, and I’ve often wandered past with no clue of the shelter being there.