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A contemporary illustration depicts a Skeleton Army on the march.

The Salvation Army has been in business since 1865, today boasting more than 1.7 million members internationally. The ‘Sally Ann’, as generations knew it, has long had a presence in Dublin, establishing themselves here in the 1880s, and still active in the city today. A rather curious part of the history of the Salvation Army concerns its opponents. People who were hostile towards its campaign to ‘clean up the streets’ so to speak – in particular organised mobs who confronted the Salvation Army as they went about their work – became known on the neighbouring island as The Skeleton Army. Carrying banners, beating drums and even wearing mock uniforms, the Skeleton Army  are a curious social history phenomenon, no doubt often encouraged in their work by publicans.  While the term Skeleton Army was not used here to describe opponents of the Salvation Army, the hostility was bad enough in Dublin that the Salvation Army newspaper warned their readers how “the sight of a woman wearing an Army bonnet in the streets” had the same effect in Dublin as “a red rag to an infuriated bull.” When Mrs. Booth, wife of the leader of the Salvation Army, attempted to speak in Dublin in 1882 at a meeting in the Christian Union Buildings, her meeting had to be postponed due to what newspapers termed “riotous proceedings.”

A Protestant charitable body, the Salvation Army was born in London’s East End. It modelled itself on the army in terms of structure, and had its own flags, symbols, uniforms and marching songs. The Salvation Army went right into the slums of Britain, and into what they termed ‘Hostile Areas’.  In Dublin they encountered opposition from the beginning as they were viewed very much as outsiders, in England the form of opposition was sometimes surprising.

The Salvation Army’s rallying cry centered around the Three S’s – soup, soap and salvation. Its opponents raised their own satirical rallying cry in the form of the Three B’s – beef, beer and bacca! The phenomenon of the  Skeleton Army was first noted in England in 1881, when banners with skulls and crossbones on them began appearing at rowdy anti-Salvation Army events. The way they are described in the contemporary press suggests there was real fear, take this from a Bethal Green newspaper:

A genuine rabble of ‘roughs’ pure and unadulterated has been infesting the district for several weeks past. These vagabonds  style themselves the ‘Skeleton Army’…. The ‘skeletons’ have their collectors and their collecting sheets and one of them was thrust into my hands… it contained a number shopkeepers’ names… I found that publicans, beer sellers and butchers are subscribing to this imposture… the collector told me that the object of the Skeleton Army was to put down the Salvationists by following them about everywhere, by beating a drum and burlesquing their songs, to render the conduct of their processions and services impossible.

 The Skeleton Army adopted some ingenious tactics – once, they placed red pepper under the wings of pigeons who were released into a Salvation Army hall during a meeting in northern England. Imagine the sight of terrified birds fluttering about, raining red pepper down on the gathered Salvationists, running from the hall only to be confronted outside by a waiting mob.

On one occasion in Worthing, about 4,000 so-called Skeleton Army showed up to pelt the local Salvation Army hall, and then attacked the towns police station was one of their ranks was imprisoned. In Chester, the violence was so bad that one day became known  as ‘Black Sunday’. Over the course of 1882, there were at least 650 assaults on Salvationists on the street, and more than 55 buildings were damaged. Where do the Irish fit into all of this? It’s probably fair to presume that some of those attacking the Salvationists in England may have had little love for Irish immigrants in Britain either. Yet on the other side of things, it does seem that Irish Catholic migrants got in on the act of attacking the Salvationists too,  perhaps fearful of attempts to convert Irish districts to Protestantism. In Boughton, one newspaper wrote following violence there that “the attacks of the Irish Papists of Boughton on the unoffending Salvationists will be handed down as another proof of the development which the human mind is capable of under the influence of Popish learning.”

In Dublin, the Salvation Army attempted public rallies at the Custom House, a long established location for public speakers, but encountered real opposition. In 1887, it was reported that a mob followed the Salvation Army after one such rally as far as Harcourt Street, where “their car was stopped by the mob and the occupants of it would eventually have been subjected to violence but for the arrival of fifty constables who had followed on the cars.”

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Belfast Newsletter report on violence towards Salvation Army in Dublin, October 1887.

This all leaves the very important question – who was making all of this happen? Thousands of people don’t just descend on a scene with banners, drums and uniforms – somebody puts them there. Evidence points towards brewers, publicans and even brothel keepers, all of whom had plenty to lose. One publican in Surrey was revealed to have donated a thousand pounds to the cause of the Skeleton Army, which was a most considerable sum of money in the 1880s.

To some, this all began as a bit of a laugh, and perhaps many who involved themselves in early riots had no real motivation beyond liking the thrill of violence. Things took very sinister turns, and tactics were becoming more and more unsavory and downright vile. Salvationists, including women and children, drenched in the contents of chamber pots. At Guildford, a female Salvationist was fatally injured by a mob. Drunken seamen on the Thames fired ships rockets, essentially flare guns, in the direction of a Salvationist gathering. Rotten vegetables were one thing to have rain down on top of you, burning coals and dead rats were something else entirely.

Curiously, there is evidence of some people making the leap from one to the other. Charles Jeffries from Shadwell had been heavily involved in the Skeleton Army in London, physically attacking Salvationists on more than one occasion and a much feared ‘street fighting man’. He was moved to join the Salvationists after showing up to wreck one of their meetings, later remembering that his old pals in the Skeletons didn’t take well to this and enjoyed attacking him:  “In the Open-Airs my old mates gave me many a blow and kick – but I stuck fast. At times they would follow me home singing, ‘Jeffries will help to roll the old chariot along’ – and, thank God, I am doing it.” He went on to serve the cause in Australia and other places, with the passion of the convert.

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In 1961, Tony Richardson’s magnificent big screen adaptation of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey (see my recent Irish Times piece on the play here) made a star out of Rita Tushingham. It also demonstrated that there was a public hunger for films which dealt with real life issues, far removed from glitz and glamour escapism. It was a time for Angry Young Men, or Angry Young Women in Delaney’s case.

Tushingham scooped up a number of high profile awards in its aftermath, including the Cannes award for Best Actress and Most Promising Newcomer at the BAFTA’s. Three years after Honey, she played the leading role in Richardson’s Girl With Green Eyes, an adaptation of Edna O’Brien’s novel The Lonely Girl. Just as Salford’s industrial built landscape became a character in Honey, 1960s Dublin was crucially important to Girl with Green Eyes, the story of a young rural woman moving to Dublin and finding love with a sophisticated older man. Looking at it today, it is an important piece of Dublin archive footage and social history, capturing since departed institutions like the much loved Greene’s Bookshop on Clare Street.

Edna O’Brien had burst into Irish consciousness with The Country Girls in 1960, a book which dared to talk about sexuality and which instantly attracted the unwanted attention of the censor. In her memoir, O’Brien recalls the difficulty the response to the book created even in her own family, as “in her letters my mother spoke of the shock, the hurt and the disgust that neighbours felt. I had sent her a copy, which she did not mention as having received, and one day, after her death, I would it in a bolster case with offending words daubed out with black ink.” The publication of the book infuriated Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, who was moved to discuss its content with Minister for Justice Charles Haughey, writing that “like so many decent Catholic men with growing families, he was just beaten by the outlook and descriptions.”

Such opposition to her work only served to enhance O’Brien’s appeal to young readers, and having taken the familiar path of an Irish writer into exile, O’Brien achieved international renown as a writer in the 1960s. Given that Richardson had grappled with themes with homosexuality and single parenthood in Delaney’s Honey, Girl with Green Eyes likely appealed in part because of its taboo nature.

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Walking along the Liffey in Girl With Green Eyes.

Among other things, the film captures disappeared Dublin landmarks like the Four Provinces Ballroom and Greene’s, both shown in the below clip.  Tushingham was a mere 21 at the time of the release of the film, with Life magazine proclaiming that she was “a remarkable young actress, visible through nearly every inch of this film. She cannot be called pretty by a long stretch: her nose is long and thin, her mouth a wide slash,and her hair is a Beatles mop. It is her large, lustrous eyes that have it.”

From a deeply Catholic background, Tushingham’s character, Kate Brady, finds it difficult to embrace any kind of sexual activity, eventually departing Dublin for London, a familiar path O’Brien had taken for different reasons.

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O’Connell Bridge

Girl with Green Eyes is not a perfect film, and I find it difficult to disagree with Mel Healy’s view that ” It has some awful central casting, forgettable music and truly terrible attempts at Irish accents by several of the English actors.”

Since 1912, when Herbert Heymour Pembrey established the business, the Greene’s bookshop on Clare Street was a much-loved institution, which The Irish Times rightly noted not long before its closure had “a past, an atmosphere and a story to tell”, while one Dublin travel guide beautifully described it as “a dusty wonderland for bibliophiles.” Frequented by George Russell, Jack B. Yeats, Paddy Kavanagh and others, it had the feeling of a Shakespeare & Company or other continental bookshop about it, with books for sale outside in all seasons and endless shelves inside. Just as Joseph Strick’s 1967 masterpiece Ulysses did us all a favour by capturing the interior of the then already doomed Irish House pub on Winetavern Street, Richardson’s film captures Greene’s forever.

To the annoyance of some, Edna O’Brien never lost her voice or influence in Irish life, and became a fearless opponent of censorship, speaking at a packed meeting in Dublin’s Gate Theatre in 1966 which proclaimed that “the system of censorship branded authors as pornographers, obscene and indecent.” Her work had a crucial impact in breaking taboos down and highlighting the normality of sex and sexual attraction, in a country that often scoffed at such things. Just as he had done with Shelagh Delaney’s work, Richardson managed to use the local environment beautifully, and while it is old classic Dublin that shines brightest on screen (in particular her Georgian squares and her river), it is the changing face of Irish society and sexuality that is most important here.

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Evening Herald, 5 September 1991.

Anyone of a certain vintage will recall Thom McGinty, the King and Queen – depending on his mood – of Grafton Street, who brought colour to the very grey 1970s and 80s with his street theatrics and costumes. What is important about the story of Thom McGinty, who left us on 20 February 1995, was not only the manner in which he lived, but the manner in which he died. As a publicly recognised figure living with AIDS, he did much to challenge the stigma and preconceptions around those living with the disease, and his appearance on The Late Late Show remains one of the most groundbreaking interviews in Irish television history.

McGinty became as synonymous with the streets of Dublin as Bang Bang or Lord Mayor Alfie Byrne, but he was not a Dubliner. Born in Scotland in 1952, he arrived in Dublin from Glasgow in 1976, having been involved in theatre and street performance there. He himself later remembered that “I went to university to become a chartered accountant. I don’t know why. Anyway, I didn’t last very long there. I collected the grant for the two years and I got very involved in theatre.”  He took a job with the National College of Art and Design, as a nude model of all things, but quickly found a better calling, donning make up and costume and taking up a sort of residence at the Dandelion market, at the site of what is today the Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre. Thom became the ‘Dandelion Clown’, standing mute and motionless in the attire of a joker, and in his own words he was “a colourful pseudo-beggar.”

He retained a great grá for theatre in its more traditional form,  even launching a theatre company in the west of Ireland and taking to the stage in Dublin in a number of high profile productions, but street performances became his forte. The name Diceman stuck, and came from The Diceman games shop, which was located for some years on Grafton Street before moving to South Anne Street. They were just one of many Dublin businesses who hired him to promote their goods in whatever fancy dress took his fancy.

The legality of it all was up in the air, and sometimes he caused quite the scene, leading Gardaí to move him on. He developed a great routine of moving on at the pace of a snail, if not slower, which annoyed more than one on duty Garda but which crowds found hilarious. In his own words.  “I used to be totally still, but the guards said I was causing an obstruction and I thought I was totally fecked. So then the walk was developed to retain the statuesqueness and at the same time still be on the move. The walk is held up in Zen Buddist circles as the classic example of Zen walking.”

Often, Grafton Street was so captivated by him that things just stopped. While today the street is often occupied by buskers playing the same contemporary songs, this was wonderful because of its unpredictability. The great poet Brendan Kennelly nailed it:

Time and again, bang in the middle of Grafton Street, I have been happy to join other children gazing on this figure, either utterly immobile or moving with a slowness so perfectly measured as to be almost imperceptible. Thom McGinty’s magic has to do with his ability to mesmerise his audience, to lure them out of their busy city selves and to take them away into that land of perfect stillness where marvelous dreams are as normal as Bewley’s sticky buns.”

Costumes included the Mona Lisa, contemporary political leaders, Dracula, a lightbulb, Captain America, contraceptives…. one could go on and on. His manager, Aidan Murphy, often had the job of keeping the children of Dublin at arms length, who were eager to have their own fun. Nothing was too out there. Or was it? In September 1991, the Diceman was brought before the courts, charged with wearing an “indecent costume”. The offending piece was a Rocky Horror Picture Show costume. God help the Guard who had to stand up in court and proclaim that the Diceman’s “buttocks were clearly visible and the only thing covering his genitals was a G String.” The Diceman described himself in court as ‘Living Art’, showed up one day wearing a purple jump suit, and pledged not to wear the offending outfit again – the judge decided to use the Probation Act. The newspapers had their fun, with the Irish Press headline of the day saying “Diceman’s Fishnets an Offence to Decency.” The actor Tom Hickey came to the Diceman’s defence in court, saying you’d see more underwear in the Dublin City Marathon.

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Irish Independent, 5 September 1991.

His final performance, if you will, was his own departure. His friends took turns to carry his coffin down Grafton Street in February 1995 when Thom lost his courageous battle. The Irish Independent reported:

The bustling street that served as his open air theatre for a decade came to a complete standstill as the coffin of Thom McGinty glided slowly down the crowded streets on the shoulder of his friends. When alive, he intrigued and amazed with his ability to stand utterly still, or to walk in a theatrical slow motion. Now it was his grieving public that stood so still as his cortege moved past in sad slow-motion. The silence was broken twice the street erupted with spontaneous applause. Five storey’s above the street, construction workers removed their yellow helmets as they watched the scene below.

 It sounds funny to say about someone who spent their life dressing up as so many different characters – but the Diceman was always himself.

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12 D’Olier Street.

Easy to miss, a plaque at number 12 on D’Olier Street marks the location of the offices of Irish Freedom, the newspaper of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. Founded in 1910, the newspaper was the public expression of a secret revolutionary underground movement. Bulmer Hobson,once described by British intelligence as the most dangerous man in Ireland, recalled that “the paper was the property of the IRB and was financed by a monthly subscription of one shilling collected from each member in each IRB Circle. It was printed by Patrick Mahon, Yarnhall Street.”

Founded in Dublin and New York City on Saint Patrick’s Day 1858, the oath-bound movement popularly known as the Fenians had considerable influence in Irish American life in particular. James Stephens, a founding Fenian and the self-described ‘Provisional Dictator’ of the body, built contacts with radical movements across the continent and beyond, even proclaiming that “were England a republic battling for human freedom on the one hand, and Ireland leagued with despots on the other, I should, unhesitatingly, take up arms against my native land.”

The abortive Fenian uprising in 1867 had an important influence on many of the 1916 leaders, who stood in the same tradition. The 1867 proclamation, sent to The Times in London, was, in many ways, a more radical document than that read out at the GPO in 1916, with a very definite separation of church and state and its rallying cry  that “Republicans of the entire world, our cause is your cause. Our enemy is your enemy. Let your hearts be with us. As for you, workmen of England, it is not only your hearts we wish, but your arms. Remember the starvation and degradation brought to your firesides by the oppression of labour.”

A disastrous bombing campaign of London followed in the 1880s, primarily brought about by the determination of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, an exiled Fenian leader based in the United States. Thomas J. Clarke was imprisoned for his participation in the so-called dynamite campaign. By the early twentieth century, the IRB movement was in decline. By 1910, it was estimated to have as few as a thousand members in its ranks. Dan Breen dismissively recalled a generation who had become great fellows for talking and drinking and doing very little after that’. However, a younger generation of political radicals such as Bulmer Hobson, Dennis McCullough and Seán Mac Diarmada were crucial to the reorganisation of the secret society.

At D’Olier Street, the IRB newspaper Irish Freedom was managed by Mac Diarmada, literally a stones throw from the watchful eye of the DMP intelligence police headquarters. The paper was highly seditious, maintaining that “our country is run by a set of insolent officials, to whom we are nothing but a lot of people to be exploited and kept in subjection. The executive power rests on armed force that preys on the people with batons if they have the gall to say they do not like it.”

Much like James Connolly’s newspaper The Workers’ Republic, Irish Freedom believed the lessons of the past were to be applied in future, studying previous insurrections and their tactical failures and successes. The newspaper reflected Mac Diarmada’s deeply held belief that when world war came, it was the duty of Irish nationalists to seize upon it. The very first issue of the paper maintained that “the history of the world proves that there is but one road to freedom and that is the red road of war.”

With the passing of time,the newspaper became more and more radical in tone,and with the outbreak of the First World War and its campaigning against Irish recruitment into the British army, its days were numbered. Unsurprisingly, the newspaper was suppressed in the winter of  1914.


 

Revolutionary Dublin 1912-1923 : A Walking Guide by Donal Fallon and John Gibney is available now from Collins Press.

 

 

 

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In eighteenth century Dublin, much like more recent times, ‘street characters’  of sorts emerged among the populace. Sometimes these people were well-known for their political escapades, and sometimes their talents.

One of the more curious eighteenth century characters was a man colourfully known as ‘Prince Hackball’, real name Patrick Corrigan. A beggar in a city with little tolerance for them, Hackball became known as ‘the king of the beggars’, arriving in spectacular style and often followed by crowds. As Karen Sonnelitter notes in her history of charity in eighteenth century Dublin, “despite being paralysed, he managed for decades to elude the authorities, who were seeking to place him in either the Workhouse of the House of Industry.” He was a recognisable enough figure in Dublin to warrant inclusion in the celebrated portrait-painter Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s work The Cries of Dublin, published in the 1760s and showing familiar Dublin scenes and faces.

Corrigan traveled through the city in a cart, which some sources suggest was occasionally drawn by dogs. With the opening of Dublin’s House of Industry, figures like Hackball were driven from the streets and into the institution, with one contemporary source noting that the House of Industry had its own patrol who sought out beggars on the streets:

The cart is sent into the city, and the guards which accompany it are armed with firelocks and bayonets; the poor people who are begging in the streets, flee, the guards pursuing ; the active get off, the blind and infirm are taken and put into the cart.

Hackball successfully evaded the authorities, and Sonnelitter notes that “in 1744 one beadle actually managed to capture Hackball and attempted to take him to the House of Industry, but was attacked by a riotous mob…” An account of the incident appeared in the contemporary press, and it was noted that “the sum of five pounds be paid to any person who shall discover and prosecute the conviction of any person concerned of the rescue of the said Hackball.”

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The wonderful Drawing Dublin exhibition in the National Gallery at the moment includes a work showing Sackville Street and Gardiner’s Mall, Dublin (c.1750), attributed to Joseph Tudor (1695-1759). Intrugienly, the display panel for the piece wonders if the figure shown in the bottom of the work being wheeled along is none other than Hackball himself:

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As Niall Ó Ciosáin has noted, “Hackball was also used for satirical purposes in contemporary political pamphlet literature, being imagined as welcoming new economic policies on the grounds that they would increase his following, that is the number of beggars.”

The idea of Hackball (pulled along by mules, dogs or boys depending on the source one chooses to believe) evading the authorities for decades in eighteenth century Dublin is a somewhat amusing one, but there is little humour in the attitude towards beggars like him. When the Mendicity Institute opened its doors in 1818, it was praised by one religious leader in the city on the basis that “it has purified the highways of our Metropolis from a noisome crowd of importunate and vicious supplicants, and we can now pursue our accustomed occupations without disturbing assaults on our feelings or our purses.”

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Michael Collins, Luke O’Toole and Harry Boland, 1921. O’Toole was central to the success of the Gaelic Sunday events of 1918. (Image Credit: GAA)

1918 was a defining year in the Irish revolution, witnessing the first real acts of mass opposition to the British presence in Ireland from the civilian population. The year is primarily remembered for the General Election, which saw Sinn Féin essentially dismantle the Irish Parliamentary Party. Yet events like the general strike against conscription in April (described by The Irish Times as “the day on which Irish Labour realised its strength), Lá na mBan in June (when women pledged to oppose conscription in their tens of thousands) and Gaelic Sunday in August also demonstrated the manner in which Dublin Castle was slowly losing its grip over the Irish population.

In the summer of 1918, a Dublin Castle directive made it clear that there were to be no football, hurling or camogie matches played across the island of Ieland without a permit being obtained from the local Royal Irish Constabulary. While organisations like Sinn Féin, the Irish Volunteers and even the Gaelic League had to content with challenges to their existence via means of outlawing them, it was believed that forcing GAA clubs to seek permits to play was the means by which that organisation was best confronted.

Faced with the ban, GAA authorities writing from Croke Park on 22 July made it very clear what the response was to be:

….under no circumstances must a permit by applied for either by Provisional councils, Co.Committees, Leagues, Tournament Committees, Clubs, or by a third party such as Secretaries of Grounds, etc. Any individual or Club infringing the foregoing order becomes automatically and indefinitely suspended.

It was made clear to all clubs that the collective response of the GAA was to “to arrange for Sunday, August 4th at 3pm a series of matches throughout your County, which are to be localised as much as possible.” The idea of Gaelic Sunday was born. Central to the planned opposition was Luke O’Toole, a firebrand nationalist within the organisation who was central to the development of the game in the revolutionary period, and who would later condemn “the Seonín spirit that tried to ape everything English.” Having been interviewed at Dublin Castle by the authorities at length, O’Toole was in no mood for politeness with British forces.

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The figure of 1,500 games appeared in the contemporary press.

In his statement to the Bureau of Military History, the republican and Easter Week veteran John Shouldice, who was then serving as Secretary of the GAA in Leinster,  remembered that the logic of the day was that “the Crown Forces could not be everywhere at the same moment….the result was that more hurling and football matches were brought off in the country on Gaelic Sunday than ever took place on the one day in the history of the GAA.”

With something in the region of 1,500 games beginning at the same time, the authorities were powerless to stop what was essentially now a political spectacle. Observing the events, the Freeman’s Journal was moved to proclaim that “there was no interference with the matches, which were carried out with perfect order in the presence of large numbers of spectators….the progress of the play was everywhere followed with enthusiasm, and the occasion provided a unique display of the popularity of the Gaelic games.”

All eyes were on the capital, the likely location of any showdown in front of the watching media. The Freeman’s Journal noted that games were played at “Ringsend, Clondalkin, Sandymount, Baldoyle, Fox and Geese, Crumlin, Balheary, St. Margaret’s, CLonsilla, Bloackrock, Cornelscourt, Terenure and Church Road”. There was a showdown in the city when “a fife and drum band which played through the streets of Dublin when returning from a football match was stopped by the police in Townsend Street. A crowd of about three or four hundred persons followed the band, which was proceeding to its rooms on Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. The bandsman having been halted for some time resumed their march.” It was another act of defiance on a day full of such small victories.

In what should have been one symbolic victory for the authorities, access to Croke Park was restricted for much of the day. This produced its own moment of defiance however, as a game of camogie was played on Jones’s Road. The Camogie Central Council called the ban “a petty piece of the absolute tyranny exercised over the whole country right now” and enthusiastically encouraged its members to partake in Gaelic Sunday.  The women played under the watchful eyes of Dublin Metropolitan Policemen, but more importantly, an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

Gaelic Sunday deserves its place in the Decade of Centenaries, and the centenary of this act of mass defiance of British occupation will hopefully be commemorated in the weeks ahead. It was undoubtedly the day on which the GAA firmly nailed its colours to the mast.  In the words of historian William Murphy, “the occasion on which the Association acted with the greatest vigour and unity to oppose the British state occurred when that state threatened the very business of the Association – its games.”

 

 

 

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In terms of the international stage, Ireland was still finding her feet politically either side of World War 2. Successive Fianna Fáil governments under the stewardship of War of Independence and Civil War veteran Éamon de Valera sought to define a New Ireland, marked by the independence he had fought for.

To assert this independence, he led the country through a period of economic isolationism, and to define her sovereignty denying steadfast at times to engage in acts of support for her neighbours- refusing to deal with the requests of the Allies right down to refusing to repatriate German spies and prisoners of war in her custody. This denial of co-operation should not be seen as a singularly pro-Axis act, rather the naivety of a new nation under a conservative and stubborn leader, but also as Michael Kennedy suggests in his document “A Deed Agreeable to God,” an Ireland sceptical of the British justice which she so well remembered.

The refusal to ‘play ball’ with Allied nations as well as spurious rumours in the press regarding warm welcomes being meted out to German U-Boats in Irish ports and an island swarming with German spies formenting anti- British sentiment did little to dispute the widely held notion that the nation was pro-Axis. The flagrant anti-Semitism and vocal support given to Hitler by Charles Bewley (the Irish minister in Berlin until 1939,) did nothing to help her image. Nor did the nail in the coffin, that being De Valera’s visit, accompanied by the Secretary of External Affairs, Joseph Walshe to Dr. Hempel, the German Minister to Ireland to express his condolences on the suicide of Hitler. Walshe had pleaded with De Valera not to make the visit, and the sensationalist coverage in the press all over the world in the days following proved him correct, along with more bogus allegations amongst others, that the Nazi flag had been flown at half-mast outside various Irish ministries.

In truth, Ireland’s ‘friendly neutrality’ towards the war effort meant freedom for thousands of Irishmen enlist for the war effort, large scale press censorship, shared intelligence between Ireland’s G2 and the British MI5, suppression of the IRA during the war years and although there’s a massive counter argument to be made, there is many a suggestion that Ireland neutral was far more beneficial than Ireland belligerent. And of course the War did come to Ireland, with Nazi bombs raining upon the North Strand resulting in the deaths of 34 Dubliners.

Similarly, the plentiful accusations that Ireland was a bespoke but well-worn ratline for Nazi war criminals whilst ringing true on occasion was, in truth light on merit. Even the Simon Wisenthal Institute argued that no ‘big fish’ had made it to Ireland. The allegations that those who did pass through and the handful that settled here had the backing of the Irish State is also arguable, given the recent Dept. of Justice and Dept. of External Affairs papers examined by Kennedy in his aforementioned work.

Despite all this, it is undeniable that there were some figures that made it to Ireland- from Breton and Flemish exiles, to a mad Scottish separatist with the amazing name of Ronald MacDonald Douglas. Two of the most high profile names to make it though were Hitler’s one time bodyguard, Otto Scorzeny and the inspiration for this piece, Andrija Artuković.

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Adolf Hitler, Hermann Goering, Mladen Lorkovic and Andrija Artuković looking over Ante Pavelić’s shoulder

Artuković, in a nutshell was known as the ‘Yugoslav Himmler’ and ‘the Butcher of the Balkans’. As Minister for the Interior of the Nazi puppet ‘Independent State of Croatia’ he oversaw the construction of a string of Ustaše death camps and is claimed by sources to be responsible for the deaths of anywhere between a quarter and three quarters of a million Jews, Roma, Serbs and anti- Ustaše Croats.

(more…)

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