Letter: Irish war record

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Irish war record

Sir: John Alderson (Letters, 19 November) should not perpetuate the myth that German U-boats sailed in Irish waters freely to attack convoys in the Western Approaches whilst the Royal Navy was denied use of ports in the then Irish Free State.

Southern Ireland served the Allied cause best by remaining strictly neutral under the Geneva Convention. Many Irishmen joined the British forces not for a pair of boots and to enjoy a "bit of a fight", but to assist in the effort to destroy the evils of Fascism, and were allowed to do so freely by the Irish government.

The city lights of Dublin were switched off at 11pm during the war, as I remember, so did not exactly provide a beacon for bombers over Merseyside and Glasgow. On the contrary, the RAF bent the German radar beam which brought the raiders over Dublin, bombing the North Strand and South Circular Road on two occasions, causing serious loss of life. Hardly a friendly act by either side towards a neutral country! It should not be forgotten that when Belfast was blitzed Eamon de Valera authorised the Dublin Fire Brigade to be despatched to that city to assist in quenching the fires and helping the injured.


Bridport, West Dorset

Sir: C T Rason (Letters, 19 November) claims 25 "northern" against 13 "southern" Irish battalions in the battle of the Somme. Working with the possibility that he is counting as "northern" nationalist battalions raised in the six counties of what is now Northern Ireland, the figures available to me, based on county, regimental and divisional designations, are: Nationalist: 15; Unionist: 13; indeterminate: 8; raised outside Ireland: 4.

It would seem that he is claiming at least two of the extra-Ireland battalions, Guards and London Irish, as "northern", which renders hollow the integrity of his classification. Even if the number of "indeterminates" were to prove me wrong, the result still makes me reflect on modern Unionist claims to a distinctive sacrifice.


London SW19

Sir: In the Second World War, and little known or acknowledged, conscription did not apply to northern Ireland: they were volunteers and could, as one friend of mine did, get out of the services. The limited number of volunteers from northern Ireland was partly determined by the fear that southern Irish would take their jobs if they went to war.

Erskine Childers, whom I had the honour to meet in 1948, stated that southern Ireland would have joined the war but that the British were so hard pressed, particularly in 1940-41, that they could not guarantee air- naval cover for Ireland, which had very limited forces to protect itself.