Signifigance Of World War 2 In Essay

, Research Paper

Following several years of tension the Second World War came about in September 1939 following Germany s invasion of Poland and war declared on them by Britain and France. It was to become the most destructive war in history resulting in millions of deaths. With so much of the fighting taking place in Europe it was to have a profound affect on each of the countries on the continent. However the case of the Island of Ireland was to prove one of the most interesting.

Since 1921 the Island had been divided into the Dominion Free Sate and the six counties of Northern Ireland retained under the union. As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland immediately entered the war on the British side. From the beginning their Prime Minister, Craig insisted the Unionists Wished to play their part, stating in February 1940 We are the Kings men and we shall be with you till the end . The Free State Government did not share his view. As early as February 1939 De Valera had declared it was his intention to preserve our Neutrality in the event of war . Therefore when war became a reality both D il and Senate agreed for the Free State to remain Neutral and an Emergency Powers Act was passed giving the Government total power to secure public safety. Neutrality could be considered proof of Independence and across the border too Craig was showing Unionist allegiance to Britain. Robert Fisk identifies this in his book In Time of War .

Both parts of Ireland were seeking to define their opposing territorial status within the context of the greatest European conflict in modern times.

The Free State s position was aided by the return of the Treaty Ports form Britain in 1938. Without this Neutrality would have been difficult, if not impossible. De Valera was to ignore repeated British calls for their use. This stance served greatly to increase the importance of Northern Ireland to the British. Much important Atlantic trade now took Northern sea routes and naval bases in Belfast, Derry and Larne sent ships to escort convoys. There was U.S. Airbases on the Foyle and the Erne and many of their troops were stationed there in preparation for the D-Day landings. Despite this Northern Ireland was prevented from making a full contribution to the war due to the fact that conscription, Introduced in Britain in 1939 was not extended to the province. The reasons for this were that a large Nationalist minority existed and also De Valera raised objections. Some Unionists also feared the arming of these Nationalists. However, despite a short period of anger when Churchill contemplated a United Ireland in return for an end to Neutrality, Unionist ties with Britain strengthened throughout the war.

For the South the major aim was that Ireland survived as a nation during the war. To ensure this the Irish government set up two new Ministries, The Ministry of supplies and the Department of the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures. In his book The Making of Ireland , Author James Lydon identifies that unlike other countries which remained neutral, Ireland was in no fit state to protect herself. The Department of the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures, under Frank Aiken, set out to address this fact. The defence budget was widened and a major recruitment drive near doubled the size of the regular army. In addition a Local Defence Force was formed. Coasts were monitored, Air raid shelters constructed and gas masks issued to civilians. Perhaps the Departments greatest success was their handling of The I.R.A, Who seeing British preoccupation with the war began a spate of attacks within Britain. Ever fearful that the British might use these attacks as an excuse to invade Ireland they widened the Emergency Powers Act to allow the Government to intern Citizens of Ireland as well as Foreigners. The hard-line tactics of not only internment without trial and prison sentences but also the hanging of six men worked and by 1943 the I.R.A threat was eliminated. The Ministry of Supplies headed by Sean Lemass. Rationing was introduced on essential foodstuffs and fuel was another problem that needed attention. Petrol was limited to essential services such as Doctors and Ambulances and public transport was also cut. Coal had become unobtainable much of the time so turf was used as a replacement. When Britain, who usually carried 95% of Irish imports on their ships, introduced embargos on Irish shipping needs some urgent action was needed to keep vital supplies coming through. Irish shipping was set up in 1941 to do just that.

Despite the best efforts of the Ministry of supplies the country still suffered from having low supplies of fertilisers and feeding stocks and as a result agriculture suffered. Another problem was that Britain was now relying on northern agricultural produce. Living standard and industrial output fell and unemployment was high but Ireland was refused International aid because of her Neutrality. While high emigration saved Ireland from the worst effects on unemployment, the fact was that the country had came straight from a recession into a war and even for a number of years after the war had ended the effects were still been seen in the economy.

This was all in stark contrast to Northern Ireland were the war had saved Ulster s flagging economy. Even before its start it had benefited from the British policy of rearmament being the location of many military production factories. This continued during the war, most notably in the shipbuilding and engineering industries and over the war years the workforce doubled. The linen industry there was also saved due to the demand for uniforms, parachutes and tents. This wartime growth did however encounter some problems also with industrial unrest and strikes. Agriculture also grew substantially during the war with production increasing threefold. The percentage of land under crops largely increased and the British Government both gave advice and financial assistance. Infrastructure in the province was improved with the U.S. Army spending millions on roads and runways due to the number of troops they had stationed there. By the wars end there was a significant division between the economies, North and South.

Nevertheless there was also the other side of the coin. Ulster and Belfast in particular suffered considerably from bombings bringing home the realities of war to those who lived there. German air attacks left hundreds dead and many more injured. Many factories, houses, schools, churches and businesses were destroyed. Thousands of people were evacuated and some terrible hardship was suffered. This was something that apart from a couple of incidents, most notably the North Strand bombings in Dublin, that the Free State generally escaped.

Neutrality meant Ireland was somewhat isolated during the war years and international relations between them and the Allies were cool. Britain s reaction was very negative and they refused to give any firm assurance of respecting it. Churchill in his arguments against the return of the Treaty Ports had called them the sentinel towers of the western approaches and he was unforgiving of Chamberlains decision to return them.

It was incredible to me that the Chiefs of Staff should have agreed to throw away this major security

De Valeras continued refusal to let the British use these ports infuriated Churchill since he felt the war was a fight to preserve democracy. With the fall of France in June 1940 Britain s need for these ports increased and he even offered that in return for Ireland entering the war and allowing Britain s use of their facilities there would be a declaration to accept a United Ireland in principle. However Neutrality was in no way going to be compromised by De Valera. Churchill s anger took the form and scathing attacks in speeches and trade embargos on Ireland. The entrance of the United States into the war in 1941 was very important to the Free State as it greatly reduced the likelihood of British invasion. Despite this the U.S. too were also strongly opposed to Irish Neutrality. This was shown by the unsympathetic attitude of President Roosevelt when Frank Aiken went to the U.S. in 1940 seeking military aid. Following their entry into the war relations remained equally strained. De Valera s appeals against U.S. troops in Northern Ireland were ignored while the Americans criticised his decision to retain German and Japanese diplomats. Germany themselves kept relations cordial but later it transpired that and invasion of the island known as Operation Green was planned but never got the chance to be put into action.

Even if publicly Ireland was maintaining Neutrality, privately it was biased Neutrality in favour of the Allies. Contact was made with British intelligence passing on information to them. Meteorological reports given to the British Navy and the Allies were allowed use of the air space over Donegal. While German pilots who crashed were interned for the rest of the war, Allied pilots would be secretly returned across the border. Probably the most public display of the biased Neutrality was in spring 1941 when a number of Irish fire brigades were dispatched to Belfast following German air raids. Of this De Valera said We are one and the same people. Any help we can give them in the present time we will give them wholeheartedly, believing that were the circumstances reversed, thy would also give us their help wholeheartedly

Many emigrating Irish found employment in Britain working in the war industries and no restrictions were put on enlisting in the British army. Therefore many Irish served on the Allied side with as many as 43,000 Irish citizens serving in the British army. In Richard Doherty s book Irish men and women in the Second World War he argues that the motives of these Irish soldiers were not financial but rather born out of nobler sentiments that mark mankind at its best: the willingness to help others, the desire to fight against injustice and oppression, the craving of a better world for future generations .

In fact more Free State Citizens served in the British forces during the war than did Citizens of Northern Ireland. All this co-operation was kept very secret and publicly the Free State put on the display of complete Neutrality. This is shown in 1945 when condolences were sent to the American people on the death of Roosevelt and likewise when Hitler died De Valera went to the German embassy to express his condolences, something he is often criticised for doing. Thus, Ireland could be seen as being Neutral to the end.

The significance of this war for the island was enormous and its consequences were many. The Free State, despite having escaped the worst horrors of war that the north had faced, the economic problems it had suffered during the war continued for a good number of years after with high unemployment and emigration a feature of society. As mentioned there was the opposite effect in the North were the economy improved greatly and agriculture and industry flourished. A great economic divide existed north and south. Sir Basil Brooke, Northern Irish Prime Minister by the end of the war had re-organised the Government and drawn up plans for the development of the State following the war.

The economic division was not the only one however. By the wars end Churchill viewed De Valera and Ireland with contempt while he was extremely grateful to Northern Ireland for its part in the war efforts and they had secured a claim on Britain which +ire, her unobstructive co-operation notwithstanding, had not . In his victory speech Churchill said had it not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland, we should have been forced to come to closer quarters with Mr De Valera, or perish forever from this earth . His attitude was not helped by the aforementioned visit of De Valera to the German Embassy to offer condolences on the death of Hitler. Psychologically the war had left people in the North feeling more British. They were proud of the part that they had played in the war and saw the south as siting back and letting Britain fight for them. Propaganda played a large part, making them distrust the people of the South. Northern Ireland was rewarded for their loyalty when full parity of services throughout the U.K. was announced and now more than ever it was part of the union. .

It was not only +ire s relationship with Britain that was effected by the policy of Neutrality. Fisk states that the twenty-six counties of Ireland progressively sealed themselves off from the outside world With the wars end Ireland was to still find itself isolated from world affairs. Their application to join the United Nations was vetoed by The Soviet Union citing the fact that Ireland had failed to help the allies and maintain friendly relations with the enemy. The beginning of the Cold War had led to the North Atlantic Treaty Association being set up but Here Ireland declined joining since they would not enter into an agreement with Britain while partition still existed.

-The deepening wedge between the two States became even greater due to events in the pre-war years. In 1948 Fine Gaels John A. Costello, leader of the coalition announced his intention to declare a republic and remover +ire from the commonwealth. In response Sir Basil Brooke pressured the British Government and they passed the Ireland Act 1949 reinforcing Northern Ireland s position within the union. North and South were now much further apart than anyone had anticipated when partition occurred in 1922.


1. Doherty, Richard; Irish men and women in the Second World War. (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 1999.)

2. Fisk, Robert; In Time of War. (Andr Deutsch, London, 1983.)

3. Fogarty, Richard; History in the Making: Europe 1870-1970. (Educational Company, Dublin, 1994.)

4. Fraser, T.G.; Ireland in Conflict 1922-1998. (Routledge, London, 2000.)

5. Lydon, James; The Making of Ireland. (Routledge, London, 1998.)

6. Townshend, Charles; Ireland The 20th Century. (Arnold, London, 1999.)


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