I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.


David Blake Knox
In his review of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, Vol VII, 1941-1945, in the last drb, Pádraig Murphy rightly identifies World War II as “the greatest test of the effective assertion of sovereignty that the then relatively new [Irish] state had faced”. These documents chart the way in which the policy of Irish neutrality evolved as the global war progressed. They reflect certain divisions within Irish society – as well as providing fascinating insights into the thinking inside the Irish Government, and our civil service, during those five critical years. The documents also offer valuable and unique perspectives from outside this country. Ireland was, after all, one of the relatively few states to keep its diplomats in place across Europe for the entire duration of the war. In this context, the dispatches from Germany are of particular interest. There is much to admire in the skill, determination and flexibility with which Irish politicians, civil servants and diplomats pursued the policy of neutrality – sometimes, in very difficult circumstances ‑ and, as Murphy notes, “all this makes for very gripping reading”. However, I would argue that it is possible to acknowledge that neutrality was the best option open to the Irish Government during World War II but still question some of its legacy to succeeding generations. Irish diplomats were not the only Irish citizens to find themselves behind German lines, so to speak, during the war. There are other viewpoints and other experiences that are still missing from what has become the dominant narrative of that period. I would suggest that such omissions still affect us, and will continue to do so until they have been properly acknowledged as an integral part of Ireland’s history in the war years. Like many Southern Irishmen, my father crossed the border into Northern Ireland shortly after war was declared in 1939 and enlisted in an Irish regiment of the British army. He ended up in Burma: arriving in Rangoon just two days before the decision to evacuate and burn that city was taken. He became part of the longest forced retreat in British military history, but was also part of the counter-offensive, when defeat was turned into victory. My father returned to Ireland in 1946: to a country that had little direct experience of the global war. When he died three years ago, he left a mass of papers. Sorting through them, I came across some faded press cuttings….



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