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The Brits, The Blitz and The Bedwarmer

Elizabeth Bowen was a famous novelist and a much-loved landlord of her ancestral estate Bowenscourt in North Cork. But was she more - was she a British spy?

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3.9/5 (111 ratings)

Documentary maker: Leeanne O'Donnell

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Documentary-maker: Ronan Kelly

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The Brits, The Blitz and The Bedwarmer

A lucky find at a country market takes Leeanne O Donnell on journey to find out.

A market trader handed over an antique bed warmer from Bowenscourt with the words "They used to love Elizabeth Bowen in North Cork but when they discovered she had been a spy for the English, they'd have shot her as soon as looked at her"

She was categorised as an 'Anglo Irish' Novelist but Elizabeth Bowen described herself as being most at home 'in the middle of the Irish Sea'.

When World War II broke out she was living in London, part of a high-octane world of writers and thinkers.    Ireland remained neutral as the war escalated and Churchill was determined to force the use of the Southern Irish sea ports to defend against Germany. Tensions were high and loyalties were divided all over Europe.

As the bombs fell on London, Elizabeth Bowen was writing "The Heat of The Day", her best-selling, critically-acclaimed novel about a spy, his lover and the intense atmosphere of London during The Blitz - where the normal rules of living were suspended and everything was felt more acutely.

Bowen's novel captures the way the threat of death and invasion caused many people to step outside the normal rules of life. 

Though married, Bowen herself fell passionately in love with a Canadian diplomat and their love affair unfolded against the backdrop of falling bombs and a sense that every night could be their last.

Divided between the hay fields of Bowenscourt, in North Cork and the edgy, exhilarating danger of London, Bowen's Irish loyalties were tested to the hilt when De Valera insisted that ireland remain neutral, saying of Britain and Germany "whoever invades first is the enemy."

This documentary takes us from London to North Cork and back in an attempt to discover the truth about Elizabeth Bowen's life, loves and activities during the war.


Music used:

“The Last September”      Zbigniew Preisner

“Au Revoir”     Zbigniew Preisner

“A Foggy Day”      Carroll Gibbons & the Savoy Hotel Orpheans 

“That Old Gang of Mine”     Tempo Twisters

“It’s The Talk Of The Town”     Buddy Featherstonhaugh and the Radio Rhythm Club Sextet

“Winter”     Alexander Balanescu 

“Five Minutes More”     The Squadronaires

“Gnossienne No. 1”     Erik Satie.  Also, Ronald Corp & New London Orchestra

 

Produced by Leeanne O'Donnell with Ronan Kelly

"The Love-charm of Bombs" by Lara Feigel

Visit the Crawford Art Gallery page featuring Elizabeth Bowen's portrait

Blue Plaque photo location

Irish Times article featuring Elizabeth Bowen

First broadcast: Saturday November 7th 2015 @2pm on RTÉ Radio 1.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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