Ireland after World War II
"By God’s providence and with the unremitting zeal and loyalty of all concerned, we were able to come through the trial successfully’
Taoiseach, Eamon De Valera speaking there in September 1945 in the aftermath of the Second World War. Ireland was in a very depressed state. We were struggling with high inflation, falling living standards and rationing - despite the country’s wartime neutrality.
So what was life like for people here after World War II? How reluctant were we to take in refugees? And how did we treat the Irish who returned after fighting for the Allied forces.
Historian, Michael Kennedy from the Royal Irish Academy and Bernard Kelly, author of Returning Home talked about life in Ireland after World War II as well as our attitude to refugees and returning war veterans.
Bernard Kelly’s book Returning Home – Irish Ex-Servicemen after the Second World War is published by Merrion.
Quotes from government and official sources in 1945:
Official Ireland did not have a distinguished record when it came to taking in Jewish refugees during the war. This Department of Justice memo, written in November 1945, shows that this situation wasn’t about to change after the surrender of Germany.
‘The immigration of Jews is generally discouraged. The wealth and influence on the Jewish community in this country appear to have increased considerably in recent years and there is some danger of exciting opposition and controversy if this tendency continues. As Jews do not become assimilated with the native population, like other immigrants, any big increase in their numbers might create a social problem.’
Our reluctance to take in refugees didn’t stop with the Jews. The net was cast a lot wider. This quote is from Sean Lemass on 12 December 1945:
‘The Minister for Industry and Commerce is opposed to the proposal to admit any alien refugees to this country unless, in particular cases, such persons have some special technical qualifications or business connections of use to the country. In the Minister’s opinion, it would be most undesirable to open the door even to the limited number of refugees suggested, so long as large numbers of Irish citizens remain unemployed. He would point out that at present there are approximately 62,000 men and 8,000 women registered as unemployed, and that these numbers are likely to increase with the return from Great Britain and Northern Ireland of workers who had found temporary employment there during the war years.’
In December 1945, this is how Eamon De Valera’s remarks about our refugee policy were reported:
‘The Taoiseach explained the attitude of the Government as being that our policy towards this problem should be liberal and generous, due regard being had to our own interests in regard to certain matters, such as employment, foreign relations and the necessity for excluding undesirable persons. Subject to the necessary safeguards in these respects we should be as helpful as possible and we should try positively to give asylum to aliens seeking refuge in existing circumstances.’
We did however offer refuge to more than a thousand children from war-torn Germany when the Irish Red Cross set up ‘Operation Shamrock’. Some had lost their parents in the war while others’ homes had been destroyed. Some children were fostered and later returned to Germany while others stayed and were adopted by new Irish parents. Rhona Tarrant caught up with three refugees from post-war Germany – more than 65 on.
One uninvited guest who arrived on these shores in the 1940s was Nazi spy, Hermann Goertz who spent a spell in prison here during World War II. He was released in 1946 and became secretary of the “Save the German Children” fund. But he came to a sticky end the following year when he poisoned himself after being told of his imminent deportation back to Germany. Historian, Sam McGrath recorded this piece for us about the day there were Swastikas and Nazi Salutes in Deansgrange Cemetery
Sam McGrath, Donal Fallon and Ciaran Murray’s Book Come Here To Me – Dublin’s Other History is published by New Island