Shedding light on WWII aid episode

Joe Jamison reviews Belfast is Burning, 1941 by Sean Redmond , IMPACT (Municipal Employees Division), 6 euros

This recently published pamphlet by Sean Redmond, a veteran trade unionist and Connolly Association official, tells the story of the assistance given by the emergency services of the southern Irish state following the German bombing of Belfast in 1941.

The political response to the German bombing of the north is an intriguing episode in the working-class history of modern Ireland.

Redmond knew and interviewed some of the Dublin fire brigades members who went to Belfast in1941. He sees this under-analysed chapter in Irish history as a foreshadowing of the present day peace process, the struggle to overcome partition by a political process based on mutual self-interest and agreement.

The under-reporting of the aid effort from the south was mainly because sending fire brigades north to Belfast was a violation of Irish neutrality. German diplomats were already pressuring DeValera about his tilting of Irish neutrality in favor of the Allies.

The bombings in April and May 1941 caused 900 deaths. Almost 54 per cent of Belfast’s housing stock was destroyed. Catholic and Protestant working-class districts were equally ruined and thousands streamed to villages around Belfast or over the border to the south.

Not only was rendering aid a problem for DeValera and Irish neutrality, the request for aid was a risk for the unionist leaders of the six-county statelet in the north. It was to treat the island as one, and to ignore the more vociferous “not an inch” partitionists.

Redmond suggests that Northern Ireland deputy prime minister Basil Brooke (later Lord Brookeborough) initiated the request for help through his security minister MacDermott, and that the likelihood is that Cardinal MacRory in Armagh served as intermediary between MacDermott and DeValera.

This is an ably-written, politically smart essay on a neglected but important topic.

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This document was last modified by David Granville on 2003-05-22 17:53:06.
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