While I know that everybody is busy contemplating recent events, I would like to ask you to take some time out so that I can share this little nugget of history with you. The paragraphs beforehand are merely condensed background material so that the Churchill quote and de Valera’s audio response, the main focus of this post, are in the proper context.
Upon the outbreak of the Second World War on 1st of September 1939, the Government of the South of Ireland, which was at that time nominally a Dominion of the British Empire, immediately declared its neutrality. This policy, which was instigated by Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, was chosen for three reasons:
- Because of the existence of partition between the North and the South of Ireland, Éire could not, in good faith, enter a war on the side of the British.
- The position of neutrality would reinforce the independence of Éire.
- Éire had neither the equipment nor the infrastructure to fight in a modern, mechanised war.
This policy was resented the British Government, which desperately wanted Southern Irish ports and airfields to protect against German attacks to their supply network and to ensure that Germany could not invade Britain through Ireland. However, the Government of the South of Ireland steadfastly refused to entertain any offers to enter the war, despite consistent pressure by both the British and eventually the American Governments.
This policy was especially resented by the British Prime Minister at the time, Winston Churchill, who personally regarded it as a cowardly and unseemly position. During his victory speech following the collapse of the Third Reich Churchill made the following comments concerning the South of Ireland’s conduct during WW2:
“[…] Owing to the action of Mr. de Valera, so much at variance with the temper and instinct of thousands of southern Irishmen, who hastened to the battlefront to prove their ancient valor, the approaches which the southern Irish ports and airfields could so easily have guarded were closed by the hostile aircraft and U-boats.
This was indeed a deadly moment in our life, and if it had not been for the loyalty and friendship of Northern Ireland we should have been forced to come to close quarters with Mr. de Valera or perish forever from the earth. However, with a restraint and poise to which, I say, history will find few parallels, we never laid a violent hand upon them, which at times would have been quite easy and quite natural, and left the de Valera Government to frolic with the German and later with the Japanese representatives to their heart’s content. […]”
These comments provoked the following reaction from de Valera, who made his comments in a radio address to the Irish people:
Well, I hope you all found that interesting. I certainly did.
Winston Churchill’s speech, May 13, 1945: http://www.ibiblio.org/pha/policy/1945/1945-05-13a.html
De Valera’s speech, May 16, 1945: http://www.rte.ie/laweb/brc/brc_1940s_a.html