Ireland declares neutrality during World War 2 on this day in 1939
Irish History

Ireland declares neutrality during World War 2 on this day in 1939

ON September 2, 1939, a state of emergency was declared in Ireland.

Less than 24 hours prior, Nazi Germany had invaded Poland as Adolf Hitler's plans to establish a 'glorious' Third Reich were put into motion.

Ireland was well aware of what was coming. The United Kingdom, as well as much of Western Europe, would soon declare war on Germany, which left Taoiseach Eamon de Valera with a decision to make.

An emergency session in the Dáil was quickly organised, and ministers discussed Ireland's next move.

While opposing the threat of Nazi Germany would seem like a logical choice, the context of Ireland's relationship with the UK, and indeed with conflict and war, needs to be considered.

Following centuries of oppression at their hands, there was a tremendous amount of antipathy among the Irish towards the British. So much so that it was an effigy of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain - not Adolf Hitler - which was burned in the centre of Dublin two days after the outbreak of the war.

And there was more to consider. Since the war of independence, Ireland had become economically isolated. Driving an even bigger wedge between themselves and the rest of Europe by refusing to fight alongside the Allies would alienate them further, particularly as US ships would soon stop crossing the Atlantic due to the threat of the conflict.

Ultimately, de Valera chose to remain neutral, in what was a huge blow for the UK - which had suddenly lost key strategic access to much of the Atlantic - and an announcement was made to the nation the day before Britain declared war on Germany.

Ireland then erected dozens of 'EIRE' signs on the ground, to indicate to German fighters and bombers that they were flying over neutral territory, rather than over Britain.

Such was the UK's keenness for Ireland to join the fight that in 1940 they remarkably proposed an end to the partition of Ireland in exchange for the country abandoning its state of neutrality, however any such deal required an agreement from representatives of both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, who distrusted each other immensely. As such, no deal was ever agreed.

Despite the official position of neutrality, there were many unpublicised contraventions of this, such as permitting the use of the Donegal Corridor by Allied military aircraft, and extensive co-operation between Allied and Irish intelligence. The Irish supplied the Allies with detailed weather reports for the Atlantic Ocean, including a report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo, which famously prompted the decision to go ahead with the Normandy landings.

It was just as well, as Hitler had drawn up plans to invade Ireland had he successfully invaded Britain in 1940. It was known as Operation Green.