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Southern Ireland and the Liberation of France

New Perspectives

Series:

Gerald Morgan and Gavin Hughes

This collection of essays sets out to correct an injustice to citizens of the Irish Free State, or Twenty-Six Counties, whose contribution to the victory against Nazi Germany in the Second World War has thus far been obscured. The historical facts reveal a divided island of Ireland, in which the volunteers from the South were obliged to fight in a foreign (that is, British) army, navy and air force. Recent research has now placed this contribution on a secure basis of historical and statistical fact for the first time, showing that the total number of Irish dead (more than nine thousand) was divided more or less equally between the two parts of Ireland.
The writers in this volume establish that the contribution by Ireland to the eventual liberation of France was not only during the fighting at Dunkirk in 1940 and in Normandy in 1944, but throughout the conflict, as revealed by the list of the dead of Trinity College Dublin, which is examined in one chapter. Respect for human values in the midst of war is shown to have been alive in Ireland, with chapters examining the treatment of shipwreck casualties on Irish shores and the Irish hospital at Saint Lô in France. Other essays in the volume place these events within the complex diplomatic network of a neutral Irish Free State and examine the nature and necessity of memorial in the context of a divided Ireland.

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Yvonne McEwen ‘Their Ancient Valour’: The Politics of Irish Volunteering and Volunteer War Deaths in the Second World War 177

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YVONNE MCEWEN ‘Their Ancient Valour’: The Politics of Irish Volunteering and Volunteer War Deaths in the Second World War The historiography of Irishmen volunteering to fight in wars and conf licts dates back to the First Crusade. In fact the Irish have been fighting in other nation’s wars and causes as soldiers, mercenaries and faction fighters ever since. Indeed, there have been 800 years of Irish military diaspora and tradition.1 Given their lengthy martial status and distinctions in British, European and World history, their contributions between 1939 and 1945 are, surely worth examining. In Churchill’s victory speech on 13 May 1945, he referred to the ‘temper and instincts of thousands of Irishmen who has- tened to the battle front to prove their ancient valour’.2 Addressing the House of Commons in 1948 he claimed that ‘I shall never forget – none of us can ever forget – the superb gallantry of the scores of thousands of Irishmen who fought as volunteers in the British Army’.3 There can be little doubt that the Irish volunteers made a significant contribution to the allied war ef fort. However, this raises the question why, for the most part, that contribution has received little historical analysis and representa- tion. Nonetheless, in order to understand why there has been a historical neglect of the Irish Second World War volunteers, it is important to con- textualise the phenomenon of Irish volunteering against the political and social background of the time. Consequently this may help address and 1 Brigadier A.E.C. Bredin,...

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