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Bernard KellyReturning Home: Irish Ex-Servicemen and the Second World War

Merrion, 2012

by marshall poe on February 21, 2013

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The Republic of Ireland (aka The Irish Free State, Éire) declared neutrality during the Second World War. That wasn’t particularly unusual: Portugal  Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland did too. Yet around 60,000 “neutral” Irish volunteered to fight on one side (with the Allies, in this case). That was unusual.  After the war, most of the Irish volunteers remained in the UK. But 12,000 of them came back to Ireland. In Returning Home: Irish Ex-Servicemen and the Second World War (Merrion, 2012), Bernard Kelly tells their story. Like most things in Irish history, it’s complicated. On the one hand, the volunteers had served in the armed forces of Ireland’s archenemy (at least according to Republicans). On the other hand, they had fought the Nazis and thereby protected the Free World. Bernard explains how the Irish veterans were received and, interestingly, how they are still being discussed in Ireland today.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joe Mulvey February 21, 2013 at 12:40 pm

The Republic of Ireland and The Irish Free State never overlapped. The latter was replaced by the former in 1937, before the Second World War. The book is fine, but please don’t introduce confusion where it doesn’t exist, thanks.

Jonathan Purle February 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I disagree Joe.

The 1937 Constitution renamed the country Eire – not Republic of Ireland. Ireland’s status was amusingly ambiguous between De Valera’s amendments following the abdication and the coming into force of the Republic of Ireland Act (1948). This is why Ireland remained in the Commonwealth up until April 1949, and George VI had to receive the German Ambasador’s credentials as ‘King of Ireland’ during the War….

John Dorney March 1, 2013 at 5:47 pm

Good interview, though I disagree that Ireland’s history is necessarily more ‘complicated’ than anywhere else’s. Demobilisation was hardly straightforward for, for instance, American veterans of the Spanish Republic’s International Brigades, as far as I’m aware. I don’t think it’s at all surprising that a neutral country would be uncomfortable with its citizens signing up for a belligerent power.

In any case, another interview here on Ireland in WWII, and the generally less than creditable activities of the IRA in this era.

PS, Jonathon’s right. Not the Republic of Ireland until 1949.

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