The Effects of War-Time Censorship on Historical Sources regarding the North Strand Bombing 1941 by Kevin O’Connor
I would just like to point out that this wonderfully exciting topic of mine, censorship, and this long winded title behind it there’s the deaths of dozens of people and I say dozens because we don’t know how many died and we probably never will in the North Strand bombing. So regardless of whatever tangent I might go off on or any air of levity that might come into it bear in mind that I’ve never lost sight of the fact that it’s a very serious issue.
Anyway, the reason Ellen asked me here today was, as she mentioned, because of the thesis that I did and how I got interested in the subject was as a child I used to go to school in the area of the North Strand and my father was born in Summerhill and moved to East Wall when he was a child and my mother was born in Macken Street around the corner from here and they moved to East Wall when she was a child as well. Throughout the years when I was a young boy I frequently was sent off to live in other houses for short periods of time including on the North Strand when, for some reason, my mother would be gone missing but every time I got back to our house in Beaumont there was always a new brother and sister there so (laughter) that might have had something to do with it but anyway (laughter). So I had some great times down there but one thing that always struck me I often wondered going to school, where I went to school I had to cross the North Strand and I had to cross Summerhill and I often wondered what those sites were in the early 70s when I was a school boy, they were like bomb sites in actual fact. Of course we know now that’s exactly what they were. But I remember one day asking my father what it was and he said it’s where the Germans bombed us during the war and I laughed because I thought it was a joke. Anyway, a couple of years later I was in New York and my father’s older sister, my aunt May, I told her this joke and she said that’s not a joke at all this actually really happened. I couldn’t believe it. So I’ve had an interest in the area and the bombing every since then and a couple of years ago I had to do a thesis on local history. That doesn’t necessarily mean, you know, you have to be from the area. I could have chosen a piece of local history in Dingle or something but because I lived in Fairview at the time I said I may as well do something that was handy for me to get to and I was trying to plan this type of thing. So I had two choices it was the floods of 1954, I’m sure a lot of the guys will know about that and people here now – the Red Cross lads and all – but they were the worst floods on record in Dublin anyway and then I had the North Strand bombing so I chose the North Strand bombing for all those reasons.
Now the thesis when I went in to do it being a bit of a lefty I thought I was going to find that this area, these people, the poorest people in Ireland really at the time, were probably going to be neglected. The whole fact that I didn’t know how many people died and nobody seems to kind of enhanced that opinion in my head, I just said like this is terrible, I’m going to have to look at this and how badly were they treated and did the authorities help and all this type of thing and I was ready to damn the authorities from a height. Much to my chagrin I could find absolutely no neglect whatsoever in the immediate aftermath, in actual fact the authorities like the Red Cross, St. John Ambulance, the Daughters of Charity, the LSF, the LDF, the ARP were absolutely brilliant and I think they wouldn’t have treated the bomb or the disaster different no matter where it was. Now as for the long term aftermath that’s a different story but certainly in the short term it was wonderful how they reacted hence I came to this kind of non-accusatory title, the German bombings of North Strand, a community at war, rather than where were the government? Or something like that; they were there.
There was one thing I noticed when I set out to do this, I couldn’t get at the core of what people were feeling – attitudes – there was no sense of outrage in the papers or in any of the secondary sources or the primary sources even. There’s a lack of – there was something missing to the whole story. I mean other disasters, for example, the Stardust and all that, we see the people, we talk to them, we see them on television, we respect what happened to them and how tragic it was, and other things like Buttevant and things like that, and without trying to create a hierarchy of disasters this was the most amount of people that died at this than any other incident after the Civil War, notwithstanding the Cavan orphanage fire where 36 people died, 35 children and an adult. I can’t stay, again, whether more died here, I think they did, but we’ll come to that later.
So there’s a sense of vagueness throughout this talk, a sense of vagueness that obviously we know now because of the original title of the discussion, that it’s because of censorship, but it comes through throughout. Also it should be said right now successful censorship and hardline censorship which is what existed during the Emergency, if it’s good and done right it depletes my sources and that’s the best compliment I could give it from an historical or historian’s point of view, that it did a great job in restricting what I could find out about Irish attitude’s to Germany, Irish attitude’s to England or whatever and most importantly to me was the people’s attitudes to what happened to them. As I say, that’s one of the mass funerals that they had. I think that’s Seville Place along there, is it yeah? And I mean we’ve seen that on the telly recently with the young lad Stephen Gately’s funeral and I think that’s St. Laurence O’Toole’s, it probably is, yeah. By the way you mightn’t be able to read everything because some of them are rough prints off newspapers. That’s just bombs on Dublin, many dead and wrecked homes and stuff like that. The coverage was extensive in the newspapers. It detailed the funerals, it detailed the names of the dead, it detailed the work of the volunteers and, again, not enough can be said about them and it detailed how the locals came out with sandwiches and all the volunteers said things like that, like the locals came out, and these were poor people, they didn’t have much. And I heard a few people mention earlier there weren’t food restrictions, rations, now maybe they meant specifically with the war, you know, to the military or specifically elsewhere and maybe there was loads of potatoes but I know for a fact that there were food rations in this area and I’m sure that was the same for the rest of the country, yeah. I have descriptions of butter being replaced by margarine, which turned to black tar within days, things like that, so I know the fuel was rationed, sugar, food, clothing, especially clothing. And this again, as I say, was the poorest part of Ireland effectively, there’s no dressing it up, it was a very poor area. Again, that also goes to why we don’t know how many died because there was a transient area too so in fairness to the authorities it’s very hard to know the names of people when a) you don’t find a body and b) even if you did you might not know who they were. So there’s that element to it as well.
I can honestly say everything was covered wonderfully but there’s no outrage, there’s no condemnation, there’s nothing. So I said to myself I’ll have to look into this further. Now I fully planned to do oral interviews obviously and one of the reasons I chose the subject was because most of people who would be of an age that could discuss it and remember it vividly would now be in their 80s and people in their 20s would have been in their 90s now so I said I better get at them soon, with all due respect, (laughter) because the well was running dry, you know. So anyway, I went ahead and got all these wonderful sources, you needn’t read them all, you don’t have to, there’s just a load of stuff. You’ll see Tom Geraghty and Trevor Whitehead’s book ‘The Dublin Fire Brigade’ which Eoin mentioned earlier as a brilliant read, absolutely brilliant I have to say, and I was going to quote the story about the lady, there was an old lady in the Shankill I think who woke up going ‘they’ve blown me into the Free State but you took that on me’, (Eoin Bairead: Sorry!) yeah, yeah, but that’s a great book. Like some of our foremost historians there, Joe Lee, J.J. Lee, Dermot Keogh who would be probably my favourite, Diarmaid Ferriter. And the book at the top incidentally Dowling and O’Reilly, I notice some people here from historical societies, if you want a book on the history of Ballybough it’s absolutely brilliant and stuff I didn’t – I lived in Fairview at the time I did and I didn’t even know this stuff about highway men getting hanged at the end of Clonliffe Road and all this stuff and it’s all true apparently. So I thought I’d have lots of stuff in these sources. Again, it just seemed to be recycled stuff, the same people sourcing the same thing, the same stories, even some that I thought were urban legends such as the man’s head found on the top of the building. Strangely enough three people I interviewed volunteered that information to me without prompting that indeed there was a decapitated man but I mean obviously there’s going to be things like that in a bomb.
Anyway, I then said I’d go to what I really wanted to explore, or exploit even in this whole thing which was the primary sources. I was going to go to the source and I thought I’d get great stuff so I went to the Daughters of Charity on North William Street – they’re not the Sisters of Charity by the way, loads of people think they are, the history books say they are, they’re not, they’re the Daughters of Charity. I went right to the top over this. I don’t mean I went to Jesus Christ, (laughter) but I nearly did, I went to the head nun there and she told me the whole history of the place and they are the Daughters of Charity. They were very helpful, they brought me in and – oh they were wonderful but most importantly they put me in touch with a lady called Sister Martha O’Connor who unfortunately died last year. She was a postulant in North William Street orphanage with the Daughters of Charity in 1941. The poor devil, she was I think three days out of her native county and I mean it was the only time she’d ever been outside of I think it was Roscommon and where does she find herself but North William Street on the 31st of May 1941 and she was 23 or 24 at the time and an absolutely extremely alert 96 or 97 whatever she was when I interviewed her and told me the whole story from beginning to end, from the sisters’ perspective. They get great praise from the locals. Again, I tried when interviewing people for oral interviews I tried not to prompt them or to guide them just to let them express themselves so as not to have my agenda or anything overcome the historical facts of what these people were saying. I’m going to digress a little; she told me that the night of the bomb, again, like everyone else I spoke to, the whistling woke them up. So when you think how long does it take a bomb to drop, maybe twenty seconds, I don’t know, it was enough to wake people up all over the North side of Dublin, this whistling, it was a recurrent theme. For me it just reflects what size the bomb must have been and we know it was 500lb according to the military guys. It’s all very well throwing figures but that’s what the effect of it was, it woke people up before it even hit the ground, people as far away as Gardiner Street told me that. She said that when the bomb went off they immediately ran downstairs in their bare feet despite all the shattered windows and stained glass windows and everything had come in, they’d about 300 children and they just kept bringing them upstairs on the basis that if another bomb hits the place will implode like it will fall in on them so they had to save the children. I asked her how did she ever sleep like for days after that and she said, extremely modestly, she just said I don’t recall sleeping. So much so she was profoundly traumatised along with several of her colleagues and they were shipped over to Blackrock to recover 3 weeks later. Incidentally when they were over there the nuns over there told them that they heard the bomb crystal clear that night, again, just giving you a reflection of what it must have been like, it’s hard to imagine someone else’s experience but anecdotally you can get a bit of a picture.
Anyway, the Dublin Military Archives, the guys were great over there – Sergeant Manning in particular, but unfortunately again it was a war, there was censorship, there was little or nothing so there was something written by the Department of Defence, Civil Defence Unit in 1951 I think, yeah 10 years later, and that was a very good and respectful piece about the bombings and in actual fact you can picture this in a military document, Mr. O’Carroll knows what I’m talking about, it was very official but it did go as far as to single out the Irish Red Cross and St. John Ambulance in particular. And I know for a fact Joe probably is aware of this but in two days of the bombing the Irish Red Cross and the St. John Ambulance in a joint appeal, like within 48 hours, had actually expended everything they had on helping these people because there was hundreds homeless and children were running up and down the streets on the night of the bombing naked, covered in blood, their clothes were blown off them and stuff like that and it was a blessing that the nuns were there as well. I found this website in the Irishnewspaperarchives.com or .ie and it was wonderful at the time because it was free, it wasn’t last night, so the pictures I have are not the ones I would have chosen from the disaster itself I was caught napping a bit, and a couple of other projects done by the North Inner City Folklore Project which were very useful. Again, it was recycling of the same people saying the same thing about the same event in the same way without condemnation, without knowing what was going on in the rest of the world, it was strange, it was surreal almost.
The best thing of all though was the interviews with the survivors and I interviewed about twenty or thirty people and I cherry picked them and then I cherry picked the three favourites from that. Now one of them for example, Charlotte Waldron, Lotti Waldron from Bessborough Avenue just over Newcomen Bridge, she was in her 90s too and like she is absolutely cast iron adamant that this was a deliberate attack by the Germans. I think history will, maybe as history does sometimes, prove whether it was or not, I chose to ignore it, whether it was or not. In fact I’m bringing up her because of the simple reason I think it was an accident but for whatever reason but that woman was absolutely beyond a shadow of a doubt like and nothing, no little hints from me, would change the fact and it was no, it was because we helped Belfast, nothing to do with the Jews this time although here was a large population of Jews in Fairview. But anyway it was not, she didn’t blame the Jews she blamed the Northies so. Anyway, that’s the primary sources. Again, going around in circles is what I was doing. The provincial newspapers, I have to mention these, I did mention earlier that the Irish Independent and the big national papers they gave a great coverage again of the statistics but they did it in a compassionate way, very compassionate way, and there was excellent photographs of the funerals as we saw earlier and stuff like that.
The provincial newspapers were strange; I found them very, very strange. The Anglo Celt now was over about sixteen counties and indeed on page 1 it had Dublin’s night of horror, again a repetition, almost identical to the Irish Independent’s report, almost. But to give us an idea of the times and how people were very provincial in their way and obviously for other reasons such as technology and that they kind of had to be, these editions were printed, these were their first editions after the bomb which was the following Saturday; they were weekly publications. The Meath Chronicle’s headlines in their very first edition, after like dozens of people were killed by a German bomb in Dublin is, ‘Confirmation at Kells and Navan confirmation ceremony’. Now in the Archives I had 6 pages of that paper available to me and I think it may have only been a 6 page – possibly 8 pages with advertisements all over it – it wasn’t mentioned at all, not at all. This is one of our bordering counties. The Leitrim Observer mentioned it on page 3 but it was identical to the Irish Independent. On page 2 such matters of gravitas as ‘Donkey sold then stolen and sold again’ (laughter) and this was page 2. And the North Leitrim of course – GAA fixtures. I don’t even remember what was on the front page again I think it had something to do with kids making their communion or confirmation. I pondered this; this was new to me. I had never done research on a local history topic and I’m going, what? What were these people thinking like, you know? And I suppose I had my own provincial attitude which is the whole world rotates around Dublin or whatever, especially my little neck of the woods, but apparently not.
The interviews with the survivors just to elaborate a little on that, I asked them all this question: “How did the authorities and/or government respond to the tragedy?” Sister Martha said, “Okay I suppose”, she really didn’t know, she just didn’t know. Lotti Waldron said, “I don’t know really.” And May Tipping was the third oral interview that I chose out of a huge selection for their insight and ability to tell the story. May Tipping was incidentally the aunt in New York who told me that it wasn’t a joke, it was a bomb, and she’s now living in Dublin after 50 years in Queen’s so I was able to go to visit her and she said “We didn’t hear anything.”. So they were living in ignorant bliss of what was going on outside of their area. It turns out they weren’t the only people, everyone in Ireland was. And this perplexed me tremendously because I couldn’t understand. I would have thought the war would have been everything and the Germans are terrible and the Germans are this and the Axis are brutal and concentration camps, everything. Nothing, nothing about it in our newspapers only as Eoin alluded to earlier things that happened, not atrocities, not opinions, not a slant – nothing and if there was ever it was taken out immediately before it even got to publication by the censorship people.
Anyway, so I had to ask myself why this was going on. Incidentally this is more of a journey into how I found sources rather than censorship. As I said before, censorship if it’s done right leaves me with nothing to talk about (laughs) because there’s no sources so it’s more of a question as to why there was no sources and some of the proposed answers I came up with was that the North Strand was part of the poorest district in Ireland, the North Inner City. Highly unlikely that this would be a reason for it not to be covered with an agenda, absolutely unlikely, in fact I’d safely say that’s not the reason. Fear of the German retribution of condemnation was too loud, that’s possible I thought, you know, that seems like a reasonable thing that, you know, people would have been afraid to write up or speak up and may have been asked but then I thought but the newspapers? Again I was thinking in a 2008 way rather than a 1941 way and the 2008 way the papers would have been all over this in a most virulent fashion and rightfully so. People had enough problems in an Ireland that was already poverty stricken, yeah maybe, you know, so what if people weren’t concerned about the war. Definitely the lack of information technology we have today – incidentally I changed that last night, I had information super highway, but forget about the internet most of these people, in fact I’d safely say all of these people, involved in the bombings didn’t have phones, certainly none that I know of anyway. Were the newspapers simply not over interested? Well I don’t even need to – and I don’t even know why I put that in because obviously they were.
But there had to be some reason for all this dearth of hard-core information. So, you needn’t read that, what it is is – and I’m not going to read it either – the only mention of the most important event since our partial independence ever and this is the only mention it ever got in the Dáil so even Dáil discussions were censored and he just finishes up, it’s Éamon de Valera offering his sympathy and telling us all that he told the Germans they were very bold and they shouldn’t have done that and then he just finished by saying “… the Dáil will not expect me at the moment to say more on this head.” You can read between the lines, it was agreed with all the parties that even the Dáil was censored. So anyway the whole significance of it is that the whole thing was obviously about wartime censorship. The whole reason I couldn’t get to where I wanted to go was because of wartime censorship.
Then I started wondering well why, was our censorship strict? Was it even? Was it even handed? What was it? And why was it when we were neutral. Now we can call it non-belligerent and, you know, really there is a better word in as much as we did as much as we could for the allies without the Germans finding out and like, for example, if German soldiers landed in Dublin or rather Ireland accidentally in the 26 counties they were sent to the Curragh. If an allied soldier landed he was marched up to the North and pushed over the border so there was lots of things going on like that. Information was passed at levels that would probably never be revealed.
But anyway, first all neutrality itself, was it wise, you know, it’s often been debated. I came up with three reasons, I know political and symbolic are what is often referred to by other historians, I like to mention pragmatic, the simple reason is we would have been slaughtered, there’s no two ways about it. Patrick Kavanagh the poet, he was rude and unkind – but anyway he said that we would be hard put to defend a field of potatoes against an invasion of crows, that’s putting it very harshly. A lot of the men in the army at that time had been prepared already to die for their country and I’m sure would have again but the fact is we would have been slaughtered and thousands would have died. Politics, well it was Fianna Fáil we’re talking about, they are the masters, Dev was the master of the masters, he wanted to wait and see what happened and he was constantly waiting, seeing and judging and I’d say neutrality was on a knife edge for 6 years because he could have just as easily turned away if the British said listen we’re taking your island because we need it, or should I say we’re taking it again, he might have decided to become an ally if the Germans had won the Battle of Britain for example and said we need your ports, I think was Dev was pragmatic enough to say well go ahead, you know. But whatever, he played a waiting game, I think Dermot Keogh it was that said he played puppet master with Berlin, London and later Washington and whatever people think about him now he did it brilliantly, absolutely brilliantly and we didn’t get into the war, in my opinion. Symbolic, an awful lot of Irish people favoured neutrality, the majority favoured neutrality. It was a display of independence from the old enemy really and the whole thing about neutrality vis-à-vis censorship is as Robert Fisk said, he referred to the emergency censorship as ‘neutrality’s backbone’. I know some people mightn’t agree that the censorship was, say, the backbone of neutrality and more pragmatism but (laughter) definitely it certainly helped an awful lot.
So they decided to come up with a guy to look after this. Frank Aiken was the Minister for Justice up until ’39, a close ally of De Valera, very close friend. Just a little bit about this man, as you can see there he was a former commander of the IRA. He was unbelievably anti-Treaty if you could quantify anti-Treaty he was very anti-Treaty. He was in Dáil Éireann for 50 years which is remarkable considering he must have been in his 20s or 30s during the Civil War and the Rising and such. He was Minister of Defence from ’32-39 and he was Minister, then they came up with a new titled, the Minister for Coordination of Defensive Measures. I don’t know why they didn’t just leave it at the Minister for Justice but there you have it, in 1939-45. I would suspect it was another way of moving away from the inherited civil service that we had in the country. Just on a point about Mr. Aiken as a man, he was fiercely principled. Up until the 60s, every time Ernest Blythe from Cumann na Gael or Fine Gael, whatever you want to call them, every time that man walked into a room he just turned his back. Silly and childish perhaps but he was so anti-Treaty that he never let it go but he was a fiercely determined man, a very, very principled man. In actual fact in 1973 he resigned from the party of Fianna Fáil, official papers would tell you that he resigned because he was sick, ill health. In actual fact he resigned because there was a certain up and coming politician and he did not trust him, he did not like him, he did not like his style and I think there’s no prizes for guessing who that genius was? (Laughter) Anyway, this was the nature of the man. (A member of the audience asks: Can you be more specific?) (laughter) Yeah, if I’m being vague it was Charles J. Haughey but anyway, yeah, that’s the type of man Aiken was and also being such a buddy of Dev, Dev felt this position is going to be hugely important so he’ll give it to one of his closest allies and thus we got Frank.
Was there much emergency censorship? In 1939 the Emergency Powers Act gave the government censorship. I was trying to think of an expression to use and carte blanche is all I can come up with, they absolutely had censorship powers over everything. Not just the obvious things like the newspapers but other things, books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters, records, plays, films, all fell foul of the emergency censorship. I left out board games there because I like this board games thing, there was a board game called Plonk and what it was was you threw darts at historical figures and you tried to get it into their mouth and if you got it into their mouth you scored (laughter) and it made a noise or something and one of the guys was Hitler (laughter) and the bold Frank said no, we can’t be disrespecting our – I don’t know what you’d call them – they weren’t our enemies but anyway, that’s the type of level the censorship went to, you couldn’t play Plonk (laughter) and I think it went off the market actually. But anyway the point is everything was hit. Some people say it went to ridiculous lengths and it did at times, it did at times, but I’ll come back to the end result of that later. It’s argued by some people that say our censorship was too harsh that countries like Switzerland and Sweden who were also neutral they didn’t censor their press and people say and they were in a worse geo-strategic position than us. I would argue with that that the simple reason was que sera sera, whether they censored their press or not if Hitler took a fancy to them they were gone in 1940, ’41, ’39 and that’s that so suppressing the press wasn’t really going to make a bit of difference to them. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the love of freedom of press. I think all these principled leaders and all that, the such as Dev and others like in Switzerland and Sweden, they became pragmatists, they had to be realists, they had to protect their citizens and in case of Dev their party and so on and I’m sure it was the same with these guys.
The censorship which most affected historical research which is really supposed to be the theme of this talk but, as I say, I’m limited in what I can say because it was so successful. In the Post and Telegraphs they had a load of beavers who would go through the post every morning, there was up to 200 at a time, there was a backlist so if you were under suspicion, you might have been IRA or you might have been of German descent or whatever it didn’t matter, you were given to the boss who then analysed it further and passed it on and some of these would go right up to Frank Aiken and Thomas Coyne, Tommy Coyne, his right hand man. There was a white list for those who were except from censorship. Amazingly enough there were people exempt from censorship, obviously Heads of State, but you’ll find there was some of the church, well all know what country we were in 1941, we were devout Catholic Church, some of the senior church guys were allowed to say what they liked in terms of their post but not orally. And there was a watching list, they were for people who may or may not be dodgy, is the best way of describing them, but they got vetted anyway and there was random searches and things like that and this is the covert censorship. Now there was also overt censorship by our version of MI5 or the CIA – rather the FBI – which was G2 and these guys had powers, unbelievable powers now, that they would make the American powers now look mild that they have over their citizens over since 911. These guys could get a warrant issued like that (clicks fingers) and go wherever, whenever, look at everything, do whatever they wanted, and I’m saying this as though it was a bad thing. Again, I’ll come to a conclusion at the end.
The thing that affected me the most obviously with the censorship was the press censorship. I find this ironic. The directions to the press emergency power number five order 1939 covered pages upon pages of items which were not allowed to be written about – the weather. Now even the sports, the journalists, like we say from the Leitrim Observer they get their sports on page 2, the GAA results. He could say it was a great game and your man played brilliant and all this but he couldn’t say it was raining (laughter), absolutely not. He couldn’t say it was muddy, cold – nothing like that was allowed because God forbid the Germans wanted to land bombs there or land planes there well then they’d known to stay off that particular Leitrim GAA pitch because it might be a bit wet (laughter) and this was the thinking behind it and I’m being flippant about it but there was very good reasons for it, there was very good reasons for it, but sometimes it seemed to go to extremes and it affected things like obviously we couldn’t tell them the overall weather from the Meteorological Office but when I bring it down to a more flippant thing such as the GAA, the state of the pitch type of thing, well that’s true that actually did happen and they were affected but for a bigger reason. Anyway there was all these things written, you couldn’t mention the civil service, the maps, pictures, military, commentary of every description, now you could say what happened but you couldn’t say what you thought of what happened. So you could you say the allies are moving up towards Monte Casino in Italy or something like that but you couldn’t say hooray or great, you could just say that they were. So it was a weird time going on.
The thing I find ironic is the press couldn’t report on the censorship because the directives given were censored (laughs) so you couldn’t even say on a headline, I’m sorry we can’t offer an opinion on the war because that was censored and why you were doing it was censored, so everything was censored, from a selfish point of view it was terrible (laughs). The effects of the research in research it kind of goes without saying but Dermot Keogh would be one of my favourite historians anyway he said the strict wartime censorship regime in Ireland kept many members of the public in a state of near ignorance about what was going on in Continental Europe, that’s why I couldn’t get a sense of the war, I couldn’t get a sense of condemnation, outrage, happiness at whatever, whoever you’re up for doing well, nothing like that. No sense of it, no feel for it. There’s the bit about the football matches, weather conditions and the state of the pitch will be removed to deprive Berlin or London of such vital information. But I think this sums it up best by Dowling and O’Reilly, they are the authors of Mud Island, the book about Ballybough I mentioned earlier, censorship laws were being stringently enforced so speculation as to the source of the bombs was not open to public debate, through the medium of the newspapers at any rate, the newspapers were therefore filled with minute details of the bombings, casualties, procedures in place to deal with the crisis and funeral arrangements and that’s it in a nutshell leaving behind a wealth of social history, for example, the Irish Times on the day after the bombing carried pictures of the destruction and all this but also on the same page it reported how thousands of happy people were travelling out to Baldoyle for the bank holiday races. Now if you can imagine today a bomb going off anywhere, even by accident, that killed dozens of people and on the front page of the Times the Baldoyle races or Fairyhouse being covered in the Irish Independent on the same page. It will give you an idea as to just how restricted the press was. In actual fact I think it was May the 11th, it was May the 11th 1945, censorship was ended and they – I know you can’t see that clearly but the censorship and many emergency restrictions abolished. This is the 12th. Over here on the back page I think of the same paper, I’m not sure, it might be the 13th, it was this bit here says ‘the pictures we couldn’t publish are the pictures that were banned’ and for weeks afterwards they kept showing pictures of things they couldn’t show such as people coming out of concentration camps bedraggled and emaciated, pictures of atrocities and by the way atrocities, reportage of atrocities, was completely censored and banned as well.
I want to say this just before we finish and I’ll rush it, well I didn’t want to, the final death toll – Diarmaid Ferriter, one of our foremost historians, 43 people dead; Dublin City Council Archives, 34 dead; Dowling and O’Reilly, 39; Department of Defence, 28. And a guy called Green, I kind of go along with him, Stephen Green, “the number of people dead rose from 18 to 37 but I’m reliably informed that the exact number who perished was never finalised.” And it never will be and I could go on about that a bit more and I know of individuals who were never listed and who died directly as a result, Lila Behan springs to mind if anyone knows her from East Wall.
The conclusion, from a civilian’s viewpoint for all my flippancy regarding neutrality and censorship less than 100 Irish civilians, now notwithstanding the Merchant Navy guys, less than 100 Irish civilians died in the 26 counties as a direct result of World War II, that could even be less than 50 except, again, we don’t know really how many died in North Strand, but let’s say it was 60 but it’s still less than 100 people died. The relationship with Britain it recovered; it was actually better than it was before the war within a couple of years and, again, they became our most important trading country and all that but from a historians’ point of view which is what I’m really here for, compassion aside, it was a nightmare. Successful censorship by definition means a restriction of historians’ lifeblood and that’s sources. Nevertheless many stories were uncovered. I suppose it’s just nice to finish on a happier note. The heroes found amongst the ARP, the LSF, the LDF, the Fire Brigade, the Daughters of Charity, the Irish Red Cross, St. John Ambulance and many others. Also citizens in the community who were brilliant, and they still are by the way. And I suppose the last line I would have to say is we only lost 100 people or less, Britain lost 60,000. If anyone wants to argue neutrality with me I will. It was the right thing to do no matter what we think of Fianna Fáil, Dev or whatever, it was the right thing to do and he did it brilliantly, even Dermot Keogh agrees with me and more so, I should say, I agree with him, him being the authority more so than I. But the bottom line is and I’ll finish on this line, if there ever was a necessary evil it surely must have been wartime censorship. And that’s it. (clapping) Thank you.