May 28, 2013

Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10

Page 54

Churchill Proceedings – That Neutral Island

(With apology to Clair Wills1)

2024 International Churchill Conference

Join us for the 41st International Churchill Conference. London | October 2024

By Warren F. Kimball

Dr. Kimball is Robert Treat Professor of History Emeritus at Rutgers University, a leading scholar on Roosevelt and Churchill in World War II, author of numerous books, including The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman, editor of the seminal three-volume Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence, a member of the Finest Hour editorial board and a FH contributor.

“Legally, I believe they are ‘At war, but skulking.’”
—Winston Churchill to Lord Halifax, 22 October 1939

“Analyze for yourself the future…if Germany won. Could Ireland hold out? Would Irish freedom be permitted as an amazing pet exception in an unfree world?”
—Franklin Roosevelt, “Arsenal of Democracy” speech, 29 December 1940

The well-known studies of Churchill contain only the most cursory mention of Irish issues during World War II. The same for publications more focused on Franklin Roosevelt.2 Fortunately, John Ramsden rescued Churchill and Ireland in the war years in a quite nice chapter in his book, Man of the Century, although the Anglo-American angle gets only brief attention.3 Is there really more to say?

Also fortunately, Joe Hern, and The Churchill Centre thought so. Some may have thought Dublin would be the proper place for this conference, but perhaps others feared a replay of the burning of Union Flags and Irish Tricolors at Dublin’s Trinity College that happened on VE-Day. A bit silly to worry about today, but there you are. And here we are, happily in Boston, where there may well be more Irish than in Dublin.

To start with the overarching issue: With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Ireland, a member of the British Commonwealth…declared neutrality! Churchill’s anger and bewilderment was palpable and understandable, however much Cabinet had to hold him back. “Legally, I believe they are ‘At war, but skulking,’” he quipped.4 Roosevelt’s response was pubicly restrained (voters and all that), but privately his anger and scorn for Irish neutrality was as apparent as Churchill’s. In fact, I know of no issue where the two were more tightly in tandem—at least until the very end.

Three specific issues illustrate Ireland’s effect on the Anglo-American wartime relationship. The first was Irish neutrality, declared with a vengeance by Taoiseach (prime minister) Eamon de Valera, which barred Britain from conducting anti-submarine operations from the socalled Treaty Ports (Cobh, Lough Swilly, Berehaven) on Ireland’s southern, western and north-western coasts.

The ports’ usefulness receded after a few years, with Allied bases in Iceland, increased range of Allied aircraft, and German U-boats operating out of western France rather than the Baltic or Norway. But the long-term effect was to antagonize Churchill and irritate Roosevelt. As a result, even though Ireland appeared on their radar screens only occasionally, both leaders invariably took a dim view of Irish arguments.

Second was the crusade of David Gray, the U.S. wartime representative in Dublin. (Not an ambassador; Ireland was technically if not emotionally part of the British Commonwealth, where U.S. embassies were rare before the war.) Gray persistently caused Ireland to pop up on high-level radar screens, initially by demanding that Ireland practice a benevolent non-belligerency, and allow access to the Treaty Ports. De Valera’s refusals infuriated Gray, an ardent interventionist, who worked persistently to disparage de Valera on personal and policy grounds. Roosevelt, who had appointed him (he had married Eleanor Roosevelt’s aunt), never restrained him and at times seemed to be leading Gray, not following him.

Third was the 1944 Chicago civil aviation “non-agreement” and subsequent negotiation of a bilateral Irish-American pact allowing U.S. commercial aircraft to land in Ireland en route to the European continent.

A bizarre postscript that still generates deeply bitter responses from the British was de Valera’s personal visit in May 1945 to the German legation in Dublin to express formal “condolences” on the death (i.e., suicide) of Adolf Hitler. One cannot quite see de Valera going to such trouble upon the death of a British sovereign.

What Churchill Knew

Churchill understood that the Americans had what amounted to a veto over British treatment of Irish neutrality. He regularly muttered about occupying Ireland, but always backed off. He thought about making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by exploiting that neutrality and building factories in Cork or Dublin, where they could be somewhat safer from German air attacks. But, as he told Max Beaverbrook in November 1939, “the first step…is to try to interest Roosevelt in the business….”

An ancillary worry was Ireland’s military weakness. They were not only unwilling to fight, but unable. As of September 1939, the army had only 7500 men, though large numbers were serving in the British military; the air corps had four effective fighters; and the navy had two patrol boats! Occupation of Ireland by Germany seemed frighteningly easy, though that fear ignored the improbable supply lines from the Continent and the even more improbable imposition of “law and order” on the Irish—a task that had eluded the British themselves.5

British fears were accentuated by the belief that the Irish would do anything to bring the six northern counties into a united Eire, including allying with the Nazis—remembering, perhaps, the absurd 1916 German attempt to support the Easter Rising. Partition was a running sore, one that prompted de Valera to ask FDR, as early as 1938, to intercede with the British. But that move came to nothing.6

Churchill regularly dangled apparent offers to end partition and unite Ireland. His now famous “letter” to Roosevelt of 7 December 1940, remembered largely because it supposedly stimulated creation of the Lend-Lease program (a genial exaggeration), also contained a suggestion that the “good offices” of the USA could help with Ireland, followed by a wistful and palpably false hint that, if Ireland would join with the “democracies of the English speaking world…the unity of the island would probably emerge…after the war.” One can only speculate on how loyalists in the north of Ireland would have reacted had they read that message.

Then, when Pearl Harbor brought America into the war, Churchill quoted a portion of the anthem of Irish Nationalists in another apparent offer to de Valera: “Now is your chance. Now or never! ‘A nation once again.'”7 Churchill must have known his plea would be spurned by a nationalist who had rejected the notion that Ireland was part of the British “nation.” Certainly it was not an offer to end partition—something a British prime minister could not offer, then or later.

The Treaty Ports

With the collapse of French resistance in June 1940, a German invasion of Great Britain seemed imminent. Huge shipping losses to German U-boats bid fair to cut off supplies from North America. Anti-submarine operations out of the Irish Treaty Ports would have provided convoys with better protection. Following the British attack on the Vichy French fleet in the Mediterranean, Churchill on 4 July 1940 spoke of making “every preparation in our power” to defend Great Britain or Ireland, “which is in imminent danger.” De Valera responded by giving an interview to The New York Times that prompted Secretary of State Cordell Hull to warn the British ambassador that a military move against Ireland would damage Roosevelt’s pro-British policies. Shortly thereafter the British, who were genuinely concerned about Ireland’s ability to defend itself, sent 20,000 U.S. rifles to the Irish Republic.8 Even so, suspicion overcame logic in Dublin, and Irish leaders continued to worry about a British occupation.

As soon as Churchill became prime minister, he warned of reports about German parachutists making airborne “descents in Ireland.” A prolonged visit by an American naval squadron to Ireland might help persuade the Irish to cooperate. When Roosevelt considered the request and then backed away, the Prime Minister repeated the suggestion, proposing the treaty port of Berehaven as the place to show the flag.9

For six weeks from the fall of France until the end of July 1940, Churchill sent only a single message to Roosevelt, and that a quite trivial one. Roosevelt similarly waited two months to contact Churchill directly. But they were in touch indirectly through representatives at a time when the Destroyer-for-Bases “deal” was developing. The discussion focused on the disposition of the British fleet in the event of a successful German invasion. In those moments of crisis, Irish neutrality was an aggravation, but not of the essence.

Nevertheless, one message about Ireland almost did get through to FDR. Drafted but not sent, it expressed Churchill’s fears that the Germans would invade an unprepared Ireland, that de Valera thought the Germans would win, and that the Irish were “throwing in their lot” with Hitler. The PM warned that Britain might have to act to prevent a German “descent” (his favorite word to describe possible German action) on the Treaty Ports. The message was shelved, but Churchill’s take on Ireland remained constant.10

Once Roosevelt was re-elected that autumn, he and Churchill got a little braver. The day after the vote, the Prime Minister complained about Ireland’s refusal of British use of the Treaty Ports. Gray, with striking bluntness, told one Irish cabinet member that the American press might support the ports’ occupation. Roosevelt’s secretary of the navy, Frank Knox, a bit more restrained, proposed a systematic campaign among Irish-Americans to pressure Dublin to allow use of the ports. That campaign never developed, and Gray’s threats had no effect beyond increasing tension between him and de Valera.11

Churchill bemoaned not having the Treaty Ports, but he seemed more concerned about getting the overage destroyers promised in the destroyer-bases deal. He did announce, a bit pettily, plans to cut off British shipping carrying foodstuffs from Ireland to England. Britain, he told FDR, needed the ships, didn’t need the food, and took it “much amiss” that they carried the goods at risk of attack, subsidizing Ireland “handsomely when de Valera is quite content to sit happy and see us strangled.” Churchill asked FDR about his reaction to the plan, but the President made no direct answer.12 But two weeks later, in his “Arsenal of Democracy” speech on December 29th, Roosevelt publicly wondered whether Irish freedom would be allowed in a Nazi-dominated Europe. Mindful of anti-interventionist criticism that he was violating America’s neutrality, FDR went on to dismiss nations claiming neutrality:

Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. And it is no more un-neutral for us to do that than it is for Sweden, Russia, and other nations near Germany to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day in the week.13

Later that spring, at Gray’s suggestion, one of de Valera’s ministers visited the United States. Whatever the obscure and somewhat suspicious motives of Gray and de Valera, the visit, by Frank Aiken, an IRA leader born in Northern Ireland, was a disaster. Perhaps de Valera hoped to influence American public opinion in Ireland’s favor—but Aiken went way over the top, making speeches that alienated FDR and his Administration. Whether or not Gray intended the Aiken mission to exacerbate Irish-American relations (and even encouraged Aiken to make inflammatory statements as de Valera later claimed), that was the result. The President told one anti-interventionist congressman: “When will you Irishmen ever get over hating England? Remember that if England goes down, Ireland goes down too.”14

But bringing Ireland to heel was more trouble than it was worth. In spring 1941, when Britain considered conscription (the draft) in Northern Ireland, Gray told Roosevelt that it would be “a major and irretrievable fatal blunder” unless Catholics could be exempted as conscientious objectors. Hyperbolically, he predicted draft riots and “draft dodgers” who fled to the south being treated like “hero martyrs.” FDR made it clear to the British that conscription was a bad idea. Churchill’s advisers had their own objections, but FDR’s opinion was one that mattered.15

“All in the Same Boat”

Immediately after Pearl Harbor, confident in FDR’s December 7th message that the Anglo-Americans were all in the same boat, Churchill proposed a flash trip to Washington. The President, wary that such a visit would give the impression that the decision he would make—to fight Germany first—had been influenced by the Prime Minister’s presence, asked for more time. But two weeks after the Japanese attack, and after Germany and the United States were formally at war, Churchill sat in the White House talking to Roosevelt.

Ireland was not the major focus, but the two agreed that the U.S. would take over the defense of all of Ireland, and would send troops to replace British forces in Northern Ireland. In passing, Roosevelt gibed that “he believed if we put the [conspicuously Irish] 69th Regiment in South Ireland we could probably get them to do some fighting and not so much talking.”16

American entry into the war posed difficulties for Irish neutrality. Now Roosevelt could ask Irishmen, and Irish-Americans, to support the USA rather than the British. Stationing U.S. forces in Northern Ireland, in January 1942, brought a pro forma complaint from de Valera that his government had not been consulted and saw the move as approval of partition, and that some in Ireland feared the American army would attack Irish forces. To de Valera’s pleasure, Roosevelt responded with assurances that the United States would not invade.17

Ask the Irish during the Second World War, “who are we neutral against?” and the answer was resounding: Germany. British aircraft and warships routinely entered Irish territory without protest; Allied airmen who crashed in Ireland were not interned, as required by neutrality, but sent to Northern Ireland. In mid-1941, de Valera had arrested the bulk of the leadership of the Irish Republican Army, executing one IRA enforcer in March 1942. (The arrests followed the capture and torture by the IRA of its own chief of staff, Stephen Hayes, who had drawn up a truly silly plan for a German attack on Northern Ireland, with the ostensible purpose of uniting Eire.) Still, suspicion and distrust characterized Anglo-Irish relations. When the Germans mistakenly bombed a Dublin suburb, civilians assumed the British had done it. Nevertheless, once danger of invasion of the British Isles was past (some time after Hitler’s invasion of Russia), the urgency disappeared.18

That coincided with the establishment of remarkably close, though secret, intelligence coordination and liaison between British and Irish bureaucracies, which reassured the British about Irish actions and intentions. Public suspicions remained, fed by lurid news reports in Britain and the United States that Ireland harbored German spies or saboteurs. But military officials, and presumably political leaders, knew better.

Code-breaking was, for the argument over Irish neutrality, a bit of a wash. The Germans had, until 1944, penetrated British and Allied merchant ship codes. The British had broken the German diplomatic code in December 1942, allowing them to read what code-breakers labeled PANDORA traffic to and from the German legation in Dublin—information the British did not share with their Irish colleagues. In hindsight, we can see that German code-breaking made the Treaty Ports relatively unimportant; whereas breaking the German codes reassured the British that the Irish government was, in fact, cooperating quite closely with the war effort. But public perceptions were distorted because known German agents could not always be apprehended lest that damage or disclose the now famous British Double-Cross system of anti-espionage and deception. 19

Those who, over a half-century later, consign the Irish to one of Dante’s hells for their country’s failure to join the fight against Hitler, may want to read Eunan O’Halpin’s Spying on Ireland: British Intelligence and Irish Neutrality during the Second World War. Its exquisite research and detailed narrative may prompt some to rethink their verdict. Just one example: The extensive intelligence cooperation as OVERLORD was being prepared set to rest concerns that Dublin was a leaky faucet of information to Germany. Whatever Churchill’s role in all this, he knew of Irish-British intelligence liaison; yet he seemed personally uncomfortable, warning that it be limited to “special lines of mutual interest.” O’Halpin suggests that Churchill’s use of (or rather failure to use) wartime intelligence about Irish actions and policies is understandable given his “personal resentment of Irish neutrality.” “Petulant” is O’Halpin’s label.20 “Distrust” would be mine.

How much the Americans and Roosevelt knew about Irish cooperation with British intelligence is unclear. Not until mid-1944 did British (MI5) and American (OSS) intelligence finally agree to exchange information related to Ireland.21


In April 1943, Churchill asked if Roosevelt and the American public would now permit conscription in Northern Ireland. Roosevelt replied that he no longer thought public opinion would take issue with conscription, but nothing came of the initiative. Churchill’s advisers were still opposed. They apparently had hoped for a strong negative reaction from Roosevelt that they could show to those “loyalists” in the Northern Ireland government who persistently agitated for conscription so as to tie Ulster even more strongly to the UK.22

By mid-1943, Gray was casting about for ways to play a broad role in the “special relationship” between Great Britain and the United States. By his calculus, the issue of Irish partition would poison Anglo-American relations after the war. His plan was to discredit de Valera and his party and “remove the pressure of the Irish question from Anglo-American relations.”23

Churchill obviously agreed. In May he dismissed neutrality in general and Ireland in particular in a brief remark at a luncheon in Washington with high-level U.S. officials. He could see “little but an ineffective and inglorious role for Mr. De Valera and others who might remain neutral to the end.”24

A few months later, Gray met with Roosevelt and Churchill and then drafted (or re-drafted) a long, argumentative letter for Roosevelt to send de Valera, overwrought, over-written, and over-exaggerated. It read more like a declaration of diplomatic war than an attempt to promote agreement. At the same dinner in Hyde Park when Churchill described the “fraternal relationship” he wished for between the United States and Great Britain after the war, Gray lectured the Prime Minister and President on how Ireland should be handled. Averell Harriman succinctly noted: “The Prime Minister seemed unimpressed.” Although Churchill told Roosevelt that he liked Gray’s Irish message, it seems that either the Prime Minister or the President, or both, thought it too personal and had Gray tone it down.25

By the time of the Cairo Conference in December 1943, Churchill finally told Roosevelt that continued protests about the Treaty Ports and the proposed letter to de Valera were likely only to muddy the waters without accomplishing anything. Cordell Hull agreed. Roosevelt still wanted “to have an American protest to Ireland on record,” but acquiesced to the British request.

But now Gray was off again on what seemed a personal crusade—personal except that Roosevelt never pulled him back. This time he wanted de Valera to close the Axis missions in Dublin, ostensibly to maintain secrecy about American troop movements into and in Northern Ireland. The British foreign office went along, persuaded that Roosevelt wanted to get a refusal on record. Again, the purpose seems to have been to undermine Irish-American support for Ireland against Britain and partition, an issue Gray and Roosevelt thought would cause serious problems in the postwar world.26

The expected refusal came, but so did leaks to the American press. Gray and presumably Roosevelt must have smirked to themselves that their scheme had worked when James Reston of The New York Times solemnly warned that de Valera should not expect the same support his “ancient battles with the British” had garnered in the past. But that furor died from lack of oxygen. In reality, the Irish were cooperating quite smoothly with Allied intelligence. Postwar politics, not on-scene security, generated the tension. British intelligence even worried that Anglo-Irish cooperation might be endangered.27

As one perceptive historian put it, it is “hard to avoid the impression that Gray engineered” a crisis by calling for what all parties knew was impossible for de Valera—an end to Irish neutrality by the expulsion of Axis missions. Gray (and the American government?) were intent on purposefully discrediting the de Valera government and deepening the disaffection of Irish-Americans from the Republic.28 Gray seemed obsessed with a desire to add Ireland to the “list” of allies against the Axis, regardless of what it could contribute.29

Pokes in the Eye

Two other issues would cloud Irish relations with the Anglo-Americans before war’s end. One was just plain silly and stupid. The other was just plain coercive —and more than a bit nasty.

When Adolf Hitler’s suicide became public, Eamon de Valera, as head of the Irish government, made a “courtesy” call (2 May 1945) at the German Mission in Dublin to express his “official” condolences. Whatever the duties and courtesies expected of a neutral, that seems a bridge too far, even though some other neutrals acted in similar fashion. Perhaps it was just plain stiff-necked stubbornness. He’d be damned if he would drop the appearance of genuine neutrality just because the English spalpeens were winning. Hardly anything new for Irish-English relations! But deep down, the visit was a poke in Churchill’s eye—and perhaps that of David Gray as well—reminiscent of Churchill when he unconsciously reversed his V-for-victory sign.

Churchill responded on 13 May by bitingly attacking Irish neutrality. Refusals to allow Royal Navy access to the Treaty Ports, he declaimed, came at “a deadly moment in our life”—true at the time, though untrue in the hindsight—”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”—neither necessary nor plausible, and certainly an inference about partition that was a poke back into de Valera’s eye.

“…however, with a restraint and poise to which, I say, history will find few parallels, His Majesty’s Government never laid a hand upon them—because it was not worth the trouble—and we left the de Valera government to frolic with the Germans and later with Japanese representatives to their heart’s content.”

Frolic? Amusing and satisfying to the British; insulting and inaccurate to the Irish. The magnanimity in victory that Churchill called for in his Second World War memoirs seemed a bit strained.30 Yet Churchill always had second and third thoughts that usually improved as he went along: A few years later he wrote of Ireland: “They are neither in nor out of the Empire. But they are much more friendly to us than they used to be….The bitter past is failing.” That was written in 1947—when de Valera still headed the Irish State.31

Whatever Churchill’s reactions, in the glare of publicity about German death camps, de Valera’s condolence visit was a foolish mistake; an embarrassing and disgraceful move by a leader who had more than a little knowledge of Nazi atrocities. But nationalism trumps all. Little wonder that, at Yalta, Roosevelt dismissed Ireland as a candidate for founding membership in the United Nations Organization.32

The coercive matter was equally distasteful but less emotional. At the end of 1944, the U.S. sponsored a Chicago conference on postwar civil aviation. The Americans wanted the right to pick up passengers in one foreign country and carry them forward to a third country. They also insisted on being allowed to increase the level of commercial air services to meet demand. rather than being restricted to a specific number of flights and capacity. The latter, termed aviation’s “fifth freedom,” was significant because the Pan-American Airways’ round-the-world route was commercially viable only if it could top-up with passengers along the way.

Put baldly, the U.S. had the equipment, and their airlines the experience, to be formidable competitors; the British did not. Ironically (or planned?), a wartime agreement on division of labor had the Americans producing specialized transport aircraft which could be the basis for new passenger planes. As Churchill forlornly put it: “I have never advocated competitive ‘bigness’ between our two countries….You have the greatest navy in the world. You will have, I hope, the greatest air force. You will have the greatest trade. You have all the gold.”

How it all ended is for another discussion. But when the British rejected the U.S. position and the conference ground to an inconclusive end, Roosevelt and the Americans played hardball, at a minor league level. They simply spun around and in February 1945 negotiated a bilateral civil aviation agreement with Ireland.

Given refueling requirements at that time, the British had thought that they had a stranglehold on the American gateway to Europe, but the agreement with Dublin bypassed them. Churchill expressed astonishment at the American agreement with the “Southern Irish.” Nevertheless, in 1945, western Ireland’s Shannon Airport became a transatlantic destination and connection for Americans traveling to Europe.33

Looking Back Today

From the perspective of 2009, Ireland’s neutrality in World War II seems to have had few consequences. Computers and the global economy brought a prosperity that tenant-farming and heavy industry could never provide. Out-migration became return-migration, as self-exiled Irish returned to their emotional home. Partition continues, but the violence of the IRA, the Ulster Defence Association and the Ulster Freedom Fighters has, at long last, been trumped by public disenchantment in both the north and the south, whatever the isolated (one hopes) incidents early in 2009.

There was never a chance of the Republic fighting with the Axis, unless the British tried to occupy it. IRA extremists who felt otherwise were imprisoned by the Irish government. But even World War II was not a war for ideals that automatically applied to small neutrals.

Developing long lists of “allies,” regardless of what they could contribute, became a goal of Anglo-American foreign policy, then and now—a way to demonstrate moral superiority in a kind of democratic “vote.” It was the “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” syndrome that would become so strong during the Cold War. Neutrality was wrong, if not evil.34

Ireland was a sideshow—an eddy in the huge tides of the Second World War. The realities of Irish neutrality were why the disputes never went beyond words, nasty or threatening though they were. Occupying or conquering Ireland to obtain three superfluous naval bases, closing down a German embassy in no position to provide important intelligence, or adding Ireland’s name to a laundry list, would achieve nothing of value. Forcing Ireland out of neutrality would have created a behind-the-lines sore that bled money and manpower. It would have confirmed de Valera’s accusations that the Anglo-Americans would ignore decent standards of conduct by violating a small nation that was no threat.

The Holocaust, which accurately branded Nazi Germany as barbaric, also branded the Second World War as the “good war”: the litmus test for civilized behavior. But reality quickly set in. De Valera’s job was to care for the people of Ireland. Like Franco and Salazar, de Valera is much praised for keeping his nation out of a war that would have brought little gain and, in the early stages, possible retaliation or invasion.35

Still, Ireland could have joined up after 1942, when all threat of German military action against it had disappeared. Why not? If de Valera had ever thought Germany might win, such thoughts were dispelled. There is no evidence that he wanted Germany to win, whatever his speculation that a German victory could end partition. Had Ireland joined the Allies in 1942 or 1943, the minor ostracization that happened after the war would have been avoided. But that was more important for Ireland than for the Anglo-Americans.

If other in-betweeners, like Sweden or Switzerland, could escape the war with their reputations and bank accounts intact, why not Ireland? Is it, perhaps, the burden of a common language and Ireland’s history as England’s first colony? Family always matters more— and hurts more—than strangers.

Ireland’s story in World War II is worth telling, because there are lessons in that story that are relevant to our world. Ireland’s uncomfortable position was a European version of an awkward struggle throughout the 20th and 21st centuries: National self-determination often runs counter to national interest and even common sense. The “republic” of Georgia and its 200-year colonial relationship with Russia mirrors, far from precisely, the centuries-long relationship of Ireland and England. How Ireland was treated by the great powers is different from the story of Russia and Georgia more for practical reasons than those of ethics and honor. In 2008, Russia could use military force against Georgia with impunity; Britain and America could not so act against Ireland without…Stop!36

Just raising questions about the parallels makes the point. Whatever arguments we might make—about Ireland in the Second World War or a contemporary confrontation—they will help us better to understand the dynamics of today’s relationships between the great

End Notes

1. I am grateful to Clair Wills’s That Neutral Island for inspiring my title, and to Terry Golway for saving me from divers cultural, historical, and linguistic blunders. For my purposes, Ireland or “Irish Republic” do not refer to Northern Ireland, “the six counties” or Ulster. This can be tricky in quotations from British sources since they sometimes used “Ireland” when they meant Northern Ireland. When I speak of “the north of Ireland” it may be my genetic Irish coming out.

2. The only mention of Ireland during WW2 in Geoffrey Best’s justly praised Churchill: A Study in Greatness, (London and New York: Hamabledon & London, 2001) is a quote from a Churchill minute (22Nov40) suggesting that the Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Eamon de Valera, be allowed to “stew in his own juice,” plus Best’s explanation that Churchill “much resented” Irish neutrality. Best’s Churchill and War (same publishers, 2005) contains a pithy statement that Irish neutrality “infuriated him,” and Best then points out that the Cabinet repeatedly warned that a neutral and not unfriendly Ireland “was better than a partially occupied Ireland seething with indignation.” Sir Martin Gilbert discusses the Treaty Ports in Finest Hour 1939-1941, volume VI of the official biography, Winston S. Churchill, but volume VII, Road to Victory 1942-1945, has no entries for Ireland, Eire or de Valera, though Northern Ireland is mentioned. Forged in War, my study of Roosevelt, Churchill and the Second World War, contains only the briefest allusion to Irish issues though there is a good bit more in the headnotes to my Churchill & Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence. American scholars Waldo Heinrichs, Robert Shogan, James Leutze, Thomas Bailey and Paul Ryan all focus on the naval war in the Atlantic but make no mention of Irish neutrality and its effect on that naval war. Certainly Churchill would have questioned that omission.

3. John Ramsden, Man of the Century: Churchill and His Legend since 1945 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).

4. Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour (London: Heinemann, 1983), 67, quoted by T. Ryle Dwyer, Strained Relations: Ireland at Peace and the USA at War, 1941-1945 (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1988).

5. Robert Fisk, In Time of War: Ireland, Ulster and the Price of Neutrality, 1939-45 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983), 249; idem.,”Éire,” in The Oxford Companion to the Second World War, C. B. Dear, ed. (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 324.

6. Fisk, In Time of War, 35.

7. Warren F. Kimball, ed., Churchill & Roosevelt, 3 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), C-43x (7Dec40), 102-09 (hereafter C&R). WSC’s message to de Valera was passed to FDR 8Dec41; C&R, I, 282. As indicated by the italics, the Irish “anthem” contained the phrase “Let Ireland, long a province, be a nation once again!”

8. Dwyer, Strained Relations, 7-8.

9. C&R, I: C-9x (15May40), R-4x (16May40), 37-38; C-15x (13Jun40), 45

10. C&R, I: C-20x draft A, not sent (5Jul40), 24-26. Fred Pollock, “Roosevelt, the Ogdensburg Agreement, and the British Fleet,” Diplomatic History, 5:3 (Summer 1981), 203-19. Among those who (wishfully?) believed that Germany could win in 1940 was Irish secretary for foreign affairs Joseph Walshe. He predicted a German victory because the British were “too soft” to defeat “men of steel like Hitler, Stalin and their followers.” As quoted by Aengus Nolan, “‘A Most Heavy and Grievous Burden’: Joseph Walshe and the Establishment of Sustainable Neutrality, 1940,” in Ireland in World War Two, Dermot Keogh and Mervyn O’Driscoll, eds. (Cork: Mercier Press, 2004), 127.

11. Dwyer, Strained Relations, 9. Raymond James Raymond, “David Gray, the Aiken Mission, and Irish Neutrality, 1940-41,” Diplomatic History 9:1 (Winter 1985), 63.

12. C&R, I: C-43x (7Dec40), 102-11; C-45x (13Dec40), 112-13.

13. Samuel Rosenman, ed., Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, 13 vols. Vol IX, 1940. (New York: Macmillan, 1941), 637.

14. Raymond, “The Aiken Mission,” 55-71; Dwyer, Strained Relations,12-14. T. Ryle Dwyer, Irish Neutrality and the USA, 1939-1947 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1977), 41. Ramsden, Man of the Century, 250. Terry Golway, “A New Shade of Gray: American-Irish Relations Reconsidered, 1940-41” (unpublished manuscript, 2005).

15. Fisk, In Time of War, 448-49). C&R, II: C-280 (11Apr43) mentions Winant’s role back in 1941.

16. U.S. Dept. of State, Foreign Relations of the United States [FRUS] (Washington: USGPO, 1862- ) Washington and Casablanca conferences, 1941-43, 75, 77. The 69th Regiment, which dated back to the Civil War, had long recruited heavily among the New York Irish.

17. Dwyer, Strained Relations, 139-40). Joseph T. Carroll, Ireland in the War Years (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1975), 116-17.

18. Fisk, In Time of War, 307-10; Fisk, “Éire,” 325.

19. Fisk, In Time of War, 250; Eunan O’Halpin, Spying on Ireland: British Intelligence and Irish Neutrality during the Second World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 163, 215, and passim; see also PANDORA in the index.

20. O’Halpin, Spying on Ireland, 247-58; quotations on 256. Despite the derring-do tales in Brian Garfield’s novel, The Paladin (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979), neither German submarine pens nor the book’s hero, Christopher Creighton, are found in Ireland by O’Halpin—or anyone else; see also Richard M. Langworth, review of The Paladin in Finest Hour 139: 24.

21. O’Halpin, Spying on Ireland, 199-200, 256.

22. C&R, II: C-280 (11Apr43), 186-87; R-273 (19Apr43), 192.

23. Dwyer, Strained Relations, 104-06.

24. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate (London: Cassell, 1950, 719.

25. FRUS, Quebec Conference, 1943, 618-24, 832; C&R, II: C-412/4 (15Aug43), 421.

26. FRUS, Cairo and Teheran, 1943, as quoted in Dwyer, Strained Relations, 116. This story is well summarized on 111, 99172, passim. Quotations without citations re from that discussion.

27. O’Halpin, Spying on Ireland, 247-56. Forrest Davis, “What Really Happened at Teheran,” Saturday Evening Post, 116 (13May44), 41.

28. Clair Wills, That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland during the Second World War (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 361, 386-88.

29. Until Gray left Dublin in mid-1947, he continued his crusade, with little effect. As the Cold War built, Americans wanted to add Ireland to their “list” of those opposed to the Soviets—hardly an issue with the anti-communist, Roman Catholic Irish. However, the USSR vetoed Irish membership in the UN until 1955. See Troy D. Davis, Dublin’s American Policy (Washington: Catholic University Press, 1998), 40-49. In the 1950s, Gray wrote an introduction to a Unionist booklet condemning Irish neutrality. See Sean Cronin’s biting critique, Washington’s Irish Policy, 1916-1986 (Dublin: Anvil Books, 1987), 161.

30. Oxford Companion, 298; Wills, That Neutral Island, 391-92 ff.; Dwyer, Strained Relations, 164-65; Robert Rhodes James, ed., Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches, 8 vols. (New York: Bowker, 1974), VII 7158 (emphasis added).

31. Winston S. Churchill, The Dream (Delray Beach, Florida: Levenger Press, 1977), 33. (First written in 1947.)

32. FRUS, Yalta, 784.

33. See Alan P. Dobson, “Roosevelt and the Struggle for a Post-War Civil Aviation Regime,” in David Woolner, Warren Kimball and David Reynolds, eds., FDR’s World: War, Peace, and Legacies (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 193-213. See also Dobson, Peaceful Air Warfare: The United States, Britain and the Politics of International Aviation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991). For “all the gold” see C&R, III: C-836 (28Nov44), 419-21; see also R-654, C-827, R-655/1 draft A, R-655/1, and R-661, 402-07, 424-25, all November 1944. Churchill’s and FDR’s comments on the bilateral agreement are in C&R, III: C-904, 543-44 and R-717, 566-68. When FDR threatened to terminate Lend-Lease, U.S. Ambassador Gilbert Winant was loath to deliver the message, but Churchill said, “even a declaration of war should not prevent them having a good lunch”; Colville diary quoted in Gilbert, Road to Victory, 1074.

34. See the 1942 Declaration of United Nations, listing forty-five such governments, FRUS, Conferences at Washington, 1941-42, and Casablanca, 1943, 376-77. For more on lists-as-policy, see Warren F. Kimball, “The Sheriffs: FDR’s Postwar World,” in FDR’s World, 91-121.

35. See Geoffrey Roberts, “Three Narratives of Neutrality: Historians and Ireland’s War,” in Brian Girvin and Geoffrey Roberts, eds., Ireland and the Second World War (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000), 165-79.

36. On how the Anglo-Americans treated other small neutrals, particularly Portugal, during WW2, see Warren F. Kimball, “The Singing of Small Birds: Franklin Roosevelt and the Postwar Settlements,” in Luís Nuno Rodrigues, ed., Franklin Roosevelt and the Azores during the Two World Wars (Lisbon: Luso-American Foundation, 2008), 365-78.

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