The Most Disturbing Speech in Irish Politics

I moved to Ireland in 1997 and have not regretted it one day. I love the place and the people. Does that mean it is a perfect place? Of course not. I would be lying if I said there is no antisemitism in Ireland, because there is. But compared to most other European countries, it is not worse, in fact, it is probably less here in Ireland then elsewhere in Europe.

However, there have been politicians, and there are still a few, who were blatantly antisemitic. None worse though than Oliver J Flanagan.

In May 1943, as war raged across Europe and Nazi atrocities were coming to public attention, he stood as a candidate in Laois-Offaly, promising to rid Ireland of the Jewish stranglehold. This is a part of his maiden speech in the Dail (the Irish Parliament).

“I should like to co-operate with the Government or with any Party that I believed was going to introduce legislation in the best interests of the Irish nation. I should like very much to be in a position to support any measure brought forward in this House with that object, but I am very sorry that I cannot associate myself with this Bill or with anything relating to the public safety measures introduced by the Cumann na nGaedheal government or by the present Fianna Fáil government because I have seen that most of these Emergency Acts were always directed against Republicanism. How is it that we do not see any of these acts directed against the Jews, who crucified Our Saviour nineteen-hundred years ago and who crucifying us every day in the week? How is it that we do not see them directed against the Masonic Order? How is it that the I.R.A. is considered an illegal organisation while the Masonic Order is not considered an illegal organisation? You do not hear one word in these acts against the banks who are robbing the people, right, left and centre. I told the electors in Leix-Offaly that the banks were robbers. The police were listening to me. Does the Minister for Justice think that, if the banks were not robbers, the police would have allowed me to make that statement in public without attempting to make me prove it? This government is introducing an Emergency Powers Bill now to prevent the suffering masses of the Irish people from ridding themselves or the poverty, emigration, debt, seizures and a thousand and one other national ills which I could continue to enumerate in this House until this day—week, but I do not propose to waste your precious time doing so.

All that I have to say is that my heart goes out to the men who are on hunger strike today. I made a request to the Minister the other night to release these prisoners. I am sorry I made such a request. I had a right to demand it on behalf of the people who sent me here as a republican. I am demanding it now. Seán Mac Cumhaill sent me a telegram last night asking me to deny a certain statement made by the Minister. Perhaps you, Sir, would tell me if it would be in order to read this telegram to the Minister since he did not think it worthwhile.

I want to ask that the Emergency Powers Order, which prevents the division of land from taking place, be immediately lifted. The Minister for Lands wrote me some time ago to say that there was not sufficient staff in the Land Commission to deal with the division of land. How is it that there are thousands of well-educated young men being forced to take the emigrant ship, not from Galway Bay or Cobh this time to take them to the greater Ireland beyond the Atlantic, but to take them from Dun Laoghaire and Rosslare to the land beyond the Irish Sea, the land of our traditional enemy, to help England in her war effort against Germany? There is one thing that Germany did, and that was to route the Jews out of their country. Until we route the Jews out of this country it does not matter a hair’s breadth what orders you make. Where the bees are, there is the honey, and where the Jews are, there is the money. I do not propose to detain the House further. I propose to vote against such Orders and actions, and I am doing so on Christian principles. The Minister for Justice could not give me a straight answer a few moments ago. I am sorry that I interrupted him in the heat of the discussion. Of course, one needs great patience to listen to what is going on. I know very well that even the clergy in the Minister’s constituency are up against him.

Father Keane, the parish priest of Athleague, is up against him, and when the clergy are up against him. surely it will be hard for any of us to support him. I thank the Chair for allowing me to make my statement.”

source
https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/1943-07-09/8/

Was the sinking of the SS Athenia the first Nazi atrocity in WW2?

World War 2 officially started on September 3,1939 .Th Nazis wasted very little time in committing their first mass murder during the war. It was only hours after the war was declared.

The S.S. Athenia, was commanded by Captain James Cook, left Glasgow for Montreal via Liverpool and Belfast. She carried 1,103 passengers, including about 500 Jewish refugees, 469 Canadians, 311 US citizens and 72 UK subjects, and 315 crew. Despite clear indications that war would break out any day, she departed Liverpool at 13:00 hrs on 2 September without recall, and on the evening of the 3rd was 60 nautical miles (110 km) south of Rockall and 200 nautical miles (370 km) northwest of Inishtrahull, Ireland, when she was sighted by the German submarine U-30 commanded by Oberleutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp around 16:30.

U-30 tracked Athenia for three hours until eventually, at 19:40, when both vessels were between Rockall and Tory Island, Lemp ordered two torpedoes to be fired. One exploded on Athenia’s port side in her engine room, and she began to settle by the stern.

Chamberlain’s famous “this country is at war with Germany” broadcast was delivered shortly after 11 in the morning. The torpedo from U-30 struck the Athenia at 7:38 that evening. She was slow to go down, disappearing beneath the waves, stern first, at 11 the next morning.

At 7:38, just as the evening meal was being served, a violent explosion destroyed the engine room, plunging the dining room into darkness, sending tables and chairs skidding across the deck, and causing the ship to list to port and begin settling by the stern. The German submarine U-30 had attacked Athenia. The sinking of the S.S. Athenia, was in violation of the Hague conventions. Germany’s responsibility for the sinking was suppressed by Admiral Karl Dönitz and the Nazi propaganda.

While waiting to go to dinner, young Donald Wilcox of Dartmouth, N.S., had made his way to the very peak of the ship’s bow and was watching the waves curl away from the prow when the ship rose up several feet and then fell back down sharply. “I was almost thrown off my feet,” he remembered years later.

All the lights went out and the ship stopped dead in the water and began settling by the stern. The engine room, the galley, parts of the dining rooms and many staterooms flooded. People were separated and groped in the dark to find their way to the open decks before emergency lights came on. Crew members guided people with matches and flashlights, while James A. Goodson, 18, of Toronto, whose holiday in Europe had been cut short, swam through a flooded section of the ship to rescue struggling passengers, guiding them to what remained of the stairs.

All 26 lifeboats were launched, although there were difficulties in getting many of the women and children into them. Fortunately, distress signals were received by ships reasonably close by. Shortly after midnight, Norwegian freighter MS Knute Nelson arrived on the scene, followed by Swedish steam yacht Southern Cross, owned by the Electrolux millionaire Axel Wenner-Gren. They began taking on survivors from the lifeboats, looking after the injured and offering food and hot drinks.

As the night wore on, three Royal Navy destroyers reached the scene, HMS Electra, HMS Escort and HMS Fame. They also picked up survivors and provided food and dry clothing. In the morning, the American freighter SS City of Flint arrived and took people from Southern Cross and the destroyers before heading back across the Atlantic bound for Halifax. the navy destroyers sailed back to Scotland, sending their passengers to Glasgow. At about 11 a.m. on Monday, Athenia heeled over and sank stern first. Knute Nelson took survivors to the Irish port of Galway.

A survivor’s picture of rescued officers of the Äthenia”watching her last plunge from the Norwegian ship “Knute Nelson”

The Knute Nelson radioed to the harbour master, Captain T. Tierney, that they were making for Galway with hundreds of refugees. Captain Tierney quickly informed all the local authorities to be prepared to deal with disaster relief. A committee was formed on Monday evening, including Galway mayor Joseph F. Costello and the Catholic bishop of Galway Dr Michael Browne. The committee alerted Galway County Council, the Board of Health, the Central Hospital, local hotels and the local bus company. The mayoress, Mrs Costello, also organised a committee of 38 local women to lead the volunteers, including the Girl Guides, who would be essential in looking after the specific needs of the refugees. The Irish cabinet met in Dublin late on Monday and made £500 available to the mayor to provide food, clothing and medical care to the survivors.

Survivors ,including a baby from the Athenia being helped to safety by a soldier.

Instructions were also sent to units of the Irish Army and An Garda Síochána(Police) to cooperate with local authorities in providing care and facilities, and the local schools were to be made available to house people. Seán T. O’Kelly, acting for the minister for education, made available the Preparatory College at Taylor’s Hill, Coláiste Éinde, to be used for refugees, as well as Galway Grammar School. The Irish Red Cross also started a subscription to raise money to assist the relief effort.
Shortly before midnight on Monday a pilot boat went out to Black Head to meet the Knute Nelson and steer the ship into Galway roads to anchor. Some time in the middle of the night a tender from Galway, Cathair Na Gaillimhe, under Captain William Goggin, anchored in the roadstead to wait for the freighter. The tender carried a local priest, Fr Conway, Dr S. Ó Beirne and Dr R. Sandys, and below decks were a number of nurses. Units of the 1st Infantry (Irish-Speaking) Battalion were on board to carry the stretcher cases off the ship, and members of An Garda Síochána were standing by. While it was still dark, a launch took out to the tender several more doctors.

Of the 1,418 aboard, 98 passengers and 19 crew members were killed. Many died in the engine room and aft stairwell, where the torpedo hit.The British crews were said to be famous for putting the passengers’ lives before their own, and were expertly trained to handle such “events”; nonetheless, about 50 people died when one of the lifeboats was crushed in the propeller of Knute Nelson. No. 5A lifeboat came alongside the empty tanker and tied up, against advice, astern of No 12 lifeboat.Only 15 feet (5 m) separated the life boat from the tanker’s exposed propeller. Once No. 12 lifeboat was emptied it was cast adrift and began to sink. This fact was reported to the bridge of Knute Nelson. For some reason the ship’s engine order telegraph was then set to full ahead. 5A lifeboat’s mooring line or “warp” parted under the stress, causing the lifeboat to be pulled back into the revolving propeller.

There was a second accident at about 05:00 hrs when No. 8 lifeboat capsized in a heavy sea below the stern of the yacht Southern Cross, killing ten people. Three passengers were crushed to death while trying to transfer from lifeboats to the Royal Navy destroyers. Other deaths were due to falling overboard from Athenia and her lifeboats, or to injuries and exposure. 54 dead were Canadian and 28 were US citizens, which led to German fears that the incident would bring the US into the war. Besides the 28 US citizens who were killed, there were also a great number injured. Like
Mrs. W.B. Sage, of Salt Lake City, Utah, shown here as she was carried from the S.S. Orizaba, which docked at New York, September 27 with 150 American survivors of the Athenia disaster, many of whom, like Mrs. Sage, were injured.

The fact that the first US casualties of war were those 28 civilians, only a few hours after the start of the war, makes me wonder why the Roosevelt Administration did not declare war to Nazi Germany.

A Canadian girl, 10-year-old Margaret Hayworth, was among the casualties, and was one of the first Canadians to be killed by enemy action. Newspapers widely publicised the story, proclaiming “Ten-Year-Old Victim of Torpedo” as “Canadians Rallying Point”, and set the tone for their coverage of the rest of the war. One thousand people met the train that brought her body back to Hamilton, Ontario, and there was a public funeral attended by the mayor of Hamilton, the city council, the Lieutenant-Governor, Albert Edward Matthews, Premier Mitchell Hepburn, and the entire Ontario cabinet.

Margaret Hayworth (left)and her sister

Lemp later claimed that the fact the S.S Athenia was steering a zigzag course which seemed to be well off the normal shipping routes made him believe she was either a troopship or an armed merchant cruiser; when he realized his error he took the first steps to conceal the facts by omitting to make an entry in the submarine’s log, and swearing his crew to secrecy. Adolf Hitler decided the incident should be kept secret for political reasons, and the German newspaper Völkischer Beobachter published an article which blamed the loss of the Athenia on the British, accusing Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, of sinking the ship to turn neutral opinion against Nazi Germany. No one in Britain believed the explanation given by Nazi Germany.

As for my question in the title of the blog “Was the sinking of the SS Athenia the first Nazi atrocity in WW2?” I believe it was because they attacked and murdered men, women and children. Some of them had tried to escape the Nazi tyranny.

sources

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-41503664

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/athenia-anniversary-reunion-1.5302935

https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205085895

Rolf Wenkhaus; Child actor and Luftwaffe crew member

I was reminiscing on TV shows I watched as a kid in the Netherlands. One of my favourite shows was a series called “Q&Q”. It was about 2 teenage detectives. The boys named Aristides Quarles and Wilbur Quant accidentally snap a photo of a dead body in the woods. After finding the place where the body was, they find it to be gone. Nobody believes them except Grandpa. They decide to investigate themselves. I will spare you the theme song because once you hear it, it will be in your head for days.

Then I also remembered a German movie I watched about some German teenage detectives, nowadays with Google and IMDB, it was relatively easy to find the title. The movie is called “Emil and the Detectives” .Turns out it is the birthday of the young main actor today. Rolf Wenkhaus was born on September 9,1917. The movie I was referring to earlier was made in 1931.

Rolf only made tow more movies, the last one was a Nazi propaganda movie titled “S.A.-Mann Brand”

Ironically the screenplay for Rolf Wenkhaus’s 1st movie, “Emil and the Detectives” was written by Billy Wilder, a Jewish Austrian screenwriter who lived in Berlin. After the rise of the Nazi Party, he moved to Paris, due to rampant antisemitism and discrimination against the Jewish people. He moved to Hollywood in 1933. That movie was also based on a novel by Erich Kästner, a pacifist and an opponent of the Nazi regime. The Gestapo interrogated Kästner several times, the national writers’ guild expelled him, and the Nazis burned his books as “contrary to the German spirit” during the book burnings of 10 May 1933, instigated by Joseph Goebbels.

After the outbreak of World War II, Rolf Wenkhaus enlisted in the military. At the time of his death, aged 24, he was in the aircrew of a Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, a four-engine bomber that specialized in attacks on shipping. Wenkhaus’s plane, with identification code F8 MH 0093, was shot down on 31 January 1942, off the coast of Bloody Foreland in County Donegal, Ireland by HMS Genista, a British Flower-class corvette being utilized as a convoy escort vessel.

The entire aircrew of six was killed. The body of the pilot, Werner Bornefeld, washed up at Bunbeg two weeks later, and was eventually reburied at a German War Cemetery at Glencree, Ireland.

Because Rolf Wenkhaus’s corpse has never been found they officially pronounced his dead only in 1948.

sources

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0921020/?ref_=tt_ov_st

https://prabook.com/web/rolf.wenkhaus/1928015

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erich_K%C3%A4stner#Berlin_1933%E2%80%931945

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The Suicide of Elsa Reininger- A forgotten Holocaust victim.

A few weeks ago I discovered a Jewish Cemetery in Limerick. It was across from a landmark pub in the city called ‘the Hurlers’. There was small laneway across from the Hurlers leading to the small Cemetery.

One of the graves was of Simon Gewurz. He was originally from Bratislava in Slovakia. But he moved to Limerick where he died in 1944. I recently found out that he was the last Rabbi in Limerick.

In 1938 he had to conduct the funeral service of Elsa Reininger.

Elsa’s story was a tragic one. She had fled Austria after Hitler annexed the country. Reininger was her maiden name, she was married to Berisch Hofler. a Polish Jew. The couple had one daughter, Margarete.

Austria was annexed into the Third Reich on March 13, 1938, the day after German troops entered Austrian territory, the so called Anschluss. The Nazis were greeted by cheering Austrians with Nazi salutes and Nazi flags. A law was published, declaring Austria “one of the lands of the German Empire” under the name “Ostmark”. On April 10, an Anschluss referendum was held in Austria. According to official Reich data, with 99.08% of the population voting, the Anschluss was approved by 99.75%.

Almost immediately attacks were carried out on the Austrian Jewish community in an attempt to get them to leave the country. They were beaten up and forced to sell their businesses, scrub footpaths and clean public toilets on their hands and knees.

Shortly after the ‘Anschluss’ the Hoflers left Austria. It is not clear how the the Hoflers left Austria, but both Elsa and her Husband ended up in Limerick city, Ireland. Their Daughter, Margarete, had married a widower, Gaskel Kaitcer, in the UK. Gaskel had family in Limerick, the Tobin family, so the couple decided to move to Limerick. Margarete soon got a job working as a violinist in one of Limerick’s cinemas.

In September 1938 Berisch visited his daughter, and stayed as a lodger with Gaskel’s cousin, Annie Tobin and her Husband at 18 Newenham Street. Elsa followed in October 1938. Elsa had arrived in Limerick from England, where her passport was stamped for a 48 hours stay, basically a short term visa.

The experiences of what she witnessed in Austria had really disturbed Elsa. Her nerves were shattered from what she had seen and experienced in Vienna and the possibility that she might have to return there. She spoke continuously to the Tobins about Hitler. She suffered from depression. On October 27, 1938 she booked a room at the Crescent Hotel, she took a
gun from her handbag and as she lay on the bed, she put it to her head and pulled the trigger, killing herself, aged 57. No one heard the shot. Around 8 o’ clock Berish Hofler went to his daughters house and was distressed he didn’t find his wife. At 23.30 Margarete went to the Garda(Police) station and reported her mother missing. The body was found shortly after midnight. The Gardai(Irish Police) notified the family. In the early hours of Friday morning the 28th, the Fire Brigade ambulance arrived and removed the body to the morgue at Barrington’s Hospital on Georges Quay. As it was the eve of the Jewish Sabbath the family were anxious have the remains buried. Mr Nathaniel Fine made arrangements for the burial with Griffins funeral home on Lr. Gerald Griffin Street. As the body was about to be
removed the Gardai intervened and had the deceased returned to the morgue, but after a post-mortem examination had been made on Saturday, permission for the burial was
given again . On Sunday morning 30 October, a Griffins’ motor hearse went to Barrington’s Hospital, collected the coffin and drove to the Jewish Cemetery in Kilmurry where, in the presence of Berisch Hofler, Margarete Kaitcer and her husband Gaskel and the last serving Jewish Rabbi of Limerick, Simon Gewurz, the remains of Elsa Reininger were laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

Elsa was just one of the thousands that were so overwhelmed by the evil they had witnessed, that they felt they could not continue to live. These are often the forgotten Holocaust victims because they are not registered as such.

sources

file:///C:/Users/Dirk/Downloads/Elsa_Reininger_A_Forgotten_Victim_of_Ado.pdf

https://www.geni.com/people/Simon-Gewurtz/6000000003823159033

Click to access ct046.pdf

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The Bombing of Campile,Co.Wexford-Ireland.

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Ireland remained officially neutral during World War II. However, on 26 August 1940, the German Luftwaffe bombed Campile in broad daylight.

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On August 26 1940 the tiny village of Campile in Co Wexford was bombed by the German Luftwaffe, killing three local women and giving Ireland — until then largely insulated from the terror of World War Two — its first experience of the conflict.

 

Sisters Mary Ellen (30) and Kitty Kent (26) and restaurant worker Kathleen Hurley (27) all perished after the Heinkel bomber dropped four bombs over the Shelburne Co-op and Creamery, demolishing it in a matter of seconds.

Mary Ellen and Kitty were the daughters of Michael and Ellen Kent from Terrerath. Mary Ellen worked as the manageress in the restaurant, while Kitty worked in the drapery. In a cruel twist of fate Kitty had been delayed in going to her dinner that fateful day and would otherwise not have been in the restaurant when the bombs were dropped. Kathleen Hurley, the daughter of William and Catherine Hurley, also worked in the restaurant and had just returned that morning after two weeks’ of summer holidays.

 

 

 

Four German bombs were dropped on the creamery and restaurant sections of Shelburne Co-op on that day. The railway was also targeted by the bombers. The attack has never been fully explained, although there are numerous theories as to why the bombing occurred.

 

One was that the German pilots were lost and had mistaken the south-east coast of Wexford for Wales.

It was also suggested that butter boxes emblazoned with the Shelburne Co-op name were discovered by the Nazis a few months earlier following the evacuation of Dunkirk and that the bombing was in retaliation for supplying foodstuffs to the Allied armies.

However, Campile historian John Flynn, who has written a new book to mark the 70th anniversary of the disaster, argues that the bombing was a message from Hitler to Taoiseach Eamon de Valera warning him to keep his promise on Ireland’s neutrality.

Eamon-de-Valera

 

After consulting military reports, Mr Flynn said it was clear that Campile was a “definite target” that fateful day.

One theory that has always been battered about is that the co-op was supplying butter to the Allies armies when we were supposed to be neutral.

it was also alleged that the Co-op sold boots to the British Army and these were found by the Germans. Another theory is the RAF were able to put the German bombers, which were targeted by a radar beam, off course and that they were totally reliant on crew judgement in the case of the bombing of Campile.

The 20-minute ordeal terrorised the peaceful village and left behind a trail of devastation, with huge gates ripped off their hinges, slates torn off roofs, railway siding was twisted and sleepers were pulled up.

railway_track2

 

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the bombing, a plaque was erected on the co-op walls in memory of the three women that died during the attack.

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One thing that always puzzled me is why did de Valera  formally offer his condolences to the German Minister in Dublin on the death of Adolf Hitler in 1945 ?

Under Hitler’s leadership several dozens of Irish citizens were killed, for Campile wasn’t the only town that was bombed. I know under the guise of the neutrality diplomatic protocol, he may have felt compelled to do so.

But neutrality means  2 things “the state of not supporting or helping either side in a conflict, disagreement, etc.; impartiality.” and “absence of decided views, expression, or strong feeling.”

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Irish government’s condolences to Germany after Hitler’s death

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Ireland’s president,Douglas Hyde, during World War II offered condolences to Nazi Germany’s representative in Dublin over the death of Adolf Hitler,  declassified government records show.

It was long believed that Ireland’s prime minister(Taoiseach) at the time, Eamon de Valera, was the only government leader to convey official condolences to Eduard Hempel, director of the German diplomatic corps in Ireland.

State-within-a-state-the-Nazis-in-neutral-Ireland-5

(Dr Eduard Hempel, Dr Vogelsang and Dr Adolf Mahr at the German legation’s garden party in Dublin, 1938.)

De Valera’s gesture ,unique among leaders of neutral nations in the final weeks of World War II ,was criticized worldwide.

On May 2, 1945, just two days after Hitler and his consort Eva Braun committed suicide in their Berlin bunker, De Valera, who also served as foreign minister, and his aide, Secretary of External Affairs Joseph Walshe, visited the German Embassy in Dublin to sign a book of condolences for the departed Fuhrer.

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They also met with the top German envoy to Ireland, Eduard Hempel. Irish envoys in other nations did likewise, including Leopold Kerney in Spain, who called on the German Embassy in Madrid to express his condolences.

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Not everyone in De Valera’s government agreed with his decision to mourn Hitler. Frederick Boland, the assistant secretary of the Department of External Affairs, reportedly begged him not to go to the embassy.

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Indeed, no other Western European democracies followed De Valera’s example – he found himself in the dubious company of two European fascist dictators, Francisco Franco of Spain and António de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, in voicing condolences over Hitler.

 

De Valera, who had apparently never expressed any admiration or support for Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the war, also found himself in the embarrassing and uncomfortable spot of receiving praise and gratitude from the British Union of Fascists for “honoring the memory of the greatest German in history.”

De Valera argued that to refuse condolences “would have been an act of unpardonable discourtesy to the German nation and to Dr Hempel”.

It was a pedantic and foolish diplomatic gesture, and it was not appreciated by my grandmother Christabel Bielenberg, according to Kim Bielenberg -her Grandmother was a German living in Ireland at the time,when she learned of it later on.

Many in Germany were hardly stricken with grief at the demise of Hitler in the Spring of 1945, and even if they had been sympathetic, they were so busy trying to guarantee their own survival – finding food and keeping a roof over their heads – that they had little time to mourn him.

The global media also piled on. An editorial in The New York Times said of De Valera’s visit: “Considering the character and the record of the man for whose death he was expressing grief, there is obviously something wrong with the protocol, the neutrality of Mr. de Valera.”

The New York Herald Tribune also blasted De Valera. “If this is neutrality, it is neutrality gone mad – neutrality carried into a diplomatic jungle – where good and evil alike vanish in the red-tape thickets: where conscience flounders helplessly in slogans of protocol,” the paper declared.

Some Irish-Americans also condemned de Valera.

One Angela D. Walsh of New York wrote to a local newspaper: “Have you seen the motion pictures of the victims of German concentration camps, de Valera? Have you seen the crematoriums? Have you seen the bodies of little children murdered by Nazi hands? Have you seen the living dead, de Valera? Skin stretched over bone, and too weak to walk?”

In response to vitriolic international criticism over his gesture (most notably from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Harry Truman), De Valera insisted it was a question of diplomatic protocol and that failing to send his respects would amount to “an act of unpardonable discourtesy.”

President_Harry_S._Truman_and_Prime_Minister_Winston_Churchill_on_the_steps_of_the_-Little_White_House,-_the..._-_NARA_-_198764

In a letter to Robert Brennan, the Irish ambassador in Washington, De Valera wrote: “During the whole of the war, Dr. Hempel’s conduct was irreproachable. He was always friendly and invariably correct — in marked contrast with [U.S. envoy David] Gray. I certainly was not going to add to [Hempel’s] humiliation in the hour of defeat.”

De Valera also specified that his actions in no way condoned the policies of Hitler’s regime.

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Cavan Orphanage fire

mi-cavan_orphanage_grave

In the early hours of 24 February  in 1943 fire broke out in the basement laundry of St. Joseph’s Orphanage & Industrial School run by the enclosed order of Poor Clare nuns in Main St., Cavan town. The fire very quickly turned into an inferno. The alarm was raised by horrified townspeople who tried to help. At first they could not gain access to the convent and when they were admitted it was almost too late too reach the terrified, screaming children, trapped in the top floor dormitories. A hugely inadequate fire service meant that within forty minutes the flames had taken hold, the roof had caved in and the building was left just a shell. Thirty five children and an elderly lay woman burned to death. The following day the remains of the thirty six bodies were recovered from the smoldering ruin. They were put in just eight coffins and buried subsequently in a mass grave.

ft5s-st-josephs-orphanage-and-industrial-school

The subsequent investigation attributed it to a faulty flue. The sight of smoke coming out of the building alerted people on Main Street. They went to the front entrance and tried to gain entry. Eventually they were let in by one of the girls but not knowing the layout of the convent, they were unable to find the girls.

By this time all of the girls had been moved into one Dormitory. At this stage it would have been possible to evacuate all of the children but instead the nuns persuaded the local people to attempt to put out the fire. Two men (John Kennedy and John McNally) went down to the laundry to try to put the fire out. The flames were now too intense for this to be possible and McNally only survived by being carried out by Kennedy.

By this point it was no longer possible for the girls to get out through the main entrance or the fire escape. The local fire brigade had then arrived but their equipment was not sufficient for this fire. Wooden ladders were not long enough to reach the dormitory windows. In the absence of any other solution girls were encouraged to jump. Three did so, though with injuries, however most were too frightened to attempt it. By the time a local electricity worker, Mattie Hand, arrived with a long ladder, and a local man, Louis Blessing, brought five girls down. One child left by way of the interior staircase while it was still accessible. One child made it down the exterior fire escape. One child escaped by way of a small ladder held on the roof of the shed. the fire completely engulfed the dormitory and the remaining girls died.

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Incredibly, when alerted to the gathering smoke by a orphan girl, a senior nun made the decision not to evacuate the children, instead she directed them to the top floor dormitory and closed the doors.

Being an enclosed order, the nuns were reportedly reluctant to leave the building themselves, which they considered would be a violation of their vows.

Over concerns about the causes of the fire and the standard of care, a Public Inquiry was set up. The report’s findings stated that the loss of life occurred due to faulty directions being given, lack of fire-fighting training, and an inadequate rescue and fire-fighting service. It also noted inadequate training of staff in fire safety and evacuation, both at the orphanage and local fire service.

This finding has been disputed by many, including in a piece of verse (to be precise, a Limerick) written by the secretary to the Inquiry Brian O’Nolan, better known as the author Flann O’Brien, and one of the counsel representing the Electricity Supply Board, Tom O’Higgins, later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and presidential candidate.

 

“In Cavan there was a great fire,Judge McCarthy was sent to inquire,
It would be a shame, if the nuns were to blame,
So it had to be caused by a wire.”

It was alleged that the nuns prevented firefighters entering the building in case they saw the girls inside in a state of undress.

Due to the nature of the fire, the remains of the dead girls were placed in 8 coffins and buried in Cullies cemetery in Cavan. A new memorial plaque was erected in 2010 just inside the convent gates at Main Street, Cavan. The plaque was anonymously donated to the Friends of the Cavan Orphanage Victims group.

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