THEY were labelled traitors and barred from state employment, but yesterday the Irish government formally apologised for its treatment of thousands of men who deserted the Irish army to fight in the Second World War.Only about 100 of those subject to so-called 'starvation orders' are still alive. When these men returned home, having risked their lives in the defence of freedom, they were denied all government employment and put on blacklists that made any jobs hard to come by. Find out more here. There's a link to a BBC radio documentary on the subject in the series Face the Facts. There is an extant Nazi plan to invade Ireland, which was drawn up in 1940 but rendered abandoned after Germany lost the Battle of Britain. More irony.
An estimated 60,000 men from Ireland served in the British Army, Royal Navy or RAF between 1939 and 1945. Of those, nearly 5,000 deserted the Irish armed forces to join the fight against Nazi Germany.
Sheer spite seems to have been main motivating factor in Irish policy towards the UK after the Free State was established. It's ironic, to say the least, that a nation that had fought long and hard for its freedom should have stood by while Nazi Germany snuffed out independent states across Europe. As the Scotsman item cited above notes: 'The Republic barred the allies’ Atlantic convoys from sheltering in Irish ports, refused to accept Jewish refugees from continental Europe and maintained cordial diplomatic relations with both Germany and Japan.'
The story doesn't mention that the president of the Free State, the American-born Eamon de Valera, also signed a book of condolence at the German embassy in Dublin when news of Hitler's death emerged. He was a rather despicable man, then, but a man of his time and his environment. Hatred of the British trumped all other concerns, even the obvious ones that, if Britain had fallen to Hitler, Ireland's precious independence wouldn't have been worth a bucket of warm snot. Such is the effect of unreasoning hatred when it is transformed into (im)practical politics.