Friday, August 21, 2009

Review of Bombs Over Dublin by Sean McMahon, Currach Press (2009)

The Irish government, under the leadership of Eamon de Valera, declared its neutrality on September 2nd 1939, the day before Britain and France declared war on Germany. In a hectic day of Dail business, de Valera pushed through The Emergency Powers Act, a piece of legislation that effectively gave the government license to run the country as it saw fit for the duration of European hostilities and which led the Second World War being termed The Emergency in Ireland.

Over the past couple of years I have been collecting books on The Emergency including those relating to life, politics and espionage in Ireland, and also direct Irish involvement in the war, for example Irish people working in Britain or serving in the British forces or likewise living in and serving Germany. I therefore snapped up Sean McMahon’s short book (127 pages) on a recent visit to The Reading Room in Carrick on Shannon.

Bombs Over Dublin sets out in general terms the basis of Irish neutrality and the extent to which Ireland was affected by what was happening elsewhere in Europe, in particular documenting its preparations for war (including how to respond to possible invasion from the South by the Germans as a prelude to invading Britain, and from the North by Britain seeking to protect its western flank), the handful of times bombs were dropped on what was then named the Free State or Eire (especially those in Dublin), and the instances where the Irish fire brigade headed north to help in tackling the much more severe bombings of Belfast.

The book is generally well written and structured providing a sound, basic account of Ireland’s approach to the war and what preparations were made, before setting out the various instances of bombs being dropped onto Irish soil. I particularly enjoyed this quote from the Irish Times editor, R.M. Smyllie, about censors:

'troglyditic myrmidons, moronic clodhoppers, ignorant bosthoons, poor cawbogues whose only claim to literacy was their blue pencils.'

Whilst short, the book is informative, but lacks the depth and breath of other texts on the period. My impression is that the book is probably best thought of as a kind of primer, providing a readable introduction to the material that is treated in more detail in other texts. Indeed, while the book claims to be the first to focus exclusively on the bombings, they are discussed in brief elsewhere, and McMahon’s coverage of the events is fairly rudimentary. My sense is that the primary sources of information were other texts and some newspaper research, rather than extensive archival research of Irish, British and German government and military sources concerning the bombings, or in-depth interviews with surviving eye-witnesses. As a result, the book lacks the depth of material and analysis that would satisfy scholars of The Emergency, although it does provide a nice, basic introduction for a generalist audience. Given that this is what I think the book aims to do, it adequately fulfils its brief.

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