Monday, January 17, 2011

Irish & Swedish neutrality during the Second World War

Ryle Dwyer
To University College Cork and a debate at the historical society about Irish neutrality during the Second World War.

Irish neutrality in the war was extremely favourable to Britain. Ryle Dwyer argued that Ireland made a positive and partisan contribution to the allied war effort, and this made it a phoney neutrality.

Geoff Roberts claimed Ireland could, and should, have done more, and Irish neutrality was favourable to Britain only for the same reason that Swedish neutrality was favourable to Germany. Namely a powerful neighbour. Indeed Swedish neutrality was considerably more favourable to Germany, which proves the point, he says. Irish neutrality wasn’t phoney or pragmatic, it was ideological and principled. Which raises the moral question that there was a right and wrong side in the war and Ireland failed to ally itself with the right side.

Swedish neutrality. Hmm. There's a big debate in Sweden about this (and rightly so says Geoff Roberts, and there ought to be more of a debate here in Ireland.) My cousin Tolle showed me warehouses near Luleå where the Germans kept supplies for their Norwegian garrison during the war. And once I was out walking in Stockholm with my aunt Inger, and she pointed up to a building and said “From that building we were ruled during the Second World War.” The building in question was the former German embassy.

When I'm in Stockholm this summer I must get a photo of that building and add it here.

... and here it is (July 2011, and yes that's me standing in front) ...


  1. Pete - what was the supposed ideology and principles, was it just an aversion to allying itself to Britain, or was if for pacifist reasons (I'm assuming Ireland didn't hold any sympathies with the Nazi cause other than Germany was its enemy's enemy)? With the hindsight gained after the war was over and the true horror of the Nazi regime discovered, do you think Ireland would have still remained neutral?

  2. Noggin, The first thing to say is that besides Britain and France, there is not a single example of a European country that voluntarily entered the war. In the light of that, it’s a big ask that Ireland should be the sole exception.

    For de Valera the two big motives were an expression of sovereignty, and to keep the country united politically.

    Recall that in 1939 Ireland had been independent only 17 years – it was as recent as 1994 is to us today. Ireland had been dragged into the First World War by Britain, and by 1939 that was recognised as bloody and futile, if not worse. To stay neutral in a war that involved Britain, was thus the highest expression that Ireland was a sovereign nation.

    There were those, especially the IRA, who would have wanted to Ireland to side with Germany if it entered the war at all, that’s why, had Ireland actually taken sides, it would have been hugely divisive, even if the idea of siding with Germany was very much a minority one.

    As to your question, with the hindsight gained after the war was over and the true horror of the Nazi regime discovered, do you think Ireland would have still remained neutral? that is a question that’s asked whenever this debate arises.

  3. Your comment of 20th January is as fascinating as your original blog entry. The historical context for Ireland in 1939 is something I hadn't considered at all when reading your blog.