Did the Irish government support the Nazis during World War 2?

Ireland ('Free State') in World War 2

Eire (as it was then called) was neutral throughout World War 2.

The Irish Free State had only achieved independence from Britain 18 years before the outbreak of WWII, and only after a vicious guerrilla war between Irish rebel forces and the police and army of the Crown.

Many of Ireland's leading politicians at the time of the outbreak of WWII had been involved in the Irish War of Independence, including the then Taoiseach (prime minister) Eamon De Valera, who had once been under sentence of death by the British for his actions.

There was also the contentious issue of Britain's retention of the six Irish counties of Northern Ireland, to which the Irish Free State's constitution laid specific claim. Consequently, there were many people in Ireland, including those at the highest level, who viewed Britain as a traditional enemy and one with whom serious grievances remained.

Many extremists, including former colleagues of members of the then Irish government, believed in continuing the struggle against Britain and regarded the Free State authorities as traitors for having sold out their vision of an independent all-island republic.

These people, the IRA, continued a bombing campaign in Britain during the war and sought help from Britain's enemies. In one of the bombing raids the future author Brendan Behan was captured and imprisoned in a juvenile prison for his crimes, an experience he recounted in his book Borstal Boy.

However, although the Irish Free State was still a member of the British Commonwealth, it asserted its right to remain neutral in the wider conflict and clung tenaciously to that policy throughout the war. It would not let British or American forces use its territory for antisubmarine activity and protested when US soldiers were based in Northern Ireland.

Even when British prime minister Winston Churchill appeared to offer a re-united Ireland in return for the Free State entering the war, De Valera declined the invitation.

Many thousand men from the Free State served in the British forces during the war, but although there was no punishment for serving in a foreign army, active recruitment in Ireland was not allowed and soldiers on leave were not allowed to wear their British Army uniforms in public.

The Free State government clamped down hard on dissident activity at home during the war years, interning known IRA men without trial and executing several who were deemed to have committed crimes. They also dealt firmly with the perfunctory efforts of the German government to infiltrate agents into Ireland to support the IRA.

Opinion in modern Ireland on the matter is mixed. Some are ashamed that Ireland did not play an active role in defeating Nazism. However the issue of neutrality is for many others an important one and they feel that the country should not ally itself with any major power in its wars with others.