The Donegal Corridor and Irish Neutrality during WW2


I grew up during those years of World War 11 in the 1940’s and as a teenager I watched the Allied aircraft fly in the sky’s overhead on their way to and from patrols in the Atlantic Ocean. The amount of knowledge that I have acquired from a variety of sources including the memories of an older generation form the basis of this talk today.


            It is said “To learn from past experiences is true wisdom. It is even wiser to learn from other people’s wisdom. People’s places and objects bring us this wisdom. If we can use this gift of other people’s wisdom, we can learn the lessons of life in a joyful way”.


            The message I wish to convey to you at this point is that a very large number of people have shared with me their knowledge, their written records, which they acquired after extensive research and other facts, so enabling me to deliver this presentation. As a result at the many venues where I have spoken on the subject I have acquired new information, learned some lovely stories and made numerous new friends.

The years of World War 11 were a very important period in the history of Ireland and of the United States of America. While the Free State of Ireland then officially remained neutral, in numerous ways they were directly involved and played a major part in assisting the Allied countries at that time.


 The policy of neutrality did not prevent vast numbers of Irish men and women from serving in the armed forces not only of England but in the forces of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Irish Free State was often ridiculed for having adopted this policy and even accused of giving assistance to Germany. I quote here an extract from a national newspaper of October 20th 2001.

 “A wartime investigation by the British MI-5 into the Irish Government’s involvement with Nazi spies concluded there was no evidence of a military pact with Hitler. The files held in the Public Records Office, revealed how concerned the British were that the Nazi’s could invade through the Free State during the Second World War. However an MI-5 report concluded: – there is no evidence of any Irish Government implications with German activities. On the contrary, the Irish authorities appear to have been able to check any Nazi plots with extremist groups”.

 Perhaps the most important political factor was the policy of neutrality qualified by Mr. deValera’s guarantee that his government would not allow the Free State to be used as a base for operations against England. This guarantee was the only safeguard against a potentially dangerous consequence of the neutrality policy. At the time the guarantee was given it appeared to relate only to military operations, but in practice it was given a much wider interpretation; which was to the advantage of the Allied forces.

Nazi philosophy was full of race snobbery, they considered the Irish as a rustic and unpretentious people, in the Nazi hierarchy of races the Irish would not have ranked very high. In fact race wise Germany had much more in common with the English people. The Nazis considered the members of illegal organizations in Ireland to be better at talking than at doing and therefore not much use in helping their agents.

During the war there was a great danger that electric generating stations in Northern Ireland would be have been destroyed in German air raids. Secret plans were made to have electricity supplied from the Free State if this should happen. It was during this period that plans were laid to build the generating stations on the River Erne in the Free State side of the border. This scheme had a dual purpose, not only would it produce electricity but the drainage that was necessary to provide the necessary water flow would free hundreds of acres of land in Upper Lough Erne for Agricultural purposes.

  It is very important that this period of Irish history should be recorded and studied with the same vigour, as have other events of our past. I would quote the first and last verses of a poem “The Reason Why” by Adbullah Mc Ulla. <Local history and our folklore are being neglected, and the old folk they are passing quickly on. Get out! And do what is expected. Jot it down before the rest of them are gone. When you reach the stage that brings you to the present, don’t stop!  Keep on recording as you go, for the young folk a hundred years from now will lose out, If you don’t record THEIR days of long ago. >




            Those of us in Ireland old enough to recall the years of the early forties will remember the many changes that took place in society in County Fermanagh. In several parts of the county after America had entered the war in Europe, U.S. troops arrived in great numbers to train for the invasion of Europe. It is worth noting that the United States did not willingly enter the conflict there, after the bombing of Pearl Harbour Germany declared war on the U.S. thereby forcing that country into the European conflict. The arrival of the Yanks as they were popularly known brought a previously un-experienced surplus of money and employment into the county of Fermanagh. This was a welcome change from the employment offered by affluent landowners who paid meager wages and poor living condition for the hired help they had recruited in the notorious hiring fairs.


            In rural Fermanagh we have some very rugged, hilly and swampy terrain, these areas were then sparsely populated, had no roads, electricity, water or telephones. It was here that large numbers of G.I.s trained for the invasion of Europe. Very recently I spoke with a man who lived in the area, he had so many fond memories of the American troops. As a young lad he soon established a thriving business with the men, he bought fresh eggs from the farmhouse wives and sold them on at a handsome profit. Good whiskey was rather scarce and the young men founded a supply line for this and other goods. He also told me how during the training the G.I.s allowed him to handle the machine guns and fire some rounds at target practice. You can imagine what a thrill this was for a young boy. Even after over sixty years the people of the district have many fond memories of the Yanks.


            In Belleek the greatest change came when the building of the air bases at Castle Archdale, Killadeas and St. Angelo commenced in 1941. Labour from the surrounding rural districts had to be transported by lorry to the aerodromes as they were called. The first lorries were British army lorries driven by soldiers. At that time my mother kept lodgers and the lorry drivers lodged in our house.

 When the first Americans arrived in 1943 to establish a radio station at Magheramena; they were accommodated in Cleary’s Hotel. It was to be many years later that I discovered how this situation came about. This was after the Dunkirk disaster and during the air Battle of Britain, the larger property owners who one would have expected to be very sympathic and loyal to the Allied cause were convinced that Germany would win the war and they feared that if they billeted military personnel they would have been treated as collaborators. These are the little known facts of those years.


            My first memory of the Americans arriving in the Belleek area was of a number of G.I.s coming into our primary school sometime during 1943. They were in charge of a Lieutenant Smith who supervised the distribution of candy, Ginger Snap cookies and Wrigley’s chewing gum. This ensured that any ideas we young folk might have had regarding neutrality were forgotten, we were firmly on the American side. Master Egan, a native of County Mayo was very strict in many ways, but hindsight would suggest that he had out of our view received a bottle of U.S. bourbon. This group of G.I.s was the advance party for the setting up of the radio station at Magheramena. In January 1943 an American Flying Fortress crash landed at Athenry, Co. Galway, On board were a number of very high-ranking U. S. generals who were sent to Europe by President Roosevelt to study the situation there. Nobody was injured in the landing; the officers and crew were treated royally by the authorities in Athenry and then driven to Belleek where they were taken in hand by Head Constable John Briggs who arranged their transport to the American air base at Langford Lodge on the shores of Lough Neagh. As a result of this incident it was decided to build the Magheramena radio station to guide the U. S. aircraft to Fermanagh.



            When presenting this talk many of my listeners who had fixed but erroneous opinions about the neutrality question of the Irish Free State are rather amazed to be acquainted of the real facts, which have come mainly from official records. The case for the Irish Free State has been badly presented and deliberately kept hidden over the years. Claims have been made that Ireland was the only English speaking nation not to join in the conflict for the freedom of small nations and that she only adopted a policy of pro-allied neutrality after America became officially involved in Europe at the end of 1941. Ireland had been accused of sitting on the fence until it became obvious how the conflict was going. Nothing could be further from the truth.


            Much too-do has been made and it is still argued that Ireland was guilty of a serious breach of trust in failing to hand back the shipping ports along the West Atlantic coast to England. In actual fact England did not have the spare manpower to staff these ports nor had they the heavy guns required to defend them. Had the ports been handed back to the British it is almost sure that Germany would have invaded Ireland. The history of the war has shown that the mighty battle ships of yester year had fast become obsolete. They were practically defenseless against modern methods of attack by aircraft and submarines. The sinking of the Hood, Prince of Wales and the Repulse on the British side coupled with the loss of the famous Bismarck and Prinz Eugene by the Germans to give but a few examples back up this argument.

Should the deValera led government have given in to pressure from Churchill and his allies there is no doubt but that Hitler would have considered this as a sign that Ireland had abandoned neutrality. He had a plan prepared for the invasion of Ireland code named the Operation Green Plan. Had he invaded the country, the German army would have gone through it like the proverbial dose of salts, just as they had run through Belgium and Holland. The west coast of England would then have been open to invasion; as long as the Free State remained neutral it protected England from an invasion from this source. Details have come to hand recently about another Nazi plan to invade Northern Ireland, this was coded Operation Kathleen Kathleen, details were in the hands of the British M I 5 secret service.


            When the decision was made to use Lough Erne as a base for flying boats to patrol the Atlantic the planes had first to fly north, then go around the coast of Donegal so as to avoid any infringement of the neutral Free State territory, before going on their way out into the Atlantic to provide protection to shipping convoys against the German U-Boats. Planes from Canada and the U.S. after it entered the war, could offer protection for a considerable distance eastwards, the Lough Erne planes could fly a like distance westwards. There was still a large portion of un – protected ocean known as “The Black Gap”. A meeting took place between the Irish and British Governments on January 21st 1941. There can be no doubt but that Churchill was fully aware of this meeting. The result was that permission was given by the deValera led government for the planes from Lough Erne to fly across that short portion of Free State territory from Belleek to Ballyshannon. This flight path became known as “The Donegal Corridor”, the boundaries of this path were clearly defined, as was the height that planes would fly. They were not permitted to fly over the Irish Army Camp at Finner. For the benefit of the Germans and to preserve the neutrality the purpose of the flights was supposed to be for air/sea rescue exercises. This agreement meant that the un-protected gap in mid Atlantic was reduced by at least 100 miles. The Catalina and Sunderland flying boats had a range of almost 2,000 miles for a return journey and could stay airborne for almost 20 hours.

Before the United States entered into the conflict in Europe the country supplied Britain with much needed supplies and equipment. The Catalina flying boats that flew from Lough Erne were all American built and owned. Many U.S. airmen came across to England and flew with the R.A.F. before the end of 1941, one of the best known of these was Ensign Tuck Smith, who as a pilot on a Lough Erne based Catalina spotted the famous German battleship, Bismarck as it was on its way to occupied France. I did have the pleasure of meeting Tuck and his wife when they were on a return visit to Belleek a few years ago.


 When the G.I.s first came to Northern Ireland they were each issued with a book <A Pocket Guide to Northern Ireland >. They were advised that Irish girls were very friendly, they will stop and pass you the time of day; don’t think that this means they are falling for you in a big way. There is a story of one shapely lady who wore the seamed stockings to perfection and intrigued many of the visitors . . . from the rear. She was greeted with wolf whistles everywhere until she turned around, and one disgruntled Yank went into folklore when he said; “ My Gawd, would you look at that. Wad a figure, but wad a dial!” It is not recorded what the lady said in reply.

When the G.I.s left the district publicans, shopkeepers and cinema owners were sad; but not so sad as some of the Loretta Young look-a-likes. During the VE-Day celebrations in one leading Northern Ireland town, an American serviceman discharged a pistol into the air, leaving a bullet hole in the Church clock, this being the only actual physical damage the town suffered during the Second World War. As the older local folk will recall, thousands of Americans trained in this area in preparation for the invasion of Europe.


            The Donegal Corridor arrangement more than compensated for the loss of the Ports that were handed over by Chamberlain in1938. The first official flight took place on 21st February 1941 when a Stranraer Flying boat travelled along the corridor to escort the crippled S.S. Jessmore to port. Remember that America did not enter the war until the end of December 1941 almost a year after Ireland first came to the aid of England. deValera who could be quite cantankerous by times put his own interpretation on the status of flying boat crews who came down in Free State territory as a result of crashes. He claimed that they were to be classified as mariners who by some ancient law were not subject to internment, the men were returned across the border. He was, by the way born in America. Thousands of patrols were flown from Lough Erne along the Corridor, at least nine U-Boats were confirmed sunk, many more damaged, thousands of tons of shipping saved. The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest battle of World War 11, lasting from 1939 until 1945. During the Battle of the Atlantic the U-boats or as Grand Admiral Karl Donitz called them his “Gray Sharks” ravaged the ocean. They sunk 2,603 merchant ships totaling 13.5 million tons and killing 20,248 merchant seamen. As well, they torpedoed 175 Allied naval vessels with the loss of many more lives. But for the Germans the cost was high: of the 1,162 U-Boats built, 784 were lost at sea, and of the roughly 48,000 men recruited for the “Volunteer Corps Donitz”, some 29,000 lost their lives and 5,000 were taken prisoner. It is no wonder that Churchill feared the U-boats more than any of the other enemy forces. In turn the Flying Boats based on Lough Erne slowly but surely swung the Battle of the Atlantic in favour of the Allies. From 1939 until 1941 before the Lough Erne bases were set up, the U-Boat packs had sunk 1017 allied supply ships. Another mistruth circulated then was that the Irish Government permitted U-Boats to be refueled in Irish Ports. Anyone who lived through those days would know that the Free State did not have enough fuel for it’s own needs let alone have any for U-Boats. The only fuel in plentiful supply there was wood and turf; which were used in the fireplaces of Irish homes. U-Boats did not run well on these products.


            It is a little known fact that U-Boats travelled across the Atlantic went up the St. Lawrence River as far as Quebec and torpedoed the ships of convoys being assembled there. The U-Boats also sank numerous ships off the east coast of the United States; they were amazed that there was no black out regulations in New York or other cities. The ships were like sitting ducks against the brightly illuminated skyline. The reason the U-Boats had such a long range was that they used large tanker submarines to refuel in mid Atlantic. These tankers were known as Milk Cows. I have read an excellent book written by a German U-Boat captain, it gives a true account of the Battle of the Atlantic from a German point of view.



 Apart from the support given by the government of the Free State, the people themselves made their own contribution to the allied war effort. Over 160,000 Irish men and women went to England and as volunteers joined the armed forces, this does not include the many Irish who were already resident in England and joined up nor does it include the thousands who served with the United States and Canadian forces. Eight of the Irish volunteers won the Victoria Cross; many others received awards for bravery. From Northern Ireland which is part of the U.K. 12,000 volunteers joined up, many of these had crossed the border from neighbouring counties, this was an average of 2,000 per county, and the average for the Free State was 6,000 per county. On one day alone 300 young men from the Free State joined the British army in Enniskillen. Only one Victoria Cross was won by a man from the north; he was from the Falls Road. It was only in 2003 that the Belfast City Council recognized his bravery when a memorial was erected in the grounds of the City Hall. I do not have a record of bravery awards won by Irish who served in the U.S. and Canadian forces; there is no doubt but that they were in considerable numbers. Thousands of more Irish men and women who were too old for active service worked in the factories and in the building of aerodromes. In total at least a half a million Irish people were involved directly and indirectly in the Allied war effort. Not a bad record for a so called neutral state that Churchill accused in his D-Day victory speech of failing to come to the aid of his country in it’s hour of need. Two of the other principal European neutral countries did nothing like this, rather they made huge amounts of money selling their products to the Axis nations. The concession of the Donegal Corridor coupled to the huge numbers of Irish who fought with the Allies more than compensated for the retention of the ports.


            For an organized nation Germany had a very poor understanding of Ireland and its people. I recently read a book written by a German – Enno Stephan- “German Spies in Ireland” The success rate of German spies placed in Ireland was pathetic as was their attempts to set up a working arrangement with subversive groups there. Spies who were placed here from U-Boats or parachuted from aircraft had a rather short shelf live. Generally they were captured within a few days of their arrival, one of them was placed in Kerry and off he set for Dublin with his pack on his back. The road was parallel to a railway, seeing a Kerry man he enquired what time the next train went to Dublin. The Kerry man said he did not know, but the last train to travel on this line had been 15 years ago, he had no idea when the next one was due. Hermann Goertz the German spy who was to organize the Plan Kathleen in the north with the assistance of the leaders of subversive groups actually landed in Westmeath, he had no idea of which side of the border he was on. So much for his knowledge of Irish geography, he was soon captured.


In her excellent book, “Castle Archdale and Fermanagh in World War 2”, Breege McCusker relates many interesting stories. One is of a Lerwick flying boat piloted by Denis Briggs; it ran low in fuel and put down in Bundoran Bay at 2pm on 10th April 1941. A certain unofficial procedure was put into operation; with the co-operation of the Irish Army, the Guards, the R.U.C. and the R.A.F. barrels of petrol were brought by lorry from Castle Archdale and the plane re-fueled. While this plan was being carried out the officers from Finner camp were entertaining the senior officers from the plane in local hotels.

 One airman was left aboard on guard duty; a Sergeant Kennedy from Finner Irish Army Camp was assigned to also stay on the plane. The two men eyed each other with suspicion for some time until they discovered that both had relations in County Tipperary. Kennedy took this as a cause to celebrate, so leaving his post he took the boat, went ashore to a nearby pub, bought a supply of Guinness and returned to his duties. The two men had a rather enjoyable term of duty until the plane was refueled. The same pilot – Denis Briggs – accompanied by the American Ensign – Tuck Smith was on the crew of the Catalina from Lough Erne when it spotted the Bismarck.


            You might well ask what were the views of the people of Belleek, Ballyshannon, Bundoran, Sligo, Leitrim and Donegal about all this wartime activity? These districts are along the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. They did not understand the politics behind the arrangement nor did they care. The development of the air bases in Fermanagh gave much needed employment, the wages and conditions were better than those offered in agriculture. While there were restrictions regarding the employment of people from the Free State on the aerodrome construction, in traditional Irish fashion, loopholes were found in the laws so that these people could get work and earn a decent wage.


 There were many air crashes along the west coast and on the hilltops around the Donegal corridor. On many occasions local people risked their lives to rescue airmen from burning planes in spite of the danger from exploding ammunition and depth charges. Members of the Local Defense Force and troops from Finner Irish Army Camp were involved in many rescue and recovery operations on crash sites. They had the unpleasant task of removing bodies from the wreckage, carrying them down the mountainside in the most difficult of conditions over rugged terrain to the nearest point that vehicles could reach. In those days there were no helicopters nor was there such a thing then as special counseling for the trauma these young men experienced, they were lucky to get a bottle of Guinness and a cigarette.


            As a young lad I was present on occasions when the bodies of dead airmen were handed over at the border. The Irish Army brought them to the border in a most dignified manner, in covered trucks; a Guard of Honour with reversed arms was present as was a Chaplain to give a final Blessing and a Bugler to sound the Last Post. Each coffin was borne on the shoulders of members of the Irish army to the exact border where they were handed over to R.A.F. personnel, draped in the Union flag and placed on open low loader trucks for transportation to Irvinestown. I always thought it was rather undignified to see the coffins exposed in this way as compared to how they had been brought in the Irish Army vehicles. The senior air force Officer thanked the O.I.C. of the Irish Army for the honour they had paid to his dead comrades. The Irish Captain replied, “Ours may be the honour, but yours is the Glory.”


            Difficult as were the war years the people never lost their sense of humour, a thriving industry developed around the border in those times, this was the smuggling trade when dealers in cattle and other goods pitted their wits against the excise men on both sides of the border.

 It would be difficult for some folk to understand the border between the two parts of Ireland, it was not necessary to produce a passport to travel, custom’s patrols and other forms of officialdom were only present on main roads. There was no problem avoiding patrols in the rural areas. Supplies that were hard to come by on one side were exchanged for goods that were in plentiful supply on the other side. One noted storyteller on seeing the depth charges slung beneath the wings of planes maintained that they were bags of tea and sugar being smuggled by the airmen. Breege tells the story in her book of three airmen who were caught by an over conscientious policeman cycling three abreast along Irvinestown main street, one of the widest in the land. Surely a most grievous offence for men who were risking their lives over the Atlantic in flying boats? They were fined a sum of a half a crown (12 & half p) each at the local Petty Session Court, I am sure the cop felt that he had done his bit for Crown and Country, something less of a risk than joining the army and fighting for his country.


            There were two radio stations in the Belleek district during the war, the R.A.F. station was at Dernacross, it had two very high steel pylons with warning lights on top and on the ground a rotating lighthouse type beacon that illuminated the countryside. The American station as already mentioned was at Magheramena quite close to the castle of the same name where Fr. Lorcan O’Cairian the parish priest lived. Fr. Lorcan had very strong republican views and so would have not been over fond of the British forces. He was a personal friend of Eamon deValera, the Irish Prime Minister and of Michael Collins. During the wartime blackout another rather conscientious member of the constabulary spotted a very weak glimmer of light coming from the castle window. He made his way up the long avenue and pounded on the door, which was eventually opened by Fr. Lorcan who got a stern lecture from the cop regarding the danger to security by not having his blinds drawn. Wise in the ways of the world the good priest had devised his own plan for handling the situation. He agreed with everything that was said and led the way with his oil lamp through the corridors and hallways to his room where the offending candle was burning. He blew out the candle extinguished his lamp and left the unfortunate cop to find his own way out of the darkened house. One wonders which was the greatest breech of security, this humble penny candle in the priests house or the brilliant beacon at Dernacross.


            During those years the members of the forces would put on civilian clothes, cycle across the border into Ballyshannon, Bundoran or Pettigo to enjoy a drink and some good food. One service man from the U.S. radio station at Belleek went into a Ballyshannon pub where in typical fashion bought drink for all present. As the drink went in and the wit went out, he related how he was winning the war single handed, he started to berate his listeners saying that it was time Ireland stopped this neutrality lark and join in the fight for freedom. A local fisherman noted for his wit spoke up and said, “Listen my good man, you lot didn’t join in the war until the Japs bombed Pearl Harbour, when they bomb Ballyshannon we will take then on and bate the hell out of them without your help”.


            The Americans based in Belleek were very pleasant men several of them married local girls and they are still together in the U.S. A few years ago I got a message from a lady in Arkansas, her Dad, Claude Huddleston had been stationed in Belleek.

      He had lovely memories of the village and of Ireland. His daughter Sharon said that her Dad was dying of cancer and he wonder if anyone here remembered him, I did remember him, as did several other people. In Breege McCuskers book there is a photo of a group of American solders, including Claude taken in the village, this and other information I sent to Sharon. Very shortly after it arrived Claude passed away, in a letter Sharon told me that her Dad died a happy man because the people there remembered him with affection. In September this year (2003) Sharon and her daughter Claudia came to Belleek on a visit to see for themselves the places that meant so much to her Dad. They visited the site of his old radio station at Magheramena; some of the buildings are still standing. On Saturday 13th September they attended a memorial service and the unveiling of a plaque at the Graan Passionist Monastery, Enniskillen. On 9th December 1943 an American Flying Fortress crashed near the Graan, seven of the crew members were killed, five survived mainly due to the priests of the Graan who without any consideration for their own safety rescued the men from the burning wreckage. The plaque bearing the names of the crew was placed on an existing Grotto, it was draped with the American flag and during a moving ceremony it was unveiled by Sharon and Claudia. There are so many lovely stories to be told of those years as well as the sad ones.


            Full books have been written on the many crashes that occurred in Ireland. Here I have included stories of two of them. On 12th August 1944 just before noon a Sunderland flying boat crashed just inside the Donegal border about a mile from Belleek. It was a lovely day and there were many people working at the hay and in the bog harvesting turf a popular house fuel in Ireland. Several men were right beside the plane when it came down in the Cashelard Mountain. They were able to give some assistance to the men who were injured. Like many young lads I hopped on my bike and got there about a half hour after the crash, also on the scene as a young boy was Edward Daly, later to become bishop of Derry. In the book of his life story he devoted two pages to his memories of the crash. Three young Canadians died on the mountain, one of them Jack Forrest, a nineteen year old from Toronto had a few days earlier made the Catholic pilgrimage to Lough Derg. He and his two comrades are buried in Irvinestown, the other nine-crew men survived. In 1999 a memorial stone was erected on the site and unveiled in the presence of a group of former Canadian airmen who had returned to Fermanagh.


            Early the year 2002 Breege McCusker got an E-Mail with details of a survivor of the crash, knowing that I had some knowledge of it she passed the message to me. Chuck Singer had moved with his family from his native Toronto to Florida over 40 years ago, naturally all contact with his comrades of 422 Squadron was lost. His son Bob had heard his Dad speak of being in a Sunderland crash somewhere in Ireland, Bob decided to see if he could locate any of his dad’s comrades, only one was still alive, the co-pilot Dr. Al Platsko, soon the two men were in contact by phone. I got the land address for Chuck and wrote to him telling him all I knew and sent him photos of the site as it is today. He corresponded with my brother Sean by E-Mail; the end result was that Breege, Sean and I invited Chuck back to Ireland for the first time since 1944. Bob came with him and we had a full re-union on the crash site on its 58th anniversary at the exact time the crash occurred.

Over 150 people were there to greet Chuck and Bob, one of them Bishop Edward Daly returned to Cashelard and presented Chuck with a framed citation in recognition of his bravery on the day of the crash. Chuck although suffering from a broken arm and other serious injuries was escaping from the wreck when he heard a call for help from his comrade George Colbourne who was trapped beneath the tail of the plane and had both legs broken.  Chuck returned to the wreck rescued his friend dislocating his good shoulder in the process. Chuck never received an award for his bravery; nevertheless it was recognized by Bishop Daly and the people of the area. This event was televised by U.T.V. and the B.B.C. as well as being covered by the national newspapers and radio. Commandant Sean Curran, Finner Camp, represented the Irish army. Public representatives from Ballyshannon and Bundoran attended the reunion. Chuck and his injured comrades were treated for two days in the Sheil Hospital, Ballyshannon. Two of the nursing staff was present for the ceremony. The squadron records of 422 had shown that Chuck had died in a Hospital in England a few days after the crash, when this year he made contact with the association he was only to happy to let them know that he is still very much alive. The official records indicated that pilot error was responsible for the crash of the Sunderland, following exchange of information with Al Platsko the co-pilot it was established; that only for the exceptional skill of the pilot – Cam Devine – all hands would have perished in the crash. The propeller from the burning outer starboard engine had broken off and lodged in the float. It weighed almost a ton and left the plane almost uncontrollable, Cam Devine brought the stricken plane back on level flight before it crashed; he lost his own life but saved nine of his comrades from a certain death. Chuck and Al were very pleased to put the record right.


            On 23rd January 1944 at 6-30 pm a Halifax aircraft crashed into the cliff top near the Fairy Bridges, Tullan Strand, Bundoran. All of the eight-man crew died there, three were R.A.F., and five were members of the Royal Canadian Air Force, one of these Pilot Officer Gzowski was an American from Ohio. His body and that of one of the Canadians were washed out to sea and never recovered. The crash was witnessed by two ladies from the Great Northern Hotel who were out walking along the cliff top path. Without any regard for their own safety they removed several of the injured men from the wreck. The remaining three Canadians are buried in Irvinestown. Fr. Frank Little, Chaplain to Finner camp rendered spiritual aid to the dying men. As Flying Officer Vladimir Adamic was dying Fr. Little discovered a rosary in his pocket. As was normal in the case when service men die all the family get is a brief letter stating that their son/brother or husband had been killed in action. Fr. Little wrote to Archbishop McDonald of Edmonton, Canada giving him the story of the crash and asked him to relay the information to his family. I have the original letter of reply from the Archbishop to Fr. Little thanking him for his kindness. From that time until Fr. Little died the family kept in touch. Last year- 2002 as a result of the efforts of Breege McCusker and I a memorial stone to commemorate the eight dead airmen was erected on the cliff top. Louise Williams a sister of Vladimir Adamic and Mayo Murphy whose first husband were killed in the crash came over from Vancouver to unveil the memorial stone. Mayo was accompanied by her daughter Shauna.



            A unit of the Irish army from Finner Camp under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John McKeown and Commandant Sean Curran provided a Guard of Honour, Colonel Michel Legualt from the Canadian High Commission represented the Canadian Embassy in Dublin. A full Order of Service was organized, with all Churches attending and taking part in the prayers. An Irish Air Corps helicopter bearing the flag of Canada did a magnificent fly past just as the bugler was sounding the Last Post. Over 200 people attended the ceremony including public representatives and other dignitaries. Once again the event was televised by R.T.E. and U.T.V.


            These are just a few of the stories relating to this period, many more yet remain to be told. Only a couple of years ago I read a letter in the “Irelands Own”, a popular magazine, the writer of the letter lived in England. It was about the famous victory speech made by Churchill after VE-day and the reply made by deValera, I quote from it.


“ I believe that Mr. Churchill would have more easily found in his heart the generosity to acknowledge that there is a small nation that stood alone not for one year or two … against aggression had Mr. de Valera found in his heart the generosity to offer any help he could to his old enemy in her hour of desperate need, when, as he admits, she stood alone. However, he chose smug neutrality, with possibly a degree of Schadenfreude. He allowed his country to become a haven for spies, and worse, he denied to allied shipping the use of the ports off the west of Ireland which meant that exhausted convoys had much further to travel in dangerous waters and had undoubtedly led to the deaths of many seamen. Did Mr. DeValera really imagine that if Britain were invaded Hitler would have respected his neutrality, except at the price of the soul of his people? Ireland’s neutrality in one of the very few just wars in history was a matter of shame for my Irish mother whose English husband was fighting and is a matter of shame and anger for me. Mr. DeValera was a great leader in many ways, but how much greater he could have been had he taken the opportunity for true generosity in 1939.”


Naturally being in possession of the real facts I wrote to the lady in question and enlightened her somewhat, I must say that I did receive a most gracious reply and her appreciation of neutral Irelands part in World War 2.


            The Free State Government in rural areas organized a Local Security Force; they did carry out invaluable work at the sites of aircraft crashes. The intelligence of some of them may have been at times suspect. In a harvest of the 1940’s a mini tornado struck farmland in the West of Ireland, the small traditional ricks of hay were sucked up into the air and carried for some distance. The patrol duly made a report on the incident but by the time it reached headquarters it read, “A regiment of German paratroopers have invaded Mayo.” 


            Through history no matter how bad things were the Irish never lost their sense of humour, it did help them to survive. I do have a collection of short stories that are worth telling.

One Fermanagh born comedian once boasted that his home county was the only county in Ireland that rhymed with banana. This impressive bit of information aside, the area is best known for its waterways, though the high ground surrounding the rugged borderland near villages like Roslea and Belcoo is every bit as impressive as the Erne waterways. Fermanagh people pride themselves on being a perfectly distilled blend of the extremes of character they find themselves surrounded by. Belfast cockiness, Derry City delusions of grandeur and Cavan thriftiness. These are the malts blended to form the rounded, welcoming, humourous brew that is the people of the Erne County. During the Emergency as it was called in the Free State a Mid-Ulster man was in civilian employment in Finner Camp. One day he sped down Corran Brae on his bike jumped off at the bridge end and announced to all and sundry in his strong native accent, “The Germans are at Belleek and the whole Free State Army is away out in two lorries to stop them.”


            Small single engined Miles Master planes were used in target practice exercises out over the sea; they towed a thing called a drogue on a long cable. It was for all the world like a big bag of meal, perhaps our friend of early on thought it was another bag of tea. Where we lived on the road to Enniskillen there was the usual street in front of the house. On the night of November 17th 1944 a lorry arrived and was parked on the street. On it was this little two seater Miles Master, it was years later that I learned its make and the date and location of its crash, which was near Cassie Bawn Castle in Mullaghmore. A policeman was delegated to guard duty, not a pleasant task on a cold winters night. My late father was fond of a jar and soon he invited the cop in for a drink and a cup of tea. This was the chance for my brothers and I to get into the cockpit, I do not recall how many German planes we shot down that night but I am sure old Churchill would have been very proud of us.


            On 20th November 1944 at 7-30 am, a Catalina flying Boat number JX242 crashed on the Barr of Wealt better known today as the Lough Navar forest park. It crashed near a small mountain lake called Lough An Laban. Eight of the ten man crew were killed, two survived. This year Breege and I traced one of the survivors, Charles Bowater who lives in England. One of them travelled across the rugged mountaintop for about two miles, got to the lakeshore road; from a house there he borrowed a bike, cycled seven miles to the nearest phone to raise the alarm. When the rescue party arrived about midday, local man Benny Campbell was their guide to the crash site. As a result of information given to me by Benny I located the site last year (2002). This plane was on its way back to Killadeas from an Atlantic patrol. It hit a large rock face at the end of the small lake, had it been about 20 feet higher it would have been in the clear. Some time ago I got a message from Antony Slack who lives in Hong Kong telling me that his grandfather had been killed in this crash, he was seeking information on it as the only thing the family were told was that Ernest Slack had been killed in a crash on a mountain. I sent all the information that I had to Antony and soon got a reply telling me all about his family. Breege McCusker and I have erected two memorial stones on a site overlooking Lough Erne in memory of the young men who died in this crash and in the crash of a Sunderland Flying Boat into the lake nearby. On 17th of August 2003 a memorial service was held and the unveiling of the stones with the names of the dead inscribed on it.

 A brother of Ernest Slack, his son, grandson and other family members attended the service. Over 300 people were present for the event, Charles Bowater, due to declining heath was unable to come to Ireland, instead, he was represented by his two daughters and their husbands. As one of the crew was an Australian; that country was represented by a Group Captain Tim Owen of the R.A.A.F. The R.A.F. was represented by Group Captain Martin Sharp senior officer for Northern Ireland. I tell you this story so as to illustrate how the talks I give change from venue to venue as a result of new information that comes to me. Many of the men who served in Fermanagh are now in the autumn of their lives, a number of them have been it touch with Breege McCusker and myself as a result of our involvement with memorials. One common message comes from them all or their families, it is, “We never thought that anyone in Fermanagh would remember us”.


            A total of 28 Short Sunderland flying boats that were either based on Lough Erne or diverted to it due to weather conditions crashed along the western seaboard with the loss of some 184 crewmen. Thirty Catalina’s crashed under similar circumstances with the loss of 136 crewmen. About eighty of these men are buried in the war graves in Irvinestown. These figures do not include American and other aircraft that crashed with the loss of life. Later I will give you some details of crashes of American planes in this general area. Very little has been told about the Flying Boat base at Foynes on the River Shannon, or of Allied aircraft using Rineanna land base, both of these were used extensively during World War 2. At one time two U.S. aircraft arrived at Rineanna together, the Irish Air Corps were surprised that there was no fraternization between the crews. In an unmistakable southern drawl one pilot explained that “Damned Yankees” manned the other aircraft, his men wanted nothing whatsoever to do with them. The bitterness of the American Civil war was still very much in evidence, and we think that we have long memories. On January 16th 1942 a Boeing Flying boat piloted by Captain J.C. Kelly –Rodgers who by the way became Chief Pilot with Air Lingus – took off from Bermuda for Plymouth. On board was a very important passenger, the British Prime Minster – Winston Churchill. About 500 miles off the Irish coast the plane ran into extremely turbulent weather, in the interests of safety it was decided to divert to Foynes in the neutral Irish Free State.


            The prospect of landing in Ireland did not please Churchill as he had been engaged in bitter exchanges with Eamon deValera over the ports. The irony of his personal safety being guaranteed by the very neutrality he loathed would hardly have amused Churchill. As they approached the Irish coast the weather improved and Captain Kelly-Rodgers reverted to his original flight plan. Thus was an intriguing diplomatic conundrum avoided. Between 1939 and 1945 Foynes was a welcome sight for the planes from America, the large Boeing Flying boats popularly known as “The Yankee Clippers” often called there. While Churchill rattled his saber in the House of Commons and thundered against the refusal of the Irish to open up the “Treaty” ports of Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly, the Irish simultaneously kept open a vital transatlantic line of communication for the British and American administrations. Allied admirals and generals drank in the bars and hotels of Foynes, Adare and Limerick while assiduous censors in Dublin excluded even the vaguest hint of sympathy for either side in the war from Irish newspapers and broadcasts.

 It is worth noting that during that period a barman in one of those pubs invented the now world famous Irish Coffee. To open up the “Treaty” ports to the British would certainly have resulted in direct assaults by Germany on the country and forced the defenseless Ireland into the conflict. A total of 1,400 aircraft and 15,000 passengers passed through Foynes airport during the war years. The king of the flying boat era was undoubtedly Captain Charles Blair who flew 405 trips across the Atlantic; Captain Blair was later to marry a young Irish girl from Dublin – Maureen O’Hara. He said of Foynes, “The neutral port of Foynes, a sleepy Irish village on the south bank of the River Shannon ranked in the war years as one of the world’s foremost air terminals.”


            At a post war dinner in Dublin hosted by America a leading U.S. politician expressed the gratitude of his people to the Irish for their unfailing kindness and tenderness to the “Shipwrecked” American airmen, those wounded had been cared for with solicitude and those who died had been buried with the greatest respect. This was in sharp contrast to the views expressed during the war by the American Ambassador, Mr. David Grey who was very scathing in his criticism of Irish neutrality. He had received his appointment because he was related to President Roosevelt’s wife by marriage. He used to attend spiritual séances and claimed that from these he found proof that Ireland was in league with the Germans, the crystal ball was the foundation for messages he sent to Roosevelt. What a sound argument for the status of the neutrality of the Irish Free State, imagine old Dev following an old Irish custom by having the tea leaves in his cup read to foretell the future and so guide the path of his country through world war two. Mr. Gray was very fond of wildfowling activities along the Wexford coast; he tried to prevent Irish Air Corps planes from flying there as they were disturbing the wild geese. When the Irish aircraft sighted any German ships, planes or submarines they reported back to base by radio knowing that the messages were being picked up by the British authorities.


            On a lighter note, at all times during the war, flour was very scarce in the Free State; those of us old enough to remember can recall the black bread there as compared with white bread in Northern Ireland. The Irish made an appeal to England for a shipload of wheat; it was reasonably plentiful there. The request was turned down in a very haughty manner, the Irish then threatened to stop supplying Guinness to the English – they got their flour- the English got their Guinness.


 Both Allied and German personnel were interned in separate camps in the Curragh. They had great freedom of movement there and were allowed out to work and in the case of the British to socialize. The Germans had nowhere to go even if they wanted to escape, they worked on farms and repaired farm machinery, and they even converted old cars into tractors and so could earn some money. As the war progressed they did not receive any pay from Germany. In the later stages of the war over 100 German sailors were ship wrecked off the Irish coast, when they arrived at the Curragh the Irish people gave them clothing and the other necessities of life. On the other hand the Allied prisoners received their full pay; they socialized freely out of camp. They attended the golf courses, horse races, hunt balls and were entertained by the local Anglo- Irish families. The English aristocracy had moved all their valuable livestock and racehorses across to the Free State for the duration of the war.

 It is highly unlikely that these people would have wanted Ireland to be any thing else only neutral. When the war was over the few remaining Allied internees were taken by ship from Dublin, the sailors said they looked more like men who had spent their time in a holiday camp rather than in a prison of war camp.


            Much has been written about the bombing of Belfast by German aircraft and how on the instructions of deValera fire brigades from the east of the country were sent to Belfast. This followed an appeal from a leading Northern Ireland politician who was no stranger in these parts. The cities of Glasgow and Liverpool also sent fire fighters and equipment across the channel to Belfast. Little publicity is given to the fact that workers in the Belfast shipyards and other factories went on strike for higher wages. The Irish Free State did not escape from the German bombing; Wexford, Dublin, Louth, Kildare, Carlow and Wicklow suffered death and destruction in air raids. The country was excluded from the Marshall Aid scheme, which was set up to help small nations who had suffered economically as a result of the war. The country ended up in many circles with the name of neutrality and the shame attached to that policy while it had suffered the many disadvantages of the war. There can be little doubt but that Churchill was only too well aware of the assistance given to his country by the people of Ireland. The Director of the National Library in Dublin who was a skilled cryptographer managed to break the German codes while studying messages from the German Legation. The British Code and Cipher experts had failed to do this; the information was passed to them by the Irish authorities.


            The Irish people gave refuge to many homeless English children during the war, when factories were destroyed in England the raw materials were brought over here processed and shipped back again. The compassion of the Irish was extended to the German people after the war, the country was devastated. Misery, hunger and food shortage triggered a wave of emergency aid and Ireland gave more per capita than any other nation. While in many circles it was not considered the popular thing to do the Free State sent doctors, nurses, Red Cross members, food, medicine and other supplies to the stricken German people. Over 1,000 homeless European children including 400 from Germany were brought over to Ireland in a project known as Operation Shamrock. They were placed with families here until conditions improved enough for them to return home, some to their own people. It is no wonder that the people of Germany to this day speak with affection of ‘The Green Isle’.


            In 1997 Dr. Roman Herzog, the President of Germany along with his wife, Christiana came on a visit to Ireland to mark the 50th anniversary of Operation Shamrock. They visited the bronze Commemorative Fountain in St. Stephan’s Green, Dublin which depicts the Three Fates and was erected by the German people as a token of gratitude to the people of Ireland for the assistance given to them and to their children in their time of need. To mark the occasion the Irish Red Cross Society and the German Embassy invited those foster children who had been hosted in Ireland to a re-union with their foster families. Several of the children had remained on in Ireland, married and settled down here.


 I would like to devote part of my talk to the many United States personnel, both men and women who served in Fermanagh during World War 2. St. Angelo airfield was opened on the 15 September 1941. It was used by aircraft arriving in the United Kingdom from North America. Hudsons, Dakotas, Liberators and Flying Fortresses landed on the airfield. The American Army’s 8th Infantry Division trained in Fermanagh before taking an active part on the continent in 1944. The troops also trained in the rugged mountain area around Derrygonnolly and on the Crom Estate near Newtownbutler in the eastern part of the county. The men were billeted in the big houses of the landed gentry; this I am sure was a Godsend to the aristocratic families whose fortunes were on the decline. The rent received from the governments of America and Britain put off the day when the estates would have to be broken up and sold off.


            An agreement was made between Churchill and Roosevelt for the setting up of an American Naval base in Derry and a flying boat base on Lough Erne. Necarne Castle at Irvinestown was made into a hospital. This year, 2003, Breege McCusker had a memorial stone placed at Necarne in tribute to the men who were treated there. Ely Lodge on the south shore was also taken over, as were Crom Castle, Castle Coole, Colebrooke, the Manor House and Florence Court House. Large numbers of Nissan huts were built throughout the estates to accommodate the batches of troops that arrived in 1943 and 1944. The soldiers were constantly marching on maneuvers, they practiced the construction of Bailey bridges over the rivers, the locals were amazed to see lorries and jeeps cross over such flimsy structures. General Eisenhower came to Portora Royal School in Fermanagh to review his troops on 18th July 1942. The Americans were very popular with the local people who made them most welcome.


            In spite off all the precautions many of the planes did not make it safely to St. Angelo, some ran out of fuel, others got caught in bad weather and due to poor visibility got blown off course and crashed on the hills along the coast. On 9th December 1943 a Flying Fortress crashed on Truskmore Mountain, Co. Sligo with the loss of three crewmen. Lieutenant William Wallace, Lieutenant Richard Fox and Serg. Adan Lateski. The other seven survived. In December 2005 the four engines from this plane were recovered and moved to Baldonnel air field by the Irish army. This was the same date as the crash of another B17 ‘Galley Uncle’ at the Graan, a third B17 is reported to have gone missing and it is thought to have been lost at sea. On Monday 19th June 1944 a Liberator crashed near the border at Abbeylands, Ballyshannon, eight crewmen survived, sadly two died in the Sheil Hospital from their injuries. They were Corporal Cannon and Sgt. Maesta. In 2003 the crash site has been marked with a memorial stone by Historic Ballyshannon and in a fitting gesture a memorial plaque was placed in the Sheil Hospital to commemorate these two men and other U. S. airmen who were treated for their injuries in the Sheil during World War 11. The unveiling ceremony was attended by over 200 guests including representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, the Irish Government and the Irish Army.


            Large numbers of U.S. troops trained in Fermanagh in preparation for the invasion of Europe. During their time they developed a very special relationship with the Passionist monk’s in the Graan. Many of the young men died in Europe and as a tribute to them their comrades erected a beautiful memorial Grotto in the Monastery grounds. On it is this inscription. The full story of the U.S. troops and the Graan I have just recently learned so I have included it in my talk.




By the enlisted officers and men of the 13th Infantry Regiment


And companies A. B., 8th Medical Battalion U.S. Army.


In memory of our fallen comrades.


14th May 1944.



Breege McCusker, historian and author who has been a principal source of my information in her book “Castle Archdale and Fermanagh in World War 11”, gives an account of the Flying Fortress at the Graan, which is a Passionest Monastery near Enniskillen I quote here. “Horace Fleming a local surgeon remembers well the time the American Flying Fortress crashed at the Graan. Everyone knew it was in trouble, as it had circled the town several times. The sound of the engines coughing and spluttering was nerve racking and heart rendering for all to listen to. It missed the steeple of St. Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen, and made its way out of town to crash on a hillside near the Passionest Monastery. As the remains of the plane lay at the Graan, many local people rushed to the scene to give any help they could. One of the priests from the monastery walked among the dying and injured giving spiritual help. As he passed one young American, he turned to his companion and said, “This one seems gone.” He nearly passed out when the reply came from the seemingly lifeless body, “Ah Bud, don’t say that.”


       An emergency was declared in the local hospital, and patients who were not seriously ill vacated their beds, soon the casualties were brought in. They were suffering from head injuries and all except two were unconscious. They all smelled of petrol. After half an hour American medical personnel arrived from Necarne Hospital, and took control of the situation. Morphine was freely given to counteract pain. The pilot had skillfully avoided the town and in doing so sacrificed his own life and those of some of his crew to ensure that no civilians died as a result of the crash. Sadly in many cases the bravery of these young Americans was not recognized at the time. In May this year (2002) I had the honour of being invited to America to deliver this presentation talk in Millville, New Jersey Military Air Field Museum. There the museum historian – Mike Stowe – gave me the full history of the Flying Fortress that crashed at the Graan, including the names of the crew. Before going out there Fr. Marius Donnelly had given me a full account of the crash as it was recorded in the Graan chronicle, he did not have the names of the crew or any official details. With this information to hand I called to the Graan where I met with Fr. Marius and Fr. Brian D’Arcy. As a result of their help and co-operation a plaque with the names of the crew has now been placed on the existing Grotto. Sharon Trogdon and her daughter Claudia at a moving ceremony unveiled this plaque on 13th September this year.

It has fallen the lot of people like Breege McCusker and myself who sixty years later have the privilege and honour to have memorial stones erected on this and many crash sites.


All our stories are not sad stories, there is one of a Halifax that had been airborne for approximately five hours when it ran into a storm and with a fault in its navigation it had became completely lost. As it approached what it thought to be its base in Yorkshire, England there was no beacon to welcome it home, just complete darkness. It circled overhead until almost out of fuel and then decided to send out an S.O.S. In those days the distress call was “Darkie”, and a few after a few moments the pilot repeated “Hello Darkie you black git”. Almost at once it was answered by a WAAF who said help was on the way. Sure enough, after a few minutes the pilot spotted an aircraft approaching, and recognized it as a Sunderland Flying Boat. It guided the Halifax to its base thinking the Halifax was another Flying Boat. At the last moment a crewmember of the Halifax realized that it was ready to land on the water of Lough Erne. The pilot quickly gained altitude and was diverted to the nearby American airfield at St. Angelo.


      The strong bonds that have existed between America and Ireland for many centuries were further strengthened by the presence of the servicemen and women in Ireland. Their influence was felt on both sides of our border. Many of them married local girls, they and their families still return here on holiday to renew friendships made over 60 years ago. There are so many stories that can be told about American servicemen and women, one has caught my attention. It is of two brothers William and Marshall Milton, they were both Ministers in Churches of the adjoining parishes of Hopewell and Brandon, Virginia, U.S.A. They joined the Air Transport Auxiliary service as ferry pilots. In fact they were the only airmen with Holy Orders to become pilots. On the morning of Tuesday 23rd February 1943 F/O William Milton took off from an airfield in Scotland to ferry a Bristol Beaufort to Nutts Corner Air field in Northern Ireland. The plane developed engine failure while still over Scotland, it crashed and sadly F/O William Milton lost his life. His brother Marshall survived the war and returned to his home in Virginia. The Milton brothers gave a new meaning to the often-used term “Sky Pilots”. Many of the U.S. airmen are buried in the Cambridge American War Cemetery, Madingley, Cambridgeshire, England.


            I have during the course of this talk spoken of the many fine young men from far off lands, who lost their lives in the distant past. Let us for a moment also remember young fliers of this new age. On the 2nd of July 1999 four members of the Irish Air Corps died tragically in a helicopter accident on the south coast of Ireland. They were Captain Dave O’Flagherty, Captain Mick Baker, Sergeant Paddy Mooney and Corporal Nial Byrne.


Nor Law, Nor duty bade me fight,

          Nor public men. Nor cheering crowds,

          A lonely impulse of delight

          Drove to this tumult in the clouds.


Many aircraft crashed either along the Donegal Corridor or when they were flying towards it. Most of them were based on Lough Erne where several of them crashed into the lake. Others were lost at sea and the crewmen have no known graves. They braved the dangers of the Atlantic Ocean in all its moods, in calm and in storm. They flew from the sunrise into the sunset, they flew as thunder crashed, like a giant roaring because his prey had escaped him, and the lightening flashed off the turret windows, out stretching its hand in liquid gold. The fog covered the Irish hills like a ghost; it was the cause of crashes that claimed the lives of many brave young men. When flying over the west coast of Ireland on a bright moon lit night, below can be seen on the hill tops the silver remains of Flying Fortresses, Catalina’s, Sunderland’s and Halifax’s that came so near to reaching the safe gray waters of Lough Erne.


The history of Ireland tells of the many thousands of Irish men, women and children who died on the dreaded coffin ships in the years of the Great famine while on their way to America to escape the suffering caused by cruel landlords. Large numbers were buried at sea, in the mighty Atlantic. There they share unknown graves with the many young American airmen whose aeroplanes never reached Ireland.


          In Irish mythology is a place known as Tir na Nog, the land of the young, where nobody grows old. It is nice to dream that these young men and our emigrant people share in that land everlasting peace and happiness.


          We shall remember them, those who sailed and flew into the sunset and did not return. There can be no flowers on a sailor’s grave. No Lilies on an ocean wave, the only tribute is the seagulls’ sweeps and the teardrops that a sweetheart weeps. Yesterday is only a memory, and no one is ever promised a tomorrow. We have only today and we must seize it, use it, and enjoy it.


          Local history and our folklore are in danger of being neglected and the old folk they are passing quickly on. Get out! And do what is expected. Jot it down before the rest of them are gone. When you reach the stage that brings you to the present, don’t stop! Keep on recording as you go, for the young folk a hundred years from now will loose out, if you don’t record THEIR day’s of long ago.



Many pundits over the years have given their version of the neutrality question, versions based often on opinions rather than hard facts. As more and more facts became available to the general public with the release of documents from the Public Records Offices of the British and Irish governments a completely different picture presented itself. Politicians held opposing views; which they expressed with vigour. The people on the ground over which thousands of aircraft flew couldn’t have cared less, they took no offence, rather when any plane had the misfortune to crash any where in the Free State the residents and the forces of the state did every thing possible to help the injured, the dying and the dead. Even to this day they are proud of the fact that they alone were a source of comfort and consolation to hundreds of young men from other lands.

          What of the crews who flew those planes? I quote here from a letter written to The Catalina Society, Crawley, West Sussex, on the 10th February 1998 by a Catalina crewmember – D.L. Johnston, 29 Rockhaven Garden, St. Minver, Wadlbridge, Cornwall. PL27 6PJ.


“Many people did not know throughout the war and to this day, may have no idea, that despite their neutrality the Eire Government under Mr. deValera made a concession to the British whereby our aircraft based on Lough Erne could gain access to the Atlantic Ocean by over flying a corridor of their air space into the Bay of Donegal. Shortly after the German surrender in 1945 orders were given to 202 Squadron to acknowledge Mr. deValeras favour to us by staging a Fly Past at low level over Bundoran where the Irish leader would take the salute himself. Thus probably for the first and only time in their history, six Catalina’s took off in quick succession, got into formation and waggled their wings at 500 feet as a tribute to the great man. This was very much a ‘one off’ performance and was totally un-rehearsed. Fortunately there were no mishaps and we all returned to base non-the worse for such an unusual flight.

                   Flight Sergeant D.L. Johnston, 202 Squadron, R.A.F.


          An R.A.F. pilot, Gilbert Kennedy, D.F.C. who flew Lancaster bombers from Lincolnshire during the war felt it necessary to reply to an article written by a Robert Frisk on the Irish Ports.


The argument about the ports rests on 3 points.  States Kennedy.

1-    The Mid-Atlantic gap between areas covered by destroyers operating from Britain and those operating from America.

As destroyers can easily cross the Atlantic, there can be no actual gap, although the time spent on actual escort is obviously reduced if there is a great distance from base to convoy. Furthermore, convoys had to be protected throughout their voyage, so far as their range might have been extended, and their actual escort time therefore increased. This argument resolves itself into the numbers of destroyers, and the availability of refueling points (presumably there was one in Derry?) This leads to point 2.


2. The use of the ports would have allowed Britain to protect convoys with fewer destroyers, and use the destroyers saved for other purposes.

This may be true, but Britain’s failure to build enough destroyers in the 1930’s can in no way be held against Ireland nor used as any argument against neutrality. Furthermore, as the vast bulk of Britain’s supplies came  from N. America, the route taken is important. The shortest route, leaving Britain to N. America is a great semi-circle route, leaving Britain in a West North West direction and approaching (say) New York in a South West direction. The port of Derry is about as well placed as any starting point for destroyers, although there might have been a very marginal advantage in using Killary harbour in the west of Ireland. Even if Northern Irish ports had been denied to Britain, Oban in Scotland would have been almost as good, and Stranraer was available as a starting point for destroyers protecting convoys from the Clyde and the Mersey as far as the North Channel.

          For convoys leaving from the channel ports or from Avonmouth, the situation is different, and for these, Cobh, Galway and even Killary might have been useful (Waterford and Rosslare would be little better than Milford Haven or Falmouth). But after the fall of France these ports could not be used to any great extent because of vulnerability to air or submarine or surface raider attack from Brest etc.

          For convoys to the Far East, the Middle East, Africa, and possibly South America, a case can be made out for the ports of Cobh, Galway and Killary being useful, but the case is tenuous. Nearly all traffic had to leave from the Mersey or the Clyde anyway, and the reason the convoys had to go so far out into the Atlantic, had nothing to do with the difficulty of protecting them West or South West of Ireland. The problem lay much further to the South. In the threat of attack from the French Atlantic coast by air, submarine, or surface raids. For these far-South –Westerly danger areas, Falmouth is almost as good as the Irish Ports. Finally, if the gap in destroyer bases from Milford Haven to Derry (or Oban) was so critical in the defense of the Atlantic sea routes, what about the enormous gap between Falmouth and Gibraltar, or that between Gibraltar and British West African ports or

between these and Cape Town.


3. The Mid-Atlantic gap between areas that could be covered by air reconnaissance operating from the U.K. or America.

Here there may have been an actual physical gap, but I suspect that as in the case of the destroyers, it was more a question of too short a patrolling time. As in the case of the destroyer, the convoy route to North America, lay West North West from the Clyde and Mersey ports, and for this route, Oban, Derry and Lough Erne were the nearest bases. (You must have sheltered waters for flying boat bases.)

          In the case of the South-bound and South-West-bound conveys, there may again be a marginal case in favour of Cobh, Shannon estuary and Kilary, but the difference between these and the Pembrokeshire and Cornish estuaries must be quite negligible compared with the great gap between Cornwall and Gibraltar. (Were the Cornish estuaries ever used in practice?)


The anti-submarine war can be divided into distinct phases.

A.    From the outbreak of war until the full introduction of the convoy system.

This was an organizational problem, and only when the convoy system was in operation did the problem of protection of convoys by destroyers and aircraft arise.


B.    From the introduction of the convoy system until the fall of France and the Axis use of the French Atlantic coast ports. 

In this short period, British use of Irish ports could conceivably have been of benefit to Britain in the anti-submarine war, but it is extremely doubtful whether the necessary naval and air bases could have been made effective in the time available.


C.    Period of attrition between the opposing sides.

On the Axis side, massive extension of the U-boat fleet, bigger and longer-range submarines, use of snorkels, wolf pack tactics, homing torpedoes etc.

On the Allied side, increasing strategic advantage on the north Atlantic route, with air and naval bases in Iceland and Greenland, American takeover of defenses of the West Atlantic, American lease (sale?) of 40 destroyers

(not very good used ones), and a massive shipbuilding programme in the U.S.A. to make good losses; and on the tactical side, the development of A.S.V. the Leigh light and the sonobuoy.

During this period, although it was a critical one at times for Britain, the relevance of the Irish ports became progressively less important.



Look at the facts of Irish neutrality. Although Ireland was technically neutral, she was in essence no more neutral than was Roosevelt in the period before Pearl Harbour (although it would take a brave Irishman to say so in public now), as the following examples show.


A vast number of Irishmen and women fought in the British Forces, with great gallantry. Hardly any fought on the Axis side. (Why doesn’t Fisk quote the actual numbers from the Northern Ireland and the Republic; they must be available?)

(ii) Many Irish men and women worked in Britain in munitions factories, building aerodromes, etc; very few went to work in Germany.


British servicemen were made welcome in Ireland, but Germans were interned. (Only if they deliberately gave themselves up were British servicemen interned.)

(iv) If British troops strayed across the border accidentally, they were helped to get back. If aircraft had to force land, aviation petrol or simple spare parts were got to them within 48 hours, so that they could take of again.

(v) Am eminent Irish civil servant who was an expert linguist, listened in daily to German radio broadcasts to their spies in Ireland and passed the information to the Irish Intelligence, who in turn passed it on immediately to British Intelligence.

deValera, who kept a close rein on his administration and was no fool, and must have known all about these facts. It was nevertheless absolutely essential that Ireland should remain officially neutral. After 800 years of struggle, she had finally achieved partial independence from Britain only 18 years previously, and if she had either leased bases to Britain, or come into the war on Britain’s side, the consequences would have been serious for both countries.

(a)   The delicate balance which deValera held between the extreme republicans and the others would have been broken and he might well have fallen from power, or a second civil war might even have started.

(b)    Anti-British espionage would have increased.

(c)  Recruitment into the British forces would have dried up.

(d)  In the case of abandonment of neutrality, Ireland would have been subjected to bombing raids from Germany and Britain would have

(e)    considerable scale, at just that stage in the war when these were most needed in Britain.


As for the statement that Irish neutrality was an act of revenge against Britain, this is obviously complete nonsense. It was no more petty revenge than the U.S.A.’s neutrality prior to Pearl harbour. In short, Britain during the war had every reason to be grateful for the help provided by Ireland. Ireland North and South was a larder, a massive source of manual and industrial labour & gallant servicemen, and gave important assistance in many ways.

Gilbert Kennedy who penned the above account had a brother John who now resides in Australia. John flew Sunderland’s out from Castle Archdale. He had strong family connections with Gortahork in north Donegal. He used to scare the wits out of the people in the locality by flying low, four miles up the Glena Valley in a direct line between Gortahork on the coast and Errigal Mountain so that he could drop messages to his wife who was staying for part of the war years in the townland called Cashelnagor.


Early in November I had a visit from Maureen Ingram, her husband Les and son Steven. Maureen’s father Flying Officer Guy (G.N.) Wilkinson flew Sunderland’s from Castle Archdale. On Sunday 22nd August 1943 he set off on patrol to the Bay of Biscay. Sadly in heavy fog his plane crashed into Mount Brandon in Co. Kerry. Guy and five of his comrades perished in the crash. Six other crewmembers survived. The bodies of Guy and his comrades were brought by the Irish army to Belleek; handed over to the R.A.F. They are now buried in Irvinestown. Maureen was only two years of age then; she and her mother Elsie were living in a house near Castle Archdale. While Maureen has no memories of what happened her Dad she told me that her mother attended the funeral of the men.

          In 1941 Guy was posted to Canada to train for flying the Sunderland’s. In March that year Elsie set out in a ship called the “Bayano” to join her husband in Canada. The U-boats were very active in the Atlantic at that time, she saw a number of the ships in the convoy attacked and set on fire by the U-boats, this was a terrifying experience. Her father-in law was a merchant Navy Chief Engineer, he advised her to never take off her clothes or life jacket during the journey across the Atlantic, except for necessary purposes. He sewed some items for survival inside the lining of her clothes and she followed his advice.



One of the passengers on the “Bavano” wrote a poem and gave a copy to each passenger.




When this cruel war is over, and you sit in contemplation,

In the years that lie before you, of the things that happened when

You crossed the North Atlantic in the sturdy old “Bayano”,

You’ll remember many incidents that happened to you then.



You’ll remember that dark morning, when you stood upon the deck

With the heavens lit like daylight, as the star shells burst oer’head.

With each tensioned nerve viberating as you waited for the outcome,

Of th’attack upon the convoy which had called you from your bed.


You’ll remember as in snapshots, a hundred little details,

Of that winter wartime journey, of the passengers and crew.

But I hope you will remember, by all you hold most sacred,

It was God and Merchant Seamen that saw you safely through.


In June 2005 I had the pleasure of flying the Donegal Corridor in a micro-light plane, a wonderful experience to follow the flight path of those airmen of 60 years ago.