How The Irish Saved….Belfast

Ian Parsley, the politician, businessman and linguist who was previously a member of the Alliance Party and the UCNUCFCPF and is now back with Alliance…all since 2009….makes a fair point when he blogs that loyalists and republicans get more out of their parades when the other side actually opposes it.

Mr Parsley draws attention to the “innately sectarian” commemorations such as the annual Easter Rising (nationalist) and Centenary of the Ulster Covenant (unionist). He is of  course right (as a LetsGetAlongerist would see it). But seemingly he blogs this in the context of “UVF 1913″ flags going up along the route of  proposed parade celebrating the centenary of the paramilitary organisation. This parade will be in East Belfast, where it will antagonise very very few nationalists. But it will keep the pot boiling in East Belfast where the Alliance Party (of which he is currently a member) is coming under pressure since the Flegs Dispute erupted under the Alliance Party in December 2012.

In this particular case, Loyalism and LetsGetAlongerism are in confrontation” and Mr Parsleys sense of wonder that there will be no commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Belfast Blitz by the Germans in 1941…is perhaps LetsGetAlongerists reaching out for their “own” event.

In fact …in wondering why there IIs no commemoration…Mr Parsley answers his own question. It is the SEVENTY SECOND anniversary…72nd….#72. It carries no more import than the 71st or the 73rd. And it doesn’t really match up to the UVF Centenary.

However as Historians scrape the bottom of the barrel to help LetsGetAlongerists and their friends in Conflict Resolution to find “shared history”, it is fair to say that the Belfast Blitz of 1941 is actually authentic.

Like all shared History….World War Two ….has two versions.

The Irish were shamefully neutral is the unionist version while noble Netherlands, Norway, Belgium and plucky little Luxembourg rallied to the anti-fascist cause. Well not quite true. They were all as neutral as Ireland, until the Germans invaded them. But the United States rallied to the British cause…well no …they SOLD or LEASED Aid Ansd kept out of the War until December 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.

The British would happily have invaded the Republic to get its hands on the Irish ports which they had had to hand back to Ireland before War broke out.

More “Irishmen” actually fought for Britain than “loyal”Ulster types but don’t mention that to Unionists. There was no conscription in Norn Iron …the only part of the DisUnited Kingdom where it did not apply. Whole West Belfast Catholics would have been hard to round up, East Belfast Protestants were no more enthusiastic…..after all their fathers, uncles and big brothers had already paid the ultimate price in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. F@@k that for a Game of Soldiers.

Ah but Unionists will claim they were helping the war effort by building ships….well yes but they don’t builds many ships in inland towns like Ballymena and Portadown. Ah but there was the “enemy within” all those disloyal Catholics who could rise up and kill ….so an army of B Specials was required to ride bikes thru the Norn Iron countryside looking out for German Paras aided and abetted by IRA people. And of course there was all that Fire Watching….standing around on the roof at Mackies Foundary looking out for German incendiaries….which never came after May 1941.

Yet for all the Mythology of Norn Irons War Effort, the Belfast Blitz of April-May 1941 was a very real thseries and a tragic series of nights which killed over one thousand people.

In April 1941, Belfast despitn being a major shipbuilding centre was in fact an extremely easy target for the GermanLuftwaffe. The city was poorly protected and all the German bombers had to do was fly from France and follow the course of Belfast Lough, drop their bombs and go home. People…Catholics and Protestants took to the hills…literally people from the Falls Road and Shankill Road camped up on Divis Mountain. The Dublin Fire Service went north to help put out the inferno.

Of course a NUETRAL country sending its fire service into a war zone is a pretty average breach of neutrality. Indeed the Irish Government warned the Nazis that an attack on Belfast was an attack on IRISH territory….and the odd thing is that the Germans never bombed Belfast after May 1941. The Germans hardly feared the might of the Irish Army but they DID fear Britain getting access to the Irish ports to fight the U Boat threat.

Now you might think that having the de facto protection of the Irish nation ….that unionists might be grateful that after  a few nights of the blitz….Belfast was unmolested.

Sadly…no. Predictably…no.

Unionists prefer to talk about Irish betrayal of the Mother Country…Britain. They prefer to talk about Irish compliance with neutrality long after it was necessary for the protection of Ireland, including the North. De Valera was criticised for visiting the German Embassy in Dublin to express condolences at the death of Hitler in April 1945. But that is surely as honourable as neutral Latin American countries declaring war on Germany when the war was already won.

The Belfast Blitz is very much part of Belfast History and indeed it’s folklore but inventing a commemoration around its 72nd anniversary just to promote LetsGetAlongerism is not appropriate…not even to take the heat off the Alliance Party in East Belfast.

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20 Responses to How The Irish Saved….Belfast

  1. bangordub says:

    Interesting article Mr Fitz. I actually had a discussion with a perfectly rational and otherwise very friendly unionist aquaintance who was absolutely certain that U Boats were refuelled and replenished all along the West coast of Ireland throughout WW2. Naturally I asked him for any shred of evidence of this and naturally he hadn’t an ounce but he assured it was beyond doubt nevertheless.

    • Oh the U Boat thing on the West Coast is one of the great urban myths here.
      Have you ever heard the one about the Luftwaffe bombers being guided to Belfast radio transmissions….and people deliberately breaking the blackout rules on the Falls Road?

      • bangordub says:

        Seriously?
        There was an urban myth in Dublin that when German Bombs were dropped on the North Strand it was because the area had a Jewish population. Strange but true. Some will always try to extract a propoganda or strategic advantage from tragedy but being an Ulsterman you’ll not have experience of that……

  2. Derek says:

    It’s always interesting to see unionist myths undermined, any myth for that matter. Many of the points you raised and the myths referred to in the comments I was unaware of. I can feel a bout of googling coming on.

    • Should have added the Falls Road Baths story.
      The swimming pool was drained and a lot of bodies put in there.
      My Uncle Jackie was a lifeguard-swimming coach and he often talked about it.
      Of all military tactics, bombing is the nastiest.
      Whether Hiroshima, London, Dreden, Belfast…it is totally indiscriminate.

  3. Political Tourist says:

    Must be the same story as Celtic Park in Glasgow leaving the floodlights on.
    Only thing being Celtic didn’t install floodlights until 1959.
    Heard Spain was a bit dodgy as well on the neutral front.
    Never mind the poor sods fighting a three year civil war and Franco being a chum of Herr Hitler.
    Pesky Fenians.
    Think i preferred it first time round rather than it being dragged up again by the Laptop Loyal.

    • Some incredible stories about Belfast during the War.
      Balmoral was the scene of a few racially motivated fights.
      Apparently it was a big American depot and the soldiers were black and local civilian workers did not get on with them.
      Also a lot of local ladies liked the Americans and wartime knickers were inferior quality …just one yank and they’re off.

    • My mother came from a small village called Tynan in County Armagh.Then it had a small railway station the last before the Monaghan border. In those days trains went from Belfast to Monaghan.
      My mothers family lived beside the station.
      It was therefore a border village.
      And most of the the Belfast people going on day trips to Monaghan were smugglers”
      Nobody minded ordinary smugglers….ie non commercial smugglers. Thats how people in border areas got tea, sugar etc. Including the families of customs officers and police.
      Occasionally if some ” inspection” was going on things were serious.
      But generally speaking the customs men were ok.
      On reflection it probably helped that Tynan was Orange and so was the Monaghan side of the border.
      It was the village of Sir Norman Stronge and James Stronge, active unionists who were killed and TynanAbbey burned in the early 1970s.
      Nobody liked the Belfast people who travelled to Monaghan.
      And I think that the basic rule was if they gave any cheek, they were fair game.
      From what my mother always said, confiscated stuff often found its way to the families of the customs men.And their friends in the village.
      As she once said, her family was often stopped at the border and asked if they had any tea, sugar etc and if they said no…they would get some…from the customs.
      The German style helmets in Irish Army during Emergency was true.
      In1960s there was a ITV programme called All Our Yesterdays.
      It was at 7pm Monday night and presented by journalist Brian Inglis, who was Anglo Irish.
      It was really a look at how life was in Britain TWENTY FIVE Years previously, thru cinema newsreels like Pathe.
      The voice on the newsreel being Bob Danvers Walker and his posh accent.
      The earliest ones I can remember were set in 1938 and the lead up to War.
      Nowadays we still see those newsreels or more likely they are parodied by Victoria Wood and Harry Enfield.
      There was a memorable episode where the Irish Army was ridiculed and the German helmets were prominent.

      There is also a well known Pathe newsreel where the industrious Ulsterman and. Feckless. Southerner are contrasted. Goebels would have been proud of it. I don’t think it is war time…probably 1936. It was standard anti Irish fare…the Irish sleep with their animals kinda thing.

      In the 1960s it used to be common to hear war time tales. According to my father during the phoney war period Falls Road republicans burned gas masks or refused to wear them and then complained they had lost them when things got serious.
      Also Hugh McAteer IRA leader and his men took over the Broadway Cinema on the Falls Road and addressed the audience including people in British uniform.
      One serious thing I could never pin down is the rumour that trains full of Brits or Yanks were seen at Glengall Street and Lisburn, allegedly heading an invasion into the South.
      The nearest thing I can get to the truth is that this was an exercise. The tracks south of the border had explosives at intervals anyway.

  4. hoboroad says:

    It seems no matter how many times the Nazi U Boat story is debunked it keeps coming back. It’s almost as if some people want it to be true. It reminds me of the story that was told in the media that the Iraq Army stole baby incubators from Kuwaiti hospitals during the Iraqi occupation. This story was cooked up by a US PR company which was being paid by Kuwaiti exiles who wanted the USA to intervene.

  5. Political Tourist says:

    Did the LetsGetAlongists hold a protest while the UVF were marching through East Belfast?
    Heard some strange disputes over the years by the various factions but Loyalist v Alliance must the strangest of all.
    I’ll admit i never saw that one coming.

    • The Alliance Party are much too polite to do that kinda thing.
      They always operated under the radar and raised their heads above the parapet (mixed metaphor).
      They made a crucial mistake in December over the Flegs.
      They really did believe they were the Third Party, more powerful than they actually are.
      I obviously condemn the violence they faced. They never believed they would have to face that kinda thing.
      As Mid Ulster showed, there is little sympathy for them.
      They are still in a state of shock.

  6. Pat Mc Larnon dropped a great link on P.ie a year ot more ago. The article was about the frustration in GB with the unwillingness of unionists to enlist an the poor performance in the war effort here, with us havng the worst production figures, by a long way and the most strike figures.

    On the unionist urban myth thing; I was talking to a unionist friend of mine last week and he still believes that Mc Gurk’s was caused by an IRA man who left the bomb there and went home.

    I’ll ask Pat for the link, over on P.ie

  7. on twitter, not non twitter.

    • Great stuff ….Thanks for this.
      i should add that many of the farmingnfamilies whomtook in Belfast refugees were apalled at their condition Of course that is also true in many parts of England.

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