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That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War [Hardcover]

Clair Wills
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Mar 2007
Despite Winston Churchill's best efforts to the contrary, the Irish premier Eamon de Valera stuck rigidly to Ireland's right to remain outside a conflict in which it had no enemies. Accusations of betrayal and hypocrisy poisoned the airwaves and the printed media; legends of Nazi spies roaming the country freely made Ireland seem a haven for Hitler's friends. This is the background to Clair Wills's brilliant and ground-breaking book. Where previous histories of Ireland in the war years have focused on high politics, That Neutral Island mines deeper layers of experience. Sean O'Faolain, Kate O'Brien, Elizabeth Bowen, Flann O'Brien and Louis MacNeice are a few of the writers whose stories, letters and diaries are used to illuminate this small country as it lived under rationing, heavy censorship, the threat of invasion and a strange state of detachment from the real world of the war. Clair Wills brings to life the atmosphere of a country forced to do without much of its modern technology. She describes the work of those who recovered the bodies of British sailors and airmen from the sea. She unearths the motivations of those thousands who left the country to fight in the British forces. And she shows how ordinary people tried to make sense of the Nazi threat through the lens of antagonism to Britain, the former colonial power.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; First edition edition (15 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 057122105X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571221059
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.6 x 5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 872,334 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'An excellent cultural history.' -- Guardian

'An impressively thorough account of an overlooked aspect of the Second World War.' -- Observer

'Engaging and comprehensive.' -- Sunday Times

'Wills ... reminds us in this wide-ranging and nicely researched account that for the Irish neutrality was certainly not the same as peace.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Wills' impeccable history of Ireland's uneasy neutrality [is] an impressively thorough account of an overlooked aspect of the Second World War.' -- Observer

'[An] excellent cultural history.' -- Guardian

It's hard to imagine a fairer-minded guide...Her book not only
fills a gap...it is a model of exhaustive research and illuminating
example. -- Blake Morrison, Guardian

Sweeping in its scope, packed with telling details, written in an
easy, fluid style, this is a highly original book about a fascinating
period... Brilliant. -- Sunday Telegraph

What a pleasure to read...Simply the best ever social and cultural
history of Ireland during the second world war...This is a quite
outstanding book. -- Irish Independent

[A] fascinating, brilliant cultural history of Ireland during the
second World War. -- Irish Times

Book Description

When the world descended into war in 1939, a few European countries remained neutral. Of the neutral states, none was more controversial than Ireland.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some fascinating insights 17 Aug 2008
By Aine
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My late parents were both from "The Free State" but spent the majority of WWII working in Britain and Northern Ireland, as did many of their generation. Anyone who wants a flavour of the lives of "ordinary" people in extraordinary times would find this of interest.

I would agree with some comments from another Amazon user on the author dwelling for too long and with too much emphasis on the writers of the period.

However, I would take issue with his comments about the other aspects of this book. I am not an historian, and perhaps there are better books than this about the "Emergency" - but I learnt a lot about Ireland's attitudes and politics in this period of history; and the effects of the war and de Valera's policies on Irish people at home and abroad.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By MarkK TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
As an event, the Second World War was impossible to escape. Though many countries sought to distance themselves from the fighting, nearly all were affected to one degree or another by the global conflagration. One of those was Eire, the nation that had only recently wrested itself from the British empire but now found itself facing the conflict by its proximity to Great Britain. Though the politics and the policies of Ireland during the war have been the subject of numerous books, Clair Wills has written something different, a cultural history which examines the impact of the 'Emergency' (the name the Irish government gave to the situation) upon Irish life.

Wills begins by setting the scene with a portrait of Ireland in the 1930s. With it, she illustrates just how rural and primitive much of the island was, with a growing contrast between the 'traditional' Ireland of poor farms and the 'modern' Ireland of towns and cities. It was in this context that Ireland was grappling with modernity on its own terms, with much of the resistance dictated by the influence of the Catholic church and attitudes of its adherents. Ireland was also only just beginning to emerge from the shadow of British rule, developing its own identity as a nation and dealing with such legacies as the remnants of the Irish Republican Army.

All of this underscores just how unprepared Ireland was to deal with the emerging war on the European continent. Wills reminds readers that Ireland's stance was no different from that of other small European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, and Denmark, none of whom had the resources (let alone the desire) to be drawn into a large-scale conflict.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A nuanced, intelligent analysis 8 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Dr Wills writes about a complex and difficult subject, about which many tons of over-simplified, prejudice-reinforcing rubbish has been written down the years. It's great to read a book on a topic you think you sort-of understand, and find that your preconceptions are thoughtfully and clearly undermined and rearranged. It is thorough scholarly analysis written with a charm and lucidty that make sure have no "how did that work again" moments. One tiny cavil is that more weight is given to the sometimes dull opinions of minor literati, most of whom would have profited from writing lessons from this author.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 5 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very interesting and well written.
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4.0 out of 5 stars That neutral Island review. 20 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is without a doubt the most authoritative book about Ireland during World War 2 that I have read .It gives a lot of background information that helps to give an understanding of how things were then.
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