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on 17 August 2008
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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on 8 April 2013
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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on 9 February 2015
That Neutral Island is an outstanding book and eminently readable. It paints a vivid picture of life in Eire in World War 2, the living conditions and the attitudes of the people, and appears to give a very fair and balanced account of the reasons for de Valera’s desire to remain a neutral. I do not understand the criticisms of some previous reviewers that the book depends too heavily on the views of writers. Who better to convey the nuances of what it was like to live in Eire during the war years? Highly recommended.
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on 4 May 2015
found this book clearly written. I grew up in Ireland during the war years and so I found it nostalgic reading. Good insights into the reasons for Ireland's neutrality and the author dispels the myths surrounding it. Also deals with the cultural negatives of neutrality and the adverse effects on the rural population. She brings out the importance of war-time neutrality in forming the Irish psyche and subsequent national policy. An excellent read in my estimation.,
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on 20 July 2013
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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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 July 2007
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. Yet unlike these other countries, Ireland enjoyed the luxury geography afforded them as an island nation and the indirect protection of British arms. Such protection could not shield them completely from the war, however. Bodies of sailors from sunken ships washed up along the southern coast, the result of fighting in the Atlantic which curtailed Ireland's trade with the outside world and forced the rationing of numerous commodities. Propaganda filled the airwaves, as both sides sought to nudge Ireland to their side, counteracting the government's strenuous effort for 'balance' that belied any moral judgment of the conflict.

Throughout this account, Wills uses the lives and stories of writers to shine a light on how individuals reacted to the conflict. What emerges is a country in the conflict but not of it, a haven for many people (including soldiers who would head south from wartime Northern Ireland for relaxation without the fear of the nightly blitz) and a land encased in a cocoon of denial to others. She also looks at the motivations of the thousands of Irishmen and Irishwomen who crossed over to join the conflict, and the concerns of the thousands who were caught up in it against their will. While somewhat repetitive in the later chapters, Wills describes all of this with great insight into the effects of the Emergency upon both the Irish people and their efforts to define themselves as a new nation in the world, making it a book well worth reading.
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on 25 June 2012
This book gives a very thorough, interesting and balanced account of how the Irish Free State (now Eire) was affected by World War 2. Very importantly, it describes events and developments in Irish society during the years leading up to the war, and then goes on to describe the many ways that the war caused changes in the life of the country. It contains a great deal of information and it is not judgmental. There is a thorough coverage of the political situation, and of the dominant role of De Valera. De Valera had to try to appear impartial and not show preference for either of the belligerents, although he took a very hard line with the IRA. However, the book emphasizes constantly the many effects on Irish society, and in particular the ordinary people. This is a very fine book indeed.
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on 5 July 2014
Very interesting and well written.
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on 4 January 2008
IRELAND'S neutrality during the second world war has long been a contentious issue.
What is particularly interesting about this book is Wills' argument that what was in fact a choice of necessity - Ireland could not defend itself and an alliance with the UK was politically untenable - was subsequently reinvented as a moral choice.
This morality of neutrality went on to infect post-war Irish politics in such a way as to support an isolationalism that envisioned Ireland as standing alone against the forces of modernisation and progress.
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on 13 June 2008
I was very much looking forward to getting an Irish perspective of the country during "The Emergency". I was disappointed therefore to find little in the way of history and found myself reading instead what transpired to be a handbook of WW2 Irish literary criticism. As Clair Wills is a professor of literature by trade, I suppose I should have been more prepared for what amounts to a rather narrow window on the WW2 Irish experience. It is a common mistake among devotees of the arts to give too much credence to fictional works as sources of historical fact and Wills has fallen into this trap. I found myself skipping page after page of quoted passages of frankly unreadable sub standard period literature which served only to blow out of all proportion the importance both then and now of some very minor literary figures. The case of Elizabeth Bowen is a good example of this - Bowen is hardly a household name and yet Wills refers to her work frequently and also swallows hook line and sinker Bowen's own propaganda regarding her "war work" which was in fact very inconsequential and certainly didn't merit the "intelligence gathering" tag. By contrast the Luftwaffe bombing of Dublin and the effect this must have had on the populace is given comparitively scant coverage - hardly a cultural history then but more a period history of Wills' own preferred subject, namely Irish Literature. This is a real shame because if one sifts out the overblown literary passages, there are some very useful and interesting pieces of information and facts as well as all too little coverage on the media of the time which was certainly worthy of further exploration. A more solid basis of Irish popular opinion, other than those quoted by Wills' favourite writes, would have been of interest too.
In short this was a wasted opportunity to deliver what could have been a definitive work on one of the most fascinating periods of Irish history. A more honest title might have been "How the Emergency Affected the Works of Elizabeth Bowen and other 1940s Irish Writers". But then that might not have sold as well.
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