30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 20 February 2007
I thought I was quite well informed about modern Irish history and entitled to argue my opinions, but after reading this book I realised what a simplistic view I really had.
I found the book gripping and surprisingly readable. It kept luring me on, making me want to know and understand more about the terrible predicament that the Irish found themselves in. Of course, the Irish experience during the war was better than any of the combatant nations, but the dilemma facing the Irish was unusual and very difficult. Their closest neighbour and most important trading partner, was also their ancient traditional enemy (from the perspective of Irish nationalism) and was fighting a war against an unspeakably evil regime. There was no solution for the Irish government that was both principled and would keep the former Irish Free State united (technically it was known simply as Ireland at this time).
Fisk makes clear the problems faced by de Valera's government and ultimately it is hard to say that this often charmless bunch called it wrong. The Irish state emerged from the war free and safe, but still without Northern Ireland. One can easily argue that they should have joined the fight for civilisation, but after reading the book I certainly couldn't agree. De Valera just didn't have the option. Joining the war on the Allies side would have torn the country apart.
Fisk's account makes the major combatants look unprincipled, in the case of Britain (and Churchill in particular) and plain daft, in the case of the Germans and their naive reading of Irish history and the Irish political situation. However, principled behaviour is seldom a realistic option when the future of the nation is at stake, a fact that de Valera and Churchill were both keenly aware of.
This is an essential book for those who are interested in Ireland and its history. It makes uncomfortable reading for those with extreme and entrenched views on Irish history, but is fascinating and rewarding for those who just want to learn, rather than have their prejudices confirmed.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 27 April 2002
Robert Fisk's excellent book is the best work on Ireland during the Second World War. Whilst Northern Ireland (as part of the UK) was fully involved in the Allied campaign, the former Irish Free State (now Republic of Ireland) remained neutral. Fisk's research is meticulous. Any serious student of 20th century Irish history must read this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 May 2014
A beautifully written account of Irish neutrality during WW2, and Eire's relationships with Britain, Northern Ireland and Germany. It is based on solid primary reseaarch, but Fisk's journalist background means it never falls below being highly readable. It is more strategic and political than Clair Willis's book on the same subect, and gives you slightly less of a sense of what it was like to be there, but it is brilliant about the relationships that shaped (and more often failed to shape) appropriate policies to meet their situations. Churchill comes across poorly, bit not as poorly as de Valera and Creaigavon. Whatever prejusdices you may bring to this book, after reading ti you will feel that it was all more complicated and nuanced than you thought. Which is as high praise as you can give a history book, realy,
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is serious, detailed history about a neglected aspect of UK / Irish history. I've read a lot of WW2 history and Irish history, but the majority of this book was new to me.
As other reviewers have noted, none of the main protagonists come out of the book unscathed. To simplify, de Valera was frequently devious and obsessive, Churchill bombastic, the Northern Unionists manipulative and the Germans incredibly naive and ill-informed.
De Valera's government certainly made their mistakes, especially the crass decision to pay a visit to the German embassy to pay their respects after Hitler's death, but was their strategy wrong? The Irish state in 1945 was relatively unscathed, even if without Northern Ireland. If they had joined the Allies, would a united Ireland have resulted after an Allied victory? I'm not convinced, and there was a very high probability that doing this would have started something near another civil war.
One irony of this period is that the agreement to hand back the Treaty Ports probably strengthened the hand of the northern Unionists by increasing Britain's dependence on their ports.The Unionists exploited this to the hilt both during and after the war, projecting a picture of "Loyal Ulster" that really doesn't ring true - their contribution to the was effort was very poor, with the exception of providing the ports (which they didn't have much choice about.) Another irony is that the northern Unionists gained so much politically (e.g. the late 40s declaration the the British government that there would be no change without the consent of the majority of Northern Ireland's population) despite its government during the war being staggeringly incompetent, especially in dealing with German air raids.
This book is very relevant to post-war Irish history, even up to today.
on 15 February 2015
Prior to his posting Beirut, Robert Fisk was the Belfast correspondent for "The Times".He then used his time during a one-year strike at "The Times" to complete his Ph.D thesis.
It's a good read,very good on pointing out the complexity if Ireland's relationships with both Britain and Germany.Even at the height of Nazi barbarism (largely unknown in Ireland due to wartime censorship), the Allied cause was,in Ireland at least,seen in shades of grey rather than black and white.
As the old saying goes "Nations have interests"-allies come and go.