Thursday 22 February 2018

Heil Hitler: Eire's grá for Third Reich

It wasn't only the British royals who paid homage to the rise of Nazis

Sieg Heil: Irish team (right) gives the Nazi salute before an international in Bremen in 1939
Sieg Heil: Irish team (right) gives the Nazi salute before an international in Bremen in 1939
A young Queen Elizabeth giving a Nazi salute

Damian Corless

Some, perhaps many, will have afforded themselves a self-righteous guffaw at the images released this week which appear to show a too-young-to-know-better Queen Elizabeth throwing up her arm in a gleeful Nazi salute in 1933 (pictured).

But as a people we really have no right to crow. If we're prepared to look hard enough we will discover ourselves caught up to a dastardly degree in the whole horrible muddle that was a global infatuation with fascism in the mixed-up decade of the 1930s.

The Irish alliance with a Germany on the rise but not sure where it was heading began shortly after our break with British rule.

The most ambitious project in the early years of Free State Ireland was the Shannon Rural Electrification scheme.

From the outset the imperative was to turn to anyone but our just-shook-off British overlords. When word spread that our government was in negotiations with Siemens-Schuckert, the British government and media went ballistic.

The Daily Mail ran a condemnation headlined: 'German Intrigue In Ireland - Bid For Economic Control'. The Mail claimed that the "Siemens Syndicate" was plotting to use the scheme as a Trojan Horse to set up Ireland as a German-controlled state on Britain's back doorstep.

First the Germans would establish an electricity monopoly, which they'd use to take over Ireland's industry, which they'd then use as a cash cow to repatriate profits into a German economy still struggling to pay back crippling reparation penalties from the Great War.

At the very beginning of Hitler's rise to power the greatest Irish aviator of the day, James Fitzmaurice, enhanced his reputation at home with a lavishly reported meet and greet with the newly installed Chancellor Hitler.

As the grim emigration-scarred decade of the 1930s plunged ever deeper towards fatal desperation, Adolf Hitler was regarded more and more as a Pied Piper in Ireland to the point that the Nazi salute became something of a fad.

Typical was a 1937 newspaper report from the west of Ireland that read: 'The early train from Sligo to Claremorris yesterday might reasonably be described as an emigrant train, as it carried another large group of young men and girls from their native West to seek work across the water, following in the trail of many hundreds who have gone before them since the beginning of the year. I am told that they used to shout 'Up Dev!' and 'Up the Republic!' but yesterday they shouted with a somewhat forced gaiety 'Up Sligo!' and their last recollection of their home town as they bundled their new suitcases on the carriage racks was a farewell salute in the Nazi style.'

As Germany prepared to reassert itself in late 1930s the head of the Nazi party in Ireland, Adolf Mahr, was joined by many functunaries including the editor of the Irish Times, Mr RM Smyllie at the German Association's Christmas party.

Swastikas draped the balconies and flags bearing the fascist emblem decorated the tables while Doctor Hempel, Germany's top diplomat in Ireland, welcomed guests. Hempel asked all present to rise and salute the leader and Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler, and was met with a full-blooded response.

With a serried rank of right arms raised in the Nazi salute, the Gresham gathering sang the German anthem and Horst Wessel Lied, a song which celebrated one of the Führer's gangster commanders.

And let us not forget the rousing welcome given by the Irish football squad to Hitler's Dream Team of 1936 when the crowd at Dalymount Park, and the Irish squad, gave a rousing salute to the visitors.

In 1939, only a few months before Germany invaded Poland in September - precipitating the outbreak of World War II - the Irish team visited Bremen where they again gave enthusiastic Nazi salutes in front of a capacity crowd.

There was a vast swell of Irish feeling towards Naziism as the 1930s advanced, as the party that would become Fine Gael became friends with the fashionable combine that were The Blueshirts.

Oliver J Flanagan embodied the spirit of the times. The deputy for Laois/Offaly, throwing in his lot with the Third Reich, complained to the Dail:

"There is one thing that Germany did and that is to rout the Jews out of their country. Until we rout the Jews out of this country, it does not matter what orders you make.

''Where there are bees there are honey and where there are Jews there is honey. Before you consider that, consider this''.

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