Count Gerald O’Kelly de Gallagh

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Above: Count Gerald O’Kelly de Gallagh with his mother after the war.

Above: Count Gerald O’Kelly de Gallagh with his mother after the war.

The Irish in occupied France were fortunate to have an unjustly forgotten individual to look after their interests. When the official Irish legation followed the French government to Vichy, Count Gerald O’Kelly de Gallagh, from County Tipperary, was posted back to Paris as ‘special plenipotentiary’. Count O’Kelly thus defied German and Vichy French instructions for all diplomatic staff to be based in Vichy. Count O’Kelly—who had been Ireland’s first minister in France until his forced resignment in murky circumstances in 1935—ran consular services out of the premises of his wine company, Vendôme Wines, on the square of the same name in the centre of Paris. Combined with the legation staff in Vichy, O’Kelly de Gallagh and some of his businessmen friends were able to provide a measure of relief to Irish people in distress and to ensure that any detained were quickly released from internment—sometimes through the liberal distribution of locally printed temporary Irish passports. On some occasions these passports got into the wrong hands but, on balance, they probably helped their holders’ chances of survival. Vendôme Wines also survived through the Occupation, with Hermann Goëring featuring in a client list that the company itself estimated was 75–80% German in 1941.

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