Ireland, Germany and the Nazis 1919–1939

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 1 (Jan/Feb 2005), Letters, Letters, Volume 13

Sir,

—In Colonel J.P. Duggan’s review of my recent Ireland, Germany and the Nazis 1919–1939 (HI 12.3, Autumn 2004) he courteously suggests that it is a ‘positive contribution’. Nonetheless the review is curious: he reviews a book I might consider writing on Ireland, Germany and the Second World War in the future rather than the book presented for review.
Anyone reading his review might gain the impression that I had failed to mention material pertinent to the area of study. However, many of the comments are not directly relevant to the timeframe of the book. As indicated in the introduction, I was making an effort to view the inter-war relationship as it evolved and not as a prologue to World War II. Duggan recognises this in the opening paragraph of his review but then puts this central organising principle of the book to one side and proceeds to write his review as if all the events before September 1939 must be read in light of developments in Irish–German relations during the ‘emergency’. His comments largely relate to the final few months before the outbreak of war, and neglect the complicated Irish–German relationship during the two decades between the world wars.
His review, to use his own words, is a ‘box-car too far’—he reviews the inter-war period with explicit reference to what is known about the Second World War. For instance, he implicitly criticises my portrayal of the German minister, Hempel, as an ‘invariably correct’ diplomat before the outbreak of war, arguing that he was ‘insufferable’ in 1940, ‘like most Germans then’. That is precisely the point: 1940 was not 1939 or 1938. A different set of circumstances prevailed at various times, and World War II was not inevitable. No one foresaw the collapse of France and the Low Countries even in 1939. His post facto analysis is not advisable and it is a technique which I explicitly asked my readers to avoid at the outset of the book.
Colonel Duggan confuses matters by suggesting that Hempel ‘was German first and foremost’. This is self-evident despite Hempel’s Russian mother! One of the themes of the book was that de Valera could rely upon Hempel because he was a measured professional diplomat who was reliable and would at least communicate accurately the Irish perspective to his political masters in Berlin, unlike the infamous Mr Bewley. Bewley was the official Irish representative in Berlin yet he operated almost as a freelance diplomat (in the later 1930s) and failed to represent the Irish government’s points of view. This is not to deny that Hempel served the best interests of Germany as he saw it, but in doing so he at least had a better grasp of Irish affairs than the prejudiced and partisan Bewley.
To further illustrate my point, Colonel Duggan indicates that I neglected to examine the dubious activities of the Irish minister to Spain, Leopold Kerney, ‘during the war years’ and his involvement in gaining the release of Frank Ryan. The Irish government had been lobbying for his release from Franco’s Spain since early 1939. Ryan, an Irish republican socialist who had fought on the Spanish Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, was only released into Nazi German custody in July 1940. Nazi Germany only evinced interest in Ryan after the war began as a means to compensate for their weak intelligence infiltration of Ireland previously. Again this reveals more about the reviewer’s interests than about the book that he was purportedly reviewing.
Colonel Duggan’s contention is that I devote a lot of time to Bewley, but again he alludes primarily to Bewley’s wartime activities. Although Colonel Duggan argues that the book is a ‘well-worked thesis’, he actually provides little or no insight into its several themes—for instance, the establishment of Irish relations with Germany in the post-World War I era, Irish attitudes to the new international order established in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, the central importance the Irish government attached to exports to Germany during the Anglo-Irish ‘economic war’, evolving official Irish attitudes to Germany from the Weimar Republic to the Nazi pre-war periods, the centrality of German scholars to the development of Celtic Studies in Ireland, de Valera’s appeasing attitude towards Hitler, and German misunderstandings of Ireland’s Commonwealth status.
To reiterate, as I made clear in the introduction to the book, the goal was to fill a gap in the literature and provide a comprehensive analysis of the inter-war years. I acknowledge that Colonel Duggan has made a contribution to understanding Ireland and Germany during World War II, but I suggest that he re-reads my book as it stands within its timeframe.

MERVYN O’DRISCOLL
Department of History
University College Cork

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