The Emergency: Neutral Ireland, 1939-45 by Bernard Share (Gill & MacMillan, £7).
Ireland, during the war years of 1930-45, has become the subject of a number of books during the past decade but none has conjured up such a vivid picture of life during that time than this book by the journalist and novelist Bernard Share.
It is a lively book, full of incident and anecdote, and his text is accompanied by a superb collection of photographs — many from private collections which have never been published before.
Mr Share deals with a critical period of Irish history which still conjures up arguments today and feelings of bitter resentment in . England. The bone of contention On is Irish neutrality.
As the book points out, the Irish State in 1939 was only 17 years old and to many English eyes, in spite of the Constitution of 1937 (which made the 26 Counties into a republic in all but name) the country was still regarded as a spiritual, if not physical, part of Britain. Neutrality in Sweden or Switzerland, or any other small nation, was quite acceptable to England. But neutrality in Ireland? Churchill felt so strongly about it that he wrote in "The Grand Alliance": `I personally do not accept Irish neutrality as a legal act."
Churchill was prepared to go further. He laid out plans for a full-scale invasion of Ireland by England. He wanted Ireland's strategic seaports to use as naval bases.
Only pressure by America, which pointed out that England could not afford to create a second front in 1940, stopped Churchill from this crazy plan which would have outdone his other imperial blunders . . . the Gallipoli invasion in 1915 and its disastrous consequences and the invasion of the USSR by the British Army in 1919 to try to overthrow the Communist Government, were surely two of Churchill's biggest military imperial blunders. An invasion of Ireland would have capped the lot.'
But there is more to Mr Share's book that the political situation. He traces all aspects of life in Ireland during these years and conjures up images of black bread, ersatz coffee ration books and the hazards of public transport.
He writes of invasion rumours, of spies and counter-spies, of the struggle to build up Ireland's tiny army, of the gallantry of the small merchant marine services, of censorship and the dogged stand of De Velera to keep Ireland neutral and independent in the face of Churchill's belligerency.
It is an excellent book, and a necessary one for anyone who wants an accurate picture of the period — a period which is summed up in the line by Michael Matthews, in his poem "Moryah:" "God Almighty, this extraordinary war."
Peter Berresford Ellis