Wicklow - Prelude to the 'Emergency' June to September 1939 PART I

June 1939

The 1930’s were a very troubled and unsettled decade. It began with the Great Depression which had been triggered by the Wall Street Crash of October 29th 1929 and ended with World War 2 triggered by the German invasion of Poland on September 1st 1939.

Indeed while most countries were trying to come to terms with the Great Depression, one European country, Germany, maintained a policy of military and territorial expansion which culminated with that country’s invasion of Poland.

In 1919 Germany had been forced to accept the harsh conditions of the Treaty of Versailles imposed upon them on its failure to win world War I. Up to 1933 Germany did her best to comply with the terms of the Treaty but in that year due to political stalemate no political party in the Reichstag had a sufficient majority to form a government. To break the deadlock President Hindenburg asked Adolf Hitler to form a government with Hitler as Chancellor. Once in power, Hitler called for new elections and just before they were held the Reichstag was burned down with the Nazis blaming the Communists. The Nazis did well in the election and once returned to office began a policy of eliminating the opposition, other political parties and anyone who stood in their way. Religious groups particularly the Jews were persecuted as well as racial groups i.e. gypsies, etc.

Germany now became a one party state and with the death of President Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler altered the constitution to allow himself to become both Chancellor and President under the new title of ‘Der Furher’.

Germany under Hitler and the Nazi Party now began to disregard the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and embarked on a policy of military armament an expansion. Territorial expansion followed rapidly. In 1936 the Rhineland was occupied without any opposition from France and Britain who were powerless to prevent this occurrence. In 1938 Austria was annexed in the ‘Anschluss’ , the same year in which Hitler demanded that the Germans living in the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia be given self government. Britain agreed to his demand but matters took a serious development when Hitler further demanded that the Sudentenland be joined with Germany. The Czechs were prepared to go to war over this issue and an early start to World War 2 was averted at the Munich Conference in September 1938 which was attended by the prime ministers of France, Britain along with Hitler and Mussolini. It was decided that the Sudetenland would be ceded to Germany – the Czechs were not given a say in the matter and Hitler promised that there would be no more territorial demands.

However in March 1939, Germany took over the whole of Czechoslovakia and now demanded the port of Danzig and the Polish Corridor from Poland, on the grounds that the Poles were ill treating Germans. This time however Britain and France decided not to yield to German demands and promised to defend that country from the Germans.

The Countdown To World War Two Begins

At home in 1932 Fianna Fail won the General Election and came to power thus ending a decade of rule by the Cumann na nGaedhal government. Immediately Taoiseach Eamon de Valera began to implement those policies by which he hoped to alter the terms of the Anglo Irish Peace Treaty which had established the Irish Free State and over whose terms the Civil War had been fought.

In 1932 the Economic War began with the refusal of the Irish Government to pay land annuities to Britain in accordance with the terms of the Treaty. A bitter tariff war ensued and during this period farmers were ruined as prices fell while at the same time they had to pay the disputed land annuities to the Irish Land Commission which retained them. The threat posed by the Blueshirt Movement (1932-1936) was faced up to and in 1937 a New Constitution was introduced. This Constitution,which we still use today, changed the name of the state from Irish Free State to Ireland; made the President the Head of State, gave the Oireachtas the power to enact laws and divided i.t into 2 houses, the Dail and the Seanad. There were other changes which are outside the scope of this article.

In 1939 as the war clouds gathered over Europe, the people of Wicklow and the rest of Ireland knew that in the event of hostilities, Ireland would be neutral, but behind the scenes” Taoiseach De Valera made it known to the British that in the event of war although we would be neutral, he would not allow the country be used as a stepping stone to invade Britain and that he would give whatever aid he could without contravening our neutrality.

Under the Anglo Irish Agreement made in 1938 which resolved the Economic War, lreland agreed to pay Britain £10M in settlement of the land annuities issues and received back from Britain the Treaty Ports of Cobh, Berehaven and Lough Swilly. Britain hoped that in time of war they might be allowed to use these ports again but the decision by Ireland to be neutral meant that they would not be able to use them.

In the Spring of 1939, Britain was on a war footing as industry tried to produce all the materials necessary to outfit her armed forces and to produce those items which were needed to defend the country. Training of the armed forces was carried out at a very rapid pace with reserves being called up and conscription being introduced.

The need for people to work in Britain’s industries provided employment opportunities for people from Wicklow but young men knew that if they worked in Britain they would be liable for conscription into Britain’s armed forces.

Speaking in the Dail on Wednesday May 31st 1939, Taoiseach Eamon De Valera said that he had made it clear that every Irishman aged between 20 and 28, residing for 2 years in Great Britain, was liable for military service unless he could show that he was following an educational course or was in Great Britain for temporary purposes only.

In Wicklow, as elsewhere in Ireland, the ordinary people were fully informed on how serious the international situation was through their national and local newspapers; wireless and the cinema newsreels.

Preparing for the worst eventuality, the Government had enacted the Air Raid Precautions Act which required local authorities to prepare civil defence schemes for the civil population in the event of war. Given that war had not yet broken out, Wicklow County Council, which had to prepare an ARP Scheme for the whole county with the exception of Bray, where the Urban District Council there was required to prepare its own scheme, adopted a policy of ‘wait and see’, an approach which was followed by many other local authorities as it was widely believed that like Munich the previous year, the threatened war would be averted.

The Summer Season for Wicklow began with the Whit Bank Holiday Weekend (May 27th/29th) with East Coast resorts full of holiday makers availing of the excellent weather which some commentators later said was the warmest Whitsun for many years. Roads to Powerscourt and Enniskerry, Glendalough and Wicklow, were ?ooded with parties of hikers and motorists.

As Wicklow Town geared up for the holiday season, on May 30th it began on the cautionary note that the Government had enacted the Offences Against the State Act (1939) which provided for the death penalty for acts of treason, the first of two measures which the Government promoted for the safety of the state.

But life in Wicklow Town carried on as normal. On Friday June 2nd, a general meeting of those interested in promoting the annual regatta was held in the Town Hall. The small attendance agreed that the regatta would take place that year and that there would be a big campaign to collect funds from traders and householders, as without their support the event would not be able to continue.

The outgoing committee was re-elected and the office holders for 1939 were:

Chairman                   :           James Everett, T.D.

Vice Chairman          :           Mr. Dunne.

Secretaries                :           Mr. M. MacMahon, Mr. J. Olohan, P.C.

Two days later the grounds of the Dominican Convent was thronged with past pupils and guests of the Mother Prioress for the annual past pupils reunion. In the afternoon there was music from the Army Band while others spent the time on the tennis court or putting green. A small break in the pleasant Sunday’s afternoon programme was the election of the new committee and returned as officers were:

President                   :           Miss M. Casey

Vice Presidents        :           Miss M. Lysagh, Mrs. Cody, Miss L. Lighfoot, Miss E. Byrne, Mrs. Hannon, Mrs. Broderick

Hon. Secretary          :           Mrs. N. Woodcock

Hon. Treasurer         :           Miss M. Dunne

After tea the Past Pupils Dramatic Club provided an entertainment in the concert hall and the evening closed with Solemn Benediction given by Rev. J. Doyle, C.C.

Not far away at the Ballroom Marquee on the Murrough, the weekly dancing competition attracted a large number of patrons some of whom were lucky enough to be selected to take part in the finals later in the season.

On Monday June 5th there was a dramatic and exciting rescue of the 10 year old son of Mrs. Reilly, Irishtown, who fell into the harbour at the South Quay. The accident was seen by Mr. R. J. Smith who was on the Steam Packet Pier and he immediately raised the alarm. At the time of the accident it was half tide in the harbour and immediately the alarm was raised, two men on the South Quay dived into the river to the boy’s assistance. From the Steam Packet Pier Henry Culbert dived into the river and began to swim across to where the boy was, despite the danger posed by the ebbing tide. In the meantime R. J. Smith was directing the two men who had dived in from the South Pier by shouting directions to them. As these men neared the boy, Smith’s instructions were heard by a W. Synnott who happened to be on the South Quay and locating the spot in the river where the boy was, without hesitation, dived into the river fully clothed and grabbed hold of the boy and held onto him until he could be pulled out. In the process of swimming across the river Culbert got into difficulties and had to discard his shoes and trousers to get out of difficulties. All three men were then taken from the river to recover from their ordeal.

Lack of sufficient members to form a quorum to hold the monthly meeting of Wicklow Urban District Council on Tuesday forced its cancellation. Those who turned up were W. O’Grady (Vice Chairman), J. Olohan, P.C., C. W. Hudson and A. Dunne.

Similarly the monthly meeting of the Wicklow Harbour Board had to be cancelled for the same reason, C. W. Hudson and W. O’Grady being the only ones who turned up. 

At the weekly Whist Drive in aid of the Missions which was held in the ‘Cosy Corner’, Mrs. Roberts, Fitzwilliam Square, was the winner.

On Wednesday June 7th that most famous of District Justices, Liam Price, presided at a sitting of Wicklow District Court. The list of cases which came before him consisted mainly of civil bills, motoring offences and an interesting malicious damages case in which the Electricity Supply Board won a decree for £2.15.00 in respect of malicious damage to 22 pole insulators done by children aged between 8 and 13. The damage had been caused by stone throwing between April 20th and May 22nd.

For those who wished to have their feet attended to, Wednesday was the day when Mrs. Morris, M.B.,A.Ch, of 10 Harcourt Street, Dublin attended the Fitzwilliam Pharmacy and was there from 11 a.m. until 5.30 p.m. She gave treatment and advice for all foot ailments. Consultations were free and appointments to see her were made through Miss M. Costello, M.P.S.I. of the Fitzwilliam Pharmacy.

Later that day the first of the Great Southern Railway’s ‘Sea Breeze’ excursions to Wicklow took place. While the numbers were small, the weather was excellent with plenty of sunshine.

For those who fancied purchasing a motor car, Coleborn and Hopkins, Main Morris Dealers, offered the Morris 8 for sale at £175. They claimed that it was as spacious as an ordinary (Morris) 10 and had Morris 8’s in stock for immediate delivery.

A Dramatic Rescue

On Friday there was another dramatic rescue of a child from the harbour. The son of a Mr. Dunne of High Street was observed by a woman falling into the river from the Quays. Immediately the alarm was raised, Patrick McGrainor of Bond Street put out in a boat and managed to rescue the child who was holding onto the quayside to avoid being swept away while the tide was running at strength.

On Saturday the seriousness of the international situation was borne out with stories in the national press of the successful testing the previous day of a Bee Hive Shelter on the military range at Kilbride. This shelter was intended to protect families from the blast of bombs in air raids and was personally tested by the Minister for Defence, Mr. Frank Aiken, who remained in one while a quantity of explosives to simulate bomb blasts was detonated by Army engineers. The shelter survived the blast and the Minister with two army officers emerged unscathed and unharmed. It was expected that the shelter would go on sale for around £10/10/00.

A great pastime of cigarette smokers was collecting the coupons which came in each pack which could be exchanged for a variety of gifts, the more one smoked the more coupons one accumulated – and none at this time gave any thought to the the harmful effects of cigarette smoking. A brand known as ‘Kerry Blue’ sold at 5 for 2d; 10 for 4d and the following are a selection of gifts for which the coupons which came in each packet could be exchanged:

A Pair of Ladies Artificial Silk Stockings  70 Coupons

3 Tea Spoons                                               75        “

A Pair of Ladies Pure Silk Stockings        120     “

A 3 Pint Aluminium Kettle                           140     “

A Camera                                                      250     “

A Fireside Stool                                            400     “

A Ladies Umbrella                                       450     “

5.5 Lb. Electric Iron                                      650     “

Cycling was a popular pastime and the Monument Radio and Cycle Service in Church Street was the authorised agent for such well known brands as Sunbeam, Bauman, Argyle and Liffey cycles. They also sold Bush and Invicta radios.

They had a very clever advertising poem based on one of Thomas Moore’s best known works which ran as follows:

“There’s not in this wide world a valley so sweet

As that Vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet.

But if you had to hike there with no boots on your feet

You would not care a lang where the bright waters meet.

So call into Wicklow, the shop’s in Church Street

And purchase a ‘Sunbeam’, new, natty and neat,

And pay only a ‘tanner’ once in the week

And enjoy a d’ay’s trip to that Valley so sweet.”

On Saturday night June 10th the spell of good weather which had endured for the previous two weeks came to an end with cold biting winds. Rain was in the air but it held off until Sunday afternoon when there was one massive squall and then rain later in the evening.

There were a number of things happening that Sunday. Some people opted to travel to Rathdrum to take part in the Corpus Christi procession held there. Principal attraction of the evening was dancing in the Royal Pavilion and the Ballroom Marquee, both of which attracted a large patronage from over a wide area. That Sunday it was noticed that there were over 20 motors from various parts of East Wicklow outside the Ballroom Marquee.

Dancing in the Ballroom Marquee was from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. with music provided by Leo Connor’ s Dance Band. Admission was 1/3 (6p) and there was dancing nightly from Tuesdays to Fridays.

The Serenaders Star Dance Band provided the music in the Royal Pavilion where there was dancing every night, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Winners in the De La Salle School Sports Fund Draw were:

1) Mrs Bessie Kennedy, Kilmantin Hill.

2) Mrs. W. Clarke, Wentworth Place.

3) Mrs. J. Oden, The Murrough.

On Thursday June 14th the Offences Against the State Act (1939) was introduced empowering the government to outlaw any organisation and provided for the establishment of the Special Criminal Court to try political suspects.

On Sunday June 14th Wicklow Harbour was a centre of activity with the arrival of one of the largest ships to use the port, the Dutch vessel MV ‘Aeger’ which arrived with a cargo of 550 tons of Basic Slag for Messrs J. P. Hopkins. Due to its size the harbour had been dredged during the week prior to its arrival and the easy berthing of the vessel at the quays near Hopkin’ s store was considered a tribute to the dredger. There were plenty of sightseers to see what some considered to be one of the largest vessels to use the port in recent years. The vessel itself was only 4 weeks old and had a crew of 8 men, captain, engineer and mate. The captain and the engineer were accompanied by their wives and great interest was shown in the captain’s two children Maje and Ena, though their lack of English tended to hamper conversation and communication.

For G.A.A. supporters there was a football league match at Ashford, but due to only a few of the Greystones team turning up a scratch match was provided.

For those suffering from that ‘Morning after the Night Before’ feeling on Monday morning there was always Milk of Magnesia in liquid or tablet form to take to help clear the brain for another week. In bottle form it cost 1/3 and 2/6 for ‘treble size’. In tablet form packets cost 6d., 1/ 1, 2/- and 3/6. 

John Sheane, 6 Main Street, was a leading furniture store and offered the following:

3 piece bedroom suites in oak, walnut, or mahogany from £5/19/00

7 piece parlour suites from £8/19/00

He also stocked beds, mattresses, blankets, lino, sewing machines, radios (all makes), oil stoves, ranges and various other household hardware items.

On Tuesday night June 20th Mr. James Everett T.D., chaired a special meeting of the Wicklow Urban District Council at which the attendance included Wm. O’Grady, C. W. Hudson, J. Olohan, P.C., J. Clarke, M. MacMahon and J. O’Connor.

Some of the items discussed at this meeting included the following.

In a letter to the Council the C.S .R. Traffic Superintendent indicated that the request from the Council that the Co. should run buses to neighbouring resorts and strands with the aim of making the town a tourist centre was under consideration. The letter also indicated that the establishment of a bus stop in the Market Square was also under consideration.

The Council was also informed that the Dept. saw no reason or merit in granting an increase in the contract price of potatoes supplied for school meals as it did not accept the reasons given by the contractor that he was attempting to recover increased costs. While there had been a slight increase in the price of potatoes, there was no shortage of supplies, and therefore the Dept. could not justify his claim.

Other matters discussed at the meeting was the appointment of a Shops Inspector who was required to visit all the shops in the town on a periodic basis as required under the terms of the Shops Act (Conditions of Employment) Act, 1938, and the matter was adjourned to the next meeting.

The Town Clerk informed the meeting that the Town Surveyor, J. T. O’Byrne, had undertaken to answer some queries raised by the Dept. of Local Government in connection with the Council’ s application for a grant under the employment schemes towards the costs of laying a sewer at Territh Lane. The Dept. wished to know the labour content of the work, the number of skilled and unskilled men that would be employed.

Lack of funds meant that the meeting had to turn down an application from Joseph Clancy of the local swimming club seeking £10 contribution towards the costs of erecting diving boards along the foreshore.

However an application from Mr. J. M. Butler, Abbey Street, writing on behalf of a number of local swimmers for permission to place a diving board on the new pier in the same position as last year, fully covered by insurance, had better fortune as the meeting approved the application.

The last item before the meeting which was adjourned was a report from the Town Surveyor, J. T. O’Byrne, who submitted a layout and plan of the sites on the ?eld at Dunbur Road for which applications had been received in part for building sites.

The Town Clerk said that the arrangements were very well conceived and proposed that a ground rent of £2 per site which with regard to the site and location compared very favourably with the sites in any other seaside town.

The plan was approved by the meeting as was the ground rent proposal with one site being allocated to R. F. Conway who had submitted an application at the previous meeting.

On Wednesday June 21 the supplementary estimate prepared by the Dept. of Defence to cover A.R.P. matters was discussed. The total expenditure was estimated to come to £500,000 of which £32,000 was expected to be spent directly by the State on gas masks, fire fighting equipment, decontamination equipment etc. It also emerged that improvements in the fire service were being contemplated and that the Minister for Local Government was contemplating legislation to compel local authorities to have a minimum level of fire fighting services in their areas.

The Captain’s Prize 

At Wicklow Golf Club there was intense competition for ‘The Captain’s Prize’ which was played for on June 22nd. Winner of a nice cup presented by Mr. S. J. Delahunt was Supt. J. A. Flynn, 17 handicap, 63 nett with the runner up M. C. Byrne on 6 handicap, 65 nett.

The next day the No. 1 Army Band was a visitor to the town as part of a recruiting drive for Oglaigh na hEireann. The band, which was under the baton of Lt. O’Hara, played national airs for over an hour before the recruiting drive commenced.

John Kane, Funeral Undertaker, advertised that ‘In times of Bereavement we offer to you a Service which relieves you of all responsibility during a trying period.’ Coffins and habits supplied and he could be contacted at Fitzwilliam Road. 

Sunday June 24th saw the town receive a visit from about 60 members of the Inchicore Altar Society accompanied by one of the priests of that parish and a Mr. Gleeson. Every year they made an annual outing to Co.Wicklow and after lunch in the town they spent the afternoon swimming and touring. They had tea and danced until 10 p.m. in the Marquee Ballroom and before departing they extended their thanks to Mr. and Mrs B. O’Toole for the great time that they had.

It was another busy Sunday night in the Ballroom Marquee and finalists for the upcoming dancing competition were still being selected and it was also noticed that the number of new visitors to this popular dancing venue was rising each week.

On Tuesday the annual meeting of the Wicklow Urban District Council to elect a chairman for the coming year was held at which Mr. James Everett, T.D., was unanimously re-elected as chairman. Mr. O’Grady was re-elected as the vice-chairman. Re-elected to serve on the Burial Board were Messrs Olohan, O’Connor, MacMahon, Hudson, Dunne and R. B. Haskins.

Appointed as the Council representatives to the Harbour Board were Messrs. Dunne, MacMahon, Hudson, O’Connor, Lalor, Doran, Olohan and O’Grady.

It was decided that all the members of the Wicklow U.D.C. would serve on the Finance and General Purposes Committee and that the Council would constitute as this committee.

In the town itself the monthly Fair took place at which there was small demand.

146 store cattle were on offer as well as the following:

22 milch cows and springers

A small number of calves

Few sheep

176 young pigs

42 store pigs.

Trade was quiet due to few buyers in attendance with prices tending to go up and down, however pigs were in demand and the prices offered reflected this. Some the cattle prices quoted were as follows:

Calves £3 to £3/05/00

Store Cattle (12 to 15 months) £7, £8 to £9/07/06

Store Cattle (15 to 24 months) lst. Qlty. £10/10/00 to £12/10/00

2nd Qlty. £8/15/00 to £9/17/06

Store Cattle (24 to 36 months) 1st Qlty. £14/05/00 to £15.

It was also the day of the quarterly Horse Fair at which the number of animals on offer was large but the quality was considered to a large extent to be mediocre. There were some outside buyers present who were interested in troopers and paid between £30 and £40 pounds for selected animals. Ordinary working horses which were low in quality went for around the same prices with ponies fetching between £10 and £15. There were a few splendid animals on offer and one fine chestnut owned by a local, who refused an offer of £85, did not sell.

Entertainment of a different kind was offered the next night when the Army Pipe Band gave a recital as part of the campaign to fill vacancies in the Oglaigh na hEireann recruiting campaign which was still in progress.

On Friday night while on their way home from Dublin by motor car, Mr. and Mrs. J. Kennedy of Main Street and a Mrs. Doyle, were involved in a traffic accident at Sallynoggin, Co. Dublin, when the car they were travelling in was in collision with a motor van. Mr. Kennedy sustained shock while the two ladies sustained minor injuries. The impact of the collision was such that the contents of the van were scattered all over the road. After receiving treatment these three people were conveyed to Wicklow town where it was again necessary for them to receive medical attention.

Earlier in the day the annual meeting of the Rathdrum and Wicklow Joint Burial Board had taken place in Wicklow Court House at which the outgoing chairman Mr. A. Dunne presided. The attendance included John Olohan PC, C. W. Hudson, W. O’Grady and J. O’Connor. Mr. Dunne was re-elected as chairman as was Mr. Olohan as the vice-chairman.

Other business transacted at the monthly meeting of this body which was held immediately after the elections was the acceptance of a tender from Messrs Sutton and Co. to supply a new uniform for the caretaker. Monthly receipts amounted to £30/O7/04 while payments came to £25/13/06.

Thus ended a hectic and busy month in the life of the town.

James Scannell

Admission ticket to Church, September 22nd, 1844


Billy Byrne’s Monument circa 1912

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