by Mattie Lennon.
Is it smugness or insurgency,
That makes them say “Emergency”?
I feel it lacks the urgency
Of “World War Two.”
“Hitler was running riot through Poland with very little opposition. The cream of the British Army, battered and broken, had their backs to the sandy walls of Dunkirk. The Listowel Grenadiers of the LDF were gathered in Eddie Scanlon’s pub making feverish plans to invade Russia…..”
While seated on Blessington bridge, reading the above, written by the late Sean McCarthy, it struck me that the men of Kylebeg, Lacken and Carrig who were prepared to defend our little country during the “Emergency” have been air-brushed from history. Nowhere do they feature in either song or (written) story.
Yet, straight ahead of me on Gyves’s Hill stood, stark and weather-beaten as a reminder of that period in Irish history, a little fortress known in Military parlance as a “Pillbox”.
(In 1940 – 1941 there was an extensive programme of building pill-boxes ( sometimes referred to block houses ) around the country. In his annual report for 1940-1941 the then Chief of Staff referred to 273 blockhouses having been completed between 1 April 1940 and 31 March 1941. A surprising number survive, particularly on the Curragh and along the Boyne River which was to be the main line of resistance in the event of an attack from Northern Ireland
As part of the defence plan, for the Blessington area, an LDF machine-gunner would take up position in the mass concrete box.
The minute a Swastika-decorated sleeve or a Jackbooted foot appeared on “the new bridge” it would have been lights out and a watery grave in the Poulaphouca Reservoir.
On the other hand if the Furor and his men came through Manor-Kilbride our man, through a second aperture in the mini citadel, would get them in the back before they could take Knockereann. ( With remarkable insight on the part of the Powers- that- were all signposts had been removed…….some would say that Wicklow County Council forgot to ever replace them)
As I read the Finuge Bard’s colourful account of :”The beribboned officers of the LDF …….. planning the route from Market Street to Moscow”. I began to recall local stories of our Local Defence Force and their plans in the event of an invasion.
The LDF was formed in January 1941 in accordance with Emergency Powers order No.61. Throughout the country it was based on the previous Garda District and Division system. A member of the Garda was assigned as District Administration Officer to assist in the day- to- day administration of the force. The man with this task, in the Blessington area, had his work cut out, as there was little or no military tradition in the area. Also the Career-Officer from the Curragh was in for a few surprises while taking the local volunteers through their paces in the yard of Lacken school. This man who was looked up to and respected among the rank and file of Eastern Command was less than impressed by an answer to one of his questions. “Have any of you a suggestion as to the most suitable and effective weapon in urban warfare?” he boomed. “The stone in the sock” from a lanky youth from Ballinastockan did not impress. I’m sure he would have been similarly disappointed with the muttered and inaudible reply from the end of the rank, “ It’s hard to bate the dung-fork.”
The LDF units were first of all supplied with brown denim battledress but there was major objection to this……. ostensibly because the combat clobber used in warmer climates was not suitable for Irish weather. But I wonder did the suitability of the heavy overcoat for duplication as an eiderdown have any bearing on the decision to reject the initial issue.
The studs, heel-plates and toe-plates, of the ox-blood red boots, designed to knock sparks out of the barrack square spent much time in the more comfortable environment of fields of Kerr’s Pinks.
The alternative standardised livery wasn’t what you would call “tailored”. When one young volunteer from Lugnagun expressed delight that every item of issued clothing fitted him perfectly, the officer dispensing the sartorial items commented, “You must be a very badly made man”.
We were not invaded. The boots and overcoats are long worn out. Many of those who wore them have gone to that great Barrack Square in the sky. Tin helmets and Ration-Books are collectors items. The mini citadel on Gyves’s hill has been redundant for six decades.
But I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, I was telling you about Sean McCarthy’s article.
In conclusion he tells us that; “The Listowel LDF after much liquid discussion, in Eddie Scanlon’s Bar, decided not to invade Russia after all”.
Mattie Lennon <email@example.com>