Did Germany’s spies like us ?
Research for a thriller set in 1940s Ireland revealed an influx of German agents who despaired about their gossipy, amateurish Irish sympathisers
Taking aim: An Irish Army soldier, wearing a German-style helmet, trains in 1939. Photograph: Keystone/Getty
Getting up the noses of the Germans seems to come easily to us. The Anglo Irish Bank man’s sardonic bar of Deutschland Über Alles and the football fans smirking with their Angela Merkel Thinks We’re at Work banner may not have realised it, but they’re in a long tradition of Irishmen who managed to casually irritate Germans.
Take the German spies who spent time at liberty in Ireland during the second World War. They were not greatly enamoured with what they found, a view summed up in this succinct comment by an Irish intelligence report on a suspected German spy called Werner Unland: “He has all the average German’s contempt for, and impatience with, Ireland.”
Depicted in the report as “an elderly pagan” because of his active love life, Unland was in all other respects less like Ian Fleming’s James Bond and more like Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. After arriving here before the outbreak of war, he ostensibly ran an import-export business but appeared to do little other than communicate with women and write letters about nonexistent contacts. He was eventually locked up but successfully sued a British newspaper after the war for describing him as a German spy.
The most important German spy to operate in Ireland during the Emergency, Hermann Görtz, also proved to be attractive to Irish women: a large number of them, mainly on the fringes of the republican movement, sheltered him throughout his 18 months at liberty.
A Luftwaffe pilot during the first World War and a lawyer who was jailed in England for spying on RAF bases in the 1930s, Görtz was quickly disillusioned with the backbiting, scheming and feuding of those he encountered here.
Parachuted into Ireland in the early summer of 1940 to contact the IRA, he was dropped off course in Co Meath and lost his radio. He walked to the home of one of his main contacts, Iseult Stuart, wife of the writer and then Berlin broadcaster Francis Stuart, and half-sister of Seán MacBride, in Laragh, Co Wicklow. He was later forced to flee from a Garda raid on her house.
Görtz was taken away by an IRA man who apparently warned him against Iseult Stuart in the first of a series of mutual suspicions with which he was surrounded.
In a document he typed for the G2 intelligence section of the defence forces after his capture he wrote: “I had here the first prove of that hot and whispering atmosphere of Dublin which I utterly disliked.”
He was much more explicit in a letter to an Irish friend that was found on him at the time of his capture and a typed copy of which is filed in the Military Archives. “A fog of distrust surrounds me all the time,” he wrote. “I have not one friend who has not been suspected by another friend of mine, all in good faith. That is disheartening . . . I have never given way to such suspicions, but this mutual distrust has continuously hampered all constructive work. I do not need to give names you know enough.”