Hitler's Irish propaganda machine

 

Perhaps the most striking feature of the Nazi radio propaganda broadcasts to Ireland during the second World War was how unIrish they actually were.

According to David O'Donoghue's Hitler's Irish Voices (out next week from Beyond the Pale Publications, Belfast), those transmissions which were not by German Irish scholars came from a curious collection of individuals of many nationalities masquerading behind Irish-sounding names, and operating in a small, largely ignored branch of a vast German propaganda service that broadcast in 29 European languages.

The Nazi party had been very active among Germans in pre-war Dublin. The most eminent, Adolf Mahr, was already a Nazi when appointed by Eamon de Valera in 1934 to be director of the National Museum. He was also head of the Nazi Ausland organisation in Ireland, making him the most powerful German in the State. Mahr, uniquely, while still a member of the Irish Civil Service - though on leave of absence after 1939 - was during the war also in the German civil service, in charge of Nazi radio broadcasts to Ireland. But for the noisy intervention of James Dillon TD, and a discreet report from the apparently ubiquitous, all-seeing Dan Bryan of Army Intelligence, Mahr could well have returned to his position in the National Museum after the war.

Other Nazis eminent in pre-war Irish life included the head of the Army School of Music, Fritz Brase, who later beamed Irish music to Ireland on Germany's Irish service, Irland Redaktion; Otto Reinhard, an official in the Irish Forestry Department; Hans Hartmann, one of the greatest linguists of his generation and a respected Irish scholar who had joined the Nazi party in 1933; and Heinz Mecking, a Nazi agent who used his position in the Turf Board to photograph militarily useful sites around Ireland. He was later in charge of Russian turf resources and died in Soviet captivity in 1945.

Happily, this Nazi cell, which met and socialised in the Red Bank restaurant, was watched carefully by the Army's intelligence section, G2, which later monitored the broadcasts to Ireland which began in December 1939. Initially these were by the humourless and unbending Irish-scholar Ludwig Mulhausen. In Dublin G2 got a young Cork man, Joe Healy, to monitor these talks. Healy had actually helped teach Mulhausen Irish, and disliked him enormously.

Mulhausen's stunningly boring broadcasts lasted for two years. He built up his "Irish" team from staff in Berlin University, where he was professor, and where Hans Hartmann, Hilde Poepping, Madeleine Meissner (formerly of UCG), the Englishman Norman Baillie-Stewart and the writer Francis Stuart were all recruited.

The service to Ireland, in Irish and English, and listened to very little in either language, consisted largely of a pot-pourri of Irish translations of Wolfe Tone's diaries, homilies upon the virtues of Irish neutrality, lists of Black and Tan atrocities in 1920, and war news.

Many of the broadcasters had even less to do with Ireland than some recent Irish soccer teams. When the propaganda service was rejigged in 1941, the new team consisted of a Frenchman, a Russian, a Breton and a Briton. A bogus name, Pat O'Brien, was rather unimaginatively concocted for different broadcasters, Francis Stuart being an exception both in this regard and in his Irishness.

While anti-semitic components of the Irish broadcasts were not common, the thoughts of "Patrick Cadogan" - probably Lord Haw-Haw, William Joyce - most decidedly were. "With a fervent prayer that St Patrick may smile on Erin's Green Isle and keep her free from this Jew-instigated war," he said on one occasion, and on another: "So safeguard your neutrality in Ireland . . . combating by all means the anti-Christ, and anti-Christ today is Judaeo-Bolshevism."

Bolshevism was a recurrent theme in the Irish broadcasts, as was the closeness of the German and Irish peoples. Those few of the latter who were actually listening on St Patrick's Day, 1943, might have well have wondered whether they were hearing things when Irland-Redaktion assured its listeners: "Germany has always respected the rights of neutrals, and will always do so in the future."

A late recruit to the broadcasting team was the Clareman John Francis O'Reilly, one of those characters it is better to read about than to be with. His father was a celebrity in Clare, having been the RIC man who arrested Roger Casement on Banna Strand. John O'Reilly had been in the Channel Islands when they fell to the Germans, and along with some 70 Irish labourers volunteered for war work in Germany.

Their train journey from northern France has horrible echoes of the classic Paddy-abroad syndrome. The party got hopelessly drunk and broke into various other compartments carrying people of different nationalities, pulling the communication cord and behaving like creatures in some ghastly racist joke. In the steel works in Germany they nightly came back drunk, shouting and turning on the factory lights in the middle of the blackout.

O'Reilly volunteered for radio work, and was accepted, but he cordially disliked his other "Irish" colleagues, which included the perpetually drunken Britons, Susan Hilton (Sweney) and the equally forlorn figure of James Blair.

O'Reilly volunteered for espionage work in Ireland, his arrival by parachute apparently being signalled by a broadcast on Irland-Redaktion commemorating Roger Casement, whom his father helped send to the gallows. O'Reilly was soon captured, but escaped, turning up at his father's front door in Kilkee. Bernard O'Reilly promptly turned his son in and claimed the £500 reward for his capture - which he gave to John on his release.

More quintessential to the issues involved was the fate of Arthur Kohn, a Jewish doctor who in 1939 wrote to a former fellow-student, Adolf Mahr, now director of the National Museum in Dublin, pleading for assistance to get out of Germany. But Kohn did not know - how could he? - that the man he sought help from was the leading Nazi in Ireland.

Mohr did not help, and Dr Kohn died in Theriesenstadt concentration camp in 1944.

Hitler's Irish Voices: The Story of German Radio's Wartime Irish Service by David O'Donoghue will be launched published in Dublin on Thursday