Thunder, lightning, hurling, war and an Emergency

An Irishman’s Diary on September 3rd, 1939

Sunday, September 3rd, 1939, 5am, TDs and senators leave Leinster House. Over the past 14 hours they have amended the Constitution to clarify the meaning of “in time of war” in Article 28, passed an Emergency Powers Bill and resolved that “arising out of the armed conflict now taking place in Europe, a national emergency exists affecting the vital interests of the State”.

6am, rain pours down on land and sea and on the crowded ferry boats. During the weekend, more than 10,000 people will travel from England and many will suffer hardship because of the on-board conditions. Members of the Legion of Mary and the CYMS meet some boats to offer food to the passengers.

11.15am, the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, speaking on the BBC from 10 Downing Street, announces that the UK is at war with Germany. Most people in Éire don’t hear the broadcast; fewer than 20 per cent have wireless sets and many of them are at Mass or service.

11.45am, 2,000 people pack the new cathedral in Mullingar, the second largest Catholic cathedral in Ireland, for High Mass to mark the consecration of the church.

2pm, Radio Éireann reports that Great Britain and Germany have been at war since 11am.

3.15pm, the minor All-Ireland hurling final in Croke Park ends with a victory for Cork over Kilkenny, 5-2 to 2-2.

3.30pm, Croke Park has a capacity of over 70,000 people but only 39,300 are present for the senior game, also between Cork and Kilkenny. More than 16,000 have travelled on special trains laid on by the Great Southern Railways Company.

President Douglas Hyde is not present. He was dismissed as a patron of the GAA in December for attending a soccer match between Ireland and Poland at Dalymount Park in November.

The captains, Jimmy Walsh from Carrickshock and Jack Lynch from Glen Rovers, have told the press that they expect their teams to win because of their superior fitness. The average age of the players is 25 years. Ten of the Kilkenny team are playing in their first senior game in Croke Park.

Radio Éireann broadcasts a commentary by a 19-year-old student, Michael O’Hehir.

4.30pm, 10 minutes into the second half, rain falls in torrents, accompanied by thunderclaps and flashes of lightening. Spectators in exposed areas seek cover under the new Cusack Stand. Dye pours from sodden paper hats. Those still trying to follow the game have difficulty identifying the players.

A youth runs on to pitch and gives the Kilkenny players resin to dry their hands and strengthen their grip on their hurleys. During the final minute, Jimmy Kelly from Carrickshock scores a point and Kilkenny win by 2-7 to 3-3.

Meanwhile, at the Iveagh Grounds in Crumlin, Shamrock Rovers and St James’s Gate play to a scoreless draw in a League of Ireland Shield game on a pitch that one reporter describes as a pond.

7pm, during a thousand-word broadcast from notes, the taoiseach, Éamon de Valera, says the war will bring severe hardships but assures the people that, if they stay united and disciplined, they have nothing to fear. He also announces a reorganisation of ministerial responsibilities.

7.40pm, a civilian liner, the Athenia, is torpedoed by a U-boat north of Tory Island. Berlin will later deny that the captain was acting under orders. One hundred and seventeen passengers and crew die and 981 are rescued by nearby ships. The Norweigan tanker Knute Nelson will bring 430 of them into Galway on Monday.

7.45pm, the victorious senior hurling team are given a reception in the Dolphin Hotel in East Essex St by the Kilkennymen’s Association.

8pm, thousands of people all over Ireland are going to the pictures. The options in Dublin include The Four Feathers ("in glorious Technicolour") at the Savoy; Off the Record, a weepie, at the Carlton; and Ask a Policeman, a comedy, at the Adelphi.

Some householders “black out” their windows although no official order has been issued. Most street lights are switched off. In Dublin, the Corporation has painted white strips at key junctions to help car drivers. Later, on November 8th, government plans to order property owners to restrict their lighting will be postponed indefinitely.

11.45pm, an unidentified aircraft flies over the partly darkened city. Hardly anyone pays attention.

In neutral Éire, the first day of the “Emergency” will be remembered mainly for the “thunder and lightning ” hurling final.