‘Irish Deserters and Better Men’ by Donal Kennedy

I wrote the piece below in 2010 but don’t think I submitted it for publication. I’ve since read an old piece by the late Conor Cruise O’Brien suggesting that when William Joyce was a hanger-on of the Black and Tans  he participated In the murder Of Father Griffin in Co. Galway in 1920. An Irish MP, I think Joe Devlin, asked in the House of Commons who had murdered the priest, and Winston Churchill was heard to prompt a Cabinet colleague to say “Sinn Feiners.” I have no doubt that Churchill deserved to be hanged a thousand times over at least. But William Joyce was about 14 years old in 1920 and not eligible for the gallows.


The London Editor of the Dublin-based Irish Times, Mark Hennessy on Saturday 6th November 2010 wrote in praise of Irishmen who had voluntarily joined the Irish Army, sworn allegiance to Ireland, deserted and fought in British uniform during the Second World War.

He deplored the blacklisting of those returned to Ireland and then sought employment in the Irish public service. Apparently Mr Hennessy believes that failure to fulfil one’s obligations as an Irish citizen or even as a soldier automatically qualifies a man for employment in Ireland’s public service.

My own view is that the British hanged William Joyce, “Lord Haw-Haw” for a lesser offence. In his youth Joyce, whose father was an Irish-born American citizen and mother an English woman, was a hanger on of the Black and Tans. He later joined the British Army, and as a Gung-Ho Imperialist bored his squaddie comrades, decent Britons mainly, who had joined to escape unemployment and starvation. His opinions might well be mistaken for those of Mark Hennessy, Tom Clonan and others favoured by the Irish Times today.

Later Joyce joined the British Union of Fascists in England. This body had a Dublin branch which marched with the British Legion in Dublin on Armistice Day 1931. It may have marched it at other times, for all I know, and other branches may have marched with that Legion in other part of these islands.

After Hitler came to power the Irish Times editorially hailed , or Heiled?, him as “Europe’s standard-bearer against Muscovite terrorism” (4th March 1933).

Before the outbreak of the Second World War Joyce went to Germany, and became a naturalised German citizen. His ideology, when consorting with the ‘Tans, when a member of the BUF and as a broadcaster, was foul. But he did not kill anyone, I presume, because he was never charged with homicide in any court. He didn’t attempt to slip into Britain, or countries held captive by Britain to join her Civil Service. He presented himself to the British, her vengeance and her hangman with courage. He died for his silly convictions and diabolical ideology.

If the Irish Government had been as vengeful, and Irish courts as politically obedient to it as the one which hanged Haw-Haw, returning deserters would have got short shrift.

And if anyone should hang for the expression of offensive opinions, Mark Hennessy should watch his neck.

Donal Kennedy.



3 Responses to ‘Irish Deserters and Better Men’ by Donal Kennedy

  1. Sammy McNally July 17, 2017 at 1:03 pm #

    If a country calls it wrong in terms of its attitude to an international dispute – and in my opinion, Ireland did just that in WW2 then if its citizens decide to take part themselves for reasons of conscience – and subsequent events vindicate their decision – then those who saw the bigger international picture rather than the narrower national picture deserve to be praised.

    ps I’m fully aware of Dev’s speech and position – just think he got it wrong.

  2. Brian Patterson July 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm #

    In fact the (26 county) Irish goverment did exactly what the US ,the USSR and most other participating countries did – stayed out till they were attacked.Had any of the belligerent powers invaded the 26 counties, Dev had promised armed resistance. I am not Dev’s greatest fan but he showed enormous skill and tact in maintaining neutrality. Strange that Sweden, Spain, Switzeland and Portugal have not been subjected to the same opprobrium for staying out of the war. Nor Finland who vigorously defended its borders against the USSR.

  3. Pól O Naullain July 19, 2017 at 8:33 pm #

    Dev maintained Irish neutrality what a joke that is, try doing some research that shows that comment for the blatant lie it is. Google Donegall Corridor where Dev allowed Allied planes to use Irish Airspace, or the fact downed Allied airman had the run of Dublin while Germans were interned. Operation Green was the proposed German invasion of Ireland that Hitler rejected for fear of involving the Americans. This did not stop Dev conspiring with the British and Ameticans, no members of the Irish Army deserted their posts in time of emergency. They defected to foreign powers and fought for foreign armies and expected to waltz into Ireland and get the red carpet treatment. B,ack listed? They should have been gaoled.