Image © Ben Adamson
In Ireland, the Second World War was euphemistically called “The Emergency”; the country was neutral, prisoners of war were “guests of the state”, and they were interned in very comfortable camp: the Curragh.
When the Second World War broke out, Éamon de Valera, then taoiseach (prime minister) and later president of Ireland, reaffirmed the country’s neutrality. Irish ports and airspace were off limits to Axis and Allied forces. The government built No. 2 Internment Camp, also known as K-Lines Camp, on the east side of the Curragh army base in County Kildare, west of Dublin. Any Axis or Allied soldiers who landed in Ireland were interned there. Some of them were bomber pilots who mistook Ireland for Britain; some had to make emergency landings; and some were German aircraft or U-boat crews who landed in Ireland to escape the horrors of war. Around 2,000 Irish Republican Army members were also interned during the war, in No. 1 Internment Camp on the west side of the Curragh base.
K-Lines was divided into two compounds separated by a fence topped with barbed wire. The 200 or so Germans were in G camp; the 40 British and Allied internees in B camp. Security was very tight to begin with, but procedures were gradually relaxed after a visit by German ambassador Eduard Hempel in 1940. Later, prisoners on both sides were allowed leave the camp if they gave their word, in writing, to return by an agreed time and not to take part in any activity connected with the war. Initially, parole was for three hours in the afternoons, but this was gradually extended to include two nights a week so that they could go to the races at the nearby Curragh racecourse, or to one of the three cinemas in the area. The prisoners were given a weekly allowance, which was billed to their respective governments. Some of them met local Irish women when they were on parole, married and settled in Ireland.
Towards the end of 1943 most of the Allied prisoners were secretly released, and 20 German prisoners were allowed move to Dublin to enrol at university. The Curragh Camp now serves as a training centre for the Irish Defence Forces. The camp’s story during the Second World War was dramatised in the 1998 film The Brylcreem Boys, with Gabriel Byrne as camp commander.
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