The Second World War

The Second World War affected the Irish National War Memorial Gardens in two ways; it delayed their opening to the public, and it demanded some sort of new commemoration, of those Irish people who had fought in this new World War. The latter was complicated by the fact that Ireland had remained neutral.

The park and gardens were completed in full in early February 1938, but they had yet to open to the public, or be used for Armistice celebrations.

Mr Connolly then stated that there had been dissatisfaction in the Legion regarding the opening of the Park, and asked when it was to be officially opened to the public. Both Mr Jameson and General Maurice pointed out to him that the Park was a National one, to which the Government had subscribed half the Funds. It had been completed on the 4th of this month, and was now under the control of the Government. So far as the date of opening the Park to the Public was concerned, it was a matter entirely for the Government to decide. Mr Jameson stated that under the Agreement, the Park would be handed over to the Trustees for 7 days in each year, and that in future years it was hoped to hold the Armistice Day Ceremonies there.

- Committee Meeting Minutes, 19th February, 1938.

Although the new government under de Valera and Fianna Fáil (in office from February 1932) continued to support the building of the park and gardens, it scaled back significantly on commemorative activities within Ireland. From 1933, the government did not take part in Armistice Day celebrations, and legally restricted the wearing of uniforms, the selling of poppies, and the flying of Union Jacks. There was much controversy over commemorative events abroad (such as the erection of the Munster Memorial Cross at Ypres), and the lack of involvement or representation of the Irish government at them. The Armistice Day celebrations themselves moved from venue to venue within Dublin, while the War Memorial Gardens were being built. The large crowds that attended meant that there was inevitable disorder, and events were moved from College Green, to Stephen’s Green, to the Phoenix Park, through the 1920s. From 1930 onwards, they were held in the Phoenix Park. It was the eventual plan to hold them in the newly-constructed Gardens, but this did not happen immediately.

The Committee and Legion requested use of the Gardens for Armistice Day in 1937, but there were concerns that the Gardens themselves might be at risk. Armistice Day was becoming more and more seen as a British celebration, and attracted destructive behaviour by radical nationalists, such as the explosion of the statue of George II in Stephen’s Green in 1928 and again (permanently this time) earlier that very year, in 1937. Much of the same concerns surrounded the issue of the Gardens being giving a formal opening. In the end, the 1937 request was cancelled, ostensibly to protect the newly-planted trees and shrubs from the crowds that would attend, and commemorative celebrations remained in the Phoenix Park for the time being.

Under pressure from various fronts, particularly the British Legion, a formal opening was eventually agreed between de Valera and the Memorial Committee. It was to take place in summer 1939, and the rest of 1938 saw preparations being made for this. The guest list, though full of opportunity for political missteps, was all settled in early April 1939. The event was to take place on the 30th of July (see newspaper clipping on previous page). Rumours of war and worse, rumours of conscription being applied in Northern Ireland, however, made de Valera rethink these plans, and they were postponed. Armistice Day celebrations did eventually take place in the Gardens in 1940, and continued to take place there after that, but the formal opening never materialised.

Committee Minutes, 1945. Reproduced with kind permission of the Irish National War Memorial Committee.

In 1945, the minutes of the Memorial Committee were still discussing sending a representation to government to petition the allowing of the public to enter and use the park and gardens. However there was now a new topic on the table, that of the commemoration of those Irish lost in the Second World War. The first mention of this is reproduced in the photograph below (the Chairman usually signed the minutes at the next meeting, which in this case was the following year).

The following year it was decided that funds which had been collected in 1919 could not legally be used to commemorate anything other than the 1914-18 war. For the next forty years, the matter was shelved. Then, during the restoration period (below) the issue was raised once more at a Committee meeting – should the dates 1939-1945 be added to the Memorial? The question was deferred until 1989, when it was raised again. This time it was answered with another – should those Irishmen who died in the Korean War, and on United Nations Service, also be remembered?

The Irish Times, 16 May 1939.

It was around this time that the idea of benches presented to the park by regimental associations was talked about. Some were put in place with the dates of both wars inscribed on them, something that was complained about by Brendan Daly TD. The Committee resolved to leave them in place until a more official communication had been received. A month later, the seats were severely vandalised, and had to be removed to OPW Furniture section for repair. They were later installed in the grounds of Leopardstown Park Hospital (a hospital which had traditionally cared for ex-servicemen).

In 1992 the issue was broached again, with an idea that another cross be commissioned in honour of those who fell in the Second World War, and that it be placed in one of the bookrooms. This plan went no farther than discussion. However, later that year, the idea that the dates 1939-1945 be inscribed on the Great Cross itself, in the same Lutyens script, was re-introduced. The OPW agreed, and the inscription was added.