IRISH soldiers, many from the south of Ireland, made an outstanding contribution in the British Army during the first and the second world wars, yet, tragically, southern detachments were given a very hard time when they returned to their homeland in peacetime.
During the First World War the entire island of Ireland was under British rule and in that horrendous conflict tens of thousands of soldiers from the South served ‘King and Country’ as rightful British citizens.
Not so in 1939-45 when the 26 counties of the Irish Free State remained neutral between Britain and Hitler-led Nazi Germany and huge numbers of men (as many as 5,000) voluntarily left the country and the Irish army to join British forces in the global fight against the common enemy.
The enormous personal sacrifice caused these men to be known as deserters - an insulting term intended to carry shame and the tag of being a traitor. For several decades after the war, they and their families suffered terribly and they were unable to obtain jobs in a poisoned atmosphere created by a narrow Irish republican mindset.
It was a shameful and disgraceful period in the short history of the Irish Republic and, for the dreadful hurt caused, the entire blame must go to the then Irish government led by Eamon de Valera and republican lackeys in the hardline, irredentist Fianna Fail administration.
Almost 70 years on, the present Republic’s government is very belatedly seeking to make amends in legislation in the Dail which will sanction a pardon and an amnesty for everyone who found themselves in this unfortunate situation.
Sadly, most of the traumatised Irish soldiers are now dead, but those surviving welcome the fact that at long last their war service is being officially recognised by a country which no longer shows the same level of emnity towards the British. Yet the fact remains that an Irish state dishonoured and despised its own citizens for simply acting out of duty.