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Ireland During World War 2 and The Emergency

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L.M.Reid is an Irish writer who has published many history articles online and in magazines.

The Emergency in Ireland and rationing during World War 2.

The Emergency in Ireland and rationing during World War 2.

The Emergency in Ireland During WW2

I interviewed a number of older local residents a few years back and they spoke to me about their memories of The Emergency during World War 2. They were born and reared in Stoneybatter Dublin 7 and had many stories to tell me. The air raid shelters, bombs dropping in the Phoenix Park and being in the Irish Army.

Then there was The Glimmer Man, the long queues for food and fuel because of rationing. Allotments in the Park and most of all the community spirit of all the people living in Stoneybatter at the time.

Memories of Margaret Ward

She was 23 when the war started, she says 'A lot of my brothers and sisters were married with their own kids. My mother, Lord rest her, would give some of our rations to them. She'd say, ' It was put in your mouths when you were young.' Most of the butter rations and any meat you got was sent around for the grandchildren.

Bomb Shelters

The night the bombs were dropped I had been in Chatam Row, just off George's Street in the School of Music, where my brother was a caretaker. I was walking home alone, imagine you could do that in those days.

I was crossing into Blackhall Place when I heard a bang. I ran into the bomb shelter like a shot, because I had only to turn the corner and I was in. But I didn't know what it was then. The shelters were made of brick and they were all over Stoneybatter. But this was the first time I'd used it. Up to then it was the kids that would play in them all the time.

Bombs Dropped on Dublin

It was Brian, my boyfriend who told me they had bombed the North Strand. We went down to the North Strand to have a look. We didn't know any better then, I don't know what we were thinking really. I'll never forget it. All the stuff that was scattered in the trees, baby's prams, toys and clothes. I can still see it all now with the bricks everywhere. We didn't see anyone hurt thank God, no I'll never forget that night, it frightened the life out of me.

Margaret Ward in Dublin during The Emergency in Ireland

Margaret Ward in Dublin during The Emergency in Ireland

Panic in Stoneybatter

“The Glimmer man, oh I remember the panic when he came on the scene. You were allowed to use the gas for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, but then it had to be turned off.

Now everyone would leave the glimmer on and it gave out a tiny bit of heat, like what you'd call the pilot light these days. Well I needn't tell you the people would use this to cook a stew or boil the water.

A Stranger in the Area

But you see it wasn’t always the same fella. If the kids saw a strange man walking about they'd come running into the houses and let us know. The glimmer was turned off and if it was the Glimmer man then we all hoped the top of the cooker was cold by the time he got to our house.

He was allowed to come into anyone's house whenever he liked. He would go over to the cooker and if it was hot, then he had the gas turned off and it could be for a long time too.”

The Glimmer Man

By 1943 gas and electricity supplies were severely reduced. The people of Ireland only had use of their gas cookers for a few hours a day. A Government man was sent around the cities to police the use of the gas in the homes.

He became known in Dublin as the Glimmer man. People tried to leave on the ‘glimmer’, the pilot light, to keep the pot of water hot for tea or a slow cooking stew. Anyone caught using it outside these hours had their gas supply cut off.

No Escape

Because the Glimmer man had the power to enter any house at any time to check the cookers there was no escape. When the people heard the Glimmer man was in the area they would blow out the pilot light.

But he was up to all the tricks and would usually catch a few households before the cooker had time to cool down. He would put his hand on the cooker, if it was warm the household was in trouble and the gas was cut of altogether for at least a few weeks.

Kitty Joyce in Dublin during The Emergency in Ireland

Kitty Joyce in Dublin during The Emergency in Ireland

Kitty Joyce

I remember the bomb going off in the Phoenix Park during the Second World War. There was a woman who lived in those houses opposite the Park, she had her baby that night because of the fright she got.

I lived in Lower Grangegorman Road then. We'd see the planes going over at the same time every night. Our back wall was also the wall of the hospital. We'd go up there with our gas masks and stay there until we got the all clear. We felt safe there because all the hospital roofs had been painted white so that they wouldn't be bombed.

Bombs in the Phoenix Park

But the night they dropped the bomb in the Park, it was so close, sure we thought we were all going to die. The owner of the pub up there, Blake's, it's the Grange now, well he opened up the doors of the pub, put on the lights and gave out free beer. We thought we were all goners and everyone was very quite and in shock. So the drinks were a relief I suppose. we got through it anyway.

Christina Kiely shares her memories of growing up in Ireland during the Second World War.

Christina Kiely shares her memories of growing up in Ireland during the Second World War.

Christina Kiely

My father was a corporal in the Irish army during the Second World War. He stayed in the barracks in Santry during the week and came home at the weekends. I was only young when the bomb went off in the North Strand but I remember hearing the bang bang bang and watching the lights. Of course I know now that that was our guns shooting back and the search lights looking for the planes.

My father was away in the army that night. It woke us up and we all jumped into my mothers bed. We were afraid of our lives. But she gathered us around her and was messing telling us not to be silly, that it was nothing. But it seemed to go on for a while, the noise and the lights. Then she started to cry, oh that was awful seeing your mother cry and us so scared.

Rationing in WW2

We had ration books for tea, butter and the sugar. We got more sugar because there were so many people in the house but it was never enough. My mother would buy some more from this woman who didn't use it so much.

Our Vegetable Garden

My father would shoot rabbits in the country side around us and my mother would put them on the table and skin them, then we'd have that for our dinner. One time he brought chickens home, they were very young and he had them in a box with a bulb in it. They were kept beside the fire to keep warm for the first few weeks.

The Gas was only allowed on for a few hour a day. They had a man coming around to check in the houses that we were not using the glimmer on the cooker. Yes we had a rhyme we sang when we played skipping out in the street. It went ' Keep it boiling on the glimmer, if you don't you get no dinner'. We'd sing that going in and out of the rope.

Oranges and Bananas

The very first time I even saw an orange was when my brother who was working at the time bought one in town and that was after the war was over. I remember the day he brought it home all right. Because you see rationing went on for a few years after the Emergency too.

Ration Book for Petrol

Rationing of petrol began almost immediately just after the start of the World War 2 in October 1939. The official allowance for ordinary people with cars was eight gallons a month up to 10 hp; 12 gallons a month for cars 10 - 16 hp. Doctors, priests and vets also received an extra allowance.

For the first few years petrol was not too scarce. But by the middle of 1941 things were getting bad with many private cars off the road. By March 1942 most private cars and many trams were off the road. The trains began to use turf as an alternative energy supply. It worked well but put extra hours onto the journey.

Bicycles and Horse Traps

In 1942, twenty nine new barges were ordered to be used on the canals for the transportation of turf. From April 1944, the petrol ration that was still supplied to doctors living in the city was withdrawn altogether. They had to use horse and traps to get to their patients. The priests also had to switch to this mode of transport.

Mrs Keenan

I was only young when the Second World War started. Butter and sugar was rationed and tea of course. But we were luckier than most people because of my father's job. He delivered to all the shops so he managed to get some stuff.

Alfie Byrne was the Mayor

My father knew him from way back. Alfie would have packets of tea in his pocket, paper bags with an ounce in each. When he'd meet the people in the street he'd shake their hand and give them the tea, especially the poor. My brother - in - law worked in a grocery shop and the owner got a lot of stuff from the North, so if there was anything going we usually got some.

Black Bread

My mother would get the flour from him and she'd make loads of bread, some for the neighbours too. You see we had to do with the black bread, well not exactly black it was more a dirty brown. We had to queue up at the butchers at eight thirty in the morning for the sausages or you got nothing. Now you could only buy a few sausages and a couple of rashers and if they ran out then that was too bad for those at the end of the queue.

A Ship was Torpedoed

One day my eldest brother was sent up to Donegal during the Emergency. He was working at Clondalkin Paper Mills at the time. There was a ship torpedoed off the coast of Donegal and it was carrying pulp for the mills. He was sent up there to oversee it being taken off the ship.

They could only bring a little bit off at a time because the boats they were using were so small. But all the time he was up there the fishermen would give him salmon. He's send it down here, rapped in tarragon moss and then newspaper. Whoever was coming to Dublin would give it to my mother.

Now it was huge, so she'd cut it up and the neighbours would get some too. You see here in Kirwan Street anything that the people could get, it was shared amongst the neighbours, we'd get a bit too. They were that type, they all helped one another.

The Bomb Shelter on Kirwin Street

They had a bomb shelter right across the road from this house. It was the most awful looking thing. It was made of concrete but if a car had banged into it, it would've been gone. They were absolutely useless and they were disgraceful looking.

They'd no doors, we used them for playing in, we'd run in one side and out the other. Courting couples used them at night and then you had the drunks there too. That's all it was used for, sure if a bomb did drop you'd have been safer in the house.

Irish Petrol Ration Card during WW2

Irish Petrol Ration Card during WW2

Bridget Reid

My husband Leo joined the Irish Army straight away as soon as the Government declared the Emergency. He was a labourer before the war but could only get casual work. For anyone that joined the army voluntarily in the beginning they got a bonus whereas those that were made go into it later didn't. He was stationed in the Curragh first and then at McKee Barracks. We had four small children then.

Food Shortages

A lot of the food was rationed but I was lucky because Leo could get extra tea for us when a lot of people couldn't get it in the shops. The ration books never gave you enough food to do you for the week but sure we managed, you had to. Things were a lot worse for us before the war. Leo could only get work a few days a week mostly so money was very short. But now that he was in the army I received his wages once every two weeks.

I remember in Manor Street there was a grocers; they had large barrels outside the shop. One had pigs’ heads in it, the other had the pigs' trotters, all floating in salt water. People would buy them and bring them home and boil them up. I couldn't stand to look at them, oh they made me feel sick.”

The Bombings

Oh, I'll never forget the night of the bombings. I was on my own in the house in Malachi Road with the children. Now the back of my house looked out onto the back of my mother's house in Harold Road. I looked out the back window and Brian, my brother was looking out his window. He asked me was I alright and I said yes, but then there was another bomb dropped.

The house shook something awful, and I thought it was going to collapse in on top of us all. My mother came running around to be with me. We all thought we were going to be killed, people were praying like anything. Mrs Hogan came into my house too because she was on her own. The dust in the house was all over the place too. That was on a Friday night, I'll never forget that.

My mother brought the two eldest children to Balbriggan, just in case there were more bombs. We didn't know if this was going to happen every night from then on. The Government said it wouldn't. The Germans said it was a mistake, but the people didn't believe any of it.

German Planes

Before that we had got used to the planes coming over and didn't take any notice. But the next night when they came over, everyone was frightened. There were heaps of planes coming over that night. Just like blackbirds in the sky and the noise of them seemed very loud then.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, but they never dropped anymore bombs on us. Brian went down to the North Strand to see it and so did an awful lot of people from around here.

Irish Army discharge papers of Leo Reid

Irish Army discharge papers of Leo Reid

Peter Reid

With the shortages in fuel the Irish Government had set up The Phoenix Park in Dublin as a collection point for turf, which was used as the main fuel in Ireland during the Emergency.

“This was the time of World War 2 or the Emergency as we knew it then, and there were piles of turf in the Phoenix Park, mountains and mountains of it. My grandfather was selling the turf then and he used to tell me to go down to get the dockets for it down in Belvedere Road. Can’t remember how much it was but I used to get the bus fare."

St Gabriel’s Hurling Team

I played for the hurling team in St Gabriel’s school and we’d go straight up to the Phoenix Park for practice after school and most of the time it would be those days that I had to collect the dockets for the turf. Now I couldn’t refuse the grandfather or there would be murder. I remember this day it was getting near to an important match we had and of course he wanted me to go up that day.

I remember saying to myself, ‘now how am I going to manage to get back for practice in time. So what did I do, I ran all the way, I mean really ran fast, then I got the dockets and got the bus back to the Phoenix Park. I was late but got there just in time to be picked for the team. We won the Schools Hurling Championship in Croke Park in 1945 with that team.”

Hurling Medal for winning at Croke Park

Hurling Medal for winning at Croke Park

The Irish Army

I hardly saw my father in those years of the Emergency. Before the war we didn't have much money because there was no work then, my father was lucky to get a few days work here and there. There's one particular day that stands out in my mind.

There was nothing in the house to eat, now I mean nothing, no tea, sugar, bread; absolutely no food of any description, there wasn't even a stale piece of crust. My mother had us all going through the drawers and cupboards looking for pennies. She eventually found a trupenny bit and we were able to get something in.

Money for Food

We could never afford butter and you couldn't eat the margarine, it's not like you get today, oh it would turn your stomach. We'd have bread and dripping and that was lovely, you could spread it like butter and the taste was great. When World War Two broke out my father joined the Irish Army straight away.

So it was good and bad for us, I hardly saw my father for those years but he had a regular job and wages. So we had money for food. There was the Ration books and the long queues to put up with but at least we had the money to pay for it then so we were happy enough.

Peter Delaney during WW2 and The Emergency in Ireland

Peter Delaney during WW2 and The Emergency in Ireland

Peter Delaney

When the Government declared an Emergency a lot of the men went into the Irish Army straight away. At first it was voluntary but as the war went on they had to join. I worked on the buses at the time. Some of the drivers went for the Transport Division and the conductors went for the Medical Corps. When they got out after the war their jobs were waiting for them in the Company.

German Planes

The planes came over every night flying low because they were heavy with the bombs. Our men would fire tracer bullets at them. But we got used to it and never thought that one night we would be bombed.

They must have been trying to get away from the bullets. They dropped the bombs so they could fly higher and away from the bullets. The Germans said it was a mistake but it happened a few times during the war. There was a bomb dropped in the South Circular Road too. The one that dropped in Wexford killed quite a lot of people and the ones in The North Strand..

Rationing in WW2

It was hard, but you just got on with it. Kathleen's father was still alive then and he was a chauffeur in Kildare. He'd bring us up food from there. My five children were all born by the end of the war. Even though everything was rationed, we seemed to be able to manage. .Also my mother would get the flour from her parents. She'd collect it from the train station and make the bread.

Vegetable Plots in the Phoenix Park

I also had a vegetable plot. They had the Polo Ground dug up in the Park. A lot of people in the Buildings rented a plot. I grew the vegetables and loads of potatoes. There were also plots over there where O'Devaney Gardens is now. That's how we managed, we were able to keep going and feed the family.

Irish Sugar Ration Book 1918 First World War

Irish Sugar Ration Book 1918 First World War

North Strand Bombing 1941

When World War Two began in 1939

Ireland declared an official State of Emergency on 2nd September 1939

  • The Emergency Powers Act was enacted the following day.
  • This gave new powers to the Irish Government for the duration of the War..
  • The Irish Government now had control of censorship of newspapers and all letters.


Sean Lemass was appointed as Minister for Supplies in September 1939. Some of the more important food stuffs that were rationed during the war in Ireland were tea, sugar, butter and flour. Bread was rationed in 1942.

Clothes and Tobacco

Tobacco, soap and clothing as well as shoes were other items. Each ration book had instructions and rules in both English and Irish. There were pages of numbered squares and each product required a different Ration Book. What was bought and when and in which shop had to be filled out too.

The people of Ireland were lucky though because unlike Britain eggs and meat were not rationed. In fact Ireland continued to export live cattle and other meat products to Britain during World War 2

Phoenix Park Allotments

The Irish Government also provided land in the Phoenix Park for allotments and a lot of people from Stoneybatter took advantage of this. It was hard for the people in the cities to get chicken, eggs and pork if they did not have a garden or an allotment. Most people had relatives in the country who posted up these necessities.

The End of the Emergency in Ireland

1945 saw the end of World War 2. The Emergency Powers Act was repealed on 2nd September 1946. Even though World War Two ended in 1945 it was another six years before rationing came to an end in Ireland on December 17th 1951.

Bad Weather

That summer of 1945 Ireland had experienced a tremendous amount of rain. It had all but destroyed the wheat harvest. Bread was once again rationed in Ireland. Unfortunately this was followed by one of the severest winters in Irish history.

There was even more demand for fuel and many factories were on short time because they could not use the machinery. The people of Ireland were suffering badly from the extreme cold and had to queue up for hours at a time when they heard of turf being delivered in their area.

Christina Kiely - We all thought it was great when World War Two was over but oh we had a terrible winter then. My mother had to break up anything that would burn. At one time we all had to live in the front bedroom because we couldn't use the rest of the house, it was just too cold.

We had to queue up for the turf all day in Dorset Street in Dublin. When we got word that a load of turf had come in then either me or my mother would take turns standing in the queue. A couple of hours at a time we'd have to do.

I can't remember how we got it home though. It was aul wet stuff too, but it was better than nothing. The boys would spend a lot of time in the woods gathering the sticks, we'd burn anything, old shoes were always good.

Community of Stoneybatter

Local people still have vivid memories of long queues, food shortages, ration books and bombs during The Emergency in Ireland. But the years of World War Two also evoke fond memories of family togetherness and kindness from neighbours.

Getting Through the Emergency Years

Mrs Keenan - My granny would say, ‘Now the one thing I can always say is that during the Emergency there was all these shortages in Ireland but we never suffered badly from rationing here in Kirwan Street. She was right too all the neighbours stuck together. So when one of us got something extra we all did. It was like that here then during the war and anywhere else in Stoneybatter too.

Peter Delaney - We were able to keep going, we managed to get the food from here and there. Sure it was grand, we got through it.

Kitty Joyce - It was a hard time during the war with all that was going on for us but you had to manage it and we did.

On the Ration

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Was the ration book in Ireland just handed out to poorer classes during WW2?

Answer: No, all those living in Ireland at the time received ration books. But those with money did not have to suffer the shortages because they were able to buy whatever they wanted on the black market for cash.

Question: When did rationing come to an end in Ireland?

Answer: Rationing was in force during World War 2 in Ireland. It came to an end on December 17th 1951.

Question: What is a ration book?

Answer: A ration book is a series of coupons collected together into book form. These were issued during war time when food and other items like petrol, gas, clothes etc were in short supply. The ration book gave the people a fair share of these hard to get items. The coupons were exchanged at shops and outlets when buying supplies for the family.

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