If at any time during the Cold War the Russians thought it necessary to invade Ireland, or at least to neutralise it with a few missiles, it is possible that one would have been aimed at the inoffensive ruined mill on the River Kip, on a narrow bend on the Galway-Oughterard road.
The result? Good-bye Moycullen. And much more besides.
As the Cold War (mid 1940s - early 1990s ) intensified, the Soviets embarked on a massive programme of mapping the world with a view for possible military operations. There are 89 sheets covering Ireland in the I:100,000 scale. Surprisingly the little ruined mill, near Moycullen, is clearly highlighted on the Soviet military ‘Ireland - County Galway & Clare’ map, which is based on the Irish Ordnance Survey half-inch map, but tweaked to provide Soviet military strategists with the information they needed for air, sea, and land invasion and occupation* .
However, the mystery is that the mill is not marked on the recent Irish OS half inch map, which the rest of the Soviet maps seem to be based on; but (and this is where it gets interesting ) the mill did appear on the original OS one inch map drawn up in 1900. So why did the Soviets think it was important, and how did they spot it, and mark it in their map with a cogged wheel symbol?
Desmond Travers, a retired colonel of the Irish Defence Forces,** surmises that Soviet satellite pictures of the Galway area picked the features of the mill, and when its military strategists spotted that the mill was not marked in the half inch map, assumed that the mill’s presence was erased by Government censorship; and therefore they guessed that it was a building of some significance.
You can imagine the excitement in the Soviet military cartography agency, officially known as GUGK (Chief Administration of Geodesy and Cartography ), when it spotted that the mill was not included in the modern OS map. The observer who spotted it probably got a medal.
I know it’s crazy, but based on Travers’ years of studying Soviet maps and his knowledge of Soviet paranoia at the height of the Cold War, he theorises that there is only one way to explain the Soviet interest. And remember that Soviet paranoia was so hysterical at this point, that even their own cartographers sometimes made deliberate mistakes in their own maps, not only to delude the enemy, but to frustrate their own people! The author concludes that when it was spotted that the Irish OS maps did not include the mill, which it had originally shown in the 1900 map, it allowed the Soviets to feel they were in the company of kindred souls. “Aha” thought the Soviets, “ an obvious hidden military instillation.” And possibly a missile was aimed in the Uggool direction...
A spy in Galway?
Other Galway landmarks highlighted for particular attention are more obvious. The docks is marked as an area of importance for a military planner. Also the area of land on which the military barracks Dún Uí Mhaoilíosa is located in Renmore is clearly marked. This extensive complex of buildings houses the headquarters of the Fifth Brigade, the First battalion, the university students administrative complex (USAC ), and other reserve (FCA ) units as part of that brigade. This would be a significant military target for the Soviets, but (and this is where I catch a piece of the paranoia of it all ), the military buildings, for security reasons, are not marked on the Irish OS maps. Yet they are circled on the Soviet map. Similarly, the Eircom regional telecommunications building at Ballybane, not marked on the OS map, is also circled for Soviet attention.
A possible explanation is a spy! Whereas we know the poor spy didn’t travel out to check the importance of the Mill on the Kip, yet he or she noted the military and telecommunication buildings.
Looking back on the Cold War; it was a bizarre period. Although the US and the Soviet Union were allied against the Axis powers during World War II, the two nations disagreed sharply both during and after the conflict, particularly over the shape of post-war Europe. The war had either exhausted or eliminated the pre-war ‘Great Powers’ leaving the US and the USSR clear economic, technological and political superpowers. Other countries scrambled to align themselves to either power, leaving a world in constant fear of a nuclear war. There were many international crises including the Berlin Blockade, the Korean War, the Berlin Wall, the Vietnam War and especially the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. It was a period of intense propaganda from both sides, weapon development, competitive technological advancement (which included the spectacular space race ), and the generational revolution of the 1960s, with its protest songs, Baader Meinhof, Klu Klux Klan and Mississippi Burning, Elvis singing It’s all right, B52s, Pope John XXIII, LSD, and mini skirts.
It was also a time when spy stories, real and fictional, and sometimes difficult to tell the difference between either, flourished in both book form and film. The madness of the time was perfectly captured in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr Strangelove or: How I learned to stop worrying and Love the Bomb. It was billed as a comedy, but coming just two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis I thought it one of the scariest movies I have ever see. I still do. But I think I would have been more scared if I’d realised that Galway too could have been in the deathly embrace of Dr Strangelove.
But were the Soviets the only people to have mapped Ireland in case of military necessities? Desmond Travers says that the United States embassy here ‘routinely disavows any knowledge of the existence of maps of US origin of Ireland’.
Since the US seems to have maps of virtually every other part of the world, the author believes that not to have mapped the Emerald Isle seems churlish indeed.!
Next week: One more look at this neutrality business. How a speech by de Valera in Galway on May 11 1940, when he protested against Germany’s invasion of Belgium and Holland, almost put the kibosh on Éire’s neutrality plans.
* I am referring to last week’s Diary where I quoted an article by Col Desmond Travers in the recent journal of The Galway Archaeological and Historical Society (Volume 60: 2008 ). In February 2003, it was discovered that the Soviets undertook to map, for military purposes, every country in the world including Ireland.
-**The author Desmond Travers is a retired colonel of the Irish Defence Forces, and is currently Director of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations. Based in the Hague, Holland, this organisation provides training for war crime investigation. Travers has published much on military history, and the article in the Galway journal is his fourth paper on Soviet military mapping. A major study on the Soviet mapping of Britain and Ireland is to be published by the German government shortly.