Preparing for the invasion of Mayo

MJ Egan, County Commissioner for Mayo during the emergency

MJ Egan, County Commissioner for Mayo during the emergency

"People in the country in a position to know have stated that a national emergency may arise any moment, and an attack on the country may be imminent", so warned MJ Egan, County Commissioner for Mayo at a public meeting in Ballyhaunis in August 1940. An official state of emergency had already been in place since being proclaimed in the Dáil on September 2 1939, the day after Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Egan was principally Mayo County Secretary, but as County Commissioner his role was to create a network of parish councils that would maintain services in the event of an invasion and the possible incapacitation of central government. The Ballyhaunis meeting created its own council, bringing the figure to over 100 councils formed in 76 Mayo parishes. Since the fall of France to the Nazis in mid-1940, Britain was forced to tighten its own rationing programme. This had knock-on effects for Ireland. A key function of the parish councils would be the securing and distribution of food in a post-invasion scenario. Egan reported to, and received instruction from the new Department of Supplies under Minister Seán Lemass. It was through Egan as County Commissioner that a series of emergency precautions and directions were issued to the Mayo public.

Egan’s public notices strongly advised households to stockpile three to six months of essential foods such as flour, tea, sugar and oatmeal, on top of their weekly consumption. Wholesale and retail traders were requested to hold the same stock but to store it in several depots across their area as all vehicles may be requisitioned if military activity began. The ladies of the county were asked to join the Red Cross. Young men were asked to join the local security force and, with local farmers, they were to put firefighting methods in place to deal with the aftermath of air raids. Mayo County Council was to be the main director of firefighting units and first aid posts, the latter to be provided in towns over 4,000 in population, which restricted their provision to Ballina and Castlebar. The country’s urban centres were seen by government as the most likely targets of a foreign attack. That view was not shared by some Mayo county councillors. One councillor believed that Ballina and Claremorris, and not Castlebar, were likely to be the scenes of military attack and therefore services should be removed as far away as possible from all urban centres. Egan pleaded that he was simply following government direction and should that direction not safeguard the public. "Well, it’s their funeral," The councillor at variance quickly responded, "Indeed it will be our funeral."

When launching the parish council network initiative, Egan had asked the public should members of the parish council come knocking at your door, for whatever reason, they were to be treated as friends. Egan’s network informed him at the end of 1940 that a serious effort was not being made by communities to stock up on food supplies. The stocks of supplies were not at a sufficient level to offset the impact of a serious attack or an invasion. Droughts in summer and autumn had already reduced supplies of that most popular of commodities, butter, and housewives had been requested to reduce their consumption of the product by a third. Perhaps Ireland’s neutral stance in the war had wrapped the public in a bubble of untested protection. Egan must have considered this when he issued a notice stating that the threat of invasion aside, every ton of shipping sunk during the war was bringing Mayo closer to crisis. Egan’s warnings that the war could become very real in Ireland were soon appreciated. By mid-1941, the German air force had bombed Campile in Wexford, Borris in Carlow, the Curragh in Kildare, and had carried out three attacks on Dublin.

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