The Emergency in Ballincollig

The Emergency in Ballincollig

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, it had a huge effect on those on either side, but also those on neither side. The Emergency, as the War was called in Ireland, had a profound effect on those living in Ireland. The way of life in Ballincollig was not in isolation to that in the rest of the country, and provides a good viewpoint with which to examine The Emergency.

The Outbreak of War

The Second World War had been feared for some time. The bad news was heard on 3 September 1939 when the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, spoke to his people. “I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at one to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

The Irish Response

On Radio Eireann, Sunday, 3 September, An Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, spoke to the Irish People: “You know from the News Bulletins to which you have been listening, that the great European powers are again at war. That this would be the end, has appeared inevitable for month past. Such escape as we had a year ago could hardly be expected to occur twice. Yet until a short time ago there was hope. But now hope is gone and the people of Europe are plunged once more into the misery and anguish of war. Notting the march of events, your government decided its policy early last Spring and announced its decision to you and to the world. We resolved that the aim of our policy would be to keep our people out of the war.”

Ballincollig in the 1940’s

Ballincollig was very different in the 1940’s. There were very narrow streets and no states. In 1943 population in Ballincollig was about 256; the population is about 50 times bigger today. Ballincollig was only a village. They did no have much transport so they could only go to the pub or a neighbours’ house. The main street in Ballincollig has changed a lot. The Post Office used to be where Hogan’s is today and the Army Barracks and Garda Station were on the one side of the street and the houses and the shops were on the other. There were mostly houses at that time but now there are a lot of pubs and shops. The street was very quiet. Most transport had stopped, except for horse drawn traffic. There were also no street lights, although houses in the village did not have electricity. During the war, electricity was available only certain times. People used paraffin lamps for light in their homes. The main pub in Ballincollig was O’Connell’s. This was a public house called “The Commercial Hotel”. “It serves breakfast on Fair Days. Proprietress Mrs. O’Connell.”(I.T.A. Topographical and General Survey, 19 July, 1943.). The monthly fair day and market was the first Thursday of every month. They bought and sold horses, cattle, sheep and pigs. Ballincollig or cork did not suffer from bombs but people took precautions just the same. Some people built air-raid shelters.

The Army and the Emergency

Ballincollig was very important during the Second World War because many soldiers were based at Murphy Barracks had been burned down in 1921, but it was rebuilt at the start of the Emergency. By 1941 there were up to 1,000 men stationed in the barracks. Ireland was neutral during the war but the army was put on special alert and had extra training. In June, 1940 enrolment began for the Local Security Forces (L.S.F), This was an auxiliary force to help out the regular army and tens of thousands of men and women joined up, aged 16 to 70. Most men joined section A (Military Duties) because it was more active and they got to use rifles and explosives.

Rifles and Exercises

The first rifles issued to the L.S.F. were American. Mr Dan Murphy of Blarney said these rifles were long and cumbersome and they were changed later. Each soldier was given a bandolier of 50 rounds. Mr. Murphy said they often went on weekend exercises. He remembered one training at Castlefreke Castle during the summer holidays. He said they travelled down by train to Clonakilty, but they had to march about 10 miles to their camp. They went on patrols at night and they were often on guard duty at the Garda barracks in Blarney, where rifles were kept.

The L.S.F and the L.D.F

By 1941 the L.S.F was organised into about 120 groups in the Cork area. Mr Murphy said they did their early training with mock weapons in the grounds of Blarney Castle, but later they were supplied with real guns, heavy coats and gaiters. He said nearly everyone cycled to training Section B was given defence duties, such as guarding important buildings and going on patrols. Mr. Leo Ryan told us that he was stationed at Sarsfield Barracks in Limerick. He said that one day he cycled from Limerick to Cork to go to a funeral. It took him most of the day. Mr. Sean McNamara was the D.A.O for the Blarney District. He told us about big exercises they had with men from Cork city and county taking part. They used to have a conference in Collins Barracks afterwards to review the exercise. Men were brought on occasions to Collins Barracks for lectures. He said there was total loyalty demanded of the men in the L.S.F./L.D.F., and they kept true their promise.


When the war started, some foods and fuel were rationed. People wrote away to the Department of Supplies for a ration card. They only got 2 oz. of tea per week. Boats, shoes and clothing were in short supply. You had to make a living. Drink was also rationed. The amount of rations for each house depended on the number of people in the family. Some people were tricked into buying very expensive tea on the ‘black market’ only to find it half-full with sawdust. Others claimed allowances for family members who were no longer at home. But mostly the ration system worked well. Some foods were scarce for a year or so after the war, but eventually they became available again.


Because of shipping difficulties, one could not get in fuel supplies. Petrol was rationed very early on, and you got coupons for each month. But most people did not have cars anyway, so it made little difference to them. Everyone had a bicycle, often cycled long journeys. Coal was also scarce, so a big effort went into turf cutting. The Army was sent out to harvest turf, but some soldiers didn’t like this work. The Army was allowed enough fuel to go on manoeuvres. Priests, doctors and vets got extra allowances of fuel.


People often listened to the news on radio, because there was no television then. Often people, especially fathers, would go to Mary O’Connell’s to listen to matches, games and news. The news would have reports of the war and songs to keep people entertained. Speeches were made by Eamon de Valera who was Taoiseach. (He made an historic broadcast at the outbreak of the war and another famous one at the end, when he replied to Mr. Churchill’s speech Ireland’s neutrality.) People were told how Germany saw the war when they listened to Lord Haw-Haw. He came on the radio nearly every night and began with “Germany calling, Germany calling”.


The radio was known as the “wireless”, and it couldn’t be carried around like transistor radios today. The wireless needed batteries which were changed every few weeks. To change the batteries people would have to go into town by bicycle with a carrier. They needed quite large batteries at that time. She said that they didn’t like doing this job. The wireless was very important then and nearly every household had one.

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