The World War II Years at Foynes
Ireland was a neutral country during the second world war. In 1940, the Irish government imposed a news blackout on Foynes. No journalists, cameras, etc. were allowed into Foynes. Locals only found out about VIPs passing through long after they had departed.
Captain Stapleton was a member of the Irish Air Corps. Civilian air travel was just being established in Ireland, and Captain Stapleton was appointed as Head of Air Traffic Control at Foynes.
On being assigned to Foynes, an Irish Army Intelligence Officer was presented with a round of duties, sometimes including boarding a plane to inspect the interior in the absence of another officer. Others included meeting passengers on the pier, preventing them from encountering unauthorized persons, examining passengers with the help of an army sergeant, observing all visitors while they were in Foynes and, if possible, conversing with passengers.
“At embarkation, collect as much information about each passenger as possible without giving an impression of the third degree. If a group appears interesting, ask them each different questions and collate the various answers… keep your ear to the ground all the time and for everything.”
All passenger manifests had to be submitted in advance of flights. At the time, many people travelled under false names with fake passports. In 1939 and 1940, all military personnel had to travel through Foynes in civilian clothing, though this rule was gradually relaxed. Those who worked in Foynes at that time say the joke going around was “Who are we neutral against?”
What most people don’t realize is that Foynes became a vital escape route for refugees from the war in Europe. If they could get on a flight in neutral Lisbon, they’d be flown into Foynes and await a seat on a flight to America to begin a new life. Over the past years, many of these former refugees have returned to Foynes and told us their stories.