IRA: An Unfortunate Alliance

Review: David O’Donoghue, The Devil’s Deal: The IRA, Nazi Germany and the Double Life of Jim O’Donovan. New Island (2010).

Jim O’Donovan becomes chief linkman between the IRA and Nazi Germany and architect of a misbegotten campaign of attacks in English cities.

As a science student at University College Dublin O’Donovan is recruited to the guerrilla movement, where his expertise with explosives propel him to senior rank.

After the Civil War and republican defeat, many of his former comrades emigrate to the US. Jim O’Donovan stays and eventually secures a middle-management position with the Electricity Supply Board.

In the summer of 1938, Sean Russell, now the IRA’s chief of staff, asks him to draw up a plan for a bombing campaign against installations and public utilities in England. By December 1938 the “S-plan” is ready.

The initial wave of bombings is launched on January 16th, 1939. The campaign attracts the attention of the Nazis, and in subsequent months O’Donovan makes four trips to the Continent to meet Abwehr – German intelligence – agents in Brussels, Hamburg and Berlin.

Within days of returning home from his final visit, in August, an IRA bomb explodes in the centre of Coventry, killing five people and injuring 72. Peter Barnes from Co Offaly and Frank Richards from Mullingar are hanged at Winson Green prison in Birmingham.

The S-plan is wound up in March 1940, having killed seven members of the public and injuring hundreds. On May 5th, 1940, the Nazi agent Hermann Goertz parachutes into Ireland and is sheltered by Jim O’Donovan in his Shankill home. Goertz remains at large for 18 months until his arrest in Clontarf on November 12th, 1941.

O’Donovan is interned shortly afterwards.

O’Donovan dies in a nursing home in Dalkey, Co Dublin, in June 1979 at the age of 82.

Extract of review by Deaglán de Bréadún, an Irish Times Political Correspondent and the author of The Far Side of Revenge: Making Peace in Northern Ireland.

Irish Times, December 11, 2010


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