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Hidden Ireland: The air raid shelter under a Dublin clothing store

One clothing store on Grafton St gives a glimpse into how Irish businesses protected themselves from air raids during WWII.

NEXT TIME YOU are on Grafton St in Dublin, take a look at what is now the Vero Moda clothing store.

Today, the narrow building is used as a retail store – but underneath the rails of clothing, in the building’s basement, was once built an air raid shelter.

Back in 1940, during the throes of the World War II, Ireland was neutral. But that didn’t mean that the country didn’t have to be on alert, with our nearest neighbour, the United Kingdom, at war with Nazi Germany.

Air Raid Precautions

The emergency period in Ireland was from 1939 until 1946, during which time the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) branch was established.

With the Republic of Ireland bombed a number of times during WWII between 1940 – 1941 by the German Luftwaffe (whether accidentally, by planes off-loading unused bombs, or otherwise), the ARP branch served an important purpose in equipping areas to protect themselves during any attacks.

Commdt Padraic Kennedy of the Military Archives in Cathal Brugha barracks explained to TheJournal.ie how businesses were able to protect themselves by building their own shelters:

The concept originated prior to the outbreak of WW2 in1936, following an inter-departmental committee on Air Raids Precautions Service, which addressed issues such as air raid warning, rescue services and the maintenance of essential services.

The Air Raid Precautions Act 1939 included a provision for the payment of a grant to employers who incurred expenses in the development of an Air Raid shelter or other building as agreed by the Minister.

The grant could also cover additional expenses such as the equipment required in the running of a shelter which included the purchase of shovels, medical kits and pick axes.  The shelters were located across the country in public and private buildings to protect its inhabitants.

Commdt Kennedy sent TheJournal.ie a document dating from the time of the Emergency, dated 29 June 1940. Written by the engineer Henry A Stafford to Lt JJ Blake from the Air Raid Precautions Branch, it regards the building of a basement shelter at 69 Grafton Street by Singer Sewing Machine Company Ltd.

This is the building now occupied by Vero Moda. The company was given a grant of £234 for the building and design of the air raid shelter to protect the 50 employees working at 69 Grafton Street.  The shelter was completed on 24 September 1940.

Here is the plan for the shelter, again from the military archives:

Vero Moda today:

Pic: Google Street View


Historian Paul O’Brien explained to TheJournal.ie that there were some small air raid shelters in Ireland during the Emergency, but most of the larger spaces weren’t purpose-built as shelters.

The purpose-built shelters tended to be beehive shelters, like this one below, which could fit around six people inside, or those built by companies within existing buildings.

Bomb shelter in the grounds of Cabinteely House, associated with Irish Defence forces planning. Pic: South Dublin County Libraries

During WWII it was possible to buy Anderson shelters, which were mainly used by people in the UK. With these, people dug a hole, created a shelter using corrugated metal, and then covered the hut in earth and clay. People who earned less than £5 a week were given them free by the British Government.

According to the book Bombs Over Dublin by Sean McMahon, the Air Raid Precautions Act (1939) nominated certain east-coast areas for special security measures. In Dundalk, “a control centre was set up under the town hall that had a secure basement with a ceiling three feet thick”.

It adds:

Air raid shelters were non-existent outside of the city and even in Dublin there were too few to support the population. It was even suggested that railway tunnels be used as shelters, perhaps as the Londoners used the underground during the Blitz.

But thankfully, as the above documents military archives show, it was possible for businesses to protect themselves during World War II under government initiatives.

Less than 75 years after World War II, the surviving structures that were to keep people safe during the Emergency are hidden away, sometimes in the most surprising of places.

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