The country remained neutral during World War Two. The official name for the war didn’t even acknowledge the global nature of the conflict. It was simply “The Emergency.”
Such introspection couldn’t last of course. The world gradually seeped through the cracks and Ireland, of its own volition, began to reach out to its immediate neighbors and beyond even those.
Still, even with membership of the United Nations and later, in the 1970s, the then European Economic Community, Ireland still retained an air of relative remoteness, a feeling of being on the edge and slightly removed from the turbulent wider world and its nefarious affairs.
It was not infrequently mentioned during the height of the Cold War that the best place in Europe to be if atomic bombs started going off was in south west of Ireland, Cork or Kerry in particular. There were stories of wealthy Europeans, Germans mainly, buying land along the Atlantic seaboard and digging nuclear bunkers.
Apart from being on the geographic edge of Europe, the wind blowing over Ireland came mostly from the west. Any nuclear fallout over, say London, would be blown back towards Paris or Munich, cities that presumably would be casualties of war in their own right.
That, at least, was what Irish people who gave the matter any thought were banking on.
Belfast, of course, was a NATO-member city but the hope here was that the generals in the Kremlin might have read the Irish Republic’s territorial claim on the place and give it a pass.
Ireland, for a number of reasons, many positive, attracts a lot more attention these days. And some of the people taking notice are not necessarily the kind you would expect to get a pass from.
As the crisis over Iraq reaches a new pitch at the United Nations this week, Ireland’s military neutrality and its now firm ideological and economic presence in the western family of nations are poised to collide as never before.
Iraq might be a long way from County Clare but Shannon Airport now frequently takes on the look of a U.S. base in the Middle East, only without the sand and heat.
This has prompted a vigorous debate, one that will fast escalate should the United States attack Iraq without the full blessing of the United Nations Security Council.
Tearing away the last strands of the veil of Irish isolation is the fact that the Republic is likely hosting members of al-Qaeda.
According to a report in the Dublin-published Sunday Business Post, Ireland’s Special Branch police believe that as many as 30 extremists linked to al-Qaeda are operating as a terror cell in Ireland.
The report indicated that the primary concern was that these cell members could be “sleepers” using Ireland as a launch site for attacks in Britain.
That view carries a whiff of the former times when Ireland saw itself as being isolated and on the edge of things.
Other reports, however, have been focusing on Ireland itself as a target.
“The use of Shannon by the U.S. military means that we are no longer a neutral country,” a report in the Irish Independent stated.
“In such a scenario, the report continued, “it would be na