Before the outbreak of war, tentative contact was made between the Abwehr and the IRA in Ireland. The Germans were hoping that the IRA might be able to cross the border and disrupt British military operations in the North; the IRA was seeking finance and arms from the Germans. There was something of a contradiction in all this, as the Irish fascist movement (the Blueshirts) was organized by General Eoin O’Duffy, who supported the Nazis but had no time for the IRA. The IRA, for the most part, had no truck with the Nazis’ anti-Semitism. Cooperation with the Nazis was strictly on the basis of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.
The IRA director of chemicals (i.e. the chief bomb maker) at that time was a man called Jim O’Donovan. As a result of an accident while training volunteers, Jim was missing several fingers from his right hand. He taught chemistry in Clongowes Woods College in the 1920s, where he met my father, who was a pupil there. Teacher and pupil maintained a lifelong friendship. In the 1950s, we used to visit the O’Donovans in their home at the weekends. I remember him well.
Oscar Pfaus was chosen by the Abwehr to establish first contact with the IRA, and he travelled to Ireland via England in February, 1939. Surprisingly, he was allowed to pass through England and catch the mailboat to Ireland, although he later claimed he was carrying a .45 Smith and Wesson revolver.
Pfaus’s English was excellent. He had worked in USA for a number of years. But he was something of a Walter Mitty character, dramatising every account of his activities, and claiming at one point that he had been short-listed for a Nobel Prize.
His only contact in Ireland was an embezzler called Liam Walsh who was close to the fascist leader O’Duffy. Walsh set up a meeting with O’Duffy, who (reluctantly) arranged for Pfaus to meet with three senior IRA leaders, O’Donovan included.
Pfaus had some difficulty proving who he was, and (by his own account) came close to being shot as a spy. However, he managed to complete his mission, which was to suggest to the IRA that they should send a representative to Berlin to discuss matters of mutual interest.
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