The Day the Nazis Bombed Dublin

Noel Brady was standing with his father at the hall  door of their family home on St Ignatius Road in Dublin’s North Strand area when they heard the drone of a Nazi Luftwaffe bomber flying overhead.

“I saw flashes in the sky. My father shoved me onto the ground and down on top of me he went. There was a very loud explosion,” he said.

It was May 31, 1941, Noel was 21 at the time and a member of the St John Ambulance Brigade. He grabbed his bicycle and raced to the scene and was soon treating the injured in rubble-strewn streets. He would continue to do so for the next 12 hours.

To this day, the death toll is still a little sketchy – at least 28 were killed, and a hundred injured. Three hundred homes were damaged, and all this from one 500lb bomb, which was dropped at 2am.

The memories of that night are still with Noel 75 years later. The first person he treated was a man with a gash across his forehead.

“A lot of people were bleeding. I bandaged many people that night. Those that were seriously injured were taken immediately to hospital,” he recalled in an interview with The Herald newspaper.

“A lot of people were frightened, but there was no panic.”

The sight of children’s toys and dolls lying among the rubble was particularly hard to take, though.

As bad as things were, they could have been a lot worse, because it wasn’t just one bomb that had been dropped, there were four in total.

North Strand1

Damaged homes caused by the bomb dropped on the North Strand, in Dublin

The first bomb fell on the suburb of Ballybough, destroying two houses. The second dropped near the President’s residence in the Phoenix Park, shattering some windows, while the third fell on the North Circular Road. Miraculously, nobody was injured.

Reports later described how the German aircraft that dropped the deadly cargo had circled the city for some time, making low passes across what is now Connolly railway station “as if awaiting instructions of some sort”.

On that day – May 31, 1941 – the Mayor of Baghdad was surrendering that city to British forces, thereby ending the Anglo-Iraqi War. In another theatre, British troops were busy evacuating from Crete in the face of German attacks.

Those two events are blips in terms of the history of World War II, as is what happened in Dublin that morning 75 years ago.

I look at the images of North Strand on the day of that tragedy and I shake my head. My heart goes out to those families, but my head thinks of Londoners during the Blitz, and I can’t help but wonder how they coped when bombs rained down on Britain for 57 consecutive days.

German authorities later claimed the bombing to be due to a navigational error – that the real target had been Belfast (British territory, for those unsure of the Irish geo-political map). However, some speculated that it may actually have been a warning to the neutral Irish Government, which had sent fire fighters into Belfast to tackle blazes caused by German air raids.

The West German Government later paid £344,000 in compensation for the death and damage that had been caused – but, of course, you can’t put a price on loved one’s lives.

Thankfully, for Ireland, the North Strand bombing would be the closest we would come to enduring the horror of World War II – a blessing for the country, but scant consolation for the families of those who died.

About historywithatwist

I am a journalist, author and book editor. I have published five novels - four (Tan, The Golden Grave, A Time of Traitors and Patriots' Blood) set during the Irish War of Independence and Civil War, and the fifth (High Crimes), a modern thriller. I'm a history enthusiast who loves a good yarn.
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20 Responses to The Day the Nazis Bombed Dublin

  1. I have always enjoyed reading these looks into history, David. I enjoy them even more now that I’ve been to some of the locations you mention. Phoenix Park, for instance. I’ve walked there.


    • Thanks Carol. The Park is one of my favourite places in the city: There’s so much to see – grazing deer, watching a polo match, a visit to the Zoo, or maybe pondering the brutal murder in the park grounds of Lord Frederick Cavendish and his companion by the Invincibles.But that’s for another blog post …:)


  2. I was eight years old at the time. Thanks for filling me in on what was happening in Dublin at the time when we were getting away with buying war savings stamps, delivering knitted socks to the Red Cross centre and rationing our food and soap supplies.


  3. Another great post David. Always worth coming by your blog.


  4. adeleulnais says:

    Yes, I remember my Grandmother talking about this day, very quietly it was a dreadful day. She also told me that they Germans had bombed the only Synagogue in Dublin and that Churchill had plans to bomb Ireland if the Germans got in.


  5. Gosh I never knew that about Dublin. I had only heard about Belfast being bombed during Easter 1941.


  6. The Japanese attacked Los Angeles February 24, 1942. The media now mostly say the LA bombardment didn’t happen, but a neighbor of ours was taken to see the wreckage of a Japanese plane in an open field the following day. Another witness said he saw something in the searchlights that fell “like a moth.” An oil company onshore facility had been shelled on the 23rd, so it’s not unlikely that one or more planes attempted to hit Los Angeles.


  7. jazzfeathers says:

    My father was very little at the time of the war, but he still remembers the bombings. Sometimes he tells about them.

    You know? WWII is avery strange beast, even for people like me who were born tens of years laters. Last year, Verona train station was closed for an entire morning because during some escavations, an unexploded bomb of WWII was found. It isn’t an unusual event.
    It was Sunday, so I wasn’t commuting that day, but – you know – it’s strange how the war still infilters our lives.


  8. Yes, we still have reminders all around us from those times. It was strange, a few weeks ago a survivor of the Holocaust contacted me. His name is frank Grunwald – he kindly let me interview him. His story is so sad, yet he is still here making a life for himself despite the horrors he endured under the Nazis. We tend to think of those times as being the preserve of history books, but their impact is still very real today


  9. Pingback: The Day the Nazis Bombed Dublin | historywithatwist | First Night History

  10. graham64 says:

    Reminds me when the United States Air Force accidentally bombed Boise City, Oklahoma on the 5th of July, 1943:


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