The Shamrock and the Swastika

The title of Carolle J. Carter’s book about German espionage in the Irish Free State during World War Two is the perfect title for this blog post: the story of a Nazi German spy who lived in Ireland for a year and a half before being caught (much to the embarrassment of Eamon de Valera’s government), using the memoir of one of the Free State’s most well known intelligence officers, Dan Bryan. 

Born in Dunbell, Gowran, Co. Kilkenny, Daniel (Dan) Bryan (1900–85) matriculated in the National University of Ireland in 1916 and studied medicine for two years at UCD. In November 1917, he joined the Irish Volunteers and served with the Dublin Brigade. Entering the National Army in June 1922, he was formally commissioned to the rank of Captain in September 1923. Much of his long military career was spent in the Headquarters Staff, engaged in intelligence work. He succeeded Liam Archer as Chief Staff Officer of G2 (Intelligence Branch) in 1942 and held this crucial position throughout the Emergency years.

Dan Bryan, UCDA P71/478

Bryan was particularly renowned for his co-operation with Richard Hayes, Director of the National Library, in breaking German codes. He transferred to the Military College as Commandant in 1952 and retired from the defence forces in 1955. He had a lifelong interest in the promotion of historical research, particularly military history.

Bryan’s memoir (deposited in UCD Archives in June 1985 by his brother, Michael) is an interesting document. It is a copy of a transcript of his recollections dictated in the first person during the last two years of his life. The transcript includes interjections made by ‘A’ (unidentified) and responses by ‘D’ (Bryan). The interjections often leave out the ‘A’ identifier, and exist simply in brackets. The individual sessions are numbered and dated. The manuscript is peppered with annotations and corrections. The text reflects the fact that Bryan was speaking his thoughts aloud: it digresses, moves forward and returns to the same topics to expand or clarify.

The document consists of fifty pages and is concerned with events in Ireland leading up to and during World War Two. Topics discussed include espionage, particularly the links between IRA and German spies; raiding houses harbouring German aliens; the possible invasion of Ireland by Germany; general intelligence gathering activities; code-breaking efforts led by Hayes; coast-watching; and the Emergency. The memoir also includes a transcript of a conversation between Dan Bryan and the historian Eunan O’Halpin. The central figure in the memoir is Nazi spy, Herman Goertz.

Herman Goertz (1890–1947) studied law at Heidelberg, Kiel, Paris and Edinburg. He served in World War One in East Prussia and on the western front, and was awarded the Iron Cross (first class) in 1917. Following his recovery from illness in 1917, he returned to the western front as an intelligence officer. He visited Ireland in 1927. 

When Hitler came to power, Goertz unsuccessfully applied to join the Luftwaffe, but his language skills led to his employment as an intelligence officer by the Abwehr (the German military-intelligence service for the Reichswehr and the Wehrmacht). He made several visits to England to gather information on RAF bases. On his return from a visit to Germany in 1936, he was arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment for espionage. He was deported on his release in 1939. 

The Abwehr sent him to Ireland to contact IRA leaders and co-ordinate the disruption of ports in Northern Ireland. He parachuted into Ireland in May 1940 and remained at liberty until his arrest in November 1941. He was released in 1946. He stayed in Ireland and worked as secretary of the Save the German Children Fund (see an earlier blog post Operation Shamrock). Goertz was re-arrested in 1947, and fearing a return to Germany, he died by suicide at the Aliens Office in Dublin Castle. John Dorney has written more about Goertz in Ireland on his excellent blog.

Dan Bryan describes Goertz’s arrest:

‘The Goertz case as far as I was concerned opened by getting a phone call sometime in the very early hours of the morning. I can’t say the date but it is 1940. The phone call was to go to the house of a person of German origin of possibly Irish nationality called Held. His father had been a real German. Held’s mother was Irish. Held probably was not regarded or treated as an alien. Once when the house was reached, it was obvious that a lot of material which took some time to examine was in the house. The police in fact had raided the house at 10p.m. the previous night. Held and the German in the house, afterwards identified as Goertz, had in fact been out for a walk. When they returned, Held saw what he was satisfied were police cars and decided to go in and face the music and see what was happening in the house. Goertz decided not to go in and was briefly left isolated and was lost. He was lost; he’d no where to go. In fact he started off again for the house of Mrs. Stewart [Iseult Stuart] in Wicklow to which he had gone when he had landed and actually he was, it took him some time to get back to the area and actually he didn’t approach the house because he was afraid it would be under supervision for some time, and he was I think living on berries and that for a period before he approached some man to go and see Mrs. Stewart, but he went back into the house met the garda and was there during the subsequent raid.’

Memoir of Colonel Daniel Bryan, UCDA P109

Bryan continues, describing what was found in the house and commenting on the Nazi German plans to attack Northern Ireland:

‘The house contained a wireless transmitter which turned out to be practically useless, and which had in fact been given to Goertz by the IRA. He lost his transmitter when he came down. It also contained various documents and notes which he had prepared to carry out his program in Ireland. It also contained a considerable amount of dollars. American dollars. The transmitter which had been supplied by the IRA and was for all practical purposes useless was an indication of the IRA’s incapacity at the period. The documents contained various notes for the collection of information and also a plan for an attack on the north of Ireland. This plan was of interest because it provided for landings in various places where landings were quite impossible because there was no depth of water and that. It turned out afterwards now, and I forget the details, there’s another adventurer who had got in on the Goertz business, how so early I forget, if there had been some discussion about the landing, and he without any military or naval knowledge of any kind just with the knowledge of the general layout of the northern coast made suggestions no part could be landings at various places without any knowledge, the fact that. (A: who was that adventurer?) It was a dismissed customs and excise officer a school teacher who’s name I forget at the moment.’

Later on, Bryan comes to the conclusion that ‘The whole effect of the Goertz case and the incidents associated with it was however for the first time to direct the Irish public’s attention in a big way to the possibility that Ireland could be in certain circumstances very seriously affected by the war.’

Memoir of Colonel Daniel Bryan, p.10, UCDA P109

About halfway through the memoir, Bryan recalls a conversation he had with Goertz: 

‘Goertz actually, I’m speaking from recollection afterwards, told me, I think, that he took, spoke to what he assumed was a farmer on the spot and there was some question (when he landed?) when he landed and there was some question of handing him money. He lost his parachute (Handing the farmer money or handing Goertz money?) Handing the farmer money. (To keep quiet?) I don’t know why. Goertz, Goertz was in trouble. He only had British money, and he didn’t appreciate that it was, at the time, that it was similar to Irish currency. He lost his radio set because it was not attached to his body and floated down separately, and he could not locate it. Afterward I got the Intelligence staff of the Second Division to make anxious, to make considerable inquiries in the area as to whether there was any information as to what became of the radio set, but no information was ever found.’

Memoir of Colonel Daniel Bryan, p.10, UCDA P109

Bryan describes Goertz’s imprisonment and his interrogation by Richard Hayes:

‘I simply handed him over. I only saw him once or twice. I handed him over to an officer I had whom in some senses, well I found out myself that he wasn’t satisfactory in other respects and this was through lack of, he had just the brain, he, that’s Colonel Butler in fact, but it was lonely later I found out he wasn’t playing the ball with me, but I handed him over to Butler and Doctor Richard Hayes. They proceeded to interrogate him and chase him and all that kind of thing until eventually they got sufficient data on which they broke his code. The breaking of the code became quite important when this Joe Andrews, the line which the British picked up in Lisbon and which had its origin in Dublin with this other Joe Andrews became important (Now he was sending out documents in Goertz code, right?) because the messages were in the Goertz code and the British, seemingly accurately, maybe they hadn’t paid attention to it, hadn’t broke it, and admitted they hadn’t. I often wonder what the position was and ‘twas only then or shortly before that, that I found Butler and Hayes, in fact was Hayes had broken the code. I said to Hayes, “Why the devil didn’t you tell me this before?” “oh, says he, “the, this man Butler said we won’t tell Bryan this for the time being, he’ll only send it, be sending it off to London.” 

Memoir of Colonel Daniel Bryan, p.10, UCDA P109

Dan Bryan’s memoir, UCDA P109, is available for consultation in the UCD Archives reading room, as is the larger collection, UCDA P71, Papers of Dan Byran.

This post was written by Kate Manning, Principal Archivist, UCD Archives.

Further Reading:

Carter, Carolle J, The Shamrock and the Swastika: German espionage in Ireland in World War II (Pacific Books, 1977).

Wills, Clair. That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland during the Second World War (Faber, 2007).

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