Northern Ireland and World War II

Northern Ireland and World War II


  • By the beginning of World War II, Northern Ireland was a largely self-governing region of the UK under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.
  • Despite being part of the UK, Northern Ireland’s political situation was distinct due to its fractional population of Catholics and Protestants, which resulted in unique challenges during World War II.

Impact of World War II

  • Despite being relatively safe from the physical destruction happening on the European mainland, it suffered its worst air raid during the Belfast Blitz in 1941.
  • The city was inadequately prepared for the Blitz due to the government’s initial belief that Northern Ireland was out of reach from German bombers.
  • Approximately 1000 people were killed and over half of the city’s houses were damaged or destroyed.
  • It led to a temporary political cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as the latter sent fire crews to help combat the blaze triggered by the bombing.

Economy during World War II

  • However, the war also provided an economic boost to Northern Ireland. There was a demand for ships, which gave a boost to the shipbuilding industry, most notably Harland & Wolff.
  • The manufacture of aircraft, textiles, and munitions also saw a significant increase, employing thousands of people.
  • US troops were stationed in Northern Ireland, building bases and infrastructure that had a lasting effect on the economy and landscape.

Politics during World War II

  • The Northern Irish government under Prime Minister John Andrews was heavily criticised for the lack of preparation for the Belfast Blitz, leading to his resignation in 1943.
  • He was replaced by Sir Basil Brooke, under whose leadership The Unionist party domination ensued. Brooke was prime minister for over twenty years.

Post-War Period

  • The end of the war marked the beginning of a renewed tension between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. This tension would escalate in the 1960s into the violent period known as The Troubles.
  • Northern Ireland and its neighbours were left with the challenge of refocusing their economies towards peacetime production and repairing the damage caused by the war.

The deep political and religious divisions in Northern Ireland were part of the complex backdrop to the post-WWII era and fundamentally shaped the social and political developments of the later 20th century.