Ireland was a neutral country during the second world war. In 1940 the Irish Government imposed a news blackout on Foynes. No journalists, cameras etc. were allowed into Foynes. Locals only found out about VIP’s passing through long after they had departed.
Captain Stapleton was a member of the Irish Air Corps. As civilian air travel was just being established in Ireland, Captain Stapleton was appointed as Head of Air Traffic Control at Foynes. On being assigned to Foynes, an Irish Army Intelligence Officer was presented with a round of duties, sometimes to board a plane to inspect the interior, in the absence of another officer. Otherwise, to meet passengers on the pier, to prevent them encountering unauthorised persons, examine passengers with the help of an army sergeant, to observe all visitors while in Foynes and, if possible, to converse with passengers.
‘At embarkation collect as much information about each passenger as possible without giving an impression of third degree. If a group appears interesting, ask them each different questions and collate the various answers…keep your ear to the ground all the time and for everything.’
All passenger manifests had to be submitted in advance of flights, many travelled under false names and passports. In 1939 and 1940 all military personnel had to travel through Foynes in civilian clothing but this rule was gradually relaxed. Those who worked in Foynes at that time say the joke going around was “Who are we neutral against?”
What most people do not realise is that Foynes became a vital escape route for refugees from the war in Europe. If they could get on a flight in neutral Lisbon they would be flown into Foynes and await a seat on a flight to America to begin a new life. Over the past number of years many of these former refugees have returned to Foynes and told us their stories.