It’s really no great surprise that the Irish needed their independence. There had been the British indifference after the harvests failed and folk in the south began to starve. There had been the issues of the setting up of a general election set up by the British authorities in 1918 where 70% of the voters decided to support candidates pledged to abstain from the ties of English authority but were ignored. There had also been the issues of Easter 1916 when a “terrible beauty was born” and many good Irish folk died by shooting and hanging in the cause of shedding the yoke of an oppressive and often uncaring ruling elite.
Tom Barry wrote in “Guerrilla Days in Ireland” about those dark but somehow progressive days. Tom was Commandant General of the West Cork flying column and in his early career was pitted against the combined might of the British Army in the days just after the first war to end all wars.
People like Major Percival and Montgomery were on his hit list. The first, who was later to surrender his entire army to the mercy of the Japanese in Singapore, due to his extreme anti-Irish attitude and encouragement of torture. The second because of the mans habit of allowing his troops free reign to murder and pillage at will.
Percival survived the assination attempt seemingly due to his habit of raiding and murdering IRA sympathisers at random, he was out on a raid on the night in question it seems. While Montgomery simply went to tea with a new mistress on the night in question thus avoiding the assassins bullet.
One ended up as a prisoner of the Japanese and the other ended up as a hero of the Western Desert and victor at El Alemain.
After the desert victory of the now General Montgomery, there were many prisoners a number of whom were brought back to the UK to live out the rest of the war in captivity. The Italians were the most numerous. Their leader Mussolini had neglected to provide them with much transport and their German allies stole what was left forcing most of the Italian desert troops to surrender at the first opportunity.
Out of over one hundred thousand Italians who surrendered in 1942, around 1300 were sent to Orkney and housed in three prisoner of war camps tasked with building the Churchill Barriers following the disastrous sinking of the HMS Royal Oak in Scapa Flow. From the desert heat and water issues they then faced the freezing winds and belting sleet of an Orcadian winter.
This beautiful chapel is their legacy. Built using found materials and the parts from two Nissan Huts it survives to this day as a memorial to the spirit and resourcefulness of the people of Italy in the face of the defeat of Fascism.
If Tom Barry had succeeded in the assasination of General Montgomery then in all probability this chapel would not exist.