Tuesday, 12 December 2017


Bletchley Park during WW2. Richard Hayes helped British Intelligence here to break the Nazi codes.

RTE Radio broadcast a very interesting documentary recently describing the exploits of an Abbeyfeale man who helped break the German intelligence codes during World War Two.
Richard Hayes was born in Abbeyfeale in 1902. His father, who was originally from County Clare, was manager of the National Bank in The Square and the family lived above the premises.
Back then, Abbeyfeale was a busy and bustling market town. If the young Richard had chanced to look out the window from his high vantage point he would have witnessed a colourful cacophony of sights and sounds down below which would all have been very different from the leafy suburbs of Ballsbridge in Dublin where he would later live.
Richard would have seen cattle been driven through the streets and deals made with spits on palms and rough handshakes. Horses and ponies clip-clopped along pulling common cars laden with hay and turf. Street vendors sold turkeys and chickens and fresh eggs to local women dressed in shawls. Donkeys brayed and galloped off in all directions. Men in cloth caps smoked pipes and gathered by the parish pump to talk about the weather and the state of the country. Sheepdogs barked and snarled at each other, while travelling salesmen displayed their trinkets from makeshift stalls. Barefoot children raced around excitedly, causing mischief and getting in the way. Everyone was engaged in some activity or other.
There was no monument to Father Casey in The Square back then, but the man himself could probably be seen going about his parochial duties while men stepped out of his path and tipped their hats respectfully to him.
Young Richard might have watched all of this chaos and confusion going on below and wished for a more orderly existence. Perhaps this imbued in him the mental discipline that he would later use to such good effect when cracking the German codes.
We do not know how long the Hayes Family remained in Abbeyfeale but by 1911 they had transferred to Claremorris in County Mayo.
Richard attended Clongowes Wood College in Kildare and later gained entry to Trinity where he excelled and gained three degrees, including one in languages, before joining the National Library of Ireland in 1923. He was appointed Director in 1940, a post that he held until he retired in 1967. He then became Director of the Chester Beatty Library.
The RTE documentary describes how, at the outbreak of WW2, Hayes was recruited by the head of Irish Military Intelligence and given an office and three staff members to decode wireless messages being secretly transmitted by Morse code from a house in north Dublin owned by the German Embassy. These coded messages posed a huge threat to Irish neutrality and also to the wider war effort.
The team worked for months to solve the infamous Görtz Cipher, a Nazi code that had fooled some of the greatest minds of British Intelligence in Bletchley Park.
It was a code used by German spy, Dr Herman Görtz, who had been captured and held in Arbour Hill prison after parachuting into Meath a year earlier.
Gortz had health problems and Hayes tricked him into having a medical check-up so he could find the cipher in his trouser pockets without the German’s knowledge and went on to crack the code.
Hays and his team then began intercepting messages from the spy and systematically sending their own messages back to him to fool him into revealing more information which was quickly passed on to M15 in Bletchley Park.
Hollywood movie “The Imitation Game” brought the work of codebreakers in Bletchley Park to the big screen. Hayes was not mentioned in the film although he had been referred to by MI5 as Ireland’s "greatest unsung hero" while the American Office of Strategic Services described him as "a colossus of a man". Yet, due to the secret nature of his work and his involvement with British Military Intelligence he was virtually unheard of in his own country.
Mark Hull, a serving member of the US army and military historian, told the documentary that the prolific codebreaker was widely recognised for his brilliance in international intelligence circles. “The tragedy here is he was lost in terms of the Irish public. People in the intelligence services, Irish American, British, and certainly Allied intelligence Services, understood and recognised his contribution for being as significant as it was”
Hayes continued to share his information with British mathematicians in Bletchley Park and, in the aftermath of the war, he quietly accepted a medal in recognition of his efforts from Winston Churchill.
Richard Hayes died in 1976 and most of his secrets died with him. It is not known if he ever revisited his birthplace in Abbeyfeale.

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