The Irish lighthouse keeper who gave D-Day the go-ahead

by Nicole Dickson


Today, 6 June 2024, countries worldwide commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day during World War II. The D-Day landings were a turning point in World War II, marking the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. The operation involved meticulous planning, international cooperation, and immense bravery. Over 156,000 troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and other Allied nations, including South African troops, pilots and seamen, risked their lives to liberate Europe from tyranny. The beaches of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword became symbols of hope and sacrifice.


For the past few days, I have been watching the preparations for remembrance services that will be held on these beaches in Normandy today. I feel in awe as I have listened to some of the stories of over 100 veterans of that day who are still alive well into their nineties and hundreds – vivid images and memories housed in frail and aged bodies with pride and emotion. I have also been reminded of the significant roles that not only soldiers but civilians play in wartime.  One such person is Maureen Flavin Sweeney. As a young woman growing up in County Kerry, Maureen dreamed of moving to the United States. Belmullet in County Mayo, on the Atlantic coast of Ireland, was as far west as she got. There, she married a lighthouse keeper, raised a family, and on the night of 2-3 June 1944, made a weather report that changed the course of history.


That operation, also known as Operation Overlord and the Normandy landings – would see Allied troops attack German forces on the coast of northern France on 6 June 1944. It was the largest seaborne invasion in history and one of the most significant events in World War II, which marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany. Some 12,000 aircraft, several thousand vessels and 156,000 troops would eventually participate in the D-Day landings. However, Operation Overlord required a particular set of weather conditions: to take place shortly before dawn, on a rising tide and preferably on a night with a full moon.


Built in 1866, the Blacksod lighthouse lacks commanding views of the vast ocean. However, it does have geography on its side at the western edge of Europe. For the D-Day invasion planners in southern England, Ms Sweeney’s weather reports would be the first to confirm any break in the weather.


On that night, 2-3 June, she reported bad weather: a rapidly falling barometer and a force six wind. This report was forwarded from the Irish Met Service to the Allied headquarters in southern England. It was a call that shaped history. The weather report from Belmullet was enough for the chief meteorological officer, Group Captain James Stagg, to advise that the invasion be postponed by 24 hours. That week, the worst storm for 40 years arrived in the English Channel and would have made the landings impossible, and the loss of Allied troops would have been significantly greater. Maureen passed away in December 2023. (with thanks to Geoff Maskell, BBC News NI, for sharing her story)


As I commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, I reflect on the profound legacy of those who fought and died. Their actions on that day remind me of the importance of unity, determination, and the fight against tyranny. The lessons of D-Day continue to resonate, teaching me the value of cooperation and the high cost of freedom.

Related Posts