A tiny Donegal village and its unlikely links to the Third Reich are explored in a new documentary set to air on BBC 2 this weekend.
Nazi sa Gaeltacht is the untold story of a Nazi professor; rumoured to have been a spy, the small village of Teileann in the Donegal Gaeltacht and its location as part of an apparent blueprint for a possible invasion of Ireland.
And while it might sound like a fictional tale of wartime intrigue, in this new documentary, veteran BBC correspondent Kevin Magee uncovers the double life of Irish language scholar Dr Ludwig Mühlhausen.
In Nazi sa Ghaeltacht, to air this Sunday at 10pm, Kevin investigates what Mühlhausen, a Nazi party member and German linguist, was really doing in the Donegal Gaeltacht in 1937 in the run up to the Second World War.
In the one-hour documentary, made for BBC Gaeilge by Macha Media, with support from Northern Ireland Screen’s Irish Language Broadcast Fund, Kevin follows Mühlhausen’s journey – ostensibly in the Gaeltacht to collect folklore but secretly gathering information which would be exploited by the Third Reich.
Professor Mühlhausen perfected his knowledge of the Irish language in the tiny Irish speaking hamlet of Teileann and used it to broadcast German propaganda into Ireland during World War Two. In a remarkable journey Kevin traces the professor’s footsteps back to Berlin and reveals the shocking truth about the German scholar who became the Gaelic Lord Haw Haw and a decorated SS officer.
Kevin had heard stories of a Nazi spy who operated in Teileann in South Donegal ever since he himself started visiting the area over 40 years ago. Like Kevin, Mühlhausen had also gone there to perfect his Irish but the locals were always suspicious of the German’s real reasons for visiting. Mühlhausen made no secret of the fact he was a committed Nazi and openly expressed his despair at how the locals weren’t enterprising, lacked German efficiency and didn’t exploit the land and sea around them as he thought they should.
Kevin said: “I wanted to find out if the story of the Nazi in the Gaeltacht was true, so I began investigating, talking to locals, asking questions and examining a whole variety of sources. Piece by piece I was able to pull this remarkable story together. When I began my journey, I had no idea I would discover just how committed Mühlhausen was to the entire Nazi project. The plot reads like a World War Two thriller, except this story is for real.
“One of the first things he did in Teileann after he’d found somewhere to stay was hang a large picture of Hitler on his bedroom wall. He took photographs everywhere he went and measured the depth of Teileann Bay by dropping lead weights into the tide. Locals later speculated he was scouting the place out as a potential landing site for Nazi U-boats.”
Two years after his visit, the same local people who had facilitated his stay in Teileann, were amazed to hear him broadcasting Nazi propaganda in Irish from a radio station in Berlin, urging the Irish to keep their neutrality and reminding them of atrocities the English had carried out in Ireland.
In this hour-long documentary Kevin brings a previously untold piece of Donegal history to life hearing from historians, local people in Teileann, and military experts.
He begins his journey at the Slieve League cliffs in Donegal, travels to the Military Archives in Dublin where he uncovers a secret file the Irish intelligence service compiled on Mühlhausen during the war. From there the trail takes him to Berlin where he uncovers previously unseen documents that reveal the German’s efforts to shape a Nazi plan for Ireland. The deeper Kevin gets into the investigation, the more extraordinary and sinister the story becomes.
Even at the end, with the Nazis defeated and Mühlhausen in a prisoner of war camp, he made one last desperate plea for help.
Nazi sa Ghaeltacht is on Sunday 26 July on BBC Two Northern Ireland at 10pm.