In an attempt to extinguish a massive wildfire while flying over the coastal area of Bray Head, Ireland's police force and Air Corps made a surprising discovery. Down below on the scorched ground was a World War II-era sign that had been hidden beneath the brush for decades, the BBC reports.
Although the “E” is obscured, the sign reads “Éire,” which means Ireland in the Gaelic language. In the early '40s, about 80 of these signs were constructed at Coastal Watch stations to let bombers on both sides know that they were flying over neutral territory. Each one was numbered, which helped Allied pilots navigate the region.
“Up to 150 tons of stone were used in some of the 83 signs dotted around the coast of Ireland,” Michael Kennedy wrote in the book Guarding Neutral Ireland, which was quoted by the Irish Air Corps in a Facebook post about their discovery. “At the request of the United States Air Force, the number of the nearby lookout post was added, turning the signs into air navigation aids. This assisted American bomber pilots in navigating across the Atlantic.”
During the war, Ireland participated in “benevolent neutrality,” which favored Allied troops even though the country didn't actively participate in war efforts. For instance, Ireland let British planes fly over the country during the Battle of the Atlantic, among other small gestures.
The country's neutrality didn't stop German bombs from falling, though. Ireland was the target of several bombing raids between 1940 and 1941, the worst of which occurred in May 1941 and left 34 people dead in Dublin. Later that year, Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera declared in a speech, "From the moment this war began there was for this State only one policy possible—neutrality."
A few other Éire signs have been restored and can still be seen in parts of Ireland, like the one at Malin Head in the northernmost part of the country.