Last weekend, a wildfire at Bray Head, Ireland revealed something bizarre: giant letters spelling out "EIRE" (the Irish word for Ireland) etched into the ground, as if God had picked up a labeling machine at Staples and gone wild on everything he owned.
In reality, this sign actually represents an old-timey form of GPS that the Irish installed on their coastline during World War II. See, throughout the war, the Republic of Ireland (not to be confused with Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.) ducked out of siding with the Allies or Axis, and like Switzerland, declared itself neutral. Unfortunately, this neutrality did precisely dick for stopping the Luftwaffe from confusing them for Britain, which led to numerous bombing raids on Dublin between 1940 and 1941.
As a way of warding off any more accidental attacks, the Irish built 80+ EIRE signs along their coastline, with the intention that any pilots flying overhead would see the signs and know that they'd screwed up.
The signs also had another purpose, in that they were frequently used by Allied pilots as navigational markers while flying to/from the Atlantic. Remember how we said that the ROI was officially neutral during the war? That's true, but unofficially (and unbeknownst to its citizens), the ROI had a policy of "benevolent neutrality" in favor of the Allies, in that they let them use their airspace, recorded the movements of Nazi convoys, and, crucially, provided the British with a map of these EIRE signs so that lost pilots could find their way. Of course, this kindly deed is slightly offset by the fact that these signs were also pointing enemy bombers toward the correct country to blow to hell. (Would it have killed them to give out incorrect directions?)
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