Documents on Irish Foreign Policy. Vol. I: 1919-22 
edited by Ronan Fanning.
Royal Irish Academy and Department of Foreign Affairs, 548 pp., £30, October 1998, 1 874045 63 1
Show More
Show More

At the outbreak of World War One, the British Government decided to postpone Home Rule for Ireland, which had just been enacted. Despite this, many Nationalists as well as Unionists enlisted in the British Army. Some radical Nationalists came to believe that action was needed to revive national sentiment. The Easter Rising of 1916 failed, but the execution of most of its leaders, followed two years later by an attempt to impose conscription on Ireland, led to a radicalisation of Nationalist opinion. Rallying under the banner of the Sinn Féin party – founded earlier in the century by the non-violent Nationalist Arthur Griffith but from 1917 led by the senior survivor of 1916, Eamon de Valera – this new radical movement won 73 of the 105 Irish seats at Westminster in the December 1918 General Election. Assembling in Dublin on 19 January 1919, those elected members not in prison or ‘on the run’ met as Dáil Éireann – the Parliament of Ireland – declared Irish Independence and established a government, to the Presidency of which de Valera was elected in April 1919, after escaping from prison in England. Between mid-1919 and the end of 1920, however, de Valera was in the United States, seeking recognition for the Irish state and raising funds. In his absence, Griffith led the Government, which was forced to go underground after Dáil Éireann was proscribed in September 1919. In the subsequent guerrilla warfare of 1919-21 Michael Collins, the Minister for Finance and Director of Intelligence of the Volunteers or Irish Republican Army, rose to prominence.

In 1920 Britain established Home Rule states – one substantive, comprising the six Unionist-majority north-eastern counties, and one notional, made up of the 26 remaining counties which had Nationalist majorities. Following de Valera’s return at the end of 1920, and various peace feelers, a truce was called from 11 July 1921 and, after preliminary discussions between de Valera and Lloyd George, negotiations took place in London between 11 October and 6 December of that year. De Valera remained in Dublin, however; the negotiating team was made up of Griffith, its leader, Collins and three others. The delegates were appointed plenipotentiaries, but with instructions to consult before signing an agreement. Nevertheless, faced with a threat of ‘immediate and terrible war’, they signed the Articles of Agreement, commonly known as ‘the Treaty’, which gave the 26-county unit Dominion status in the Commonwealth.

De Valera rejected the Treaty but was defeated in the Dáil on 7 January 1922, whereupon he resigned, and was replaced by Griffith as President of the Dáil Government. A week later a Provisional Government of the Irish Free State was established under the Treaty and elected by the Southern Home Rule Parliament, under the Chairmanship of Michael Collins. This was to operate in parallel with the Dáil Government until the new state was formally established (as it was on 6 December 1922). In the months that followed, Republican elements within the Volunteers rejected the authority of the Dáil Government, and a state of near anarchy developed, culminating in the outbreak of civil war on 30 June 1922. Griffith died of a stroke on 12 August, and his successor as President of the Dáil Government, Collins, was killed in an ambush ten days later. W.T. Cosgrave then succeeded to the leadership. The Civil War ended in May 1923 with the defeat of the Republicans. Three years later de Valera split from the Republicans and formed his own party, Fianna Fail, which entered the Dáil in 1927 and was elected to government in 1932.

That the Dáil Government, operating underground between mid-1919 and mid-1921, generated and passed on copious documentation relating to its activities at home and abroad is remarkable. This volume concerns only foreign policy. Although in many cases the original documents were captured or lost, the editors have filled gaps by drawing on carbon copies. My surprise at the range of material in existence is the greater because during my own period as Minister for Foreign Affairs a quarter of a century ago I understood that the only surviving material from the first 25 years of the Department’s existence consisted of the files that fitted into a single safe in the departmental secretary’s office. So little had survived, it was said, because most of the early records had been burnt early in the Second World War, in case they fell into the hands of German invaders. It turns out that many other old files had been stored in the basement. I don’t know whether any were burnt but if they were it would have been out of fear of revealing to the Nazis the extent of Irish secret co-operation with Britain in the immediate prewar and early wartime period, and thus, in the event of a German occupation, of putting at risk the lives of some officials and members of the de Valera Government.

The files on which the editors have principally drawn – those of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Dáil Éireann Secretariat and the Department of the President – are lodged in and available through the National Archive, which as Taoiseach I established 13 years ago. The volume also includes material from the extensive personal collections of papers of political figures, including my parents, held in the archives of University College Dublin. My father, Desmond FitzGerald, was Director, later Minister for Publicity, for most of the period and during the last few months of 1922 was minister in charge of the combined Foreign Affairs and Publicity Departments, under the new description ‘External Affairs’. The Irish practice with regard to release of archival material is a liberal one: the criteria for withholding it are strictly defined, and tightly controlled, and there is minimal culling of files of the kind that is thought to happen elsewhere. A similar approach has been adopted by the editors of this series: ‘nothing was omitted that might conceal or gloss over defects in policy-making and policy execution.’

Those who were seeking between 1919 and 1922 to establish an independent Irish state had three major concerns: to publicise abroad the struggle for Independence, to seek official recognition from other states and to raise finance, mainly in the United States.

Because most of the Sinn Féin members elected in the December 1918 General Election were interned by the British Government, only a minority were present at the first meeting of the Dáil Government in January 1919, but they elected a temporary cabinet of five people, the Foreign Affairs portfolio being allocated to Count George Noble Plunkett, who retained this post in the eight-member Cabinet established under Eamon de Valera’s presidency ten weeks later, in which Michael Collins was appointed Minister for Finance.

Plunkett was a wealthy builder who had been made a Papal Count. His son, Joseph, had visited Germany in 1915 to negotiate aid for the Easter Rising, and had been executed for his part in that event. In a by-election in 1917 Count Plunkett had been elected as an abstentionist Sinn Féin MP, and in the election for the Presidency of the Party in October of that year had stood down in favour of de Valera. He was a figurehead in his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and until February 1921 the Department operated under the distant guidance of de Valera himself and of Griffith. The actual administration was effectively undertaken during this period by Diarmuid O’Hegarty, who was Secretary to the Cabinet, a post he retained throughout the revolutionary period and, indeed, beyond it, until the defeat of the Cumann na nGaedheal Government in 1932.

The Campaign for International Recognition

The first priority of the new Dáil Government was to seek participation in the Versailles Peace Conference. De Valera and Griffith (both of whom were in prison), and Plunkett were appointed as delegates. In a memorandum of 23 January 1919, which was smuggled out of prison, Griffith admitted that they would not be allowed to attend and proposed that Irish-American substitutes be appointed, including, perhaps, a Republican and a Democratic senator, or a senator and two members of the House of Representatives, as well as Cardinal O’Connell and a judge. It was proposed that Latin American states which had had Irish liberators should be canvassed for their support, as well as European countries which had had Irish prime ministers or presidents, for example France (President MacMahon) and Spain (Prime Minister O’Donnell). Haiti and Liberia were even reminded that Ireland had never engaged in the slave trade. President Wilson should, it was thought, be treated as a sincere man ‘striving to give effect to his programme of freedom for all nations and struggling against all the forces of tyranny, imperialism and lusty world power which are seeking to dominate the Peace Conference’, and should not be accused of insincerity, which would alienate him. Poets should be mobilised to exhort Wilson to stand firm: perhaps Yeats would ‘use his muse for Ireland now’! And an article should be written comparing Wilson with Tsar Alexander I at the Congress of Vienna.

All this was very unrealistic, and illusions were quickly shattered. In the event, Ireland’s first representatives in Paris were Sean T. O’Kelly and George Gavan Duffy. O’Kelly, who had been a member of Dublin Corporation for many years, represented the Dáil Government in Paris from 1919 until his dismissal in 1922, but also spent a brief period in Rome in the summer of 1920. He was to be a member of de Valera’s Government from 1932 to 1945, when he was elected President of Ireland, a position in which he served two seven-year terms.

Duffy was the son of Young Irelander Charles Gavan Duffy, who was arrested for sedition on the eve of the 1848 Rebellion, but not convicted. In 1855, disappointed with the progress of the Tenants’ Right Party, which he had founded and represented at Westminster, Charles Gavan emigrated to Australia, where he became prime minister of Victoria, later retiring to the South of France. Two of his children became active in the National Movement for independence – Louise as a member of the GPO garrison in 1916, and George Gavan as a member or the Irish delegation that negotiated the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and as Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1922.

O’Kelly, writing from Paris in early March, was at pains to defend his decision to ‘tackle’ Wilson ‘boldly and publicly’, a tactic that certainly secured publicity, especially in Ireland and the US, but which hardly endeared the Irish cause to the American President. He also reported that he had sent communications about the Dáil’s Declaration of Independence and its claim to representation at the Peace Conference to the 71 delegates whose names and addresses he could trace, as well as to 140 newspapers. But only one delegate, a member of the US delegation, acknowledged receipt of these documents. O’Kelly added ‘reluctantly’ that unless overwhelming pressure could be brought to bear on Wilson or some other delegations, ‘the prospects of being heard are very slight indeed.’ The split between Wilson and the Senate over the League of Nations should be exploited, he added.

Gavan Duffy, arriving in Paris in April was momentarily hopeful: ‘I believe a hearing will eventually be given, though very reluctantly, but with great effect ... not before peace is signed, and I myself believe it will not be till October or November when the League of Nations gets into working order at Geneva, though Sean T. is more optimistic on the ground that Wilson can’t go home in May without having secured something definite for us.’ Ten days later Duffy’s optimism had vanished: ‘Now expect Peace Congress which big four control will do nothing [for Ireland] if English oppose. Also expect League of Nations Scheme will exclude probability of successful appeal there.’ Another equally unrealistic hope temporarily replaced the earlier optimism about the Peace Conference – that Britain might ‘offer [the US] President as Umpire over our claim’. De Valera’s response to this some weeks later was to send to the Irish representatives in Paris a repudiation of Britain’s right to sign for Ireland which was to be submitted to the Peace Conference, together with a communication to be sent to Clemenceau as host. They were also told to ‘get into the closest possible contact with’ the Dominions and with the Egyptians and Indians.

But by June the centre of Irish diplomatic activity had moved to the US, where de Valera spent the next 18 months, although contact was made in Paris with the Vatican’s representative there, Monsignor Cerretti, following which persistently unsuccessful efforts were made to counter British influence on the Holy See. O’Kelly was briefly posted to Rome in 1920. He addressed a long document to the Pope which started by seeking an audience with him and went on to make the case for the ‘oppressed Catholic people’ of Ireland, who in the Catholic press of Italy were subjected to ‘the calumnies ... of the worst of the false cables of unknown Protestant or Masonic journalists’. He secured a private audience with the Pope but his clumsy efforts to exploit this by publishing details of it led to the refusal of a similar audience to Duffy a year later. It is not clear whether this also contributed to a decision by the Holy See in January 1921, blocked at a late stage by the intervention of Archbishop Clune of Perth, to issue a pronouncement condemning acts of violence – a statement which it was feared would have been taken as hostile to Sinn Féin. A key figure in the unofficial contacts between Irish representatives in Rome and the Holy See throughout this period was Monsignor Hagan, rector of the Irish College, later a strong supporter of de Valera against the Treaty. No progress was made, however, in securing any form of recognition, and as late as July 1922 the effects of O’Kelly’s blunder were still being felt: seven months after the Treaty a departing Irish representative, Count O’Byrne, was refused a private audience.

Both Monsignor Hagan and the Irish representatives in Rome were deeply concerned about moves to end the election of bishops, the transfer of the power of appointment to Rome being seen as opening the process to British influence. Closely linked to this was concern that, with the advent of Irish Independence, the Holy See might seek to appoint a nuncio to Ireland, who would influence episcopal appointments. Fears of British influence over such appointments were unrealistic, but anxiety about the role of a nuncio eventually proved justified.

During his brief period in Rome in 1920 O’Kelly reported on an approach from D’Annunzio in Fiume, offering to assist in the procurement of ‘materials’, i.e. arms. He also met Mussolini, then editor of Popolo d’Italia, and described him as ‘a thorough-going friend and supporter of ours ... Since I saw him he has published about six different articles from stuff I have sent him ... under big headlines.’

At the other extreme from the intensive but unproductive wooing of the Holy See was an effort to secure recognition by the Bolshevik regime. The process began in the United States, where contact was made with several impecunious Soviet representatives. A loan of $20,000 (about £150,000 in today’s money) was provided to them, in the expectation that they would recommend that their Government recognise the Irish Republic. The loan was secured by some jewels that may have belonged to the murdered Grand Duchess Elizabeth. When this matter resurfaced in the Dáil 25 years later it caused some embarrassment but the loan was quickly repaid and the jewels returned. (When, belatedly, Ireland reopened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1974 I raised a wintry smile from Andrei Gromyko by pointing out how uncapitalist revolutionary Ireland had been in not seeking interest on the loan.) From the documents now published it emerges that a further loan of $1 million was sought by the Russian representative in New York in June 1920. But according to the Sinn Féin envoy Patrick McCartan – writing to a Soviet official from neighbouring Estonia on his way back to Ireland from Russia in June 1921 – this had not been seriously considered by de Valera because of McCartan’s doubts about when ‘your representatives speak for your Government and when they speak for themselves’.

Despite Gavan Duffy’s vigorous objections, on 5 June 1920 the Dáil Government decided to send a delegation to Russia to seek formal recognition. (It was also suggested that Thomas Johnston, leader of the Labour Party, should be one of its members.) The initial proposal had come from de Valera, writing to Griffith from Washington and suggesting that McCartan go to Russia as a delegate from the Dáil. The idea was to obtain recognition from the Soviet Government before it ‘settled with Britain’. Three months later, Gavan Duffy, writing to my father from Paris, and asking him to pass on his views especially to Griffith, expressed alarm at this idea. If implemented, he said, ‘we may as well at once give up all further political effort on the Continent.’ In any event, Lenin was ‘by no means friendly to nationalism ... so that the real gain ... is problematical and the loss certain’. A request for recognition by the Soviets was postponed until after a formal demand for recognition had been presented to the President of the United States in the early autumn, in order to avoid giving Britain a propaganda weapon by having made the first such demand to Soviet Russia.

A treaty with Russia was prepared which would have committed both sides to promoting recognition of the sovereignty of the other, and to exerting influence in the Irish case and pressure in the Russian case against the shipment of arms for use against the two nations. Russia was to accord to religious denominations represented in Ireland every right accorded to religious sects in the constitution of the Russian Republic, and to entrust to Ireland the interests of the Roman Catholic Church in Russia. There were also trade clauses. The avowed purposes of the two states were modestly described as being ‘to end imperialist exploitation, to ensure the freedom of the world’s highways, to bring about universal disarmament, to make obligatory the arbitration of all international disputes, and to secure peace to the peoples of the world’. McCartan’s account of his abortive four months in Russia (February to June 1921) is a fascinating document, describing his contacts with Litvinov and Chicherin among others. As it turned out, the Russians, understandably, gave priority to their relations with Britain, with which they signed a trade agreement in March 1921. .

An accompanying memorandum from McCartan analyses the Russian Communist state. It starts with the blunt statement that ‘Nobody in authority in Russia pretends to think that such a thing as liberty exists there ... The idea of whether or not the present regime represents the will of the people is openly laughed at.’ And later: ‘Though they claim that the present Government is a dictatorship of the proletariat it is nothing of the kind. It is a dictatorship of the Communist Party.’ After reflecting on contemptuous Russian Soviet attitudes to Estonia, McCartan concludes realistically: ‘I am not so sure, therefore, that self-determination for Ireland would raise much enthusiasm in official circles. Anything they are likely to do for Ireland will be done in the hope of breaking up the British Empire and thus further [sic] the world revolution.’ If only people like Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell had been so clear-sighted.

The failure to secure even a hearing, let alone recognition, from Wilson in Paris did not discourage the Dáil Government from pursuing this issue in the United States itself, where the strongest popular and political support for Irish Independence was to be found. However, this collection of documents has less material about the US than might have been hoped, and contains relatively little about the extraordinarily successful fund-raising activities through the issue of Irish bonds. In mid-June 1919, just as de Valera was departing for the United States, a letter was received via Paris from John Devoy, the Fenian leader who since the 1870s had been a key figure among the Irish in America, giving news of a split on the subject of Ireland’s strategic relations to Britain which thereafter divided Irish America. Three letters from de Valera to the Dáil Cabinet in February and March 1920, and to O’Kelly in April 1921, express his frustrations with this split, which had been exacerbated by the negative reactions of some Irish-Americans to reports of an interview in the Westminster Gazette, in which he had sought to reassure British opinion about the likelihood of any strategic threat to Britain emanating from an independent Ireland by drawing an analogy with the position of Cuba under Article 1 of its Treaty with the United States. (De Valera always recognised that a key element of Irish foreign policy must be the offering of an adequate assurance to Britain on this issue. This explains the extraordinarily close secret co-operation between Britain and a supposedly neutral Ireland during the Second World War, fully reported to the British Cabinet by Lord Cranborne in February 1945, which included provision for British command of both Irish and British forces in the event of a German invasion.)

Among these papers there are a number of reports from two envoys of the Dáil to Irish America in 1922, Professor Timothy Smiddy and Denis McCullough (who had been president of the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood for many years). They were there to represent the Dáil – a job made difficult by the competing activities of pro and anti-Treaty delegations. Smiddy also reported on activities related to the provision of arms for anti-Treaty forces, while McCullough provided in-depth reports on divisions among Irish-Americans. The scale of the problem they faced can be judged by Smiddy’s report on the New York finance office where he was based: because it was full of people dealing with bond drives (fund-raising campaigns), many of whom were anti-Treaty and had a particular loyalty to de Valera, he found it virtually impossible to dictate correspondence there – even his stenographer was indiscreet.

Although in Russia and the United States, as at the Holy See and elsewhere, efforts to secure recognition failed, the scale and spread of the Dáil’s diplomatic campaign is striking. It reached even a country like Chile, where the Irish state never subsequently established a mission. Many of the amateurs engaged in these efforts later became prominent members of the new Irish state’s diplomatic service. Joe Walshe, for example, who was Secretary of the Department of External Affairs from 1922 until 1946; Michael MacWhite, who had served in the French Foreign Legion during the Great War and was Irish Permanent Representative to the League of Nations in the Twenties, before serving as Minister in Washington and, during and after the war, in Italy; Sean Murphy, Minister to France from 1938 to 1950, the only diplomat accredited to Vichy who de Gaulle allowed to serve in Paris after the war, and Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in the mid-Fifties; and Smiddy, who became Minister to Washington until 1929 and was then briefly High Commissioner in London.

The Administration of the Foreign Affairs Department

From february 1921 until January 1922 the administration of the Department of Foreign Affairs was undertaken by Robert Brennan, who had been in charge of publicity for Sinn Féin and had latterly been working under my father in the Dáil Publicity Department. De Valera made it clear to Brennan on his appointment that, despite Plunkett’s nominal role, he was to report directly to him: ‘I must be kept informed by a weekly report of the work done in the Foreign Affairs Department. It is the one for which I feel the most immediate personal responsibility.’ Two months later he returned to the question of Plunkett’s role. In a letter to Brennan he explained that because, together with Griffith and Plunkett, he had been appointed by the first session of Dáil Éireann to represent Ireland at the Peace Conference, he had proposed, when naming his first cabinet in April 1919, that foreign affairs be controlled by ‘us three in commission, or if, under our constitution, that were not possible, that I should myself retain the nominal headship’.

Although he did not think there had been any definite decision on the point,

I have always acted as if the commission principle had been accepted. Before I came out of Lincoln [Jail] the Count was sole Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Whilst I was in America I am not sure whether he had come to be regarded as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. In any case he is an associate minister of that department, so he can give you much information about foreign matters generally ... Please consult him on matters concerning the department as much as possible ... I am working at the foreign affairs stuff, and will give you definite decisions on all points as soon as possible.

The proceedings of Dáil Éireann contain no reference to this commission proposal. In accordance with de Valera’s suggestion, Plunkett had been appointed Secretary for Foreign Affairs on 2 April 1919. The title ‘Secretary’ was used for all members of that ministry, who were also described as ‘ministers’ in the associated resolution about their salaries. No changes were made to this or other ministerial appointments until 26 August 1921, when, after the formation of the Second Dáil out of the membership of the recently elected Southern Ireland Home Rule Parliament, there was a reshuffle and Griffith replaced Plunkett. So this rigmarole was in reality an exercise in obfuscation, designed to disguise the fact that Plunkett had been ineffective and that, on his return from America, de Valera wished to take over this portfolio – without, however, formally displacing his appointee.

Brennan was most unhappy with this communication, responding promptly that when appointed he had understood that he was to have nothing to do with Plunkett and was to regard himself as head of the Department, responsible directly to de Valera. Consultations with the Count would be ‘a useless waste of time’. To which de Valera responded elliptically: ‘You understand the position as well as I do. When I used “consult” I had no idea of personal interviews. Just keep him fairly well informed and do him the courtesy of asking his opinion now and then on important matters.’

The few communications initiated by Brennan that are published here suggest his own ineffectiveness. A memo of his to the Dáil Government dated 20 October 1921 is devoted to a proposal for a dress allowance of £100 (£4000 in today’s money) for each representative abroad ‘in accordance with the dignity of the office’, and includes a list of the items to be purchased. At a time when the fate of Ireland was being decided in London this sartorial preoccupation can scarcely have impressed the Cabinet.

Because of his appointment on 14 September to lead the Treaty delegation, Griffith’s role in relation to other aspects of foreign affairs during the months that followed was necessarily limited. This volume records no document originated by him during the period and contains only one incoming dispatch for him, from Rome – a copy of which was sent to de Valera with a covering note.

When de Valera resigned on the Treaty issue on 10 January 1922 and Griffith became President of the Dáil Éireann in his place, he appointed George Gavan Duffy Minister for Foreign Affairs. Duffy’s tenure lasted only six months. He resigned in the early stages of the Civil War, on grounds that were seen as unconvincing (relating to the abolition of the Dáil courts). His six-month period in office has not hitherto been regarded favourably: of his resignation it was said that he had been nervous since the start of the Civil War and was looking for a way out. The documents published here provide material for a positive re-evaluation of his role.

Following the election of the Provisional Government by 64 members of the Southern Home Rule Parliament on 14 January 1922, a memo issued by Gavan Duffy – Foreign Office Memorandum No.1 described the Dáil Government as ‘friendly to the Provisional Government’, but as having undertaken the role of maintaining the existing Republic until the Irish people decided whether or not to accept the proposed Irish Free State. If Britain failed to honour its promises, Ireland must be in a position to resume the struggle without delay. Meanwhile, the memorandum continued, the Dáil Government’s representatives abroad should halt propaganda against Britain, refrain from propaganda for or against the Treaty and take advantage of the new situation to widen the circles of Irish influence abroad.

Later, Duffy issued a further memorandum on training for the diplomatic service. This proposed that six candidates, preferably with a legal education, be sent abroad and, together with five young men already en poste, be given a year’s on-the-job training, combined with attendance at some lectures on art, literature and diplomatic history plus a special subject adapted ‘to the individual’s taste and the Department’s requirements’. They should also acquire ‘a perfect pronouncing knowledge of the language’. After six months these trainees were all to meet at a central point, possibly under the chairmanship of the Foreign Minister, to compare notes and to report on progress. They were to be paid £600 a year plus £150 expenses – a generous sum.

These proposals were accompanied by yet another memorandum regretting past Irish insularity in relation to the Continent, and asserting that on the Department of Foreign Affairs would depend ‘the maintenance of our present freedom’. British recognition of Canada’s ‘absolute right of having a Minister Plenipotentiary in Washington’ was cited in support of Ireland’s right to diplomatic representation abroad, and a comparison was made with Belgium, which had 29 diplomatic posts abroad and over sixty consular staff, and whose influence in the world Ireland could within ten years ‘immeasurably’ exceed. It went on to say that Irish diplomats must be highly educated, have sound judgment, and ‘possess a European culture ... We cannot force our narrow farouche insularity on Continentals ... At least two Continental languages besides Irish and English should be laid down as fundamental condition.’

In March Duffy wrote to Collins, Chairman of the Provisional Government, about a proposal from the Postmaster-General that Ireland seek admission to the UPU and International Telegraphic Union – for this would require credentials to be issued on the authority of the Provisional Government. Collins replied that in his view it would be better to refrain from making such applications ‘until we were in a stable position’. Later he responded in similar terms to a detailed memorandum from Duffy about membership of the League of Nations. In anticipation of a change of administration after the June 1922 General Election (in the event no change took place because the Civil War broke out), Duffy sent Collins a long memorandum on foreign affairs. He also sent a copy to W.T. Cosgrave (then Minister for Local Government but within three months to become Chairman of the Provisional Government) with a pointed covering note remarking that ‘your Excellency at a recent Cabinet meeting expressed the view that our Foreign Affairs, other than commercial, would be a matter of no importance’! In the memorandum Duffy said that despite the damage done to the new state’s reputation by the fact that everything in the country was so unsettled, Ireland could still become influential in world affairs. There were four reasons for this: the Irish diaspora; possible Irish influence on US politics; the perception in Continental countries that Ireland knew England better than they did and that friendship with Ireland could, therefore, be very useful; and an expectation that Ireland would be an invaluable member of the League of Nations because we would ‘say plainly the things that everyone is thinking and that other Powers are too cowardly to say’!

(I am not sure that Irish diplomacy has lived up to the latter expectation, although de Valera’s strong but abortive stand against Italy on the Abyssinian issue 13 years later, an issue on which Britain and France caved in, could perhaps be cited. As for his third point, I recall that in 1973 the French Foreign Minister, Michel Jobert, took me aback at a bilateral meeting in the Quai d’Orsay by asking me, as the Foreign Minister of a country which had much closer historical experience of the British than had the French, what Britain’s policy would be in relation to North Sea oil.)

Duffy went on in the memorandum to forecast Ireland’s potential importance in transatlantic air travel, and, less presciently, the possibility of its replacing Switzerland as the site of the League of Nations headquarters. He stressed the importance of early adherence to the League, outlining the procedure to be adopted towards this end, which he had discussed with the General Secretary, Sir Eric Drummond, and pointing out that the newly acquired status of the Dominions was evidenced in international law primarily by the fact of their separate and individual adherence to the League. He also proposed that the Treaty of December 1921 be registered with the League – a move resented and unsuccessfully opposed by Britain when my father, Duffy’s successor, took this step the following year. Duffy proposed special contacts with Canada and South Africa, the most independent-minded of the Dominions, with which Ireland later worked in the process of transforming the Dominions into independent sovereign states. There followed detailed proposals for the future structure of the Department, the preparation of diplomats for service abroad, premises, passports, and other matters of detail. Altogether it was a remarkable document to come from a man only five months in the job.

Duffy also had the difficult task of dealing with the problem of representatives abroad who allowed their personal opposition to the Treaty to influence their carrying out of official duties. Within a few weeks of his appointment he had to ask Sean T. O’Kelly to resign from his position as Irish representative in Paris after he had issued a circular accusing the Government of seeking ‘to subvert the Republic’. And three months later he dismissed Art O’Brien from his post in London, on the grounds that he had been engaged in subtly undermining the Government’s pro-Treaty stance.

O’Brien sent Duffy a series of aggrieved and defensive letters in response to which Duffy replied as they came in. He told O’Brien that the contention that he was protected from disciplinary action was ‘amusing’; that his failure to make any clear statement of his case was ‘surprising’; that his claim to be entitled to attack another signatory of the Treaty because he was a member not of the Dáil Government but of the parallel Provisional Government was a ‘subtle theory’ to which Duffy could not subscribe. Finally he added: ‘I should be more sensible of the gentle flattery (perhaps I should call it irony) of your references to my accuracy and acuteness of mind, if they were followed by your recognition that my decision’ – the decision to sack O’Brien – ‘may have been right after all, a possibility which seems strangely to have escaped you.’

Quite apart from his post-Treaty activities O’Brien does not come well out of these documents. Reporting in April 1921 on the first two years of his London mission, he files endless complaints about inadequate resources; makes excuses for appointing extra staff without authority; expresses concern that too long hours have endangered his health, requiring him to retire to bed for several months; and counts the exact number of letters he has had to write in the previous four months: an average of seven per day. O’Brien’s complaint in mid-1920 that my father, then Director of Publicity, had failed to contact him during several recent visits to London, was probably accurate, but that failure may be understandable.

My father, a London Irish poet, had come to live in Ireland in 1913, and after three periods in prison was appointed Director of Publicity in June 1919, editing a daily underground newspaper, the Bulletin, from November 1919 until his fourth arrest in February 1921. On his release in July he resumed his position, becoming from January 1922 non-cabinet Minister of Publicity, and in September 1922 Minister for External Affairs. After my father’s arrest, O’Brien described their relationship as having been marred by ‘some little misunderstanding’, but, obviously hoping for a better relationship with the temporary replacement, who was to be Erskine Childers, asked that this successor ‘come over here and have a chat over the whole position; I think it would be very advantageous.’ (Childers was subsequently Secretary to the Irish delegation to the Treaty negotiations. He took the anti-Treaty side in the Civil War, was arrested and then executed for possession of a handgun, because he was wrongly suspected by the Government of being a British agent stirring up trouble to justify a British reoccupation. His son of the same name became President of Ireland in 1966.)

In July, after the outbreak of the Civil War, Duffy felt it necessary to write to John Chartres, representative in Berlin (and also temporarily in Paris), with the ‘serious criticism’ that a bulletin he had issued ‘extols Mr de Valera and his friends at the moment when they are wrecking the country’ and that he had reported favourably on an army meeting earlier prohibited because it involved ‘an attempt, quite openly avowed, to set up an army executive quite independent of the control of Parliament’. Chartres defended himself vigorously and skilfully, with the result that when Ernest Blythe, a member of both parallel ministries, received his response – Duffy having meanwhile resigned – and sent it to Collins, the latter replied that he was ‘inclined to agree that it is not strictly playing the game, but think that the matter is so cleverly done that you would be rather in a unique position to take disciplinary action. I think you can only note it, and note similar future things, and then deal with the accumulative effect.’ My father removed Chartres from his Berlin post in October 1922, although he served in the home Civil Service until 1927.

A complicating factor on the Berlin scene was the presence of Charles Bewley, appointed in late December as trade representative to Germany. It soon transpired that Bewley was an anti-Semite, who had to be ejected from a café because of the violence of the language he had used at the mere mention of the name of Robert Briscoe, a Jewish supporter of Sinn Féin, who was then in Berlin. The row over Bewley persisted throughout the whole of Duffy’s period in office, and it is difficult to avoid the impression that he was not too bothered by Bewley’s behaviour. His immediate response was simply to say to Bewley, ‘I think you cannot take too great trouble to cause the matter to be forgotten,’ and to impress on him ‘the need for supreme discretion’. Two months later Bewley proposed that he succeed Chartres as Irish representative as Chartres had been sent to Paris. Duffy was against this because ‘the Jewish element is very strong’ in Berlin, but he suggested to Blythe that Bewley ‘might be suitable for Munich or Vienna, as the same consideration would not arise in those places’. Despite all this, Bewley was appointed to Berlin, though he lasted only until March 1923. Six years later he was appointed Minister to the Holy See, from which position he was transferred again to Berlin by de Valera in 1933. In 1939 de Valera dismissed him because of his Nazi sympathies. He remained on the Continent during the war, at the end of which he was arrested and imprisoned for a time as a collaborator.

The closing section of this volume, covering the first three months of my father’s period as Minister for External Affairs in the Cosgrave Government is fairly thin. But there are interesting reports from Professor Smiddy in the United States on the activities of anti-Treaty elements there, and from Michael Mac White at the League of Nations in Geneva about his ‘general disappointment’ at the Dáil’s decision not to apply for membership ‘for the moment’. When Sir Eric Drummond enquired what had led to this decision MacWhite felt it necessary to refer him to newspaper reports, which suggests British opposition, for Drummond went on to say that it would be extraordinary if Downing Street were to offer any opposition to an Irish application and that he would see Balfour on the matter.

The Publicity Department

When the Dáil Éireann met in January 1919, a Publicity Department under its authority was established, which took over responsibility for propaganda outside Ireland from the Sinn Féin Publicity Department. After the arrest in May 1919 of its first director, my father was appointed in his place, and from November onwards a daily Bulletin was published clandestinely, initially circulated to 100 press correspondents but by August 1921 to 900 newspapers and selected individuals. A later report explains that interest was built up thanks to frequent visits to London by my father and interviews with foreign correspondents there (these contacts were initiated through literary links he had established in the period 1907-11); foreign journals were also encouraged to send correspondents to Ireland. The credibility of the Bulletin was assured by my father’s policy of confining stories of British atrocities to cases verified by sworn statements. (The British were less scrupulous. A report dated May 1921 gives details of an abortive British attempt to discredit the Dáil Government by publishing forged issues using typewriters and duplicators captured in a raid.) After my father’s arrest in February 1921, this conscientious policy was continued by Childers.

In November 1921 a proposal to reorganise the Department of Publicity involving, inter alia, the creation of separate branches for film work, the foreign press, the Irish press and pamphlets and publications gave rise to disagreements at government level. Finally a report from the Department in April 1922 recorded the demise of the daily Bulletin at the end of the previous year. However, daily reports were then being issued on what was described as a ‘systematic pogrom’ in Belfast. Again, particular care was taken to ensure that these reports were reliable. My father is reported to have made several visits to Belfast, setting up a direct telegraphic service for rapid communication.

The Treaty

The volume contains scores of previously unpublished documents relating to the Treaty negotiation and earlier peace moves, including that of the Australian Archbishop Clune, which foundered on the issue of arms handover, that of Lord Derby and that of Lord Justice O’Connor, whose account of his contacts with the Conservarive Party leader Sir Edward Carson in January 1921 are especially interesting.

O’Connor reported that he ‘understood Carson to be in favour of ultimate unity, through the means of the Council of Ireland set up under the Home Rule Act’ and gave details of two further meetings with Carson involving Father O’Flanagan, a vice-president of, though a marginal figure in, Sinn Féin. (In December 1920 O’Flanagan had taken it on himself to respond with an enthusiastic telegram to a reference by Lloyd George to Britain’s desire for peace in Ireland. Fear that this telegram, and a resolution in similar terms adopted by Galway County Council, was causing the British Government to underestimate Irish determination to continue the struggle had discredited O’Flanagan with his colleagues.) At the second of O’Flanagan’s meetings with Carson the latter told him that Lloyd George had suggested that the three of them hold another meeting, bringing in the Northern Ireland leader Sir James Craig and de Valera. Nothing came of this proposal, perhaps because O’Flanagan was discredited.

It is difficult for a non-historian to judge to what extent the publication of these documents will add significantly to understanding of the Treaty negotiations. There will undoubtedly be great interest in Griffith’s annotated copy of the draft Treaty furnished by Lloyd George to the Irish delegation on 30 November 1921 and of Collins’s notes on a copy of the second draft provided by the British on the night of 1 December. Also published here in facsimile are de Valera’s handwritten notes made at a previously unrecorded meeting of the ‘Inner Cabinet’ four months earlier (24 July).

The attendance of Richard Mulcahy at that restricted meeting is, I am sure, correctly ascribed to the fact that he was Chief of Staff of the Army, while the presence of Erskine Childers is explained on the grounds that he was Substitute Director of Publicity. However, in the list of former Governments published in Nealon’s Guide to the 21st Dáil and Senate (1977), which I take to be authoritative in these matters, if occasionally incomplete, my father is stated to have replaced his temporary substitute, Erskine Childers, in this position on 15 July. This may not be without significance, for if Childers was not present at this Inner Cabinet meeting in that role, it would suggest that he was already seen by de Valera as a potentially key player in the negotiations to come. For, when the delegation to the London talks was appointed in September, de Valera nominated Childers as secretary, despite opposition from Griffith, who, since Childers’s arrival in Ireland in 1919, had mistrusted him as an Englishman. In a letter of March 1919 to my father, which I recently obtained and have lodged with my father’s papers at University College Dublin, Childers favoured a resolution of the Irish question that would leave Ireland inside the Empire – and ascribed the same view to my father. But by mid-1921 Childers may have been well on the way to the Republican stance which led him to become an anti-Treaty publicist during the Civil War – and as Frank Pakenham remarks in Peace by Ordeal (1935), it was the fact that this former moderate ‘resolutely opposed’ Griffith’s ideas of a settlement that ‘hardened’ Griffith’s attitude ‘into fanatical obsession’.

There is one issue in connection with the Treaty that has always puzzled me: the reaction of the Irish delegation and de Valera to the proposal for a Boundary Commission to determine the future size of a Northern Ireland that remained within the UK.

In the days before this idea was floated by Lloyd George’s secretary, Tom Jones, the Prime Minister had been firmly committed to a united Ireland with a six-county subordinate Parliament – and to resigning if this was rejected by the Unionists. Griffith’s low-key reaction to the Boundary Commission proposal (‘it is their look-out for the moment,’ he wrote to de Valera), opened the way for the division of the island. Remarkably, de Valera immediately congratulated Griffith on this non-committal response, a reaction that he described as being ‘unanimous’ in Dublin.

The rationale of the non-reaction remains unclear. There is no indication whatever that it was due to concern about the ‘militarist government’ under Bonar Law that Jones had suggested would replace Lloyd George’s Coalition if the Prime Minister resigned after failing to secure Unionist agreement to a united Ireland with a subordinate six-county Parliament. Was the non-reaction due to a belief that Unionists would accept a united Ireland rather than face a loss of territory if only the six counties remained in the UK? If so, this was never made explicit. ‘Tentative suggestions’ for a Treaty were submitted by the British a week later. As an alternative to a united Ireland with a subordinate six-county Parliament, these contained provision for a Commission ‘to determine in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants the boundary between Northern Ireland and the rest of Ireland’. The Irish response to this document simply ignored these clauses and confined itself to offering ‘safeguards designed to secure the interests of the area over which [the subordinate Parliament] functions’. However, when on 30 November the British Government produced a draft Treaty, the early draft of the clause about the Boundary Commission had been significantly modified. To the phrase about determining the boundary ‘in accordance with the wishes of the inhabitants’ had been added a syntactically overriding qualification: ‘as far as may be compatible with economic and geographic conditions’.

It was this new phrase, narrowly but perhaps not abusively interpreted, that led four years later to an award by the Boundary Commission that restricted boundary changes to areas immediately contiguous to the border – perhaps on the grounds that anything more would ignore a perceived economic and geographic need to preserve the hinterlands of towns further inside Northern Ireland.

What was the reaction of the Irish side to this fatal qualification of the democratic principle on which they had placed such reliance? We know from the facsimiles published here that Griffith noted the additional phrase in what was now Article 13 of the draft Treaty – on his copy he underlined twice the words ‘economic and geographic’. In the margin he wrote: ‘?What terms of working out will be ...’ – whatever that may have meant. But that he was not negatively disposed to the new wording may be deduced from his other scribbles: ‘?basis of Commission itself’ and ‘suggest 1 man from us, 1 man from Brit Gov – Chairman – 1 man from N.E.’ (Ulster). Collins marked Article 13 on the second draft of 2 December by a line at the side and on the back wrote ‘13 NO’. But at the joint meeting of the delegation and the Dáil Cabinet on 3 December he is noted as saying merely: ‘Sacrifices to N.E. Ulster made for essential unity and justified.’ De Valera, despite his earlier congratulations to the delegation on the meeting at which the Commission idea had surfaced, said he could not ‘sign any document which would give N.E. Ulster power to vote itself out of the Irish State’.

Neither then nor later is there any indication that the qualification of the earlier offer of a Commission whose terms of reference were to be based solely on the wishes of the people was ever discussed by the Irish delegation or Cabinet, never mind challenged. The attention that might more fruitfully have been accorded to the Northern Ireland issue was apparently absorbed by a preoccupation with the issue of Commonwealth membership – as distinct from external association with the Commonwealth – and with the oath of faithfulness to the King. These were issues which, unlike the division of the island, could have no long-term significance, but which nevertheless precipitated a civil war.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 21 No. 3 · 4 February 1999

If only, Garret FitzGerald sighed, people like Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell had been as clear-sighted as Patrick McCartan, who reported from Russia in 1921 that ‘though they claim that the present government is a dictatorship of the proletariat it is nothing of the kind. It is a dictatorship of the Communist Party’ (LRB, 21 January). FitzGerald is quite right to say that about Shaw, the Webbs and many others but Russell would have required no lectures from the perceptive Mr McCartan. Having been in Russia a year before him, he wrote in his book The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism: ‘I am compelled to reject Bolshevism for two reasons: first because I believe that the price mankind must pay to achieve communism by Bolshevik means to be too terrible; and secondly because, even after paying the price, I do not believe the result would be what the Bolsheviks profess to desire.’ Caroline Moorehead says in her biography of Russell that he wrote to Colette at the time: ‘I loathed the Bolsheviks and their regime. I think there is less liberty in modern Russia than has ever existed anywhere before.’

Keith Kyle
London NW3

Vol. 21 No. 4 · 18 February 1999

I stand corrected by Keith Kyle (Letters, 4 February). My lapse of memory in relation to Bertrand Russell's views on the Soviet Union was all the more inappropriate for having been submitted to a journal published in Little Russell Street.

Garret FitzGerald

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences