Volume 1 1919~1922


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This volume of selected documents treats of the development of Irish foreign policy and the Irish diplomatic service from 21 January 1919 to 6 December 1922.  With a few exceptions, none of the documents in this volume has ever appeared in print before.

The opening date of the volume, 21 January 1919, marks the first meeting of the First Dáil (parliament) in the Mansion House in Dublin, and the publication of the Declaration of Independence. The date on which the volume concludes, 6 December 1922, marks the official birth of the Irish Free State, one year after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in London on 6 December 1921.  The four years between 1919 and 1922 witnessed a political and military conflict within Ireland against British rule; the British partition of the island into Northern and Southern Ireland through the 1920 Government of Ireland Act; a negotiated settlement giving Southern Ireland dominion status through the December 1921 Treaty; the emergence of the Irish Free State; and a civil war which began in June 1922 and ended in May 1923.  The Department of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic service were established in these turbulent years.

The Irish diplomatic service

The primary object of Irish foreign policy was to gain international recognition for the Irish Republic. A second object was to seek the financial support of the Irish diaspora in Britain and the Dominions, the United States,  and Latin America through an external loan.  Considerable attention has been given in this volume to the activities of the separate Publicity Department and its efforts to overcome the ‘paper wall’ which Britain had placed around Ireland.  Though theoretically separate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the two units operated in tandem and their activities were indistinguishable. The Publicity Department’s propaganda publicised internationally the Dáil’s separatist administration and the military conflict with Britain.

The first international step taken by the Dáil was to send a team to the Paris peace conference of 1919 to lobby for recognition of the Irish Republic and separate Irish admission to the conference.  Although this team, led by Seán T. O’Ceallaigh, did not achieve either goal, it deserves recognition as Ireland’s first diplomatic mission abroad. Paris remained a key diplomatic and propaganda centre for Irish diplomats until 1922.

From June 1919 until December 1920, the President of Dáil Éireann, Éamon de Valera, supported by Harry Boland and Seán Nunan, headed an American mission to raise funds, to increase awareness within the powerful Irish-American community of events in Ireland, and to bring the pressure of public and Congressional opinion on Britain to make peace in Ireland.  Significant funds for the Dáil were raised by de Valera on a coast to coast speaking tour.  De Valera also had to cope with the splits and divisions among the Irish-American community and he founded the American Association for the Recognition of the Irish Republic with the ending of these divisions in mind.  Throughout 1921, following de Valera’s return to Ireland in December 1920, Harry Boland headed the mission to America.

The year 1922 was a period of vigorous Irish diplomatic activity in America.  The Provisional Government established under the terms of the Treaty sought to take the initiative from the anti-Treaty groups and to gain control over Dáil funds held in America. Denis McCullough, former President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Timothy Smiddy, Professor of Economics at University College Cork, were both sent to the United States with this end in mind.

Anglo-Irish talks had begun when the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George wrote to Eamon de Valera on 24 June 1921, and a truce was declared in the Anglo-Irish war on 11 July 1921.  De Valera held meetings with Lloyd George at 10 Downing Street between 14 and 21 July.  Between July and September 1921 both sides sought a formula to allow negotiations to begin.  On 11 October 1921 the Irish and British delegations met at Downing Street to begin almost two months of talks which culminated in the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December.  This provided for the establishment of the Irish Free State as a self-governing dominion within the British Commonwealth.

The three major areas outlined above – Paris, the United States and the Treaty negotiations – provide most of the documents in this volume.  The Irish diplomatic service grew out of the Paris and American missions.  A fourth key element in the creation of an Irish foreign service was the establishment of an organised Department of Foreign Affairs.  When Count George Plunkett was appointed as Minister for Foreign Affairs in January 1919 he was only a figurehead.  Most of the correspondence dealing with foreign affairs was handled by Diarmuid O’Hegarty, Secretary to the Dáil Ministry, as part of his overall duties.  It was not until January 1921, with the appointment of Robert Brennan as Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, that any attempt was made by the Dáil Ministry to impose a centralised structure on the diplomatic service.  Brennan and Éamon de Valera bypassed Plunkett and drew up guidelines and rules for the organisation of the hitherto decentralised Irish diplomatic service.  During the Treaty negotiations this proved vital as diplomats were briefed from Dublin on the progress of the talks in London and on how to react to press questioning.

But when the Dáil split over the terms of the Treaty, the infant diplomatic service was also divided. Brennan himself opposed the Treaty and resigned in January 1922.  He teamed up with such prominent figures as Harry Boland in the United States and Seán T. O’Ceallaigh in Paris, later joined by Art O’Brien (London), Leopold Kerney (Paris), Máire O’Brien (Madrid) and Mary MacSwiney (United States), as part of an anti-Treaty diplomatic and propaganda service that sought every opportunity to counter internationally the legitimacy of the nascent Irish Free State.

Brennan had as good as handpicked his successor as permanent head of the Irish diplomatic service before he resigned.  Joseph Walshe returned from the Irish delegation in Paris, and took over from Brennan the pro-Treaty elements of the Department of Foreign Affairs to build anew an Irish diplomatic service.  Walshe remained in charge of the department until he became Ireland’s first ambassador to the Vatican in 1946.

Walshe and the new Minister for Foreign Affairs, George Gavan Duffy, created a professional diplomatic service, but the Civil War meant that Gavan Duffy’s plans for expansion instead became an exercise in consolidation.  Walshe organised the remaining pro-Treaty diplomats such as Michael MacWhite, Charles Bewley, John Chartres and Sean Murphy and added a publicity staff – Rosita Austin, Sean Lester and Francis Cremins – to form the core of his small department.  Where the need arose temporary diplomats were recruited for specific tasks such as the missions of Denis McCullough to the United States and Osmond Grattan Esmonde to Madrid.  Other longer term appointments were made, such as the choice of Professor Smiddy for Washington in 1922; Smiddy was to become Ireland’s first minister plenipotentiary abroad in October 1924 when he was officially accredited to the United States.

Ireland’s first generation of diplomats were not career officials, but people who drifted into the service by accident or by virtue of their linguistic or legal skills.  In the Dáil foreign service from 1919 to 1921, when a number of women such as Máire O’Brien, Nancy Wyse Power, Mairéad Gavan Duffy and Cáit O’Ceallaigh became diplomats, and played a significant role in pressing Ireland’s case internationally. But after, January 1922 the diplomatic grades in the foreign service became an almost exclusively male preserve, paralleling the experience of other government departments.

International recognition of the Irish Free State and the foundation of an independent foreign policy were Walshe’s primary goals.  From June 1922 he also had to deal with an international dimension to the Civil War, countering anti-Treaty propaganda in Europe and America and trying to regain control over the fractious Irish-American community.  Gavan Duffy resigned over domestic policy issues in July 1922 and was succeeded in September by Desmond FitzGerald, who became the Irish Free State’s first Minister for External Affairs in December 1922.  This handful of men was responsible for creating the diplomatic service of the Irish Free State and for securing the international recognition of the state.

The Provisional Government, established on 14 January 1922 to prepare for the inauguration of the Irish Free State on 6 December 1922, had no international existence.  Similarly neither the Dáil nor its Ministry of Foreign Affairs was internationally recognised.  The personnel of the Dáil and Provisional Government administrations overlapped considerably and in practice they operated together.  Yet until 6 December 1922, Irish diplomats could not be accredited to foreign countries, sign treaties or join international organisations.

The foreign service was very widely spread for its numerical size.  Aside from Anglo-Irish affairs and the missions in Paris and the United States, envoys were sent to Germany, Italy, the Vatican and Spain, with more than passing attention being paid to Soviet Russia.

Ireland had been partitioned by the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 and the Northern Irish government and parliament, with jurisdiction over domestic affairs of the six north-eastern counties of Ulster, came into existence in June 1921.  Northern Ireland did not sign the Treaty or accept the Boundary Commission which, under Article 12 of the Treaty, would regulate the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland was not a major area of activity for the Department of Foreign Affairs during these years. The documents relating to Northern Ireland in this volume show how the Provisional Government’s policy of non-recognition, particularly associated with Michael Collins,  foundered amongst the more pressing military considerations of the Civil War.  A policy of peaceful co-existence, first advocated by Ernest Blythe, Minister for Local Government and acting Minister for Home Affairs in the Provisional Government, was instead adopted in late 1922.  Although the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau was set up in September 1922 to prepare the Irish Free State’s case for the Boundary Commission provided for under Article 12 of the Treaty, material relating to it has been held over until Volume II of this series.

Irish policy towards the League of Nations evolved considerably between 1919 and 1922.  Initially the Dáil looked to the League as part of its appeal for recognition by the Paris peace conference.  The cold-shouldering of Seán T. O’Ceallaigh at Paris, and the involvement of the Irish-American community in the Congressional dispute over Article 10 of the League of Nations Covenant (which was in part responsible for the United States not joining the League) meant that the Department of Foreign Affairs became more cautious about the League.  Although Gavan Duffy hoped for admission to the League by September 1922, as the Irish Free State could not be officially constituted in international law until 6 December 1922, it did not become a member until 10 September 1923.

In January 1919, when this volume begins, the Department of Foreign Affairs was one of only four departments established by the constitution of the First Dáil.  In December 1922, when the volume ends, the Department of External Affairs (as it had by then become known) had lost its position in the departmental hierarchy and rumours were afoot that it was in danger of being absorbed into the Department of the President of the Executive Council (Prime Minister).  Joseph Walshe, Acting Secretary of one of the smallest departments of the nascent Irish Free State civil service, led the struggle to recover from the Treaty split and the disintegration of the foreign service.  The concern of the Department of Finance to cut public spending, coupled with public and political apathy towards the small department, created a climate of opinion in which the survival of the Department of External Affairs remained an open question as the Irish Free State came into existence.

Records of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and other archival sources

Until the passage of the National Archives Act, government departments in Ireland were under no compulsion to release their archival sources. The Department of the Taoiseach, however, has voluntarily released material since the mid-1970s. The Department of Foreign Affairs records have been released on an annual basis since 1991.

The Early Series files of the Department of Foreign Affairs, from which most of the documents in this volume have been selected, were initially thought to be quite disparate and fragmented. They were listed in 1992, making access to them considerably easier. The research and selection process engaged in for this volume has shown that they form a much more coherent collection than hitherto believed. It has been possible for the executive editor to track movements within the diplomatic service from archival sources on an almost day-to-day basis.  This would appear to indicate that very little destruction of documents in this series took place.

An early form of departmental registry was established in the Department of External Affairs in 1923 using an alpha-numeric system. In the late 1920s a numerical system  was developed with each subject category being assigned a number (e.g. 26 being allocated to the League of Nations) and a subsequent number for each file within that category (e.g. 26/95 which deals with the Irish Free State’s candidature for the League of Nations Council in 1930).

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The nature of the first Dáil Eireann administration meant that some material and information was destroyed, captured in raids or simply not written down.  For this reason much of the current volume is taken from typed carbon copies of original documents, the originals not having survived.  In other cases dates, names and locations are not recorded on letters and memoranda.  At times the editors have placed documents that are without an exact date to the nearest month in the volume.

The first generation of Irish diplomats had to learn their profession by trial and error.  There was no uniform reporting method or a procedure for confidential reporting until the late 1920s. In the period from 1919 to 1922 there was a slow move from reporting on many subjects in a single communication, through reports in the form of personal letters to letters with a single subject, and on to a distinct style with a covering letter and a dedicated report in memo form attached.  Many of the documents in the volume are therefore personal letters which contain extraneous information. Such documents have been reproduced as ‘extracts’ with an indication given where material has been omitted.  The early documents are also somewhat opaque in their references to third parties.  Their authors constantly feared despatches falling into the hands of the British.  The Editors have at all times tried to confirm the identity of the senders and recipients of unsigned letters, and in cases where identity is impossible to establish a footnote has been inserted to that effect.

Editorial policy and the selection of documents

The executive editor was responsible for the initial wide choice of documents which were then assessed by the editors, meeting once a month, to select the most significant documents.  Documents were prioritised in terms of importance on a one to five scale and were considered by the editors in geographical and thematic tranches. At times the editors were hard pressed to reach decisions on what to omit, so wide-ranging and interesting was the material available.

Documents are presented in chronological order based on date of despatch.  The text has been reproduced as accurately as possible.  Marginal notes and annotations have been reproduced in footnotes.  Where possible the authors of marginal notes have been identified.  There have been no alterations to the text of documents or deletions without indication being given of where changes have been made.  Nothing was omitted that might conceal or gloss over defects in policymaking and policy execution. All material reproduced was already open to the public at the relevant repository.

At some points in the text the footnotes refer to documents that have either been ‘not located’ or ‘not printed’.  Either the document referred to could not be found, or the document was either routine or repeated information found elsewhere in the material selected and so was not printed.

Where it was impossible to decipher a word or series of words an ellipsis, or the assumed word, has been inserted with an explanatory footnote.  Spelling mistakes have been silently corrected, but capitalisation, punctuation, signatures and contemporary spelling have been left as found in the originals and have been changed only where the sense is affected by the error. Editors’ additions to the text appear in square brackets.  Original abbreviations have been preserved and either spelt out between square brackets or explained in the list of abbreviations.

English was the working language of Irish diplomats.  In many cases there was no consistent spelling of Gaelicised names and in the volume many different spellings of the same name and salutation in Irish occur.  These have not been standardised and are reproduced as found.  Documents reproduced in Irish and English were checked against each other for consistency.

The authors of the documents reproduced tended to refer to Great Britain as ‘England’ or made no distinction between the two geographical entities and the Editors have not thought it necessary to insert (sic) at all relevant points throughout the volume.

The Editors decided on grounds of clarity and accessibility to place documents relating to the Treaty together in one chapter.  In that chapter, the Editors have indicated the number of words omitted where only an extract from a document has been reproduced.

The numbering system for documents reproduced from the de Valera papers may be subject to change as the papers are presently being recatalogued by the Archives Department at University College Dublin.  The prefix ‘P150’ will remain in all cases, but the file number following may change.  A list is being prepared by the UCD Archives Department which will collate the old and new numbers.

Editors’ acknowledgements

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy is a project of the Department of Foreign Affairs in association with the Royal Irish Academy and, although it may seem invidious to distinguish between all those in Iveagh House and in Academy House who have helped us in a myriad of different ways, there are some to whom we are specially grateful.

In the Department of Foreign Affairs, these include: the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. David Andrews, for kindly agreeing to launch this volume; Mr. Pádraic MacKernan, Secretary General of the Department, and Mr. Ted Barrington, Irish Ambassador to the United Kingdom, for their support at an early stage in the project; Mr. Gary Ansbro and Dr Gerard Keown, the Department’s unfailingly helpful representatives on the Editorial Advisory Board; and Ms. Bernadette Chambers, the Department’s Archivist.

In the Royal Irish Academy, we want particularly to thank all the Officers and members of the Council for their unswerving support of the project since its initial proposal in 1994; Mr. Patrick Buckley, the Executive Secretary and member of the Editorial Advisory Board; Dr Eamonn O hÓgain, Stiúrthóir of the Academy’s Foclóir na nua-Ghaeilge project, for his advice on terms and documents in Irish; Ms. Sara Whelan, Mr. Hugh Shiels, Ms. Amanda Kane and Ms. Marian Deegan.

Special thanks are also due to the staff of the National Archives of Ireland; in particular to the Director, Dr. David Craig, for providing a base for the Executive Editor and such generous archival access; to Ms Aideen Ireland, Archivist; and to Mr. Paddy Sarsfield, who photocopied the many documents from which the final selection for publication was made.

We also want to thank Professor Thomas Bartlett, the Director of the Archives Department at University College Dublin and Mr. Seamus Helferty, Archivist in that Department, for responding so positively to all our requests, and we are indebted to the Franciscan Friars and University College Dublin for permission to quote from the Eamon de Valera papers. Commandant Peter Young and Commandant Victor Laing of the Military Archives, and Mr. James McGuire, the Managing Editor of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, provided invaluable assistance which we gratefully acknowledge.

We are also grateful to Mr. Jan de Fouw, who designed the volume; and to Mr. Tony McNamara, Ms. Kathleen Harte and Mr. Tom Turley of the Institute of Public Administration for their work on printing and production. Our thanks are also due to Ms. Helen Litton, who prepared the index; to Ms. Wendy Commins, for meticulous typing and typesetting; and to Dr. Diarmuid Ferriter, for invaluable assistance with the preliminary proof-reading.

Pride of place in these acknowledgements, however, belongs to Catriona Crowe, whose formal designation, as Archivist and member of the Editorial Advisory Board, reveals nothing of her unofficial role as Chef de Cabinet at all moments of crisis and who was so often a fifth editor in all but name.

Ronan Fanning
Michael Kennedy
Dermot Keogh
Eunan O’Halpin

17 July 1998