Volume 2 1922~1926

Doc No.

This volume of selected documents, the second in the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, covers the development of Irish foreign policy and the Irish diplomatic service from 6 December 1922 to 19 March 1926.

December 6, 1922, marks the date that the Irish Free State, created by the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6 December 1921, was officially established, following a period of provisional government. The closing date, that of the Ultimate Financial Settlement between the Irish Free State and Britain, which completed the restructuring of Anglo-Irish financial relations after the 1921 Treaty, marks a suitable focal point in the middle years of the term of office of the Cumann na nGaedheal government of William T. Cosgrave (which held power until March 1932). Volume III of the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series will run from March 1926 to March 1932.


The unifying theme of the volume is the establishment of the Irish Free State as a sovereign independent state in the international system. Through membership of the Commonwealth and the League of Nations and through limited bilateral relations, particularly with the USA and Britain, the Irish Free State’s small diplomatic service, headed by the Minister for External Affairs, Desmond FitzGerald and the Secretary of the Department, Joseph P. Walshe, sought to protect and enhance the international identity of the new Irish state.

The split in the government of Dáil Éireann over the December 1921 Treaty, which had resulted in civil war breaking out in the Irish Free State in June 1922, continued to resonate through the Irish foreign service in the early twenties. Anti-Treatyite representatives, including a number of former members of the diplomatic service, based in Britain, France and particularly the United States, sought, through press and public speaking campaigns, to undermine the international standing of the Irish Free State. However, international support for the anti-Treaty side dwindled as the Irish government consolidated its domestic and international position in the latter months of the civil war in the spring of 1923.

Timothy A. Smiddy represented the Irish Free State in Washington from early 1922. His first policy priority was countering propaganda against the Irish government. The Irish-American community had become even more highly politicised between 1919 and 1921 and was deeply divided over the Treaty and a wide range of national and international issues, particularly United States membership of the League of Nations. Securing Smiddy’s recognition as the Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary of the Irish Free State to the United States was the immediate objective of the Minister for External Affairs and the Secretary of the Department. Following protracted discussions with London and Washington, Smiddy was eventually accredited on 7 October 1924. This made the Irish Free State the first dominion to appoint a diplomatic representative independent of Britain. The appointment was a major success for the Irish Free State in its goal of pursuing an independent foreign policy.

The Irish Free State also sought to demonstrate its independent foreign policy through membership of the League of Nations. Ireland joined the League of Nations on 10 September 1923 and played a full role in League assemblies through the 1920s, being elected to the Council of the League in 1930. The Irish Free State representative to the League from 1923 to 1928, Michael MacWhite, became a well-known figure at Geneva. With the help of another Irishman, Edward J. Phelan, a senior official of the International Labour Office, MacWhite represented the Irish Free State’s views on foreign policy issues in co-operation with the representatives of the other fifty member states;states in the main with which Ireland would otherwise have had no diplomatic exchanges, but with many of which she had much in common as a new, small and weak member of the post-Versailles international system

Edward J. Phelan’s role in Irish diplomacy was so important – at times his views were specifically sought by FitzGerald and Walshe in Dublin – that we have included a number of his letters which, although they are not strictly Irish diplomatic documents, had an important bearing on the course of Irish policy at the League of Nations.

The Irish Free State also used the League to further distinct foreign policy goals such as the registration of the 1921 Treaty as an international treaty at Geneva, a goal achieved on 11 July 1924. Registering the Treaty had a two-fold purpose: it demonstrated how the state could use the League to achieve its foreign policy objectives, and it confirmed that the Cosgrave government intended to promote the redefinition of dominion status away from an imperial relationship and towards a commonwealth of independent states.

Attendance at Commonwealth conferences from 1923 was as much a hallmark of Cumann na nGaedheal foreign policy as was yearly attendance at sessions of the League of Nations assembly. At the 1923 Imperial Conference, the first since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Irish diplomats learnt how the Commonwealth worked and began developing their plans to change the structure and theory of dominion status. Their intention to bring about radical change was dramatically illustrated three years later at the 1926 Imperial Conference (to be dealt with in DIFP volume III).

In the first half of the 1920s, Anglo-Irish relations, as distinct from Commonwealth relations, were dominated by the Boundary Commission and its remit to redraw the frontier between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. Established under article 12 of the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Boundary Commission did not meet until 1924. From 1922 to 1924 the Irish Free State developed its case for presentation at the Commission through the North-Eastern Boundary Bureau. Eoin MacNeill, the Minister for Education and a brother of James McNeill, the Irish High Commissioner in London, was appointed as the Free State’s Boundary Commissioner on 20 July 1923. Between 1923 and 1925, William T. Cosgrave, assisted by James McNeill, took responsibility for most of the direct Anglo-Irish contact relating to the Commission and its actions.

A leak of the proposed alterations to the Irish Free State/Northern Ireland boundary which appeared in the Morning Post newspaper on 7 November 1924 precipitated Eoin MacNeill’s resignation from the Boundary Commission (MacNeill’s letter of resignation is reproduced in facsimile as document No. 340 below) and later from his post as Minister for Education. As the ensuing political crisis deepened in the Irish Free State, Cosgrave and his ministers entered into emergency talks with the British government. These negotiations led to an agreement on 3 December 1925 to suppress the report of the Boundary Commission, to retain the existing boundary between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, and to cancel certain debt repayments to Britain arising from the provisions of the 1921 Treaty.

The minutes of the Anglo-Irish talks of November and early December 1925 are reproduced in full in this volume. It should be noted that the British, as hosts, wrote these minutes and that this was consonant with a convention in diplomatic practice ‘whereby the principal secretary at a conference is usually an official of the country in which it is held … and other members of the secretariat are also furnished by it, supplemented … by others drawn from among the suites of the various representatives’. The minutes are accompanied by the only known Irish record of these meetings: handwritten notes made by the Irish Cabinet Secretary, Diarmuid O’Hegarty (reproduced in facsimile as document No. 351 below).

This volume also covers some less central areas in Irish foreign relations. These include early moves towards the promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination, Irish efforts to develop transatlantic air travel, and the state’s role in facilitating the installation of transatlantic telegraph cable links running through Ireland and on to continental Europe. The documents also show an early awareness of the need to develop Ireland’s international trade position and to do so using branded Irish speciality goods in niche markets. The involvement of Irish diplomats in these areas demonstrates that the Irish Free State saw its foreign relations as embracing trade and economic questions as well as the political and interstate issues which were its main concerns.

Although the scope of Irish foreign policy interests and activities was widening in this period, the same could not be said for the resources at the disposal of the small Department of External Affairs. Joseph Walshe, with his second in command, Seán Murphy, could do nothing to prevent the closing down of the Irish missions in Rome and Berlin in 1923 and 1924 respectively. The Paris mission was reduced to an essentially consular role. The Irish Free State’s main diplomatic posts abroad in the early 1920s were Washington, London and Geneva. After the Rome and Berlin closures, these three posts, together with two trade and general offices in Paris and Brussels, were Ireland’s only foreign missions.

The Department of External Affairs itself, situated in Government Buildings in Dublin, suffered from being regarded in many sections of the administration and government as virtually an extension of the Department of the President of the Executive Council. Until 1927 Walshe was its ‘Acting Secretary’, whereas his equivalents in all other departments had full status. While ‘Acting Secretary’ Walshe successfully fended off attempts by the Department of the President and the Department of Finance to close External Affairs down as a cost cutting measure. The threat of merger remained a constant backdrop to External Affairs’ management of Ireland’s foreign relations from 1922 to 1929 when a small expansion of the Department and of missions abroad took place.

Despite the many positive developments and achievements, including membership of the League of Nations, the future administrative independence of the Department of External Affairs remained as uncertain in 1926 as it had been at the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922. Nonetheless, the actions of Ireland’s small and efficient diplomatic service had, by 1926, ensured that the young state was growing increasingly confident of its international sovereignty and was prepared to take a more active role on the world stage.

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

Until the passage of the National Archives Act (1986), 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 records of the Department of Foreign Affairs have been released on an annual basis since 1991.

The Early Series files of the Department of Foreign Affairs, from which many 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, and for volume I of the series, has shown that the files 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 seems to indicate that there was very little destruction of documents in this series.

An early form of departmental registry was established in the Department of External Affairs in 1923 using an alpha-numeric system (the so-called D/EA/GR/LN/P/PP Series). In addition to the Early Series files, the External Affairs documents reproduced in this volume come mainly from this early alpha-numeric system. This system contains copies of many of the documents in the files of the Early Series and it would seem that the two systems may have initially operated side-by-side.

In the late 1920s a numerical system was developed with individual subject categories being assigned a number (e.g. 26 was allocated to the League of Nations) and each file within a category being assigned a further number (e.g. 26/95 which deals with the Irish Free State’s candidature for the League of Nations Council in 1930). This system was further developed, and remained in use until recently. A relatively small number of documents from this series have been reproduced in this volume.

The main files from the Department of the Taoiseach (known from 1922 to 1937 as the Department of the President of the Executive Council, or simply ‘the Department of the President’), the third of the major collections of documents reproduced in this collection, are known as the ‘S-files’ series; they begin at S1 and progress numerically (S1, S2, S3 etc.,) in a roughly chronological order. These files reflect the fact that foreign policy matters appeared regularly on the agenda of the Executive Council (as the Irish Free State Cabinet was known from 1922 to 1937) in the 1920s. They further reveal that, contrary to received wisdom, W.T. Cosgrave, as President of the Executive Council, took a great interest in foreign policy, at times directing policy over the head of his Minister for External Affairs, Desmond FitzGerald.

Editorial policy and the selection of documents

The Executive Editor was responsible for the initial wide choice of documents. These were then assessed by the four Editors, meeting once a month, to select the most appropriate for publication. Documents were prioritised in terms of importance on a one to five scale and were processed by the Editors in geographical and thematic tranches.

Documents are presented in chronological order based on date of despatch. The text of documents has been reproduced as exactly 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 nor have there been any 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 were either ‘not located’ or ‘not printed’. Either the document referred to could not be found, or it was 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 has been inserted or the assumed word inserted with an explanatory footnote. Spelling mistakes have been silently corrected, but capitalisation, punctuation, signatures and contemporary spelling have in the main been left as found in the originals and have been changed only where the sense is affected. 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.

Where a sender has signed a document, either in original or copy form, the word ‘signed’, in square brackets, has been inserted. A similar practice has been followed with initialled or stamped documents, with the words ‘initialled’ or ‘stamped’ inserted in square brackets as appropriate. In all cases without an insertion in square brackets, the signature or initials were typed on the original document and are reproduced as found. Where an unsigned copy of a letter is reproduced, the words ‘copy letter unsigned’ have been inserted in square brackets. 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 footnotes have been inserted to that effect.

In correspondence, English was the working language of Irish diplomats. It is evident from the archives that Irish was only used for documents of symbolic national importance, although it was the spoken language of a number of diplomats, particularly Joseph Walshe, and many officials were bilingual. In correspondence, the Irish language was more commonly used for salutations and in signatures. 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.

The authors of the documents reproduced tended to refer to 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.


Documents on Irish Foreign Policy is a project of the Department of Foreign Affairs in association with the Royal Irish Academy. The editors would like to thank all those who were involved in the production of the second volume of the series. The assistance of the following is particularly acknowledged.

At the Department of Foreign Affairs: Pádraic MacKernan, Secretary General; Gary Ansbro; Noel Kilkenny, Dr Gerard Keown and Alma Ní Choighligh and Orla McBreen.

At the Royal Irish Academy: Patrick Buckley, Executive Secretary of the Academy; Professor Eda Sagarra and Professor Mary Daly (successively Secretary of the Academy), Sara Whelan, Hugh Shiels; Trevor Mullins, and Dr Eamonn O hÓgain, Stiúrthóir of the Academy’s Foclóir na nua-Ghaeilge project.

At the National Archives: Dr David Craig, Director, for his generosity in providing access to the facilities and collections; Catriona Crowe, for her continuing advice and support for the DIFP project; and Paddy Sarsfield for photocopying the very large number of documents from which the initial selection for publication was made.

At the University College Dublin Archives Department: Professor Thomas Bartlett, Director; Ailsa Holland, and Seamus Helferty.

At the Institute of Public Administration: Tony McNamara; Kathleen Harte; Jan de Fouw and Tom Turley.

At the Public Record Office, London: Ms Sara Tyacke (Keeper of Public Records); Dr Elizabeth Hallam Smith, and Michael Leydon.

We would also like to thank Wendy Commins; Dr Diarmuid Ferriter; the late Commandant Peter Young; Commandant Victor Laing; Helen Litton; Dr Garret Fitzgerald; Maurice O’Brien, and James McGuire of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.

Ronan Fanning
Michael Kennedy
Dermot Keogh
Eunan O’Halpin

17 July 2000.