Volume 3 1926~1932

Doc No.

This volume of selected documents, the third in the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series, covers the development of Irish foreign policy and the Irish diplomatic service from 5 February 1926 to 9 March 1932.

The volume opens with the Irish government’s preparations for the September 1926 Assembly of the League of Nations and the October– November 1926 Imperial Conference, both of which had a defining influence on the themes and conduct of Irish foreign policy into the early 1930s.

The closing date of the volume marks the first change of government in the Irish Free State. In the general election on 16 February 1932, Fianna Fáil, led by Éamon de Valera, defeated the Cumann na nGaedheal government of William T. Cosgrave, which had held power since September 1923. The new government came into office on 9 March 1932, the date on which this volume closes. The next volume in the series will run from March 1932 to December 1936.

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The development of the Irish Free State’s multilateral relations through the League of Nations and the Commonwealth, the strengthening of bilateral relations with the opening of three new missions in 1929 and the placing of the Department of External Affairs on a firm footing are the major themes of the volume. The leading role of Irish diplomats and officials at the Imperial Conferences of 1926 and 1930 and the state’s election for a three-year term to the Council of the League of Nations in 1930 are among the most significant developments in Irish diplomacy in the years under review. These developments strengthened the international sovereignty of the Irish Free State, widened the horizons of Irish foreign policy and led to a greater sophistication in the operation of the Department of External Affairs.

Following the active stance taken at the Seventh Assembly of the League of Nations in 1926 when the Irish Free State failed in a last minute attempt to be elected to a temporary seat on the League’s Council, the selected documents show that ministers and officials produced memoranda arguing for a more coherent and active League policy. The Irish Free State thereafter adopted a higher profile at the yearly meeting of the League Assembly. Its support of Canada’s candidature for election to the Council in 1927 undermined the British assertion that only they could represent the dominions on the League Council and blazed the trail for the Irish candidature of 1930.

The Irish Free State’s election to the Council in September 1930 brought with it international responsibilities that Irish diplomats had never before experienced. The quality and completeness of the documents relating to the election provide a detailed account of this ground-breaking episode in Irish foreign policy. They also demonstrate the way in which the election set a precedent for the three occasions when Ireland has held a temporary seat on the Security Council of the United Nations: 1961-62, 1981-82 and 2000-02.

The war provoked by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in September 1931 proved to be the major crisis facing the League during the Irish Free State’s term on the Council. Irish representatives tried to counter Great Power intrigue and indifference to the work of the League by supporting the operation of the League’s Covenant, by developing strategic alliances with the other small states on the Council and by lobbying Sir Eric Drummond, the Secretary General of the League. This increasingly active policy at Geneva during its three-year term on the Council from 1930 to 1933 enhanced the reputation of the Irish Free State as one of the more respected small state members of the League of Nations.

At the Commonwealth Conferences of 1926 and 1930 and at the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation of 1929 Irish Free State diplomats and legal experts began to exert a considerable influence over the reform of dominion status. Working closely with the Canadians and the South Africans, the Irish developed an agenda of radical change that resulted in the Balfour Declaration of 1926 and the Statute of Westminster of 1931. The former gave the dominions international equality with Britain and the latter ensured the internal independence of each dominion. Irish Free State Commonwealth and Dominion policy was an incremental battle in which each small gain was of large significance because it set important precedents for the independence of the dominions generally.

At the 1927 Geneva Naval Conference the Irish Free State was for the first time represented at an international conference by its own plenipotentiaries with full powers to negotiate for the state. When President W.T. Cosgrave signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact in Paris on 20 August 1928 it was the first time a dominion had signed an international treaty with full powers in its own right and separately from Britain. As the documents in this volume illustrate, international treaties to which the Irish Free State was a party would henceforth be signed by the King acting on the advice of the Executive Council in Dublin rather than on the advice of the British government.

Under Article 36 of the Statute of the Permanent Court of International Justice (the so-called ‘Optional Clause’), signed by the Irish Free State at the 1929 Assembly of the League of Nations, the Irish Free State accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court in all disputes. The Irish Free State rejected the reservation to Article 36 excluding inter-Commonwealth disputes signed by Britain and the other dominions. Later, in the autumn of 1929 at the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation, which paved the way for the 1930 Imperial Conference, the Irish sought the resolution of further outstanding anomalies and anachronisms in regard to dominion status.

Irish representatives played a prominent role in the drafting of the Statute of Westminster at the 1930 Imperial Conference. The Statute, which ensured the domestic sovereignty of the dominions and which came into operation in 1931, allowed a dominion to repeal legislation passed for it by the Westminster parliament. For the Irish Free State, the key Westminster legislation which was open to removal was the Irish Free State Constitution Act of 1922 which had ratified the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and the Irish Free State Constitution as enacted by the Dáil. The Statute of Westminster thus opened the way for the eventual repeal of both the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 and of the 1922 Constitution, not by the Cumann na nGaedheal government but by the Fianna Fáil administration between 1932 and 1938.

Another step towards the achievement of the Irish Free State’s goal of a commonwealth of independent states was the introduction in 1931 of an Irish Free State Great Seal. The British guarded the Great Seal as a sign of the oneness of the Commonwealth and controlled its release. For the Irish, its replacement by an Irish Great Seal was to remove one of the remaining areas of British interference in Irish affairs. In early 1931 Dublin used the signature of a Treaty of Commerce and Navigation with Portugal as the occasion on which the King would be advised by his Irish Ministers to sign the treaty which would then be authenticated by the new Great Seal of the Irish Free State.

An administrative development of particular significance in the history of Irish foreign policy was the establishment of the post of Secretary of the Department of External Affairs in August 1927 under the 1924 Ministers and Secretaries Act. Until then there had been some uncertainty about the continued existence of the Department of External Affairs as a separate department of state and only now was Joseph Walshe, who had been Acting Secretary since 1922, given a rank commensurate with the other administrative heads of Irish Free State government departments. This development, coupled with the establishment on a permanent basis of the post of Assistant Secretary, initially filled by Seán Murphy, greatly strengthened the position of the Department of External Affairs and finally secured its place in the Irish administrative system. The documents reveal Walshe’s bureaucratic skill in achieving this objective during the short but traumatic interval when President of the Executive Council, William T. Cosgrave, was acting Minister for External Affairs between the assassination of Minister for External Affairs Kevin O’Higgins in July 1927 and the appointment of Patrick McGilligan as Minister for External Affairs two months later. McGilligan also held the post of Minister for Industry and Commerce and the documents suggest that he sought to work both portfolios in synergy, with each department keeping its separate identity, but emerging stronger from the partnership.

Under McGilligan the Irish Free State took its first steps towards a practical foreign economic policy, seeking trade agreements with both France and Germany and pleading the case at the League of Nations for tariffs to support under-industrialised and under-developed states when other states sought the removal of all trade restrictions. The volume also includes documents on the development of trade with the United States, as well as material on the overall position of the Irish Free State in international trade and finance, particularly in the light of the Wall Street Crash of September 1929.

The delayed expansion of the Irish diplomatic missions abroad finally took place under McGilligan. Missions were opened at the level of Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary at the Vatican, Paris and Berlin. This marked a significant increase in the existing overseas diplomatic representation, which until 1929 comprised the High Commissioner’s office in London, the office of the Permanent Delegate in Geneva and the Legation in Washington. Secretary of the Department Joseph Walshe, who had spent thirteen years as a Jesuit novice and scholastic and who was strongly influenced by trends in European Catholicism, attached particular importance to establishing reciprocal relations with the Vatican. This assumed added significance in the light of the centenary celebrations for Catholic Emancipation in 1929, and the Eucharistic Congress which was to be held in Dublin in 1932.

The visit of President W.T. Cosgrave to the United States of America and Canada in January 1928 was the first official visit overseas by an Irish prime minister. Irish Minister to Washington Timothy A. Smiddy had carefully designed the visit to demonstrate the stability of Irish democracy, economic and political progress since 1922 and the opportunities for Irish-Americans who sought to visit or invest in the Irish Free State. Cosgrave’s national radio address from Chicago reproduced below is an example of how he used contemporary media and of how Irish diplomats sought to work the media to the advantage of the Irish Free State.

This volume also includes instances of colourful but less well-known episodes in Irish foreign policy. The status of Colonel James Fitzmaurice as a pilot in the first east to west transatlantic air crossing in April 1928 both benefited from and reinforced the impression created by Cosgrave’s visit to America earlier that year. Fitzmaurice’s achievement and that of his two colleagues ensured that the name of the Irish Free State remained prominent in the United States during 1928. Irish ministers and officials sought opportunities to highlight the Irish Free State’s cultural distinctiveness from the United Kingdom. As the experiences of Count Gerald O’Kelly de Gallagh in Paris (when he sought to have the Irish tricolour flown and the Irish National Anthem played before a rugby international) indicate, international sporting events were a source of tension between Britain and the Irish Free State.

The documents in this volume show how and why the international position of the Irish Free State had strengthened by the early 1930s and reveal how many of Ireland’s later attitudes towards Britain, Europe, America and the League of Nations (and later the United Nations) had their origins in this period. By 1932 the Irish diplomatic service, although still small by comparative standards, was stronger than ever before. Irish diplomats were confidently taking part in the work of the League and the Commonwealth and slowly developing the state’s bilateral relations. A decade after independence, Ministers FitzGerald, O’Higgins and McGilligan had secured the international position of the Irish Free State. Joseph Walshe had by 1932 completed the rebuilding of the shattered department he inherited in 1922 and had managed a modest expansion of operations. For the first time the future of the Irish foreign service looked relatively secure.

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 archives. 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 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 previous volumes 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). 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 each subject category being assigned a number (e.g. 26 was allocated to the League of Nations) and a subsequent number for each file within that category (e.g. 26/95 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.

The majority of the Department of External Affairs documents reproduced in this volume are from the alpha-numeric and numerical series collections, with documents from the Early Series only appearing in the early years of the volume.

The most sensitive information held by the Department of External Affairs was kept in the Secretary’s Files series. This collection began in the 1920s, with files being designated S with a number following (not to be confused with the Department of the Taoiseach S Series files.). In later years A and P series were created, as well as a PS series for the Private Secretary to the Secretary. These series were held under lock and key in the Secretary’s office and were only made available to lower ranking officials under certain conditions. Volume III reproduces a number of documents from the S Series. The S Series was a target for widespread destruction during the wartime invasion scares of 1939 and 1940. While the S series is relatively complete for the period covered by this volume, there are considerable gaps in the files covering the late 1930s.

Material generated in Irish missions abroad is held at the National Archives in Dublin in the Embassies Series collection. For the 1920s and early 1930s this material covers the missions in London, Geneva, Brussels, the Holy See, Paris and Berlin. Due to weeding and wartime destruction the Embassies Series is very patchy for the inter-war years. Where files do survive there is an understandable degree of overlap with Headquarters Number Series files. Volume III uses material from the Berne Embassy (incorporating files from the office of the Irish representative to the League of Nations), Vatican Embassy and Paris Embassy collections within the Embassies Series. Of these collections, those for Paris/Brussels (1923-29) and Paris (from 1929) are the most complete. Joseph Walshe heavily weeded the Vatican files when he was Ambassador to the Vatican (1946-54) and the files of the Irish Legation in Berlin were almost completely destroyed after a bomb hit the chancellery in 1943. Unfortunately, the majority of files of the Irish Embassy in London (Irish High Commission from 1923 to 1949) were shredded in the 1950s. Similarly, very little survives from the Washington Embassy for the period covered by 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’) 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.

Readers of Volume III will notice that both Executive Council minutes and Cabinet minutes are published. While in common parlance the Executive Council (as the Government of the Irish Free State was known from 1922 to 1937) and the Cabinet are considered to be the same body, there was a difference between the two. The Executive Council (from 1938 referred to as the Government) was the term given to members of the Government meeting under the functions devolving upon it by provision of the Constitution or the law. The Cabinet was the name given to the Government meeting to decide matters of policy as the main policy-making organ of the State. The distinction between Government decisions and Cabinet decisions was abolished with the commencement of the Eighteenth Government on 9 March, 1982.

Editorial policy and the selection of documents

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

The documents in this volume 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 of 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 the document was either routine or repeated information found elsewhere in the documents 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 word ‘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 a footnote has been inserted to that effect.

In correspondence, English was the working language of Irish diplomats. It is evident from the archives that written communication in Irish was only used for documents of symbolic national importance, although many officials, in particular Joseph Walshe, 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.


The editors would like to thank all those who were involved in the production of Volume III of the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series. The assistance of the following is particularly acknowledged.

At the Department of Foreign Affairs: Dermot Gallagher, Secretary General of the Department (from 2001); Pádraic MacKernan (Secretary General from 1995 to 2001); Noel Kilkenny; Liam MacGabhann; Orla McBreen; Susan Conlon and Miriam Tiernan.

At the Royal Irish Academy: Michael Ryan, President of the Academy from 2002, David Spearman, President of the Academy from 1999 to 2002. Patrick Buckley, Executive Secretary of the Academy; Professor Eda Sagarra and Professor Mary Daly (successively Secretary of the Academy); Sara Whelan; Pauric Dempsey; Hugh Shiels, Dr Eamon O hÓgain and Sanchia O’Connor.

At the National Archives: Dr David Craig, Director, for his generosity in providing access to the facilities and collections; Ken Hannigan, Keeper; 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, Professor Fergus D’Arcy, Ailsa Holland and Seamus Helferty.

At the Institute of Public Administration: Tony McNamara, Jan de Fouw, Jim Power, Hanna Ryan and Tom Turley.

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

We would also like to thank Wendy Commins, Dr Declan Downey, Dr David Kerr, Commandant Victor Laing, Helen Litton, Carole Lynch, James McBride, Maurice O’Brien, Maura O’Shea, James McGuire of the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, and Peter Ryan and Gary Davis of the Department of the Taoiseach.

Ronan Fanning
Michael Kennedy
Dermot Keogh
Eunan O’Halpin
21 August 2002