No. 5 NAI DFA ES Box 30 File 197

Handwritten letter from Joseph Connolly to William T. Cosgrave (Dublin)

DUBLIN, 7 December 1922

A Chara1

At Dr MacNeill's suggestion I am putting before you the position in America leading up to my return from New York so that you may, at first hand, know the circumstances that prompted my action & decided me to withdraw from the responsibility as Consul General there. It is desirable that I should do so, more particularly as Mr FitzGerald T.D. Minister for External Affairs in the interview which I had with him, did not seem to appreciate the position. Moreover Mr Blythe with whom I had most contact in my American work & to whom I addressed a request for an interview, did not reply.

Before returning in September to resume my work I expressed the belief that the political activities of the Irish Americans were, in so far as Ireland was concerned, dying quickly and that in my judgment it was desirable that this should happen. It was my hope that after a period of quiescence we could launch such activities as would most fittingly represent the racial activities in its material & cultural pursuits & in a manner which would reflect the most creditable side of our 'Home' life to our own people there & to the Americans generally. It is unnecessary to outline in detail the constructive programme intended. Much of the preliminary work was underway & the records will give full information on the matters pertaining thereto.

A short time ago it was quite evident to me that the activities of the American Assoc. were being carried on with increasing difficulty & that the spasmodic efforts to galvanize it into life were not likely to be successful to any appreciable extent. It must be remembered however that in so far as articulate expression of views in America was concerned no other organization of any account was operating. The Friends of Irish Freedom organization is a spent force & the result of the recent election when Surrogate Cohalan was utterly routed was ample confirmation of the opinion & advice expressed by me & shows how futile & unwise was the effort made by the Government in sending out an ambassador to secure the support of that body. Support from it would have been a source of weakness to the Government in its American work. I stated so last spring & I repeat it now & I claim that events have proven that my estimate was a correct one.

Several weeks ago events in Ireland were causing grave uneasiness in the States but it was not until Miss MacSwiney2 was arrested & on hunger strike that anything like an old time revival of interest in the A.A.R.O.I.R.3 took place. From that time there was a new interest infused into the Association's activities & many who had dropped out of action began to drift back to their groups. Many of the supporters of the F.S. openly denounced us. An agitated atmosphere was growing & growing quickly & even people who were apathetic a week before were becoming tense & 'worked up' about the position.

At all times I have kept aloof from the various political & factional elements amongst the Irish Americans & I claim that the Consulate was in the unique & enviable position of being clean & above all their differences & enjoyed the goodwill & co-operation of all those with whom we had to work. It was quite evident that we were not going to be allowed to continue so. On all sides there was continued pressure & agitation on the grounds that to allow Miss MacSwiney to die was to alienate all sympathy & support & would leave Ireland an object of reproach to all our friends in the States. It is well to remember that this was mainly due to the extraordinary reverence that is attached to Terence MacSwiney's memory & that nothing in modern times so completely stirred the whole American imagination as his hunger strike & death. If I may express a personal opinion without wishing to claim any attention for it save in so far as one may claim the conscientious right of a citizen, I felt that to allow Miss MacSwiney to indulge her idea of heroic self-sacrifice was going to destroy our work in the States & what was infinitely more important to me ? was likely to produce a very bad aftermath in Irish life at home.

The cumulative effect of the inquiries, reproaches etc. decided me to communicate with you, but at this time I had a visit from Mr Peter McSwiney & Miss Sheehy-Skeffington.4 The interview was short. I refused to be dictated to or bullied into action & stated that I had my own views & was already dealing with my opinions to the only authority with which I was concerned. I allowed a good deal for Peter's natural agitation & state of mind but told him quietly & firmly that he could threaten pickets or anything else but I refused to give him or anyone else any guarantees of my action nor would I discuss it with them. My cable to you on the 9th was the expression of what I saw & felt & I realized that apart from my feelings, if the Consulate was to escape a serious set back & if our work there was not to be very much discredited the only sane course was to leave things in such a way that the staff could carry on without direct official representation available as the stalking horse for attack. Moreover I may say frankly that in the prevailing position at the time my influence & power of achievement in National work there were sure to be rendered futile. My subsequent cable to you explains the rest. I went into all matters on hand with the vice-Consul Mr D.J. MacGrath & furthermore got a guarantee from him that he would endeavour to carry on the work & reply to the critics that he was simply carrying on his clerical duties pending developments.

I had to book my passage home & the Shipping Co., in direct violation of a promise given to me, published my name on their departure list before sailing time. On the day of departure I was inundated with pressman but refused to give any information or particulars. The press statements are the usual stories which American journalists serve up when they get no authoritative statement. I had already seen some of these & Mr McGrath very kindly promised to take up with some of the worse offenders.

These are the circumstances of my decision to return & whilst regretting that the work into which I had put all my mind & energy has had to be terminated under such regrettable circumstances, I feel satisfied that my action was conducive to the real interests of our National activities in the States & the preservation of the work of the Consulate.

Mr FitzGerald's approach on the matter suggested that of a minister [and] a very minor civil servant but I regret to say that my position in America was never such. The Consulate despite all my efforts to the contrary had inevitably its political reflections & was unquestionably, to the Americans interested, the accepted representation of the Home Government. Without any reflection on other representation that exists it was the real & only recognized representation that was there & as such had to take cognisance of the feelings & expressions of our people who made our work possible in our officially unrecognized position.

I went to America at the request of An D? in Sept. 1921 without any Civil Service rating or guarantee. I abandoned a profitable business & exiled myself from the pleasantest possible domestic & social life. I have no regrets for having done so. I have suffered very serious material loss but when I reluctantly consented to go I did so with the idea of National Service & I worked day & night in America with the same stimulus.

I feel satisfied that at least some of my work was worthwhile & at all events am content that despite all temptations & offers my work was honestly & conscientiously carried out.

If there is any amplification of this statement desired or if there are any points in connection with our American or other interests in which my experience can help the information will at your command.

I am
Faithfully Yours

1The Irish-American community had divided over supporting the 1921 Treaty during early 1922. By late 1922 the worst of the physical and rhetorical clashes over the divide seemed to be over. Mary MacSwiney's hunger-strike in late 1922 reinvigorated the anti-Treaty groups in the United States and this, combined with a feeling of ministerial inaction in Dublin regarding his post, led Connolly to write this letter to William T. Cosgrave. (See also No. 6 below.)

2Mary MacSwiney, sister of the Lord Mayor of Cork who died on hunger strike in 1920, Terence MacSwiney.

3The American Association for the Recognition of an Irish Republic.

4Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington.

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