No. 121 UCDA LAI/G/218

Handwritten letter from Eoin MacNeill to Agnes MacNeill

GENEVA, 15 September 1923

Dearest Taddie -

Someone told me that James had gone to Dublin for a holiday. If so, he will be interested in this little story. Yesterday evening our delegation, with some others, were the guests of His Highness the Jam Saheb of Jamnagar, once better known as Ranjitsinji, the famous cricketer. I had the place of honour on the right of the host, the guest on his left being a Persian prince, Mirzakhan. On my right was another Persian delegate and opposite to me a Siamese delegate. Beside him and opposite to the Jam was a dignitary named Hosein Imam, who wore a skullcap and a long black robe like a soutane. The attendants wore brilliant oriental uniforms. The party was almost wholly Irish, English, and Asiatic. During the chat, Hosein Imam gave the Jam a list of the exports of Persia. I said he had forgotten one. They both turned to me with surprise and interest and asked what one. I said 'cats'. They laughed, and Hosein said that was indeed so. Do you know, he said, what was the merchandise of the first caravan that came through the Khyber Pass when it was opened at the end of the Tirah campaign? There was a caravan of 23 camels, and they were all loaded with cats. I thought, but did not say, that it would be a good export trade for Ireland to develop. That is not the point of my story, but merely an example of the diplomatic conversations of Geneva. The Jam spoke to me about the unequalled quality of Irish woollens. He said they were almost everlasting but not quite. The gay uniform of a lackey in front of us, emerald green, was of Irish manufacture. It was bought ten years ago. The Jam had been trying some time ago to get more of the same stuff in Ireland but had not succeeded, and he wondered if I could help him. I said I would have a try, and I explained that during the Big War the Irish manufacturers had been full up with orders for army uniform material and recently with orders for the Irish Government. Later, when we were taking leave, the Jam again said he hoped I would try to help him about it, and I said I would.

I am writing by this post to Desmond FitzGerald on the subject. Only that I am ignorant of the rearrangements in the Ministry of Trade & Commerce, I could write there also. What I want you to do is to call round on Mr. O'Riordan1 in Merrion Avenue and tell him what I have told you about the request of this Indian Prince. It might lead to a good order, as the Jam has a little army and no end of uniformed followers. I would suggest that Mr O'R would first call at Desmond's office and tell him that he had heard through you, and then that Mr O'R himself would write to His Highness the Jam Saheb, H? de la Paix, Geneva, saying that he had been informed at the Ministry of External Affairs and asking for particulars of the goods required. Mr O'R will understand that he would be doing a service to the Irish Delegation and, let us hope, to Irish business. Who knows how much might develop? There are plenty of Indian princes who might follow suit.

I have just been discussing with MacWhite the idea of hiring a shop front in Geneva during next year's Session of the League, for a display of some of the best Irish manufactures. You might mention the idea to Mr O'Riordan. We have people here from the whole world, even from countries like the United States & Russia, which have not joined the League.

I am wondering when a letter from you will reach me. Do think seriously about coming out here before I leave. All my own expenses here are paid, and by the end of my stay I hope to have actually saved as much as I had to spend on outfit, and most of the outfit will last me a long time. I have only had to buy a black soft hat, 25 francs, to go with morning dress. Occasionally I treat myself to a row (mind the pronunciation) on the lake at 1 franc per hour.

This day I lunched with the Polish Delegation and sat next to the celebrated Nansen2 whose enterprise for the discovery of the Pole is so well known. The sledded Polack was very friendly and the ice was good.

A strange thing befell MacWhite, I think it was on Saturday, the day when our demand passed the Commission. That morning, early, he got the news that his wife had given birth to a son.

I have not managed to get a kippered herring since I came here. The other day at some banquet, I found a rasher of bacon on my plate. Glory be, I said, this reminds me of home. The waiter laughed. I said to him in my best French that he was very intelligent. 'Oh yes,' he said, 'I have been at Dublin and Cork and Killarney and Belfast and Portrush.' On the other hand, I have also been eating caviare, which is said to [be] more expensive now than ever. Will you ever write?


1E.J. Riordan of the Department of Industry and Commerce.

2Fridjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer whose work repatriating prisoners of war and refugees set the basis for later international refugee work.


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