No. 331 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P48A

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to David Gray (Dublin)

Dublin, 12 November 1940

Dear David,

I was glad to receive your letter of November 11th, enclosing what you describe as a rough memorandum of your impressions of our after-lunch talk last Thursday. I am glad you so describe it, because, following our agreement to be completely frank with each other, I feel at liberty to describe your memorandum as a little post-impressionist, if not verging on the futurist. Of course, I may be wrong and I may have imbibed over-freely of the excellent wines which you gave us at lunch. If that is so, I was, of course, capable of saying anything, even the exact contrary of what I would wish to say in my sober moments. In any case, my dear David, I do not think an after-lunch conversation of that casual character merited being immortalised in a memorandum, and, if you don't mind, I should much prefer to see the memorandum destroyed than to attempt to make any serious effort to correct your impressions of what I said.

Of course, we can have a serious discussion on the same subject any time you wish, either here or in the Legation, but I should like beforehand to have a chat with my Minister on the net issues, so that I could convey to you the official view. My personal views on matters of such extreme gravity are of no import whatever, except perhaps for idle speculative discussion of the semi-bibulous character which one usually indulges in after a pleasant meal.

However, even in this short note, it might be just as well, in the nature of a preface to our next discussion, to cast a cursory glance over your memorandum and to make a remark here and there about its contents as the need strikes me. Of course, I accept your judgments on American public opinion, but I wonder are you absolutely correct in assuming that the country which more than all others has preached the right of self-determination would be impatient with us for exercising the essential sovereign right to remain out of the war. In the case of Ireland, which has won its independence, an essential condition of continued existence as a nation is abstention from participation in world conflicts. I quite understand the very laudable motives for which the majority of the English people are fighting this war, but we must look outside immediate causes and motives when taking our stand in face of such a cataclysm. The present war seems to me to be part of the natural process of world evolution towards a system of confederations of States. Germany and England are mere playthings of destiny serving an ultimate purpose to which their peoples are blind. The entry of Ireland into the war, viewed in this background, would be no decisive factor as far as the future of the world is concerned, but it would most decidedly put an end immediately or in the near future to the independence and cultural existence of the Irish people. I have always been a believer in some such system of federation as the British Commonwealth of Nations, but I always felt that it was incomplete and unstable so long as it remained in its present scattered form. That is why I frequently spoke to my English colleagues and to permanent Civil Servants in the other States concerned of the need for broadening the basis of the Commonwealth. I thought, and I still think, that the entry therein of the Scandinavian States and of the United States of America is an essential condition of permanence Indeed, I doubt very much whether it is possible for Ireland and Britain alone of the States of Europe to enter into a lasting compact of federation with the United States and the present Dominions. Ireland and Britain must take several States of Europe with them into the new combination, or enter into a new European federation.

You will find very few people in Ireland to accept wholeheartedly the view that the British Fleet is protecting us from potential enemies. We have no doubt that such was not the position until we obtained our relative freedom in 1922, and Mr. Churchill's speech makes us wonder whether it would not be wiser to wait a long time before being quite certain that the Fleet acts in our regard in a purely protective role. As I have said, I do not wish to contradict your impressions of what I said to you, but it would be so contrary to my knowledge of Irish history to say that the Irish people were grateful for the protection of the British Fleet that I hardly think I can have said it.

But now we come to the most important point. You make me say that I had little doubt that there would be no difficulty about arranging for the lease of ports and air facilities to the United States should she become a belligerent. I do not think I was anything like so definite, but in any case I can make myself clear now. If America came into the war and the federation I speak of (i.e., the U.S.A., Great Britain, Ireland and the Dominions, to begin with) were already in being, we should in that framework most certainly have to give very serious consideration to the request of the United States for facilities here while endeavouring at the same time to maintain the neutrality which our people will continue to desire. The formation of this Anglo-Irish-American federal group pre-supposes a guarantee by America and Britain of the continued independence of a united Ireland. That is a very different situation and a very different attitude from being ready to hand over our ports to the United States at the present moment merely for the asking. When America has become – as she is rapidly becoming – the dominating Power in the world, we shall feel a very real security as far as our independence is concerned, and we should, of course, be ready to agree to a mutual granting of defence facilities to common citizenship and to many other things in order to be part of the system the working out of which she would in the ultimate analysis be able to control.

In any case, let us have another talk together before your talk with the Taoiseach. That would perhaps be the best way to get our ideas clear on this whole very important issue.

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