No. 111 NAI DFA ES Rome 1921-1923

Mairéad Gavan Duffy to Arthur Griffith (Dublin)

Rome, 11 October 1921

A Chara,
We are very much cut off here, and since the return of the Franciscan pilgrims, no one has gone home from here. This at a time when it was of importance to know the attitude of the Cabinet on matters here. I should like to bring to your mind recent Irish history in Rome. Until some years ago, (the present Rector of the Irish College came out here as vice-rector 18 years ago) there was absolutely no difference whatever between Irish and English here. As a matter of course they were classed as one and it would have been very bad taste (to say the least of it) for anyone to have interfered in this stage of things. There are in Rome many Irish communities:- S. Isidore (Franciscan), San Clemente (Dominican), S. Patrick (Augustinian), The Christian Brothers, and many Irish Carmelites although I do not think there is a wholly Irish community there. The Irish College quite rightly and quite providentially represents Ireland and had it not been for the present rector there, Ireland would have disappeared from the map during the war. Every one here lost his head, and were more English than the English, and as soon as the Rising of Easter week took place all the communities (with the exception of course of the Irish College) telegraphed their horror at it, and their sympathy to John Redmond. If by degrees some have changed, and certainly S. Isidore and San Clemente have changed, the Christian Brothers have not changed in the least, they are if anything more bitter than ever on account of our success. The present Prior of S. Patrick, Dr O'Gorman is a very charming man - courteous and kind; he is most carefully correct - that is to say, he will always be on the safe side. During the war he was on the English side and at present he is engaged in telling all here that during his recent visit to Ireland all the friends he met are in favour of compromise. Add to all this extraordinary rumours that we cannot trust our leaders etc! and you will have some idea of one Irish side in Rome. Now turn to the Vatican. You know Irish history, and there might is right. The Irish are so catholic, that they can be kicked or insulted, they will never turn. There are more diplomatic representatives at the Vatican Court since the war than ever before and the present policy there is to consolidate their position and woe to those who stand in the way! Now we are standing in its way with dear England and we must be taught a lesson. Cardinal Gasparri Secretary of State, made an excuse that Sean T. O'Ceallaigh had been granted a private interview with the Pope on condition that it was to be personal and not official, and that afterwards S.T. published he was received officially. This may be true, but it was a good excuse for His Eminence who was glad of it. I think myself that there is something to be said for the attitude of the Vatican on Ireland. They know the attitude of the Irish communities here during the war; who counteracted that impression in any way? One man only - the Rector, Dr Hagan. Is it any wonder that to them he is an extremist, a wild dreamer (such as you were some years ago). In the wilderness it was he who kept the flag flying when those who ought to have known better let it down. Of course it has meant the sacrifice of his career, (Seorsa will tell you of this) which is very patent when you realise the brilliant man he is - and the thousand petty insults which a vain-glorious court can inflict on one who dares to keep up his head and not bend the knee. It was not unnatural it seems to me that when you sent your representative here, who held the same 'extreme' views as the Rector that the Vatican should ask if the country as a whole are behind this 'extreme' movement? Has the Rector ever been backed up in any way? Has he indeed any authority to take it on himself to report that the country was out for independence? You will say that there were the elections and from time to time bishops' pastorals etc. You must remember that the English representative at the Vatican is one of their most clever diplomatists, and added to this the Vatican believes what it likes to believe, - for instance that the Irish priests preach from the altar that it is no sin to kill a policeman. What it does at present believe is that we are a mixture of Bolsheviks and mad enthusiasts - some of our men very fine in their way - but that the Rector and the Irish Delegation stand for this. When Jews, Shintoists and all other representatives of various states are received, your representative is denied even a private interview. I should like to warn you very solemnly that you are making a mistake that will be difficult to remedy if you take this lying down. I know that you are at present engaged in very important work, but could not one of your colleagues of Dail take this in hand? If you can get some important men in every diocese to sign a memo. and present it to their respective bishops, protesting against this insult to the most catholic country in the world - and demanding that these protests should be forwarded to the Holy See - and if necessary publish the whole thing, - this would go some way here to counteract the impression at the Vatican that neither the Irish College nor the Irish Delegation are backed up by the home people. You are not yet out of the wood, and if the Rector by his extraordinary skill has prevented a condemnation up to this, you must not count on his being always so successful, especially when they think he is not backed up by home opinion. There is no one else at the College to take his place. The vice rector Father Curran is a very nice little man, but of no importance whatever, and in touch with no one here, - in fact all those at the Irish College are excellent, but of course they do not count, it is only the Rector who is an outstanding man. I don't believe the people at home realise that man's life work here. It is extraordinary with what skill he has outmanoeuvred the enemy every time and I do think it is gross negligence on our part that he is not kept informed on points of policy and on the situation in general. I do not deny that he is not liked at the Vatican, but he is perhaps the most respected man of all those who go there. They know he has nothing to gain, and in a world where promotion holds chief place even his enemies hold him in respect for having ruined his own career, when it was so easy if he did not want to play the English game, at least to have the good taste to keep quiet. In my opinion you are bound to write to the Rector the Cabinet's policy on Vatican affairs so that he may know where he stands. He has brought you thus far safely, he has been behind your movement at every step, what are to be the future relations of Ireland with the Holy See? Of course there is no necessity for me to do anything, but the Rector is in a position where he must take a stand. What is it to be if in accordance with the wishes of his home government? I hope if you are too busy to answer this, you will not delay to hand it over to some one who has time and power to follow it up. Everything here in Rome depends on it. With best wishes for the Conference.

Mairéad bean Seoirse ni Dhubhthaigh

Of course the wildest rumours are always going around here, the Rector hears them all (visitors from all sides apply to him for audiences) it is rather hard not to have any home reports to contradict them. He tells me of them, most absurd - of course he does not believe them, but I think you ought to know.

Purchase Volumes Online

Purchase Volumes Online



The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.

Free Download

International Counterparts

The international network of Editors of Diplomatic Documents was founded in 1988. Delegations from different parts of the world met for the first time in London in 1989.
Read more ....

Website design and developed by FUSIO