No. 205 UCDA P194/550

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Michael MacWhite (Rome)

Dublin, 26 July 1938

My dear Michael,
I was very glad to receive your letter, dated 19th July1, this morning. I hope you will be able to write often in future just in this personal way. The more closely we keep in touch the better. We are very anxious to hear all about Italy. As you know, the Taoiseach - now that he is free from the ordinary internal political worries - wishes to get down to a programme of planned reconstruction. A great deal has indeed been done over the past several years, but he realises that it is only by planning on a large scale, somewhat after the Italian model, that big results can be achieved. Your own knowledge of this country will be a sufficient guide to you as to the particular form of activity coming under your notice which might be worth while imitating here. Apart from gaining the goodwill of the Italian Government and people for Ireland - a role in which by universal acknowledgment you were so successful in the United States - I quite understand that in the strictly diplomatic line there is not very much to do in Rome. At the moment, however, the dread of war is weighing heavily upon us all, and you are at a very important outpost from which you can keep us informed from day to day how the situation appears from the Rome angle.

Do you not think, for instance, that, if England and Germany go to war - whether about the Czechoslovak question, or, more directly to determine finally which of the two is going to control the destines of Europe - Italy will in the last resort abandon Germany and throw in her lot with England? One has an instinctive feeling that the Italians do not trust the Germans, and that they feel that a German victory would be eventually followed by the loss of Trieste and all that that implies in the diminution of Italian prestige in the Mediterranean.

These are difficult questions to put to anybody in a position to reply in a Dictator State, but, from the attitude of your Italian friends who are close to the powers that be, you may be able to give us something.

As you know, we have the right to neutrality in any war in which England may be involved, but everybody here recognises that Germany would not hesitate for a moment to attack this country if by doing so she could hope to achieve her purpose of defeating England. So that the feeling of the country in the present war atmosphere is somewhat pessimistic, and we seem to be likely to be involved whether we wish it or no. We are, therefore, interested in providing ourselves with a system of defence proportionate to our means but adequate for the purpose of warding off an invasion for a sufficiently long period to allow the British to come to our aid. That is a humiliating outlook after our long struggle with the British, but the rise of racialism and ideologies involving religious persecution in Europe has made the people think of immediately threatening disasters, and has somewhat blunted their feelings of antagonism against the British.

Your own military experience and your observation of what Italy is accomplishing in military matters will help you to note any ideas which might be useful in the arming of this country. Here we may not speak of rearming, because in truth we are hardly armed at all, and at the present moment we should be unable to repel even a serious landing of troops from the air.

I wonder do you intend to come to Ireland this year? I have already taken my holiday, and so shall be here without interruption until Christmas.

I hope you and Paula and Owen2 will like Rome. Of all places I have visited, none has impressed me so much, and I am always looking forward to my next visit there. It seems to grip one more than any other city in the world.

With all good wishes,
Ever yours sincerely

Sheila M.[urphy] wrote to me about your kindness to her.


1 Not printed.

2 Eoin MacWhite (1923-72), MacWhite's son, who later served in the Department of External Affairs including as Ambassador to Australia (1964-7) and the Netherlands (1967-72).

3 Handwritten postscript by Walshe.

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