No. 15 UCDA P150/2571

Memorandum by Joseph P. Walshe entitled 'Visit of the Secretary of theDept. of External Affairs to London, 6th to 10th September, 1939'

Dublin, undated, but September 1939

I arrived in London on Thursday morning, the 7th September. I went to the Dominions Office with the High Commissioner about 10.30 to see the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. Mr. Eden was in his usual cheerful form, and when I told him you had sent me over to have a very frank talk with him he said there was nothing he wished for more, as he really wanted to understand Ireland, particularly in view of the disaster that had come upon the world. In his new post he would give his earnest attention to Irish matters. The following represents as closely as I can recollect what I said to him:

  1. Mr. de Valera wished to assure Mr. Eden that he was very glad to hear of his appointment to the Office of Dominions Secretary. He was particularly glad to resume in a more important sphere the friendly relations which had been established between them at Geneva.1 Mr. de Valera had asked me to convey to Mr. Eden his very real sympathy for the British Government and people in their hour of trial. His attitude vis-à-vis the British Government was that he wished to be as friendly as he could, and to go as far as possible to assist Great Britain while maintaining the essentials of neutrality. It would take some little time to settle down to a regime of essential neutrality. At the beginning there were bound to be difficulties and confusion.
  2. My Minister felt that this war would lead to a new world order. He hoped very much indeed that the British Government, and especially Mr. Eden, would realise the immense importance of Ireland's position in the English speaking Catholic world, and the possibility of her playing a friendly role in the relations between the British and American peoples. A proper understanding of Ireland would be possible if only a certain flexibility were introduced into the attitude hitherto maintained by the Dominions Office in our regard. Every advance in the forms of Irish freedom, and our legitimate demands for the settlement of the paramount issue of unity had been met by an unbelievable narrow-mindedness and rigidity of outlook.
  3. Mr. de Valera felt that these matters had now assumed a character of the very gravest import to both countries. He had in the past, for obvious reasons, opposed the appointment of a British representative to Dublin. But in the perilous circumstances which had suddenly arisen, he felt that the appointment could no longer be delayed. The British representative in Dublin would be able by direct observation of Irish conditions, and by close contact with Mr. de Valera and the Department of External Affairs, to keep his Government accurately informed. He would thus put his Government, and indirectly ours, in a position to secure an early and rapid solution of immediate and remote difficulties. Mr. de Valera hoped that in that way a close mutual understanding could soon be reached.
  4. Mr. Eden would have learned from his officials that our Dáil and Senate, as well as the very great majority of our people, including the ex-Ascendancy Irish Times group, regarded essential neutrality as a vital necessity for internal peace and for good relations with Great Britain. Any other attitude would provide troubled waters in which internal and external enemies of friendship between the two countries would not hesitate to fish.
  5. Mr. de Valera would be glad to give whatever help was possible on the humanitarian side. Evacuation camps and hospitals for the permanently disabled, similar to those established in Switzerland during the Great War, were suggested, but this would naturally be a matter for discussion between the Ambassador in Dublin and the Irish Government.
  6. Mr. de Valera realised the particular difficulties arising from the nature of our Southern and Western Coast, and the possibility of submarines taking refuge in our shallow waters while waiting for their targets. He would propose making a declaration that all submarines be forbidden entry into Irish waters, and that naval surface craft would be granted asylum in accordance with international usage. That would enable our armed forces to take measures against the only submarines likely to appear in our waters and to give the customary help to the only surface craft which were similarly situated. I proposed to discuss the form of the declaration with the competent authorities in London. It should be couched in the fewest possible words.
  7. It would help very greatly towards an immediate good understanding if Great Britain recognised in some formal way our neutrality. The sentimental response would be immediate and widespread and would contribute to a generally favourable reception for the appointment of a British Ambassador in Dublin. Such recognition would furthermore be taken as a decent gesture, and a renunciation of any further desire to belittle our independence. At this hour of unparalleled [———]2 we should not allow the good relations between our peoples to be sacrificed to prejudiced devotion to precedents. Apart from our mutual relations, the relations between Dublin and Belfast were bound to benefit by the appointment of an Ambassador. We could, if necessary, find a new method for making the appointment. A very desirable corollary to the appointment would be the raising of Mr. Dulanty's post to ambassadorial rank. Mr. Eden was aware of the services beyond all praise of the High Commissioner in the cause of friendship between the two countries, and Mr. de Valera wished to say that the importance of his position would not be in any way diminished by the presence of a British Ambassador in Dublin.
  8. Several important politico-technical questions had been raised by his people, and were awaiting solution. I would briefly mention them so as to put him au courant

    (a) Coast Watching. Our organisation was complete, but we wanted more Planes. (I understood we had several Anson3 Planes on order.) We wanted more submarine chasers. It should be possible to get instant delivery of all armaments ordered. There had been very serious delays. Wireless apparatus for our Planes had not yet been delivered.

    (b) Our rearmament, which was very much in their interest as well as in our own and arose out of their difficulties rather than ours, was going to cost a great deal of money. I felt that with all the credits they were giving to remote countries they might well wipe out the last relic of our financial past and drop the annual payment of £250,000.

    (c) We intended to ask for an expert to destroy mines and torpedoes when an emergency arose.

    (d) The interrogation of the crews of merchant vessels would be a matter for the officials of the Embassy (who should inform at any rate the civilians).

    (e) We intended to intern any crews of German submarines who might be obliged to land on our shores.

    (f) Directions to ships about routes and other matters could be given by officials of the Consular section of the Embassy.

    (g) We wanted to let our German aliens go home, but we were being held up by red tape in some London department.

  9. Finally, Mr. de Valera urged upon Mr. Eden the necessity of helping us to be friendly. He should keep Lord Craigavon out of mischief. The anti-Catholic pogroms had already begun. Such manifestations would create adverse opinion in America. Mr. Eden should ask his people to avoid all possible propaganda in Ireland. We should be left to look after our own public opinion.
  10. Some step must be taken immediately towards unity. That was the fundamental and supreme issue. If it were settled, possibilities of real cooperation would be opened up. Perhaps (and this I said on my own initiative) if the real big view could now at last be taken, there would be the possibility of a joint guarantee of Ireland's neutrality by Great Britain and the United States.

    Mr. Eden expressed great pleasure at getting the foregoing message from you. He said he was very new to the whole business, but, he repeated, Ireland was the most important part of his job and he would do everything possible to help. I mentioned Lord Perth4 as the type of Ambassador which in your view was most fitting. He did not seem to agree. Perth was old, and besides they had given him a job in the Publicity Section.

    Mr. Eden had to go to a meeting of the War Cabinet at 11.30. It was almost that hour. As I left him, he said he would talk to his colleagues, especially to the Prime Minister, at once about the whole matter, and he would see us again in the afternoon.


In the late afternoon we went to the D.O. again. This time Mr. Eden had with him the Duke of Devonshire,5 Sir E. Harding, and Sir Eric Machtig (who is now principal Assistant Secretary). Mr. Eden asked me straight away whether I had any objection to the presence of the others. I had to say that I was very pleased indeed to have them there, but I made up my mind that there was going to be no progress until I met him alone again. He said that the P.M. was very pleased indeed to hear Mr. de Valera's message, and he had promised to give immediate consideration to the appointment of a 'United Kingdom Representative'. They could not call him an Ambassador or Minister. That would embarrass them enormously, especially in view of their difficulties with South Africa. It would make their whole position in Parliament and in the country very difficult indeed just now. I replied that now was surely the best possible time. Parliament was accepting much more difficult measures without a murmur. I knew, of course, and regretted very much that Sir Edward Harding at least would regard the appointment as being against all proper precedents. But even Sir Edward Harding should take a broader view at such a critical moment. Mr. Eden went on to say that he couldn't see why we would not accept a High Commissioner. I referred him to the precedent of the British High Commissioner in Egypt, which was very much present to the minds of my Government and our people. In Egypt, the High Commissioner6 exercised complete control over a puppet Government. We could not accept the title. He then suggested 'Special Representative'. This I also rejected out of hand. A 'Special Representative' so called would be regarded as having been sent for the special purpose of forcing us out of our essential neutrality.

Finally, the matter was dropped and 'United Kingdom Representative' seems to be their sticking point.

We then came to the Submarine declaration. Harding had the audacity to suggest that we should specifically exclude German submarines. I told him that I did not quite understand what he was driving at, but he was certainly trying to make us violate our neutrality from the start. I spoke with a certain amount of heat, and Eden turned to Harding impatiently, waived him aside, and said 'no no' under his breath. I told them that the formula must be all-embracing. Mr. de Valera believed, and I understood correctly, that the formula would be a help to them. It was decided that I should see the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Phillips,7 as soon as possible to discuss the matter with him. Harding didn't say any more during this meeting.

With regard to the recognition of our neutrality, Eden said that it would make enormous difficulties of every kind for them. He mentioned South Africa again, but I waited for our next private meeting to resume the discussion on this matter. They would see at once about facilities for our German aliens. There must be proper supervision during their passage to England, and they should be handed over by our police to theirs at Dublin or Holyhead. I did not object.

They would do their best about the armament orders and were talking to the people concerned. Eden would immediately look for the proper type of representative.

After this interview, which on the English side bore all the marks of Harding's inspiration, I decided to have a further frank talk with Eden. I arranged it early on Friday morning (8th Sept.) before the High Commissioner had come to the office. I suggested to the latter that it might be easier for Eden to take in good part all I was going to say to him if there were no witness. The High Commissioner was slightly hurt at the idea of being left out, and he thought that Eden would not be affected by his presence. So we saw him again for about an hour before the Cabinet met at 11.30.

I began by saying that I had been very tired the previous morning after a trying journey, and I had perhaps not given him as complete a background of our position as he would wish to have. He responded at once, and said that I was to talk with the greatest possible freedom. He wanted to have the complete picture and I was to have no hesitation in saying exactly what I thought. I spoke more or less as follows: The new Representative would be useless for both sides if he did not understand our fundamental attitude towards Great Britain. We regarded ourselves as a nation just as old, and just as good as the British nation. We were not an ex-colony, and I was afraid that his allusions to South Africa indicated that he himself was starting from false premises. We were a mother country, just as Great Britain was, and the one thing that wounded us most was to be treated as an ex-colony or as a Dominion. That course had unfortunately been invariably adopted by the Dominions Office for the twenty years I had been in contact with them. I had myself made suggestion after suggestion to them long before our present Government came into office which if they had been met with any breadth of outlook would have prevented a lot of our present difficulties from arising. But I had always found Sir Edward Harding so exposed8 to every expression of equality, and so determined to keep us in a subordinate position, that I had to conclude that his mentality made him completely unfit to deal with any self-respecting country. The extent of his interest in Ireland was probably measured by the fact that during some twenty years he had passed only two afternoons in our country. I believed he was very largely responsible for the bad advice upon which the British Government had been acting in our regard.

A very early opportunity should be sought, perhaps in connection with the new appointment to Dublin, to refer to Ireland publicly as a separate nation and a mother country with a history as venerable as that of Britain herself, and therefore entitled to special treatment. The British were always asking us to advance towards them, but they refused to recognise the things which meant most for us. Economic concessions were of small value compared with an open and frank recognition of our separate nationhood. We were a proud people, and we refused to shorten our memories to suit them. He had said that we had long memories, but he must remember that what were mere incidents in Britain's long career of conquests were fundamental changes in our social and national life affecting the whole destiny of our people. We remembered the past which they wanted us to forget, largely because its effects were present to us in our daily lives. I spoke of our devotion to our language by symbolising our determination to restore our nation to its full life. I mentioned again and again the absolute need of ending the unity question. He said he thought we had begun the agitation too suddenly. I replied that that was a matter of opinion. Their duty at any rate was perfectly clear.

At the end of this conversation, I thought it wise to mention the possibility of the Services getting their head with regard to the use of our ports, and I enlarged what a disaster that would be for all concerned. Eden said, the Services could not act independently of the Cabinet.

My brief account of what took place at this meeting may give the impression that I drove Eden a little too hard. That is not so. I spoke all the time very objectively, and in the most friendly way. When I had finished, Eden told me that he was really grateful, and he appeared to be sincere in saying this. He would take the greatest possible care in selecting the new Representative and he would repeat to him all I had said in the course of that conversation. I could also assure Mr. de Valera that he would keep all these things in mind in dealing with Ireland.

The first result of this talk came late in the evening in the form of a personal and secret message from Machtig to me, acting no doubt on Eden's instructions, that although Harding was not going to South Africa for some considerable time,9 he would be fading out of the D.O. in a few weeks and Machtig will take charge.

1 From June to December 1935 Eden was Minister without Portfolio for League of Nations Affairs. He met de Valera often in Geneva during this time.

2 Word left out in original.

3 Avro Anson, British twin-engine monoplane, a derivative of a civilian model. The Irish Air Corps flew the Anson as a coastal reconnaissance aircraft during the Second World War.

4 Lord Perth, Sir Eric Drummond (1876-1951), Secretary General of the League of Nations (1919-33), British Ambassador to Italy (1933-9).

5 Edward William Spencer Cavendish (1895-1950), 10th Duke of Devonshire, Under- Secretary of State, Dominions Office (1936-40).

6 The post of British High Commissioner to Egypt and Sudan ceased to exist in 1936. Sir Miles Lampson (1880-1964), the last official appointed to the post in 1934, immediately became British Ambassador to Egypt (1936-46) after the ratification of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of Alliance, 1936.

7 Admiral Sir Tom Phillips (1888-1941), Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff (1939-41).

8 Walshe may have meant 'opposed'.

9 In 1939 Harding was appointed High Commissioner to Basutoland, the Bechuanaland Protectorate, Swaziland, and to the Union of South Africa. He took up the post in January 1940.

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