No. 115 UCDA LAI/G/215

Handwritten letter from Eoin MacNeill to Agnes MacNeill

GENEVA, 6 September 1923

My Dearest Taddie-

It is just a week, almost at this hour, since I left you. It seems like a year. Now don't take that for philandering. It is the variety of experiences that has expanded the time. We began with a very stormy passage to Holyhead. Only the Attorney-General and myself, of all our party, succeeded in keeping our heads up. The Marquis, who stayed with me on deck, had to bow to Boreas and pay a small tribute. I got only a few hours sleep in the train. James1 met us in London. In Paris, we had a civil & military welcome at the Gare du Nord. You will have seen the photo in the Freeman, which does not include me. We had a long journey from Paris to Genoa, though it was a splendid train, the Paris-Rome express. In Genoa we arrived in the dark of the morning between 4 and 5. We were again officially received. During our stay, two automobiles were placed at our disposal by the Prefetto, and we had an escort of two generals of Fascisti, who were very pleasant companions. The journey in the Prefetto's cars from Genoa to Bobbio was splendid beyond description. Almost the whole way, the road winds along the sides of deep mountain gorges. There are river beds - at this season mostly dry - hundreds of feet below us, and crags and forests above us. Only the Aran Islands can match the industry of these northern Italians. In the wildest and deepest slopes, every perch of ground that can be cultivated is cultivated. Little terraces of earth are artificially built up, often supported by stone walls, and in them are grown vines, potatoes, vegetables, maize etc. The people are very industrious, & they are handsome, with broad square shoulders and good carriage. Many of them have fair or red hair and a light complexion. Others are very dark and, as the Irish proverb says, má 's peacadh bheith beidhe, tá daoine damanta. In places that from a distant view seem fit only to support goats, there is a thick population. They have to climb to get to their houses. When we passed the highest part of the range we came on Italian troops going through manoeuvres. We then reached the valley of the Trebbia, also a zigzag gorge between high mountains, with water in the rivers below. Bobbio is in this valley. When we reached it, the whole population of the town & district were out to meet us. There was a great scene of excitement and repeated cries of Viva l'Irlanda. We were received by the Sotto-prefetto and the local Fascisti, and presented to Cardinal Ehrle and the Bishop of Bobbio. There were between 150 & 200 visitors from Ireland, many of them old acquaintances. I am keeping a copy of an Italian paper with a two column account of the celebrations. Besides the religious ceremonies which were extraordinarily impressive, there was a banquet at which the Cardinal presided, with our President on his right and myself on his left. Before we left, the Cardinal gave each of us a relic of St. Columbanus. Our journey by road back to Genoa (three hours - 80 or 90 miles of zigzag) was partly by night, and the lighted towns in the valleys below us looked like bits of the starry sky turned upside down.

Now I have to dress for dinner, and I shall tell you about Genoa afterwards. Dinner being over, I resume about Genoa. Genoa was a great city in the Middle Ages & is a great city now. It is one of the chief trading ports on the Mediterranean. It is a great manufacturing town. With all that, it is full of both ancient & modern beauty, but seems modern rather than ancient. It is built on hills overlooking the port. It consists mainly of high buildings of many stories, most of the people live in flats. The buildings however are not run together in blocks of great length, but stand out from each other like castles. They are of a light coloured stone, & look bright & cheerful, rising one above another & facing in all directions, some of them on very high ground, with their backs to steep hills, so that you can walk in at the top story. The mountain slopes all around are covered with villas, some small, some great mansions. What catches you is the amount of solid but bright & ornate stonework - almost as if the whole city & surroundings consisted of the best class of buildings in the best parts of Dublin. The people are of the fine north Italian type that I have spoken of, & seem very industrious. Genoa is more busy at 7 a.m. than Dublin is at midday, & its activity goes on till after midnight. I have got a great respect for northern Italy after what I have seen.

From Genoa we took the train to Milan on our way to Geneva. Our Fascisti officers came with us & stayed with us till we left Milan. The first part of the railway journey was through the mountains, with scenery almost as grand as on the road to Bobbio. The railway winds through deep gorges, with many tunnels. Then it runs out into the plain of Lombardy, full of rich cultivation. We had a couple of hours in Milan, & spent much of the time in the Cathedral. I never liked the extraordinary ornate architecture of this Cathedral, il Duomo, when I saw it in pictures, that is the exterior, & I like it no better having seen it in the reality, but inside it is by far the most impressive building that I have ever been in - vast & massive & majestic, a complete contrast to the exterior which is crowded over with all the art & ornament possible in cut stone.

From Milan we took the train northward, first through the same rich plain, full of luxuriant crops of every kind. In Ireland we don't know the meaning of agriculture. There is a slow gradual rise till we reach the foot of the Alps. The train runs for miles along the side of Lake Maggiore, a beautiful sheet of blue water, with its banks & islands decorated with beautiful homes & gardens, & plenty of woodland. Then we run up into the Simplon Pass, miles & miles & miles through a wild valley between grand mountains, every bend of the line showing us a fresh piece of the most magnificent landscape. All this disappears when we run into the Simplon Tunnel, & spend about 25 minutes getting through it. When we got out of the tunnel, night had fallen, & we came on in darkness to Geneva, arriving about midnight.

Here our quarters were not yet ready, and Desmond & I were stowed away in a high up pension, which I shall ask you to ask him to describe. In the morning we came over to our hotel, the Hotel Bellevue, which is the H.Q. of our delegation, with our flag flying from its windows. I am sending a postcard with a photo of the hotel. The lake, Leman, is to the left of the trees. Geneva is a very beautiful city.

We have met many representatives of nations & personages of their entourage, & have been received with friendship & interest on all hands. Today, the President, Desmond, & myself went to lunch with Lord Robert Cecil. I afterwards attended one of the sittings at the Palais des Nations, & found it dull enough, except to watch the people from all parts of the world. This evg. I dined at the League of Nations Club (I am not sure of the name) with M. Edouard Phelan, whom I met last year in Paris, the secretary of the International Labour Bureau. It is late now, so good night. More again:

With love,


1James McNeill, Irish High Commissioner in London, brother of Eoin MacNeill.

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