Volume 3 1926~1932

Doc No.

No. 550 DFA 19/1B

Letter from Joseph P. Walshe to Charles Bewley (Vatican City)
(E.A. 231/5/1931) (Secret)

Dublin, 12 May 1931

I apologise for the delay in replying to your letters and reports1 received since my letter to you of February 24th.2 I was absent for over seven weeks from the Department, and have been very busy since my return trying to overtake my arrears of work.

2. I should like to begin by assuring you that the letters and reports mentioned have given the greatest satisfaction to the Minister. Do not hesitate to go into even trivial details. Without them it is impossible to get the atmosphere in which you have to work. In your report of your relations with the British,3 for example, nothing would have conveyed the real situation so well as your description of the incidents selected. The Minister is particularly gratified at the change in the attitude of the Irish College to which you have so largely contributed. The reception of the Governor-General and Mrs. McNeill,4 and everything connected with the visit, have given considerable pleasure here. The Minister wishes to congratulate you on the success attending all the arrangements.

3. The British attitude towards you is similar to that adopted in all the capitals in which we have Missions. The Foreign Office are accepting very slowly and reluctantly the new position of the States of the Commonwealth, and I do not believe that they have taken the trouble to instruct their representatives abroad in the bearings which the new position should have on the dealings of these representatives with the representatives of the other States of the Commonwealth. Up to the present our full powers have been prepared by the Foreign Office and handed by them to the King for signature. The same has been true of all our documents relating to external matters. The procedure of presenting the documents to the King was made still worse by the affixing to the documents of either the Great Seal of the United Kingdom or a British ministerial seal. Of course there never has been any difficulty in putting the machinery in motion. Hesitation on the part of the British would have meant a first-class quarrel, but the formal control of the machinery remained in their hands and the Foreign Office's views of the Dominions were, no doubt, influenced to some degree by that ever-present evidence of inferiority of status. Within the last few months the Minister, after a series of discussions, not always friendly, has succeeded in altering the entire situation. No advice will in future be tendered to the King in relation to Irish affairs except by the Minister or his representative in London. No seal will be used on documents relating to Irish affairs except an Irish seal. The new Great Seal and the Ministerial Seal are being designed by Mr. Metcalfe.5 One side will bear the representation of the harp as it appears on our coins, the other of the King as he appears on one side of the Great Seal of the United Kingdom. The first act of direct access to the King was the Minister's visit to Buckingham Palace and his formal advice that the seals to be used henceforth should be the seals described.6 The Foreign Office, as indeed also the Dominions Office, will henceforth be completely eliminated from our relations with the King, and consequently (on the formal side at any rate) from our relations with foreign countries. The seals will be ready within six weeks. The principle of direct access is already in full operation.

It is very much hoped that the attitude of the British Representatives abroad will be helped by this new development in the process of shedding its patronising and possessive elements. The curious mixture of aloofness and 'accaparement' shows an absence of any clear-cut policy on their part. On the whole, the first ingredient is admirably suited to our present situation and, as you have experienced, we can laugh at the second.

3.7 In Rome our principal object is to secure the progressive development of a distinct and distinctive Irish body with the legation as the focus of its national activities. Your reports show that the first stages of that development have become a tangible reality. The great obstacle of 'British Nationality' has yet to be overcome. In Rome, more perhaps than elsewhere, it must be the most confusing factor in the task of creating a feeling of our separateness. Within two years, even less, we hope to have created by law a definite Irish nationality recognised within and without the Commonwealth.8 You can realise how very difficult it will be to achieve that object while maintaining the privileges which Irish citizens enjoy in other parts of the Commonwealth, but the principle of creating such a legal nationality related to the nationalities of the other Members of the Commonwealth only through subjectship to the King is fully accepted as vital to our national progress.

4. We have also a very real interest in the maintenance and growth of Irish Catholic influence in the United States. Our independence, which was won largely through American public opinion, may some day have to rely on the same factor for its maintenance. Moreover, as you know, there is a very real relation between the growth of our good name as a member of the family of nations and the increase in power and influence of our race in America. Your task, therefore, extends to the careful watching of the Catholic situation in the United States, and I have no doubt that you have been somewhat perturbed at the continued appointment of German bishops in almost purely Irish dioceses. I enclose a secret memorandum,9 the author of which is a Bishop in the Western States whose name was not revealed to me. The document was given to me by a very prominent ecclesiastic in Washington whose name I am only allowed to convey viva voce. (I will do so at the first opportunity.) Could you make some sort of inquiries in Rome? Who are the people who are likely to be observing the situation with interest? Dr. O'Gorman should be able to give details of recent appointments. I understand that since the memorandum was written at least two more Germans have been appointed in Irish dioceses. One does get the impression that there has been definite action taken by somebody to secure the change of policy. It certainly manifested itself first during Cardinal Pacelli's term of office in Berlin. The Minister wishes you to make careful inquiries wherever they can be made, and to report home before taking any step with the Vatican. Please do so as soon as possible, so that some definite step may become feasible before the summer holidays. It will hardly be possible to do more, at any time, than to express regret and surprise to one of the Assistant Secretaries of State. And it may become clear after inquiry that even more indirect action would be more effective. But some step will have to be taken soon to put an end to what is fast becoming a painful humiliation for the Irish in America. If the policy could be changed by the withdrawal of the present Apostolic Delegate or otherwise and the change were in some way (in the minds of the Irish clergy in the U.S.A.) attributed to action by the Government here, our prestige in the U.S.A. would be enormously increased. The Minister constantly hears complaints of the growing discontent and real anger of prominent Irish Catholics in America as well as threats to stop giving money to the Vatican. The latter element would be bound to have an effect. The Churches in the U.S.A. have been built almost exclusively by the Irish, and the splendid position of the Church in general is mainly due to their work.

5. Notwithstanding the none too robust health of the Nuncio and his dislike of our damp climate, it does not appear that there will be any serious question of his desiring to leave Ireland for two years at least. On the other hand, we must be prepared for all eventualities. For a considerable number of years to come, only a Churchman of Irish or American origin can hope to have any success here. The work to be done is delicate and arduous. As you know, there are still differences between the educational methods used in Seminaries in Ireland and those used elsewhere. The differences are not to the advantage of our Clergy, and, though very often endowed with superior intellectual gifts, they seem to be surpassed by the clergy of other countries in the faculty of creating a favourable impression as to their gifts. The educational is only one of the several problems which have to be studied and solved by the Nunciature, and it is very difficult to believe that an Italian Nuncio would have the required intimate knowledge of Irish conditions. The Minister wishes you, first of all, to begin as soon as possible the process of insinuating into the Vatican mind that Monsignor Robinson is a great success, and is so because he is an Irishman. By frequent repetition you will soon arrive at the stage of convincing them that none but an Irishman could be acceptable owing to the special difficulties of the situation. If we succeed in getting two Irishmen in succession, we should be able to prevent an Italian appointment for all time. Are there any amongst the Irish Clergy in close relations with the Vatican who are of Nuncio calibre? Is Dr. O'Gorman favourably considered by the Vatican? Would he be made a Bishop (in partibus) as a reward for his work if the Vatican were strongly urged to recognise his gifts? His excellent common sense and his exceptional talents would perhaps qualify him for the post. A general report on the Irish clergy who have close relations with the Vatican would be very useful to the Minister.10

[signed] (Sgd) J.P. Walshe

1 See Nos 525, 527, 532 and 543.

2 See No. 521.

3 See No. 543.

4 Josephine McNeill.

5 Percy Metcalfe, an English sculptor who won the open competition to design the new coinage of the Irish Free State, first publicly issued in December 1928.

6 See No. 536.

7 Paragraph numbered three in the original.

8 See No. 288 and No. 400.

9 Not printed.

10 See No. 556, which, in part, covers this issue.