Volume 5 1936~1939

Doc No.

No. 56  NAI DFA Paris Embassy 19/34

Confidential report from Art O'Brien to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)

Paris, 14 May 1937

Incident of National Anthem - Concours Hippique Paris 1937
I attach hereto copy of my telegram No. 541 which was dispatched to you in code on Sunday last, the 9th of May. In reply to this telegram, you telephoned me on Monday the 10th, instructing me that you would be satisfied if an apology were made over the loud speakers at the Concours Hippique at some appropriate time during the competitions on Tuesday the 11th of May (N.B. There were no competitions on May the 10th) followed by the playing of the correct National Anthem at some appropriate time during the competitions.

I attach also hereto a copy of my telegram No. 55 dispatched to you in code on Tuesday the 11th of May2, giving the results of my interview with the Foreign Office and the arrangement agreed to thereat.

These two telegrams give a general impression of what exactly happened, It is, however, perhaps as well that I should enlarge on the text of those telegrams to some extent in order that the whole course of events may be clear to you.

On Saturday evening the 8th of May, Captain Lewis won the first individual prize in the competition for the Coupe de la Cavalarie française. Following the usual procedure, the winners rode into the ring in order of place and when the first prize was announced, to the amazement of all present who were acquainted with the Irish National Anthem, instead of hearing the military band play Amhrán Na bhFiann, we heard the air of O'Donnell Abu very badly rendered on a bad gramophone record. At the time, I happened to be standing and was caught unawares. The Belgian Ambassador and other diplomats in the special boxes looked round to my box and seeing me standing, they also stood. Captain Lewis was also taken unawares and was at the salute. This incident happened at about 11.30 p.m., right at the end of the Concours. It was consequently too late to take any action that evening.

I went then from the Concours to the Polish Embassy where a soirée was being held and almost the first person who I met there was M. de Fouquiéres, the Chef du Protocole. I took the opportunity of relating to him immediately what had happened and making a protest at what I considered a very serious discourtesy both to Ireland and to the Irish team. I informed M. de Fouquiéres that I would be sending a letter of protest to the Foreign Office early on Monday morning the 10th of May3. M. de Fouquiéres was very much upset at the incident and expressed to me at once his personal regret and told me that the matter would receive immediate and careful attention.

On Monday morning the 10th of May, I sent a letter addressed to M. Yvon Delbos4, Minister of Foreign Affairs, copy of which I attach hereto.

In the meantime on Sunday morning the 9th of May, I had a meeting with Captain Corry, the chef d'équipe, and having discussed the whole matter with him I informed him of what I thought should be done in the event of a repetition of this incident during the course of the competitions on Sunday afternoon. Captain Corry and the other members of the team were to attend on that same morning at the Ministry of War in order to be presented to the Minister. After the reception had taken place, the Minister of War asked for Captain Corry especially and expressed to him his personal regret for what had happened. Captain Corry after the reception came to see me again and informed me of what had happened.

On that day (Sunday), I arrived at the Concours a quarter of an hour before the start and saw the Marquis de Juigné, President of the Comité of the Concours. I made a very firm protest to the Marquis and told him that should there be a recurrence of the same incident during the course of the afternoon, whilst I disliked to make any demonstrative protest, I would, nevertheless, feel obliged to retire at once from the Concours with the guest from my special box and that the Irish team would ride out of the ring. I informed the Marquis that it being a Sunday I was not able to take the matter up with the Foreign Office until the following day and that, although the incident was a diplomatic one and would have to be reported to the Foreign Office, I was making matters clear to him immediately as the chief authority at the councours, in order to avoid any unpleasant contre temps during the day. The Marquis de Juigné was, I found, extremely upset at this incident. He informed me that several weeks back when he had known the teams that would compete, he had immediately sent a list of the countries concerned to the Etat-Major de Paris, informing them that at some time during the course of the concours, it would be necessary for the military band to play the National Anthems of all these countries and that, consequently, the military band supplied by the Army authorities should have the scores of all the national Anthems and should be prepared to play any of them at a moment's notice. The Marquis de Juigné received a reply from the Etat-Major stating that everything was in order. He, himself, and his committee were, therefore, also taken completely by surprise when they heard instead of the strains of the military band a bad gramophone recording of an air which, they knew, was not the National Anthem.

The Marquis de Juigné told me that he himself had made the strongest of protests with the military authorities and that he had even threatened to resign his position as President of the Concours, unless the military band were made in some way answerable to them. Later on that same afternoon, the Marquis de Juigné came to see me again. He told me that, in the meantime, he had seen the General en Chef de l'Etat-Major who had sent for the band master responsible. The band master explained that when he had been given a list of the countries whose National Anthems he would have to play, he found he had the scores of all of them with the exception of that of Ireland. He consequently went to the Garde Républicaine, thinking that they would have the scores. The Garde Républicaine, however, told him that they had not these scores and after this, he did nothing and, apparently on his own responsibility and in a moment of confusion, when called upon to play the Irish National Anthem, he turned for help to the gramophone and put on the first Irish record he came across.

Later again on Sunday afternoon, when I arrived at the Legation, a Captain from the Etat-Major called to see me in company with the Chef d'Orchestre. He started by giving me a long apology from the Etat-Major for what had happened and concluded by asking if the Legation could let him have the band score of our National Anthem as, having hunted all over Paris, they found that they could not obtain it and on the other hand, they were informed that the playing of it might be required the same evening. I informed the Captain that all I could give him was the Anthem with words and piano accompaniment. They had evidently anticipated this position and he pointed out to me at length the difficulty which the chef d'orchestre would have in arranging an orchestration in time for 11.00 o'clock that same evening. He suggested in the circumstances that should the Irish team win, they would put on a gramophone disc of the proper air of the anthem, it being understood that that would be for that evening only and that by Tuesday (i.e. next day of competitions) they would be ready to play the air on the military band.

I expressed to the Captain my regret that I could not accept this alternative and that our National Anthem must be played in exactly the same manner as the National Anthems of every other country, i.e. by the military band that was there for the purpose. As he seemed rather insistent in pressing his alternative of the gramophone record, I too had to be more insistent and I informed him that unless the Anthem was played as I had demanded, I would be regretfully obliged to retire from the Concours and that the officers of the team would similarly retire. Eventually after further discussions, the Chef d'orchestre agreed that he would have an orchestration ready by 11 o'clock that evening.

Later again on that Sunday evening and whilst I was still at the Legation, I had a telephone call from the Information bureau of the Telephone services stating that they had an urgent inquiry for the music of the Irish National Anthem and they asked if I could help them. I stated that I assumed that their enquiry came from a military source and that in that case, I had already dealt with the matter. On my return to the Concours that evening, the same captain from the Etat-Major called at my box again, conveying all the regrets for the incident and asking if I would receive General Daudin, Chef de l'Etat-Major de la Région de Paris. I replied that I would be delighted to receive the General who, then, came along to the box. He again made all apologies and expressed great regret. I thanked him for his visit and for his expressions of regret but I was obliged to tell him that the matter could not rest at that as I had been obliged to report it to my own Government and to the French Foreign Office.

Again the Marquis de Juigné called upon me before the end of the performance and our conversation was very much on the same lines. On Monday morning the 10th instant; I sent off my letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, copy of which is attached hereto5. About mid-day, I had my telephone conversation with you in which you advised me that you would be satisfied with a suitable apology and a suitable playing of the National Anthem.

At about 8.00 p.m. on that Monday evening, M. Bargeton, Directeur de la Section Politique de Ministére des Affaires Etrangéres, telephoned to me personally and asked if I could receive him immediately. I had to tell him that I was in the middle of dressing to leave for an important official dinner and eventually, it was agreed that I would call upon him at 10.00 the next morning, Tuesday the 11th inst.

At 10 o'clock on May 11, Tuesday, I accordingly called upon M. Bargeton who started by expressing the sincere regret of his Government and his Department for what had happened, but in continuing, he was rather inclined to minimise the affair, treating it as an unfortunate but still explicable incident. He went on to suggest as a solution which they hoped I would accept, that the Gouverneur Général de Paris, would call upon me and personally make his apologies for what had happened and that, afterwards, the Irish National Anthem should be played in its proper turn at the competitions in the afternoon when all the teams would arrive in the ring for presentation to the President of the Republic who was attending the Coupe des Nations competition on that afternoon. I told Mr. Bargeton that I thought he was treating the matter rather too lightly and that the solution which he suggested could not be satisfactory. Since the Legation had no direct relations with the French army, we could not look upon them as primarily responsible and that in these circumstances, whilst an explanation from the army would make clear the error of the army band, an apology from the Army authorities cold not be sufficient to give satisfaction to a complaint of a diplomatic nature and which, in effect, was a serious lack of courtesy from one nation to another when all the circumstances were taken into due consideration. Mr. Bargeton would not accept this point of view - he said he considered that he matter was not actually diplomatic and that it was merely a minor regrettable accident. Mr. Bargeton was rather inclined to show some annoyance and impatience, however I brought him back to a more proper view of the incident by asking him to consider what would happen if a similar incident were to occur in regard to a French team visiting Ireland.

Although this seemed to bring him to a better realisation of the seriousness of the matter, he was still disinclined to agree to my suggestion (put forward in my letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs) for an apology to be given over the loud speakers publicly at the Grand-Palais and for the proper playing of the air at a later period. He thought this would be giving too much prominence to the incident and would reflect upon the Government and the organisers of the Concours. Finding that I was so insistent and as he himself had been brought to see the matter in rather a different light, and, nevertheless, feeling that he was in a difficulty, M. Bargeton suggested asking M. Lozé of the Protocole to join us. I accepted this willingly. M. Lozé is the Sous-Chef du Protocole, acting as Chef of the Protocole during the absence of M. de Fouquiére at the Coronation in London. When M. Lozé joined us, M. Bargeton explained fully to him the position which we had reached and subsequently I also gave my view to M. Lozé of the position and what I thought should be done and which I considered they could quite easily do. After further lengthy discussion, it was finally agreed that prior to the commencement of the Coupe des Nations competition, an announcement would be made over the loud speakers at the Concours so that all might hear, expressing regret and apologising for the incident of last Saturday and stating that the Irish National Anthem would be heard later on, played by the military band. As this arrangement covered your requirements, I accepted it, stating that in my view it was the minimum solution for such an incident and that my Government had behaved very generously in agreeing to this minimum solution. I thought it well also at this stage to point out the much more serious consequences which would have followed if the same incident occurred in regard to some of the other teams competing at the concours.
(N.B. I had in mind for instance Germany.)6.

I told M. Bargeton and M. Lozé that I would arrive at the Concours at a quarter to two so that I might be certain to hear the announcement when given out at two o'clock. I attach hereto a copy of the actual words of the announcement as agreed to and as given over the loud speakers7.

Unfortunately the effect of this announcement was lost to a very great extent by the fact that after I had left them at 11.45 in the morning, it was suddenly decided at about 12.30 to advance the hour for starting the competitions to 1.30 p.m. instead of 2 o'clock. No notice was given to me of this change of time. It was only conveyed to the competing teams at the last moment. Very few of the public or representatives of the Press were present. Whether this change of time was purposely made to decrease the effect of the announcement, I am not able to say. At the time of the commencement of the Coupe des Nations, our National Anthem was played in its due turn when our team rode into the ring. It was played by the military band and in all the circumstances, it was fairly good, but the military band itself was not a very good one and in fact did not even play the Marseillaise very well.

At the moment of writing, I have not received any written acknowledgement or reply to my letter of the 10th of May addressed to Mr. Yvon Delbos, Minister of Foreign Affairs, but M. Lozé has told me over the telephone this afternoon that a reply will probably follow shortly. I will, of course, communicate the contents of this reply to you whenever it is received.

Aire Lán-Chómhachtach

1 See document No. 53.

2 Not printed.

3 Not printed.

4 Yvon Delbos (1885-1956), French Radical politician and Minister for Foreign Affairs (1936-8) in the Popular Front governments.

5 Not printed.

6 The sentence in brackets is handwritten by O'Brien.

7 Not printed.