Volume 8 1945~1948

Doc No.

No. 350 NAI DFA 366/40/29

Minute from Michael Rynne to Cornelius C. Cremin (Dublin) with a later handwritten note from Rynne to Sheila G. Murphy (Dublin)

Dublin, 25 June 1947

Mr. Cremin,
I suppose I should mark this to you 'No obs', not being qualified to assess individual 'culture' and not knowing exactly what kind of a Committee the Minister has in mind.

Judging from the excellent list of names attached by the Assistant Secretary, any kind of an Advisory Committee might be in contemplation because about half the list consists of relatively 'live wires' and the other half of noble figureheads.

Presumably nobody wants a Committee of extremists whether of the active type, who might come into conflict with the Department's policies, nor of the senile type which would prove a sheer dead weight. I fear, however, that the ideal Committee, both discreet and helpful from the Department's standpoint, cannot be attained without discarding a principle that can scarcely be ignored, namely the 'representative' principle.

We may take it almost for granted that the Government will find themselves forced to set up a 'representative' Committee. Even the Assistant Secretary's list, despite giving prominence to a number of admirable (non-representative) names, seems to recognise the inevitability of a guiding principle which may eventually drive the Government to Thom's Directory for their final inspiration.

Given only twelve members to select, the Government may be driven by the representative principle to choose the Presidents of the RIA,1 the RHA,2 the RDS,3 the University Colleges, TCD, etc., etc., to the number of about nine, with the remaining places going to the Church (the Jesuit Order?) and a woman or two.

If this were to be the outcome of our careful compilation of names, it would be scarcely worth while going on with. Perhaps, however, our efforts can be turned to a final useful purpose and I suggest that when we have compiled a long list of really bright people, we ought to consider the possibility of interesting them all in our proposed campaign. They would not and could not all become members of the Committee of twelve at once (or perhaps ever) but they could be made extern or honorary members. This would mean resigning ourselves to the idea of a truly 'representative' Committee of twelve elderly gentlemen picked from official institutions, but at least they would be supported by some scores or hundreds of honorary members throughout the country, experts in their own lines.

There is a lot to be said for a 'correctly' nominated Committee whose credentials would be above criticism; once one attempts to choose names from outside representative circles one becomes completely vulnerable to attack. For example, how to reply satisfactorily to the following questions on the Assistant Secretary's list:-

  1. Why Professor James Hogan, Cork, instead of Professor Alfred O'Rahilly, Cork?
  2. Why Mr. Edward A. McGuire instead of Dr. George Furlong?
  3. Why Mr. Arthur Cox, Solicitor, instead of Mr. John Burke, Solicitor?

There are, I know, good answers to all these questions, but we could not make them without causing widespread consternation and jealousy. In this island of poets and dilettanti, the candidates for nomination to a cultural Committee would be legion if a choice were to be made, without reference to the representative principle.

An argument in favour of having a big advisory body throughout the country to advise the Advisory Committee seems apparent in the fact that every aspect of the national culture cannot be brought under twelve heads. The Assistant Secretary's minute to me above4 actually mentioned twelve different aspects (including the Six Counties) but these are mostly in addition to the other aspects which are covered by the names in his list of possible nominees.

By enrolling most of the cultured, internationally-minded people in the country behind the Department (the sleeping partner in-between ought to serve as a bridge and not as an obstacle) we should be able to form and execute an international cultural policy much sooner and on a better permanent basis. At the moment we do not seem to be absolutely clear as to what we aim to do or what we ultimately aim to achieve. At least, I am not very clear on these points, having read the file with care. Some examples are given in paragraph 9 of the Memorandum for the Government, but from these one cannot form more than a rather vague general idea. For instance, a few of the examples given would appear to relate to matters that fall within the existing function of the Universities, which have hitherto been able to carry on very well without State assistance or the aid of public funds. (Incidentally, I understand that the Director of the Folklore Commission5 is proceeding to Iceland for four months this summer 'under his own steam').

We shall need to have a more positive plan than that indicated by the Memo insofar as it suggests that all the initiative is to come from outside in the form of invitations and so on. Our job will eventually become one of making opportunities rather than availing of them. In short, I suppose we will sooner or later have to decide (1) exactly what we want to 'sell' and (2) roughly what we hope to get in the way of 'dividends'.

The experience of other countries ought be of use to us (mainly in a negative way) but only when we have fully assessed the essential differences between such other countries and ourselves. For example, Sweden is not really comparable to Ireland. Unlike this State, Sweden is a highly organised manufacturing country, which besides possessing great national resources (timber and iron) and the heavy industries generally associated therewith, produces in a big way what is sometimes called 'industrial art'. Swedish firms making decorative glass find it pays them to subsidise the State's foreign cultural displays and, they are undoubtedly right to do so. For no matter how little permanent effect the political and artistic side of such displays may produce on the fickle intelligentsia (university professors, journalists and diplomatic corps) of foreign countries, Swedish glass like any commercial product is bound to benefit by being freely exhibited to the public.

France, the originator of the 'propaganda de l'idée' is also difficult to compare with this country. In her case also, cultural propaganda would seem to have been a failure apart from the commercial side. Probably the only certain result of French concerts, plays and art exhibitions has been to bring students and tourists to Paris to enjoy those civilised charms at first hand. Like Czechoslovakia (which produced an enormous amount of propaganda literature, etc; before Munich 1938), France appears not to have made many 'friends in need' by her years of cultural activity abroad.

In short, we are forced, I think, to the conclusion that, as we have no goods to sell (at the moment) and do not aim to overcrowd our hotels more than they are now surcharged, our dividends will have to be sought among the 'intangibles' or 'imponderables' which most countries have failed to secure, or to hold, by the methods hitherto adopted.

This brings one to an analysis of those methods and, briefly, one's verdict must be (I submit), this: that national publicity to be of any lasting and worth while effect abroad has to reach the masses of the people and must accordingly have, in itself, a wide, popular appeal.

Small shows of a high intellectual order, put on for select coteries who are already friendly in a luke-warm 'civilised' manner or frankly bored and surfeited by too many similar displays from other countries, simply 'do not pay'. This the French - invaded, disarmed, deprived of overseas territories and generally downtrodden - have not yet found out.

The British (and even the Russians!) well understand the value of reaching the 'common man' abroad. Mr. Rank's pictures are probably doing more for British prestige throughout the world than any conceivable amount of academic exchanges between museums and universities.

If we, also, hope to 'put Ireland over' on the plain American people (and British people and even continental peoples), it is plain we shall have to rely upon a livelier type of person than, say, Dr. Best,6 Dr. Hayes (Film Censor)7 or Dr. R. Lloyd Praeger.8 Obviously our Committee, cannot include, such people as J.J. Walsh,9 Joe McGrath10 or P. O'Keeffe,11 GAA, but the Department should certainly be able to call them and others like them into consultation at a moment's notice.

Otherwise we may find ourselves at the mercy of the 'high-brow' whose appeal to the mass of people at home and abroad is just nil. In this connection, I am not in agreement with the remarks of Herbert Matthews,12 quoting P.S. O'Hegarty,13 which are copied on this file, and which decry boosting the Shannon Scheme, the Turf Scheme or the Airports under the guise of Irish 'culture'. On the contrary, I am convinced from innumerable conversations with friendly, but ill-informed, people in America that there is much more interest latent in Rineanna than in Clonmacnoise, the Book of Kells or the Abbey Theatre. Also, I feel sure that the all-Ireland GAA Final which is to be played in New York next year will win us more lasting sympathy and understanding in America than a dozen 'university exchanges' of the Myles Dillon type.14

Another fact is that Irish culture of the strictly academic literary and artistic kind just now appears to have reached a rather low level, seen from a foreigner's point of view. We have nothing for export in that line anymore than we have whiskey, poplin or cloth for export this year. Doubtless, a better time lies ahead. Meanwhile, the best course might be to concentrate on the few aspects of our national life which are flourishing and which have a genuine interest for the man in the street. These (apart from the Church which hardly needs our help) are the national games, the national dances and to a lesser extent national music.

Theatrical productions (Abbey and Gate) are not so useful to this country as they are to the English language, but something might be said for launching a few very short Gaelic plays abroad with the help of first-class musical and ballet supporting programmes. Such shows to be any use at all would have to take place in (small) regular public theatres or halls, which might have to be hired in the first instance out of State funds, but which should eventually pay their way. If they do not at least pay the theatre rent, it may mean that their propaganda value is below our requirements.

Certainly I think our policy ought to give the foreign public what it wants - not merely what our own, or their, intelligentsia wants - provided that this is consistent with giving them a fairly correct and really attractive picture of Ireland and its people.

To realise such a policy we will need to look much farther than the Universities and learned bodies for skilled advisers and we ought certainly not let the Advisory Committee (which seems predestined to futility) to stand in our way.


Miss Murphy:
I gather the file is with you and that you have already read above. Probably I had the 'flu coming when I wrote it and would not ask you to put it on file for Mr. Cremin's return but that I think it conveys one worth-while view. That is my view that we should endeavour to eschew, or at any rate, to submerge the professional element in forming our Committee. To my mind the Universities are no credit to this country, being controlled by people who, fortunately, are in no way typical of the Irish people as a whole. The professional staffs of both Universities seem to lag behind the times in respect of national outlook and their 'national records' do not encourage one to expect much zeal from them in the work of making Ireland favourably known abroad. I should prefer the GAA as a typical native institution with more life in it.15


1 Royal Irish Academy.

2 Royal Hibernian Academy.

3 Royal Dublin Society.

4 Not printed.

5 Séamus Ó Duilearga (1899-1980), Director of the Irish Folklore Commission (1935-71).

6 Dr. Richard I. Best (1872-1959), Director, National Library (1924-40); Senior Professor, Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (1940-7).

7 Dr. Richard F. Hayes (1882-1958), official film censor (1940-54).

8 Robert Lloyd Praeger (1865-1953), naturalist, author and librarian in the National Library of Ireland (1893-1924).

9 James Joseph Walsh (1880-1948), Postmaster General (1922-4), Minister for Posts and Telegraphs (1924-7).

10 Joseph 'Joe' McGrath (1888-1966), Minister for Labour (1922), Minister for Industry and Commerce (1922 and 1923-4).

11 Pádraig O'Caoimh (O'Keefe), General Secretary of the Gaelic Athletic Association (1929-64).

12 Herbert L. Matthews (1900-77), journalist. The extract is from an article in the magazine Town and Country from March 1947.

13 Patrick Sarsfield O'Hegarty (1879-1955), Secretary of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs (1922-44).

14 Myles Dillon (1900-72), Lecturer in Sanskrit and Comparative Philology at TCD (1928-30), Lecturer, UCD (1930-7), Chair of Irish at the University of Wisconsin (1937-46).

15 The date of this minute is not clear as the paper is torn at this point.