De Valera Imagined and Observed

This paper was published in Gabriel Doherty & Dermot Keogh, eds, De Valera’'s Irelands (Cork, 2003).


When Sir Ian MacLennan became British Ambassador in Dublin in 1960, his mental picture of Ireland's President Eamon de Valera "was not necessarily attractive". The "trepidation" that he had felt at meeting such an ogre was swept away as soon as he presented his credentials:

I was completely taken by him as a personality. He is one of the few people I have ever met whom you are convinced from the beginning that he is, was a great man, quite irrespective of what his beliefs or philosophy or politics were.1

As Tim Pat Coogan has pointed out, de Valera defined himself as "the symbol" of the Irish Republic that struggled to emerge after 1919, a status admiringly conferred in several hundred pages of Dorothy Macardle's narrative of its history.2 To his admirers, de Valera could do no wrong. To his antagonists, especially those associated with the British government, the official de Valera with whom they had to negotiate was "austere, rigid, obstinate and very much with a one-track mind".3 To assess de Valera's role in Irish politics, both friend and foe had to commence by imagining him. Outsiders, at least, could be pleasantly surprised to find the man himself infinitely more attractive both than the principles that he embodied and the personality had pictured.

Unfortunately, the discovery of a personal de Valera by cross-Channel and overseas visitors does not seem to have occurred until the 1930s. In the crucial period between 1916 and 1921, observers tended to project and impose a de Valera shaped by their own requirements. The "de Valera devil", Tim Healy remarked in August 1921, was one of the "inevitable products of political romance".4 As a result, there were in fact two contradictory but overlapping imagined de Valeras. One was a strong man in ruthless charge of an incomprehensibly wicked war against Britain, "an unscrupulously mischievous enemy of my country" as Malcolm MacDonald put it.5 The other was an idealistic schoolmaster, caught up in events that he could not control and dangerously out of his depth. The shortest way to solve the Irish problem was to construct de Valera as both simultaneously: the naive de Valera might be moulded and tamed, so that the satanic de Valera would command the wild men to compromise. De Valera's rejection of the Treaty did not resolve the conflict between innocent and devil, but it did remove the man himself from the forefront of Irish politics for a decade, and so rendered it possible for outsiders to ignore him. Poor relations between Dublin and London during the first years of Fianna Fail government merely extended the period of chill to the eve of the Second World War.

As J.J. Lee has pointed out, no fewer than four Irish political elites were swept away in the six years after the Easter Rising, although de Valera remarkably survived both the firing squad in 1916 and the Civil War of 1922-23.6 For British political leaders, the Irish Question had acquired not only a new intensity but a new and puzzling practical aspect: with whom could they deal to reach a solution? Their two-fold reaction was characteristic of major powers dealing with either sudden revolution or mass colonial nationalism: they listened to the familiar old-guard nationalists who were being brushed aside, and hoped to identify a large-spirited superman in the emerging leadership. Dillon and Healy were to be their guides; de Valera was to be the Nehru or Kaunda, although in the short-term he proved to be a cross between Lumumba and Khomeini.

Unfortunately, Dillon and Healy did not know de Valera and both were tempted to fill the vacuum of their own ignorance by using him as a weapon in the mutual character assassination endemic to old-style nationalist politics. Healy admitted in 1921 that he had met de Valera just once, in 1918, when they had both taken part in the anti-conscription conference at the Mansion House.7 At the time, Healy had privately described him as "a fine fellow", but three years later he could not resist the sideswipe that "it was easy to discern that in his nature there is a strain of simplicity quite lacking in the Irish politicians with whom Mr. Lloyd George was familiar". 8

Dillon had been a shade more generous. Although "unacquainted with Mr. de Valera," he wrote in August 1917, and fervently disagreeing with his republican principles, Dillon took him "to be a brave an honourable man", to be admired for having "risked his life and suffered imprisonment for the cause of liberty".9 It is tempting to suggest that Dillon rarely spoke well of anyone whom he regarded as a serious political rival. The withdrawal of the old-style Nationalist MPs from the House of Commons in protest against conscription 1918, a manoeuvre that dangerously conceded electoral initiative to Sinn Fein, made it all the more necessary for politicians like Dillon to lay claim to superior political skill and mediating wisdom in their dealings with the British. "The Sinn Fein leaders were not nearly so dangerous as they seemed," Dillon assured C.P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian in August 1918. De Valera "was a schoolmaster pitchforked into a position of extraordinary prominence and power and nervously conscious of his own inadequacy". 10

It may not have been only the British elite that Dillon hoodwinked into believing he could manage the new dispensation. In May 1918, William O'Brien had described de Valera as "personally a charming man, but he is too good for this rough world", predicting that he "will no doubt subside into a meek instrument of Dillon's". 11 Any such fantasy was swept aside at the general election of December 1918 when de Valera roundly defeated Dillon in East Mayo.12 Dillon continued to believe, as he assured T.P. O'Connor in May 1921, that de Valera was "not a strong man", and that although "very much alarmed at the situation" and ready to compromise, he was "completely under the control of the secret executive". 13

British politicians were always inclined to simplify Irish complexity: whether favouring concession or repression, they found it easier to assume that de Valera was indeed in control of his own movement. After a visit early in 1919, the minor Conservative peer, Lord Newton, acknowledged that each time he had visited Ireland, "I have come away feeling that that I understand the country less". He did, however, interpret the republican movement in highly personal terms. "I never cease to wonder why we tolerate the persistent hostility of De Valera, as if we were in a perfectly helpless position". 14 A former Liberal cabinet minister, Lord Haldane, placed a similar emphasis but drew a diametrically different conclusion. Invited to advise by the Lord-Lieutenant, Lord French, Haldane abandoned the Viceregal Lodge to discuss the possibility of Dominion status with Eoin MacNeill. He concluded that the Sinn Fein leaders were fanatical idealists whose principles were "tempered by a shrewd recognition of realities and of what is practically possible". Haldane proposed that French establish a triumvirate through which both sides in Ireland could determine a constitution. He agreed to serve as chairman, provided that "my nationalist colleague should be de Valera himself.... de Valera would certainly be Prime Minister in an Irish Parliament and was indispensable if the plan were to go through".15

De Valera's eighteen-month American mission coincided with the country's slide into guerrilla warfare and counter-terror. His prolonged absence led some British politicians to question the extent of his control over the republican movement. Lloyd George concluded in January 1921 that de Valera had returned "because he felt that the militant Sinn Feiners had been beaten" and he sought to claim credit for a political settlement.16 In April the prime minister planned to deal direct with Collins, "the head and front of the movement".17 Others took a different view: "there is only one man to see and that is de Valera", wrote the influential Conservative, Lord Derby, in March 1921,18 a principle upon which he acted by making what de Valera later called "the first important contact between the British and ourselves" a month later.19 These initial feelers were not encouraging. In late June 1921, Austen Chamberlain commented that "de Valera is a child without any experience of the world, without courage & without judgement".20 De Valera's judgement might be open to criticism, but denigration of the courage of one of the most notable commanders of 1916 presumably reflected a pejorative assessment of his absence from Ireland throughout the worst of the Troubles.

Among the confused multiple contacts that followed was an approach by de Valera to the southern Unionists in June 1921. On receiving a telegram inviting him to peace talks, Lord Midleton at first assumed that it was "a hoax, as I had never had any dealings with Mr. de Valera and did not suppose that he even knew my name". The assumption that the President of the Irish Republic might not know the name of one of the most prominent southern Unionists reflected an unusually unworldly construction of de Valera, but Midleton and his associates equally subscribed to the satanic view of the Sinn Fein leaders. "It was with difficulty we could bring ourselves to meet de Valera or Collins at all." None the less, at the urging of Lloyd George, the Unionist delegation arrived in Dublin on 3 July. "As it was doubtful at what hour we were meeting the next morning," the delegation called to the Mansion House and were given to understand that the Lord Mayor's secretary would see them. They received a friendly welcome from "a tall spare man with spectacles" who shook hands warmly on their departure and thanked them for agreeing to participate. When formal talks began the next day, the Unionists were surprised to find that the helpful secretary had in fact been de Valera himself. Midleton decided to put to the test de Valera's claim "that he had complete command of the rebel forces, and that General Collins would respond to any order he gave" by insisting on the release of the Earl of Bandon, who had been taken hostage in County Cork. Lord Bandon was duly freed, and Midleton noted that de Valera "showed a business-like and reasonable spirit" throughout the negotiations.21

By this stage, the priority for the British was to persuade de Valera to come to London. Their chosen means of persuasion was the South African prime minister, Jan Christiaan Smuts, who had just arrived in Britain to take part in an Imperial Conference. Smuts had begun his career as State Attorney of the South African Republic (Transvaal) on the eve of the Boer War of 1899-1902, in which he was a distinguished military commander. His political responsibilities had included the marshalling of propaganda against the British, and the title of his 1899 pamphlet, A Century of Wrong, had distinct Irish overtones. However, he had accepted defeat in 1902, and worked for reconciliation of South Africa's white communities within an enhanced Commonwealth. Rewards came quickly. The conquered Transvaal Colony acquired self-government in 1906, and Smuts took a leading part in drafting a constitution to unite the defeated republics with Natal and the Cape Colony in the Union of South Africa that came about in 1910. When war broke out in 1914, Smuts fought for the Empire, helping to overrun Germany's African territories. In 1917, he represented South Africa at the Imperial War Conference, and Lloyd George drafted him into the small executive body called the Imperial War Cabinet that had assumed temporary control over the British war effort. It was not surprising that when he returned to England in June 1921, he found "that people of many points of view are looking to you to help us about Ireland".22 The second pronoun was as significant as the first: the British elite had come to see Smuts as their own miracle worker.

In relation to de Valera, this was a dangerous assumption. Like de Valera, Smuts was a formidable intellectual, but their mental processes were markedly different. Although detractors charged both with masking personal advantage under analytical complexity, Smuts saw himself as a philosopher, espousing a system of "holism", through which apparent opposites were reconciled on a higher plane, a theory which lesser minds associated with his personal project of accommodating Afrikaner nationalism and imperial loyalty within the evolving structure of the British Commonwealth.23 This was not an approach to the cosmos that was likely to chime with the mathematical mind of Eamon de Valera. Nor, indeed, was it universally shared by his fellow Afrikaners, some of whom had risen in armed revolt in 1914 seeking to recapture their republican independence.24

Indeed, the strange personal ascendancy that Smuts had established within British politics was something of a smoke and mirrors exercise manipulated by Lloyd George. A radical Liberal, Lloyd George had become prime minister in December 1916 in an unlikely alliance with the Conservatives. A J P Taylor unkindly suggested that Lloyd George brought Smuts into the Imperial War Cabinet because he had once run rings around the British generals who were now failing to defeat the Germans.25 A more likely explanation is that a prime minister who lacked a firm party base himself had an interest in adding to the political plot a player who was even more disembodied than himself. An example of the role attributed to Smuts was George V's speech inaugurating the Parliament of Northern Ireland in Belfast in June 1921. It was Smuts who drafted the royal appeal for peace, thereby further adding to his stature as a problem-solver. Of course, the well-known story obscures the basic fact that the king spoke with the approval of his prime minister: Lloyd George, the first occupant of Ten Downing Street to adopt a presidential style, was not the man to allow his sovereign free rein in a major constitutional issue. The Belfast speech enabled Lloyd George to open talks with Sinn Fein in a manner to which his Conservative followers could not object, by implying that responsibility for the olive branch rested with two great institutions, Smuts and the Crown, the one beyond and the other above domestic politics.26

Naturally, it seemed a short step from Belfast to Dublin. "If De Valera won't come over I hope Smuts will go to him and make him come," noted the king, in a typically bluff simplification.27 The problem was that if de Valera refused to be cast as a second Smuts, he would by implication be discrediting the original, an outcome that the South African statesman could only accommodate by denigration. Moreover, it was all too easy, especially after the triumph of the Belfast speech, for Smuts to see himself as the true authority on Ireland's destiny, and mentally to marginalise de Valera as the impractical school-master in need of instruction by superior wisdom. His comrade in the East African campaign, Tom Casement, brother of the executed Sir Roger, lobbied him on behalf of the nationalist cause, acting with the unofficial approval of de Valera, while Horace Plunkett assured him that a solution on Dominion lines was possible.28 Significantly, Smuts refused to travel to Dublin until he could claim to have been invited in his own right, and not as a British representative, although to the South African leader's embarrassment, Lloyd George subsequently published his correspondence with de Valera to put further pressure on the Irish leadership to come to terms.29 The talks immediately followed the Mansion House conference with Lord Midleton.

Although the mission was widely reported in the press, Smuts travelled under the unlikely incognito of "Mr Smith".30 On arrival, he evaded St John Gogarty who had been commissioned by Arthur Griffith to collect him from the ferry, apparently because Gogarty was the only person known to the Provisional Government to be in legal possession of a Rolls Royce.31 It was an appropriately unpromising prelude to talks with de Valera.

Smuts had been a student in Cambridge in the early 1890s, and the Second Home Rule Bill remained his implicit starting point for evaluating any Irish settlement. The major complications to the Irish question that had emerged since 1893, Ulster separatism and the proclamation of the Republic, could easily be brushed aside. Ireland had not been partitioned at all: it was "merely that Ulster, which has always proved the obstacle, is now out of the way".32 The only credible interpretation of this curious statement is that Smuts assumed that unity would be maintained by the Council of Ireland. In his subsequent letter to de Valera, Smuts shifted his ground. "Ireland is travelling the same painful road as South Africa": self-government for southern Ireland would be the first stage, "and the inclusion of Ulster and the full recognition of Irish unity will be the last". 33 Not only would the British people never agree to an Irish Republic, but South African experience proved that it was not a good idea anyway. While theoretically independent, the Transvaal had been bound to accept British supervision by the 1884 Convention of London, and it had been from disputes over its interpretation that war had arisen. Thus Smuts directly challenged de Valera's favourite ploy of an Irish Republic bound by Treaty to respect Britain's interests. "We in the Transvaal have worked both systems, and look at the result. ... As a friend, I cannot advise you too strongly against a republic."34

On a less elevated plane, the South African analogy created political problems for de Valera. Smuts felt that Griffith was sympathetic to his argument,35 and Griffith was not only temperamentally inclined to subsume the Republic within a Commonwealth solution, but had worked for a time in the Transvaal himself. Although de Valera left Smuts with the impression that he would put an offer of Dominion status to the Irish people, he had no personal motive for shifting the basis of debate towards the ideas of Arthur Griffith. His own position as the symbol of the Republic owed much to the mystique of executed leaders of 1916. Among them had been John MacBride, who had fought against the Empire in the Boer War, and had memorably dismissed his death sentence with the comment that he had looked down the barrels of British guns before.36

Smuts had travelled to Dublin backed by George V's confidence that "you of all men will be able to induce Mr. De Valera to be reasonable".37 The outcome of the Smuts mission is summarised by Macardle in a typically bleak sentence: "President de Valéra explained to him how the position of Ireland differed from that of South Africa."38 Smuts was not used to being on the receiving end of other people's explanations. He reacted by belittling de Valera for undermining the myth of his own omniscient wisdom. "A big man in Ireland will pull them through, but I did not see him in my negotiations with the Irish leader."39 With de Valera on the point of accepting Lloyd George's invitation to London, it was an unlucky moment to have so influential a voice denigrating him in the corridors of power. C.P. Scott recorded Smuts's account of the Dublin talks. "Was not impressed by any of them. No big man among them. De Valera was a Romantic, lacking in practical sense and capacity of handling affairs. Very difficult in consequence to deal with."40 The Oxford don, A.D. Lindsay, was another would-be peacemaker who seems to have been influenced by the Smuts view of de Valera.41

The Smuts mission was thus an unhelpful preliminary to de Valera's visit to London ten days later, in mid-July 1921. Frances Stevenson, Lloyd George's secretary and mistress, had never seen the prime minister "so excited as he was before De Valera arrived" at Downing Street. His negotiating strategy owed more to brainwashing than to diplomacy: de Valera found himself alternately wooed with the prospect of a seat at the imperial top table and threatened with renewal of repression. Lloyd George's conclusion that his visitor "was the man with the most limited vocabulary he has ever met!" must be ranked as a highly unusual view of de Valera, but in the intimidating circumstances it was an understandable response: every time Lloyd George felt that he was getting through "& De Valera appeared to be warming, he suddenly drew back as if frightened and timid". The voluble Welshman complained that de Valera "was very difficult to keep to the point _ he kept going off at a tangent, & talking in formulas and refusing to face facts". One of the few moments of thaw in their talks came when Lloyd George, deduced by analogy from his native Welsh that "poblacht", the term used in the Proclamation of 1916 for "republic", simply meant "people". "Isn't there another word?", he asked, and de Valera supplied "Saorstat". Why insist upon a republic, Lloyd George demanded, when Saorstat was "good enough". De Valera saw the funny side of the intrusion of Celtic linguistics into the politics of the island group and "simply roared with laughter".41

"I liked de Valera", Lloyd George told C.P.Scott.42 Unfortunately, the warm personal impression did not oust the image, so determinedly endorsed by Smuts, of a naive visionary. Invited to London as "the chosen leader of the great majority in Southern Ireland",43 de Valera found himself expected to conduct himself as just another element in British domestic politics. Smuts, for instance, sought to impress upon de Valera the government's "great difficulty with Ulster", only to find that de Valera "doesn't really appreciate that the Gov. have any real difficulty, & thinks that they are just using Ulster to frighten him".44 It was rather that de Valera saw himself as a head of state negotiating with a foreign power, and that the internal political difficulties of that power were none of his business. This may have been an unrealistic stance, but Arthur Griffith's subsequent promise not to rock the British political boat over Ulster robbed the nationalist cause of some freedom of manoeuvre.45 There was a similarity of approach between the tough-minded Smuts and the more pacific C.P. Scott. The Manchester Guardian abhorred all violence. When he interviewed de Valera at a London hotel, Scott found the Irish leader aggrieved "that we had denounced some of the Sinn Fein outrages as murders on a par with the murders committed by the agents of the Government". De Valera's position was that killings authorised by the Republic were legitimate, while those of the British were not. Scott was horrified and concluded that de Valera had "a closed mind".46 When de Valera terminated the first phase of talks in August 1921 with an insistence on complete separation, the king summed up the British view that he was simply "a dreamer & visionary".47 Thus when de Valera declared against the Treaty, the British were neither very surprised nor conscious of any special need to understand his point of view. Churchill's view of the anti-Treaty case was that "Mr de Valera was still maundering about Poynings' Act, and that his view of Anglo-Irish relations and of the griefs of Ireland had not yet reached the sixteenth-century part of the story".48 In British eyes, the devil and the dreamer had fused into one.

For Tim Healy, the Split was "something out of dreamland", and he clung to his notion that de Valera was an earnest citizen of that realm. Still anxious to carve a political role for himself, in late December 1921, Healy tried to speed up the appointment of the promised Boundary Commission, seeking to persuade de Valera through the Archbishop of Dublin that Carson could not object to the appointment of "an Impartial Colonial Statesman", that any such arbitrator was bound to make substantial territorial transfers to the Free State and that the necessary outcome had to be that "the Belfasters are burst". The Archbishop despairingly reported that he had seen de Valera but "cannot even understand the dialect he speaks".49 De Valera's refusal to bow to Healy's superior political wisdom merely confirmed that he was out of his depth. "Poor man," Healy wrote patronisingly, "I think he has done his country more harm even than Parnell, with the very best intentions". Surrounded by the wild men and women of extreme republicanism, "he resents too touchily the supposed slur on his position".50

The Civil War only gradually destroyed the new governor- general's view of de Valera as an innocent out of his depth. "I can't believe the fellow as cracked as your informants seem to think", Healy wrote to his brother in February 1923, speculating that de Valera was perhaps "browbeaten and bullied by Lynch". When Lynch's death failed to liberate de Valera's strain of simplicity, Healy concluded that he was "an unscrupulous man, prepared to sanction any mischief to gain his ends". While condemning de Valera's "futile wickedness", Healy was inclined to take the philosophical view that by removing de Valera from Irish politics, the Civil War had been a blessing in disguise.51 Unfortunately for Healy, the Civil War proved to be only a brief setback, and de Valera was soon back in the Dail, and Healy himself eased out of the Viceregal Lodge.

The Civil War encouraged a new construct of de Valera, one, which unfavourably emphasised his American birth and Spanish origins. If the responsibility for opposition to the Treaty could be solely attributed to de Valera, and if de Valera could be re-classified as "a half-breed Spaniard", then the Civil War could be explained away as an alien aberration and Ireland itself acquitted of the sin of fratricidal conflict. In an interview with a British journalist in 1928, Healy denounced the leader of Fianna Fail as "a barren imposter" with a foreign father, "a vain, shallow man without a shred of ability", motivated solely by jealousy. One of St. John Gogarty's cronies referred to de Valera as "the Dago", while John Devoy discounted the claimed Hispanic parentage and referred instead to "a Jewish bastard".52 Gogarty himself retorted that because the Irish refused to be ruled by one of their own, they were "culture-beds for any political microbe". The fact that de Valera was "unreckonable" merely added to his mystique.53

To outsiders, who had less need to explain away the innate violence of the Irish Civil War, de Valera's origins merely added a bizarre touch of the exotic: to Britain's outspoken Dominions Secretary, Jimmy Thomas, he was "the Spanish onion in the Irish stew".54 In noting that "Eamon de Valera was not born a citizen of the country he rules", the American journalist John Gunther drew a parallel with two other outsiders by birth, Hitler and Stalin.55 On one occasion, de Valera himself rescued an over-enthusiastic visitor from an embarrassing moment. The Canadian journalist Grattan O'Leary had been reared in a remote part of Quebec by a father who lived exclusively for the politics of the distant homeland. O'Leary himself was not only intensely proud of his heritage, but subscribed to the fashionable myth that the essence of Irishness was to be combative. When the Taoiseach greeted him in Dublin in 1941 with the words, "I presume you're of Irish descent", O'Leary was moved to a reply more notable for pride than discretion. "Mr De Valera," he proclaimed, "there isn't one drop of blood in my veins that isn't Irish." "Well," replied his host, "you have the advantage of me there", good-naturedly putting his visitor at ease by thanking him for "a story to amuse his colleagues".56

The more genial side of de Valera's personality only became apparent to outsiders very gradually during the decade after Fianna Fail came to power in 1932. Smuts was almost certainly not alone in continuing to brand de Valera as "a mad fellow".57 It was not simply that Ireland had largely fallen off the British political agenda, but rather that the country and its new rulers no longer figured large in British social itineraries. At a personal level, the Commonwealth framework had helped some British leaders to get to know O'Higgins and McGilligan in the 1920s, but murder and electoral defeat had put an end to these contacts. In 1932, personal relations had to begin all over again.58

When John Maynard Keynes lectured on "National Self- Sufficiency" at UCD in 1933, he was in full retreat from the Victorian ideology of laissez-faire, and shocked some of his audience by expressing sympathy for Fianna Fail economic policies. Although privately regarding the new government's drive to grow more wheat as "insane", Keynes was attracted to its other developmental plans. He met de Valera "who impressed me distinctly favourably", and helped pave the way for a visit by Josiah Stamp, a retired senior British civil servant who was an expert of debt negotiations. Stamp in turn found de Valera "very charming".59

It is ironic that it was the Abdication crisis of 1936 that formed a landmark in the improvement of British assessments of de Valera. By November 1936, Baldwin's government was privately facing the fact that Edward VIII would have to go. Among the many sensitive elements in the situation was the complication that the Statute of Westminster of 1931 had given the Dominions a right of veto over any change in the succession to the throne. Thus de Valera, who fifteen years earlier had refused to accept the Crown, now found his consent required to get rid of the king. Naturally, a desire to oblige the British formed little or no part in de Valera's handling of an issue that he found an "acute embarrassment".60 However, the Abdication provided a direct opportunity to distance Ireland from the Crown by passing the External Relations Act, and eased the way for the adoption of the 1937 Constitution. Given the gains on offer, there could be little incentive for de Valera to muddy himself in the technical handling of issues as alien as monarchy and divorce. Securing Irish acquiescence was the responsibility of Sir Harry Batterbee of the Dominions Office. Not surprisingly, it required a personal visit to confirm that de Valera would agree to ratify Edward VIII's departure, if only to prevent Wallis Simpson from becoming Queen of Ireland. In his desperation, the British prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, had refined the idealistic headmaster into yet another de Valera: "he is such a gentleman he won't kick an enemy when he is down."61 Baldwin was full of gratitude when Batterbee returned with the news that Dublin would co-operate. According to Whitehall folklore, Batterbee suggested that the prime minister should direct his thanks to divine providence. "De Valera has always counted on winning any argument by towering over his adversary. As you know he is 6 feet 1. But the good God made me 6 feet 4!".62 As an analysis of British-Irish relations, the story was otiose, but it does suggest the beginnings of a view of de Valera as a personality in his own right.

Part of de Valera's projection of Ireland as an independent state was his use of the League of Nations, a stage handily provided for him by the Cosgrave government decision to seek election to the League Council in 1930. Paradoxically, Geneva also provided de Valera with an environment where he could temporarily be free from the overwhelming baggage of Irish nationalism. Gunther reported that although a teetotaller at home, "an odd point, he drinks wine or beer when he is on the Continent. He likes nothing better than to sit in a café ... sipping a glass of beer and watching people."63 It was partly through the League of Nations that de Valera established an extraordinary but unfortunately short-lived measure of understanding with Baldwin's successor, Neville Chamberlain.

This rapprochement certainly helped to bring about the wide-ranging settlement of differences between the two countries in 1938. British civil servants regarded de Valera as "stubborn, almost fanatical",64 but the Dominions Secretary, Malcolm MacDonald, was anxious to establish a personal relationship. Unofficial talks were held on several occasions in 1936 at a London hotel while de Valera was on his way to visit an eye specialist in Switzerland. MacDonald was "taken by surprise" at their first meeting: he had expected the "tall, austere figure" of press photographs, but instead of the "prim, stern countenance" that he had expected, there was a "friendly smile which lit his face as he greeted me". Indeed, de Valera occasionally "revealed a pleasant sense of humour which was inconsistent with the grim image of him portrayed in the British press". The Irish leader was "courteous and considerate", "a quietly charming man" who "never stood on ceremony ... no doubt because of his absolute confidence in himself and the rightness of his cause".65 More formal discussions followed from the autumn of 1937. At one point, MacDonald appealed to de Valera "as a realist" to recognise that Britain as well as Ireland faced political difficulties in reaching a settlement. To Lee, those three words "spoke volumes": "adult" politicians in Britain were beginning to recognise de Valera as "a practical politician of uncommon capacity".66 This may make more of the phrase than is fully warranted: the British in 1921 had consistently demanded that de Valera prove his realism by endorsing their view of their own internal difficulties. In 1937-38, the British government was prepared to make extensive concessions, but de Valera was prepared to concede little in return, beyond explicit acceptance of membership of the Commonwealth now that he had effectively emasculated the Crown. MacDonald himself complained that de Valera was "unyielding" and expected "us British to do almost all the giving; and to hope only for the gift of Irish goodwill". The Irish leader was "a transparently honest and sincere man" who "repeatedly and fervently" urged an end to Partition. When arguing his case, his face became "unchangeably solemn", while his "quietly reasonable voice" was "sometimes vibrant with intense emotion".67

The prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, backed MacDonald in taking a chance on the goodwill of de Valera. "I am satisfied," Chamberlain wrote in January 1938 "that, queer creature as he is in many ways, he is sincere, and that he is no enemy of this country".68 When the agreement was finally signed at Ten Downing Street three months later, it was in a far more relaxed atmosphere than that of December 1921. Chamberlain announced that he wished to return an item of lost property: twenty-two years earlier, de Valera's field glasses had been impounded following his surrender at Boland's Mills. "The recipient examined them carefully when they were handed across the table and agreed that they were his." It was a gesture that could succeed only within an atmosphere of goodwill: de Valera had told Smuts in 1921 that he was reluctant to go to London and be placed in the position of an errant schoolboy.69 Yet if the act of restitution suggested a new chapter in British-Irish relations, it also carried with it final overtones of the belief that de Valera, like Smuts, might tread the path of Smuts from defeated foe to loyal ally. In this, the British were to be disappointed.

The warm relationship between Eamon de Valera and Neville Chamberlain was unlikely but genuine. The British prime minister was the son of Joseph Chamberlain, the radical whose defection to Unionism had helped kill Home Rule in Parnell's day, and the half-brother of Austen, one of the signatories of the Treaty of 1921. Lee suggests that the two were drawn together by the features that they shared, including "their headmasterish temperaments ... and their intimations of personal infallibility".70 One can only comment that such personalities rarely manage to co-exist, as de Valera had shown in his dealings with Smuts. Rather, they were drawn together by another quality identified by Lee, their commitment to peace in Europe. When news broke during the Munich crisis of September 1938 that Chamberlain was to fly to see Hitler in person, de Valera was attending an official dinner in Geneva, in the remarkably unlikely company of the socialite, Diana Duff Cooper. She recalled that it was de Valera who broke the solemn silence with the words, "This is the greatest thing that has ever been done".71 Sadly, the Munich settlement unravelled within a matter of months, but the beleaguered Chamberlain continued to draw encouragement from the support of his Irish counterpart. They held a two-hour meeting at Downing Street in March 1939, and Chamberlain reported in a family letter: "He is strongly of opinion that I have been right all through & am right now."72 When Chamberlain fell from power in May 1940, one of the most glowing tributes that he received came from Eamon de Valera.73 So ended the brief period when Dublin opinion believed that "Nev and Dev understood one another".74

John Gunther provides a sketch of de Valera as head of government in the nineteen-thirties. In the summer of 1937, the American journalist was permitted "a brief chat" on the understanding that nothing would be quoted on Irish affairs. Gunther outlined a conventional profile _ American birth, Boland's Mills, de Valera's family, his enthusiasm for mathematics, his indifference to money: "rigid self-control; fanatic faith in his duty to Ireland; extreme seriousness of mind; complete unworldliness; a certain didacticism; stubbornness, humanity." His "single-track mind" made him work hard: "one may see lights in the President's quarters till after midnight. He has bread and butter for supper. He has never, except for reasons of illness, taken a holiday." At weekends, followed by an official car and a private detective, he walked energetically for exercise in the hills near Dublin, to preserve "the spare but rugged frame that fanatics need". To lighten the picture, Gunther added that "when he laughs, he laughs very heartily". While de Valera was "extremely religious ... his Catholicism is neither ostentatious nor bigoted; several of his friends are Protestant". One member of his staff commented that de Valera's "whole life is a prayer".75

Despite himself, Gunther was impressed. He had come to Dublin intending to fit de Valera into a pattern of fanatical leaders who were keeping the margins of Europe aflame with petty nationalisms: "In Jugoslavia, in Bulgaria, in Syria and Egypt and Palestine, I have met young de Valeras of various breeds." Given his preconceptions, he found it difficult to accommodate the fact that he had encountered "an alert, interested and extremely courteous" man, eager to quiz his visitor on his impressions of continental politics and quick to pounce good- humouredly on an unguarded allusion to "the British Isles". "De Valera looks less severe than his pictures. The long nose and the deep lines to the mouth are his most characteristic features." When, however, his host turned to Irish issues, Gunther's doubts returned. "He was patient, explicit, and formidably, somberly reasonable. But in that gaunt face I saw the eyes of a fanatic."76

Gunther was especially struck by the distance that de Valera maintained between himself and his people. Everyone in Ireland referred to this "tall, gaunt man" as "Dev", but few dared to address him so to his face. At public events, "he does not smile or nod to the crowd. He walks straight ahead, very reserved, and seems to pretend that the crowd is not there." Perhaps only an American observer would have commented that de Valera was "very attractive to women.... They follow him about at functions; he is smiling and reserved, and, without ever being rude or pompous, manages to create a sense of distance between himself and them."77 Another visitor, the Australian prime minister Robert Menzies, noted a less attractive aspect of the isolation of "the chief". "The very clerks in the offices stood promptly and rigidly to attention as he strode past. His Ministers ... spoke with freedom _ but with no disloyalty _ in his absence, but were restrained and obedient in his presence."78 Malcolm MacDonald once asked what happened if the Executive Council disagreed with the Taoiseach. A laughing Sean Lemass replied that a decision would be taken "by a minority of one".79

By contrast, de Valera seemed indifferent to the trappings of power. "His office is a simple small room, with 'President' printed in black on the frosted window," Gunther noted, likening it to "the kind of room which a modest executive official of a very modest business might use. No particular decoration; no covey of secretaries; no swank."80 Harold Nicolson thought the Taoiseach's office "ill-designed, with cold, high windows" and "a clock that strikes the quarter-hours with a loud noise". However, even the Irish government had adopted modern technology. "On his desk he has a telephone box which buzzes occasionally and to which he talks in Gaelic."81 One of the few decorations was a facsimile copy of the American Declaration of Independence, which de Valera described to the British socialist Aneurin Bevan as "my political Bible".82

In the dark years of the war, the British found Irish neutrality incomprehensible, and negative perceptions of de Valera easily reasserted themselves. Churchill, whose ideas on Dominion status had evidently not fully caught up with the evolution of the Commonwealth, was convinced that legally Ireland was "At war but skulking".83 De Valera justified neutrality to Menzies, by explaining that his country was "virtually defenceless", an objection that the Australian leader thought might be overcome by the supply of anti-aircraft guns. "He would step across to the window, and gaze out, and say, 'My beautiful Dublin could be destroyed'."84 The anglophile American statesman, Wendell Willkie, "did not conceal his contempt" when de Valera told him that he feared that if he allowed the British base facilities in Ireland, Dublin would be bombed.85 Cardinal Hinsley, leader of the English Catholics, dismissed the argument as hypocrisy, pointing to the fact that de Valera had ignored German threats of retaliation when he had sent the Dublin fire brigades into the Belfast blitz. De Valera dismissed that argument. "When an Irish city's on fire," he told Grattan O'Leary, "no matter in what part of Ireland, it's our duty to help put it out." If the German ambassador chose to complain, "I'll kick him out of my office."86

While Churchill privately denounced de Valera as "that wicked man",87 he jovially advised Archbishop Spellman of New York that a dressing-down that he planned to administer to de Valera would "give the poor man a fit". Spellman grimly replied that "if Almighty God should wish that De Valera should lose his life on hearing the truth, I shall say many Masses for his soul".88 Grattan O'Leary found himself cast in the role of emissary from an angry Cardinal Hinsley, demanding an explanation for the suppression of one of his sermons in Catholic Ireland.89 For once, princes of the Church found themselves in agreement with Russian Communists. Ivan Maisky, Stalin's ambassador in London, dismissed de Valera as "very narrow" and "rather stupid".90

In reality, there was another side to Irish neutrality and de Valera's dilemma. For all his later denunciation of an Irish government determined "to frolic" with Axis diplomats,91 even Churchill recognised in 1940 that "the implacable, malignant minority can make so much trouble that De Valera dare not do anything to offend them".92 When de Valera argued that it was in Britain's interests to have a neutral neighbour rather than a weak ally, Malcolm MacDonald felt that there was "quite a lot of sense in what he said".93 In Dublin in 1942, Professor Daniel Binchy of UCD counselled Harold Nicolson that "a visiting Englishman is apt to be taken in by blarney and to imagine that the feelings of this country towards us are really friendly." Neutrality was seen as a positive assertion, something that few had believed would be possible at the outbreak of war, an achievement which many "attributed to the genius of de Valera, who has thereby gained enormous prestige". Others regarded neutrality as an example of divine providence, so that it had "taken on an almost religious flavour ... something which Ireland is not ashamed of, but tremendously proud".94 De Valera himself assured Menzies that his fellow citizens had a "passion for neutrality", an emotion that the Australian prime minister had failed to detect among those of Irish descent in his own country.95 The arguments were complex but none the less, neutrality added a new layer of negative incomprehension to outsiders' perceptions of Eamon de Valera.

In his memoirs, Robert Menzies was disingenuous about his motives for visiting Dublin in April 1941. In many respects, the Menzies visit was a pastiche of the Smuts mission two decades earlier. The Australian prime minister was on an extended visit to Britain, which with poetic justice weakened his hold on Canberra politics and brought about his own downfall at the end of the year. In London, however, Menzies connived with Churchill's critics, and may even have seen himself as an alternative consensus prime minister. At one level, a visit to Dublin would generate photo-opportunities likely to please Irish-Australia. At another, it might just enable Menzies to pull off a coup for the Allied cause by talking de Valera out of his neutral stance.96

Menzies flew to Belfast, where he encountered the suspicion that Churchill was "going to sell us out to the South", and travelled on to Dublin by train. De Valera met him at the station. "He was a striking figure, tall and spare and ascetic." Wearing a dark overcoat and broad-brimmed hat, "he looked positively saturnine". In the talks that followed, Menzies found de Valera "vastly interesting", "a scholar, and in a quiet way, passionately sincere". There were "blind spots occasioned by prejudice" and "a failure to realize the facts of life" of a world at war, but "he grew on me". Given the failure of his machinations in London, and his post-war identification with Churchill as a fellow elder-statesman of the Commonwealth, it suited Menzies to portray himself as naive tourist. He was allocated a senior Irish civil servant to show him around Dublin, a man who could scarcely disguise his irritation with a colonial monarchist who innocently enquired if he might visit Sackville Street. In similar vein, he portrayed an exchange with de Valera over his own discussions in Belfast. When the Taoiseach spoke "pleasantly" of the Stormont premier, J.M. Andrews, Menzies asked "whether he saw him frequently", and was astonished to be told that the two had never met. Menzies subsequently argued that a senior minister should be sent on a mission to Dublin, a step which Churchill resisted.97 In fact, Churchill had already despatched Malcolm MacDonald to Dublin for secret and fruitless talks in June 1940.98 When the United States entered the war in December 1941, another cabinet minister was despatched to de Valera. Lord Cranborne reported "a long, friendly, but fruitless talk", mainly about Partition.99 Personal diplomacy might modify negative preconceptions of the Irish leader, but it was not going to change Irish policy.

Harold Nicolson was a writer and shrewd diarist, who moved in the inmost circles of power and had briefly held minor government office under Churchill. As with so many visitors, his preconceptions were shattered when he met de Valera in March 1942. He had expected "a thin sallow man" with "lank black Spanish hair". De Valera was neither thin nor sallow, although there was an unhealthy puffiness about his smooth face, while his hair was "soft and almost brown". In place of the "huge round black spectacles" of photographs, there were "benevolent cold eyes behind steel-framed glasses". It was not de Valera's "soft Irish accent" that intrigued Nicolson but his "admirable smile ... lighting up the eyes and face very quickly, like an electric light bulb that doesn't fit and flashes on and off". Nicolson saw happiness and sincerity in de Valera's smile. "He is a very simple man, like all great men. ... Deep spiritual certainty underneath it all, giving his features a mark of repose." The two men talked about the war, with de Valera, fully aware that his remarks would be reported back, speaking sympathetically of the challenges facing Churchill. He criticised the British press for hostility to Ireland. Nicolson deflected the complaint by saying that since his recent appointment as a Governor of the BBC, he had become equally convinced that every newspaper devoted columns of unfair criticism on the organisation. "He is amused by this, and the faint flash of his smile lights up his porridge-coloured face."100

As the tide of war turned in favour of the Allies, Ireland and its mysterious leader could once again be left alone. Britain's post-war Labour government had problems enough, and did not turn its attention seriously to Ireland until 1949, when it was necessary to respond to the final secession from the Commonwealth, carried out by a coalition of de Valera's opponents who had unexpectedly ousted him from power in 1948.101 As a result, there remained one notable figure who had not succumbed to de Valera's charm. Churchill's victory broadcast of 13 May 1945 had contained an "envenomed attack"102 on de Valera's policy of neutrality, so much so that when the two men first encountered each other at a Council of Europe meeting four years later, de Valera took care to avoid a formal introduction to avoid the risk of being snubbed.103 Yet one of Churchill's more intriguing characteristics was a desire to reach out to former enemies, as he had shown in South Africa after 1906 and _ with less benign consequences _ in his eager endorsement of the Free State in 1922. By fortunate coincidence, the two veterans returned to office in 1951, neither in good health and each mellowed by the ravages of time. The British prime minister was touched by de Valera's message of sympathy on the death of George VI in February 1952, even if the gesture was perhaps of no more significance than the notorious offer of condolence to the German ambassador on the death of Hitler. Churchill's response, of "sincere goodwill" to Ireland through all its many difficulties, can be read as a reply to the appeal that de Valera had made for British generosity in the battle of the broadcasts in 1945. The two men finally met over lunch at Ten Downing Street in September 1953. De Valera noted that his host "went out of his way to be courteous". In private talks, de Valera as always raised the issue of Partition, and then suggested the return to Ireland of the body of Sir Roger Casement. Churchill seemed sympathetic, although Whitehall second thoughts ensured that Casement's remains stayed in Pentonville for another decade.104 "A very agreeable occasion," was Churchill's verdict. "I like the man."105

"I liked de Valera," Lloyd George had commented after alternately cajoling and threatening him in Downing Street thirty years earlier.106 No doubt outsiders who met de Valera were bound to some extent to be favourably impressed, simply on discovering that he lacked the horns and forked tail of British mythology. Yet it is clear that the positive impressions of Eamon de Valera the man went far beyond modest surprise at his mere humanity. The question arises: could the positive elements of de Valera's personality have been mobilised more effectively on behalf of Ireland's interests in dealing with Ireland's neighbours?

Two of the most controversial aspects of de Valera's behaviour between 1916 and 1921 remain his eighteen-month absence in the United States during 1919-20, and his refusal to head the delegation sent to London that signed the Treaty in December 1921.107 It would be a contradiction in terms to condemn de Valera for having declined to make mollifying the British his first priority. Yet paradoxically, with the British throughout the Troubles searching for a Parnell whom they might convert into a Smuts, de Valera might have found his enemies bolstering his position against his rivals. Haldane's testimony suggests that by 1921 enlightened opinion in Britain was moving towards direct negotiation with the leader of Irish republicanism. De Valera's decision to decamp to the United States cast understandable doubt on the extent of his control over the movement. It was especially unlucky that the British chose as their miracle-working persuader in June 1921 the one man whose own political image could be discredited by de Valera's refusal to accept his assigned role, Jan Smuts. None the less, by the middle of the year, the British government had swung back to regarding de Valera as the leader of Southern Ireland. Had he taken part in the negotiations leading to the Treaty, he might have dispelled some British misunderstandings about his naivety, and would probably have been able to enforce more effective and obvious control over his delegates.

As a might-have-been, the strategy of dealing more frequently and openly with the British is open to one obvious riposte: what, beyond his intriguing smile, would de Valera have had to offer? A persuasive interpretation of his later career sees his emphasis upon Partition as a cover for a general retreat after 1923 from the substantive case against the Treaty, whose provisions he either tamed or accepted as the years went by.108 The problem with this interpretation is that while British observers found de Valera's obsession with the Border tedious and impenetrable, they never doubted the sincerity with which he harped upon the issue. It can be argued that Smuts, if somewhat brutal, was correct in contending that Ulster had ceased to be a practical obstacle by the summer of 1921. Yet while we can see how Griffith would embrace a compromise agreement with the British for reasons of principle and Collins would support him on tactical grounds, it is hard to imagine a more flexible de Valera under any circumstances.

It is just possible that de Valera might have exploited his charm to conduct a more subtle campaign against Partition from the 1930s, not head-on but by concentrating on the practical grievances of the Northern nationalist minority. While British politicians of all parties were formally committed to preserving the link with Northern Ireland, it would be easy to over-estimate the closeness of relationships between Westminster and Stormont, as Menzies discovered in Belfast in 1941.109 The civil rights movement of the mid-1960s suggested that Ulster could be destabilised far more effectively by Catholics trying to get into the Northern state than had ever been the case with their campaigns to get out of it. However, to hold the British responsible for any aspect of Northern administration would have been, for de Valera, too close to recognising the legitimacy of their position. In any case, the war ensured that Northern Ireland had a political credit balance on which it drew for two somnolent decades, while the principled stand of neutrality ruled out even such small favours as the return of Casement's bones.110

Fundamentally, then, we come face to face with de Valera, not the ogre that many imagined, nor the amiable companion that a surprised few discovered, but as that republican symbol that he conceived himself to be. In 1938, de Valera was a guest at Malcolm MacDonald's country home. While his host busied himself with traditional diplomatic courtesies, even to removing Northern Irish whiskey from his drinks tray, de Valera chilled a British official the American ambassador by dismissing personal factors altogether: "the individual who projected the cause was merely an instrument".111 "Some said of De Valera that he had the wellsprings of greatness," wrote Grattan O'Leary. "No one meeting him and looking into his eyes as I did could doubt that statement." O'Leary never forgot de Valera's "hawklike face", even though they met only once.112 Malcolm MacDonald, who worked with de Valera over several years, was more restrained: de Valera's "greatness as a leader" was "confined to certain limits."113 One of those limits may have been that he kept too close a rein on his own humanity. Eamon de Valera towers over twentieth-century Ireland, and it is right that scholars should study him as something more than a passing figure in a historical cartoon strip. Yet in the last resort there is little reason to think that Irish history would have been notably different if de Valera's personality had been as prominently engaged as his principles.


1. Quoted, Joseph Lee and Gearoid O Tuathaigh, The Age of de Valera (Dublin, 1982), p. 206. I have taken the spelling of MacLennan's surname from his entry in Who's Who.

2. Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow (London, 1993), pp. 246-8; Dorothy Macardle, The Irish Republic, with preface by de Valera (London, 1968 ed, first published 1937).

3. Lord Garner, former British diplomat, quoted Lee and O Tuathaigh, The Age of de Valera, p. 203.

4. Article in Sunday Express (London), 21 August 1921, quoted Frank Callanan, T.M. Healy (Cork, 1996), p. 562.

5. Malcolm MacDonald, Titans & Others (London, 1972), p. 55.

6. J.J. Lee, Ireland 1912-1985: Politics and Society (Cambridge, 1989), p. 75.

7. Callanan, T.M. Healy, p. 563.

8. Quoted, Callanan, T.M. Healy, pp. 538, 563. In private letters, Healy usually wrote of "Valera".

9. Quoted, F.S.L. Lyons, John Dillon: A Biography (London, 1968), p. 423.

10. Quoted, Trevor Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott 1911-1918 (London, 1970), p. 349.

11. Quoted, Callanan, T.M. Healy, p. 538.

12. The veteran MP braced himself for a defeat first by a thousand votes, then by "about two thousand" and was finally swept away by a majority of well over four thousand, in a two-to-one landslide. Dillon attributed his defeat in large measure to organised intimidation, overlooking the inconvenient point that de Valera had been equally heavily defeated challenging Joseph Devlin in West Belfast. Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 362-3; Lyons, John Dillon, pp. 451-3.

13. Lyons, John Dillon: A Biography, p. 467.

14. Responsible for the welfare of British prisoners of war in 1917, Newton had found himself in the odd position of indirectly negotiating the Germans. His visit to Ireland in April 1919 did not persuade him to extend the same approach to Sinn Fein. He was also puzzled by the fact that "I do not remember seeing a single pig". Lord Newton, Retrospection (London, 1941), p. 269.

15. Quoted, Dudley Sommer, Haldane of Cloan: His Life and Times 1856-1928 (London, 1960), p. 363.

16. Quoted, Lord Riddell's Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and After 1918-1923, p. 260.

17. Quoted, Lord Riddell's Intimate Diary, p. 288.

18. Quoted, Randolph S. Churchill, Lord Derby "King of Lancashire" (London, 1959), p. 405.

19. Quoted, Randolph S. Churchill, Lord Derby, p. 420.

20. Quoted, Robert C. Self, ed., The Austen Chamberlain Diary Letters (Cambridge,1995; Camden Fifth Series), p. 161.

21. Earl of Midleton, Records & Reactions 1856-1939 (London, 1939), pp. 258-62.

22. Quoted, W.K. Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950 (Cambridge, 1968), p. 51. For his early career see W.K. Hancock, Smuts: I, The Sanguine Years 1870-1919 (Cambridge, 1962).

23. Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950, ch. 9.

24. One of the 1914 rebels, Jopie Fourie, had been shot by firing squad, refusing a blindfold as he met his death. Smuts was widely blamed for the sentence. T.R.H. Davenport, South Africa: A Modern History (London, 1977), pp. 184-6; Hancock, Smuts: I, The Sanguine Years 1870-1919, pp. 392, 406.

25. A.J. P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Oxford 1965), p. 82.

26. For the mythic version, Taylor, English History 1914-1945, p. 156; Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950, pp. 51-55; John A. Murphy, Ireland in the Twentieth Century (Dublin, 1975), pp. 25-26. The government's control over the speech is made clear in Self, ed., The Austen Chamberlain Diary Letters, p. 161 and Kenneth Rose, King George V (London, 1984 ed.), p. 238. According to Chamberlain, the positive response to the speech persuaded the king that the initiative had been his own idea.

27. Quoted, Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950, pp. 55-56.

28. Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950, pp. 50-56.

29. For the letter of 4 August 1921, J. van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, September 1919-November 1934 (Cambridge, 1973), pp.100-105, and p. 106 for his unease at the use Lloyd George might make of it. De Valera protested at its publication, Macardle, The Irish Republic, pp. 446-7.

30. Hancock, Smuts: II, The Fields of Force 1919-1950, p. 56.

31. O.St.J. Gogarty, As I Was Going Down Sackville Street (first published 1937), ch. 21.

32. Quoted, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 96 (from a Buckingham Palace memorandum of Smuts's report to the king, 7 July 1921).

33. Quoted, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 102 (letter of 4 August).

34. Quoted, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 97.

35. van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 96. Griffith had organised perhaps the most unlikely event in the pantheon of Irish historical commemoration, the 1798 centenary celebrations in Johannesburg.

36. George Dangerfield, The Damnable Question: A Study in Anglo-Irish Relations (London, 1977 ed.), p.209. The whole strategy was best summed up by Healy. "To enlist the great Boer statesman to string the Government proposals into nursery-rhymes set to African lullabies for Irish ears was crudely inartistic. Callanan, T.M. Healy, p. 562.

37. Quoted, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 94.

38. Macardle, The Irish Republic, p. 434. Afrikaners formed the majority of the white population of the Cape Colony, and so sympathised with the former Boer republics. Natal settlers were intensely pro-British, but in 1910 they had numbered fewer than 100,000, barely larger than the Protestant population of Tyrone and Fermanagh. Natal whites were outnumbered ten-to-one by an African majority over which they had come close to losing control in 1906. Durban, Natal's principal port, depended upon the Transvaal for much of its trade. Northern Ireland had been delineated to ensure that there would never be a nationalist majority. Unionists needed nobody's support to maintain internal control, and Belfast looked outward for its prosperity.

39. Quoted, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p. 113 (letter of 23 February 1923).

40. Quoted, Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, p. 391. In fairness, it should be added that Scott received precisely the same report from A.D. Lindsay, the Oxford don, who had also tried to contact the Sinn Fein leadership. "He shared Smuts's view of de Valera as a man without much sense of reality and obsessed by a sort of poetic vision of an ideal Ireland." Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, p. 392.

41. A.J.P. Taylor, ed., Lloyd George: A Diary by Frances Stevenson (London, 1971), pp. 227-8 (17 July 1921). The Welsh word for "people" is "pobl".

42. Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, p. 395.

43. From Lloyd George's letter of 24 June 1921. In a speech on 14 July, he called de Valera "the Chieftain of the vast majority of the Irish race". Macardle, The Irish Republic, pp. 431, 439.

44. Meeting of 17 July 1921, reported in Taylor, ed., Lloyd George: A Diary by Frances Stevenson, p. 229

45. Calton Younger describes this as "the error of an honest man who believes other men are as honest as he". C. Younger, Arthur Griffith (Dublin, 1981), p. 109.

46. Quoted, Wilson, ed., The Political Diaries of C.P. Scott, pp. 392, 394. De Valera taken a similar line to Smuts, van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, pp.. 97-98.

47. Quoted, Harold Nicolson, King George V: His Life and Reign (London, 1952), p.358. Austen Chamberlain similarly dismissed de Valera as "a dreamer", adding that Griffith was "a poet", Barton "a small solicitor" and Stack "a crooked-faced solicitor's clerk & gunman". Self, ed., The Austen Chamberlain Diary Letters, p. 163.

48. Winston S. Churchill, The Aftermath: Being a Sequel to The World Crisis (London, 1941 ed., first published 1929), p. 309. Poynings' Law dated from 1494. Tales of de Valera's historical disquisitions soon passed into popular legend (e.g. John Gunther, Inside Europe (New York, rev. ed., 1938), p. 310). Malcolm MacDonald thought it promising evidence of de Valera's "present practical mood" at a meeting during the 1936 British-Irish negotiations that "he never mentioned Oliver Cromwell" or any other episode prior to 1921. When a draft communiqué describing talks in 1938 referred to an opening statement of the Irish position, de Valera "beamed a smile" and suggested that the press would report "that by the end of long harangue I was still describing the wrongs done to Ireland by Oliver Cromwell". The draft was amended. Quoted, David Harkness, "Mr De Valera's Dominion: Irish Relations with Britain and the Commonwealth, 1932-1938", Journal of Commonwealth Political Studies, VIII (1970), p. 217; MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 75-76.

49. Callanan, T.M. Healy, pp. 588, 584-5.

50. Quoted, Callanan, T.M. Healy, pp. 586, 588.

51. Quoted, Callanan, T.M. Healy, p. 607-10

52. Healy was using the term "half-breed Spaniard" by February 1923, Callanan, T.M. Healy, p. 606, and see p. 625 for the 1928 newspaper interview and p. 736 for Devoy. De Valera denied Jewish ancestry: T. Ryle Dwyer, Eamon de Valera (Dublin, 1980), p. 90. Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow, pp. 4-10 suggests that de Valera may have been illegitimate, but sees no reason to doubt his parentage.

Lady Lavery spread the story that the decision not to renew Healy's appointment as governor-general in 1928 was taken "with an idea to make things easier if de Valera should come in". J. Barnes and D. Nicholson, eds, The Leo Amery Diaries, I, 1896-1929 (London, 1980), p. 538. Callanan, T.M. Healy, pp. 622-4 does not mention the story, but supplies practical reasons for getting Tim out of the Viceregal Lodge. Nor was there any cause for Cosgrave to make life easier for his opponents.

53. Ethnic abuse of de Valera is scattered through Gogarty, As I Was Going Down Sackville Street. These examples are taken from chapter 4, where Gogarty commented that de Valera "is more Irish perhaps than any of us, seeing that he looks like something uncoiled from the Book of Kells".

54. MacDonald, Titans & Others, p. 55.

55. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), p. 302. Other European leaders born outside the countries they ruled were Pilsudski of Poland, Turkey's Kemal Ataturk and von Schuschnigg of Austria. Neville Chamberlain, who had dealt with both, also drew a parallel between de Valera and Hitler. D. McMahon, Republicans and Imperialists: Anglo-Irish Relations in the 1930s (New Haven, 1984), p. 243.

56. Grattan O'Leary, Recollections of People, Press, and Politics (Toronto, 1977), p. 94.

57. van der Poel, ed., Selections from the Smuts Papers: V, p.520.

58. The prominence of Ireland in the world picture of the British elite can be over-estimated: Gladstone grew up in Liverpool and enjoyed the use of a country estate in North Wales, but managed only one visit despite devoting part of his career to the Irish Question. Gladstone visited great houses: their destruction destroyed a network of hospitality. On a visit to Dublin in 1948, Harold Nicolson lunched at the Kildare Street Club, "a strange Victorian relic" full of "broken-down peers". Nor was cross-channel travel much easier than in Victorian times. On a previous visit, Nicolson had flown to Ireland, noting that the aircraft "smelled of sick". The Dublin universities, which invited Keynes and in 1933 and figured in both of Nicolson's visits, were hardly able to finance extensive intellectual exchanges. Commonwealth links before 1932 were still tentative. The British Dominions Secretary, L.S. Amery, wrote generously of the impact that O'Higgins made in London, but privately seems to have been more concerned by the degree to which the organisation might influence him. McGilligan seems to have been respected in British government circles, and was the target of a charm offensive by the Prince of Wales at the Imperial Conference of 1930, but it is doubtful if he established close friendships. Nicolson seems to have been embarrassed by McGilligan's pro-British sentiments at UCD debate in 1942. John Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903), II, p. 571; Nigel Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1945-1962 (London, 1971 ed.), p. 143; Nigel Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945 (London, 1970 ed.), pp. 214-16; T. de Vere White, Kevin O'Higgins (Dublin, 1986 ed.), p. 247; Barnes and Nicholson, eds, The Leo Amery Diaries, I, 1896-1929, pp. 483, 485, 512-13; D.W. Harkness, The Restless Dominion: The Irish Free State and the British Commonwealth of Nations, 1921-1931 (London, 1931), pp. 225-8; David Harkness, "Patrick McGilligan: Man of Commonwealth", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, VIII (1979), pp. 117-35.

59. R. Skidelsky, John Maynard Keynes, II: The Economist as Saviour 1920-1937 (London, 1992), pp. 479-80. For the policy of encouraging wheat, Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. 185.

60. MacDonald, Titans & Others, p. 67. For Ireland and the Abdication, W.K. Hancock, Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs, I: Problems of Nationality 1918-1936, pp. 387-90, 625-30; McMahon, Republicans and Imperialists: Anglo-Irish Relations in the 1930s, pp. 198-209.

61. S.W. Roskill, Hankey: Man of Secrets, III: 1931-1963 (London, 1974), p. 254.

62. Joe Garner, The Commonwealth Office 1925-1968 (London 1978), p. 70. On one occasion, Batterbee telephoned his opposite number, Joe Walshe of External Affairs, over an open line to discuss "the cook giving notice and engaging someone to take his place".

63. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), p. 304.

64. Garner, Commonwealth Office, p. 118.

65. MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 55-5865.

66. Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. p. 213. For British-Irish negotiations generally, Paul Canning, British Policy Towards Ireland 1921-1941 (Oxford, 1985), pp. 121-238.

67. MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 64-5, 73-4.

68. Quoted, Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain (London, 1946), p. 310.

69. Retrospect: The Memoirs of Viscount Simon (London, 1952), p. 230. There is an irresistible similarity between this staged incident and the restoration, in Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest, of Miss Prism's long-lost handbag. ("The bag is undoubtedly mine. I am delighted to have it so unexpectedly restored to me. It has been a great inconvenience being without it all these years.") Malcolm MacDonald was keen to cement relations with the austere de Valera with a gift. After joking about the parsimony of the Scots, de Valera finally mentioned a mathematics text that he had seen in a London bookshop. On purchasing it, MacDonald found that de Valera had tactfully chosen a volume costing just five shillings. In a more curious gesture of co-operation, de Valera contributed a memorandum to a British government discussion of penal reform, based on his experience of British prisons. MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 77-79.

70. Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. 212.

71. Old Men Forget: The Autobiography of Duff Cooper (London, 1953), p. 229. De Valera's warm message of support to Chamberlain ("one person at least is completely satisfied that you are doing the right thing") is in Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 364. But a week earlier, de Valera had equated Hitler's claims in the Sudetenland with the Nationalist areas of Northern Ireland, angrily telling a British politician that he sometimes thought of "going over the boundary and pegging out the territory, just as Hitler was doing". Quoted, Dwyer, Eamon de Valera, p. 109.

72. Quoted, Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, V: 1922-1939 (London, 1976), p. 1049.

73. Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 311.

74. Quoted, Harkness, "Mr de Valera's Dominion", p. 227. Had he remained in office, it seems likely that Chamberlain would have attempted to trade the return of the bases for a British declaration in favour of a united Ireland in 1940. Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour: Winston S. Churchill, VI: 1939-1941 (London, 1983), p. 577; Canning, British Policy Towards Ireland, pp. 272-5.

75. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), pp. 305-6, 303.

76. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), p. 306, 309, 310.

77. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), pp. 303, 305. Gunther's belief that Irish people "are not particularly prone to give nicknames" (p. 302) casts some doubt on his powers of observation.

78. R.G. Menzies, Afternoon Light (London, 1967), p. 40.

79. MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 58-59.

80. Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), p. 309.

81. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 217. J.P. Walshe alarmed British ministers by discussing the forthcoming Abdication with de Valera in Irish over an open telephone line while visiting the Dominions Office. Walshe reassuring explained that nobody in the Dublin telephone exchange understood Irish. McMahon, Republicans and Imperialists, p. 199.

82. Michael Foot, Aneurin Bevan, II (London, 1975 ed.), p. 587. Bevan promptly claimed that it had been "written by a Welshman", a romantic interpretation of the origins of Thomas Jefferson, and not a sentiment to appeal to an Irish leader who had dealt with Lloyd George. See also Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 217.

83. Gilbert, Finest Hour, p. 67. See also Canning, British Policy Towards Ireland, pp. 241-309.

84. Menzies, Afternoon Light, p. 41. For the British use of an arms embargo as a means of putting pressure on Ireland, see Canning, British Policy Towards Ireland, pp. 289-91, 305-6.

85. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 140.

86. O'Leary, Recollections, p. 94.

87. Menzies, Afternoon Light, p. 37.

88. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 298.

89. O'Leary, Recollections, pp. 93-94. De Valera's reply was that it was "a British Army recruiting speech". According to the Dictionary of National Biography 1941-1950, pp. 394-5, Cardinal Hinsley devoted "all his energies ... to the spiritual service of the Allies". In 1942, Oxford University hailed him as "a great Englishman".

90. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 214.

91. The provocative verb chosen by Churchill in his 1945 victory speech. Earl of Longford and T.P. O'Neill, Eamon de Valera (Boston, 1971 ed.), pp. 413-14 for the speech and de Valera's response.

92. Quoted, Gilbert, Finest Hour, p. 43.

93. MacDonald, Titans & Others, p. 85.

94. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 215.

95. Menzies, Afternoon Light, p. 41.

96. Menzies, Afternoon Light, pp. 36-43. David Day, Menzies & Churchill At War (North Ryde, NSW, 1986) argues that Menzies hoped to emulate the role of Smuts in the First World War and even to oust Churchill from the premiership. The Dublin visit is seen as part of that strategy, pp. 111-13. The episode is played down by Cameron Hazlehurst in Menzies Observed (Sydney, 1979), p. 215.

97. Menzies, Afternoon Light, pp. 38-40.

98. MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 82-85, Canning, British Policy Towards Ireland, pp. 274-87. Lee suggests that de Valera was more concerned to maintain the unity of Fianna Fail than to secure the unity of Ireland, but Dermot Keogh sees a "a missed opportunity". Lee, Ireland 1912-1985, p. 249; Dermot Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland: Nation and State (Dublin, 1994), p. 114. De Valera demanded immediate reunification, but could not promise a declaration of war. MacDonald was convinced that he expected a German victory. In any case, a "profoundly shocked and disgusted" Craigavon interposed a veto. J. Bardon, A History of Ulster (Belfast, 1992), p. 559.

99. Garner, Commonwealth Office, pp. 246-7.

100. Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, pp. 217-18. Gunther was less impressed by de Valera's Irish accent: "He speaks with a perceptible brogue; words like 'that' and 'this' come out with the 'th's' thickened." Gunther, Inside Europe (rev. ed., 1938), p. 309.

101. K.O. Morgan, Labour in Power 1945-1951 (Oxford, 1984), pp. 199-200. Herbert Morrison met de Valera in 1946 after a holiday in west Cork, but of all Attlee's ministers, he was perhaps the most identified with Ulster. B. Donoughue and G.W. Jones, Herbert Morrison: Portrait of a Politician (London,1973), pp. 308, 385-6.

102. Nicolson's comment, Nicolson, ed., Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters 1939-1945, p. 464.

103. Longford and O'Neill, Eamon de Valera, pp. 435-6.

104. Longford and O'Neill, Eamon de Valera, 442-3.

105. Lord Moran, Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965 (London, 1967 ed.), p. 473.

106. See note 42.

107. Cf. Murphy, Ireland in the Twentieth Century, p. p. 140.

108. e.g. Dwyer, De Valera, p. 148 and see J. Bowman, De Valera and the Ulster Question (Oxford, 1982)

109. Menzies, Afternoon Light, p. 38; P. Buckland, The Factory of Grievances: Devolved Government in Northern Ireland 1921-39 (Dublin, 1979).

110. Thus a note addressed to the British government, for domestic political reasons in 1951, complaining about the conditions faced by Irish migrant workers in the Birmingham area, went unanswered. An attempt by de Valera to draw Churchill into further correspondence about the return of Casement's remains also met with silence. Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow, pp. 662-3; Longford and O'Neill, De Valera, p. 443.

111. O'Leary, Recollections, p. 134.

112. Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow, p. 520, and see MacDonald, Titans & Others, pp. 76-7.

113. MacDonald, Titans & Others, p. 86.

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