Republic to Republic: Ireland’s international sovereignty, 1919-1949

An exhibition of documents from the collections of UCD Archives

In December 1918 the republican separatists of Sinn Féin secured a resounding success in the United Kingdom general election that followed the end of the First World War. The party won 73 of Ireland’s seats at Westminster and established themselves as the dominant voice of nationalist Ireland. Rather than take their seats in the House of Commons, those Sinn Féin representatives who were at liberty assembled in Dublin’s Mansion House on 21 January 1919 as the first Dáil Éireann. They declared Ireland independent, and affirmed the existence of an Irish republic. Following the Irish War of Independence (1919-21), 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties became autonomous within the British Empire, in the form of the Irish Free State (Ireland had been partitioned in 1920, and so the six counties of Northern Ireland remained within the UK).

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the governments of the new Irish state sought to consolidate its position and build upon the measure of sovereignty obtained in 1922, culminating in the formal declaration of a republic on 18 April 1949. This exhibition focuses primarily on the British-Irish relationship to explore how this came about. Co-curated by the Royal Irish Academy’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) series and UCD Archives, it uses archival material retained in UCD to chart the development of Ireland’s constitutional relations from 1919 to 1949; from republic to republic.

Typescript copy of the ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’, issued by the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. (1919) by First Dáil of the Republic of IrelandUniversity College Dublin Archives

Typescript copy of the ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’, issued by the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. ‘Ireland to-day reasserts her historic nationhood the more confidently before the new world emerging from the War, because she believes in freedom and justice as the fundamental principles of international law, because she believes in a frank co-operation between the peoples for equal rights against the vested privileges of ancient tyrannies, ...

Typescript copy of the ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World’, issued by the first Dáil on 21 January 1919. (1919) by First Dáil of the Republic of IrelandUniversity College Dublin Archives

... because the permanent peace of Europe can never be secured by perpetuating military dominion for the profit of empire but only by establishing the control of government in every land upon the basis of the free will of a free people, and the existing state of war, between Ireland and England, can never be ended until Ireland is definitely evacuated by the armed forces of England’. (P150/1317. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A letter on headed notepaper from the Irish republican delegation in Paris, future Irish president Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh and the English-born solicitor George Gavan Duffy, to Hugh C. Wallace, the American ambassador to France. (1919) by Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh and George Gavan DuffyUniversity College Dublin Archives

Letter from the Irish republican delegation in Paris, future Irish president Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh and the English-born solicitor George Gavan Duffy, to Hugh C. Wallace, the American ambassador to France, 30 September 1919. A key objective of the first Dáil was to lobby the postwar peace conference assembled in Paris to both recognise Irish independence and secure Ireland’s admission to the League of Nations that was expected to be established. To that end, Ó Ceallaigh and Gavan Duffy led what was effectively Ireland’s first ever diplomatic mission, based in the French capital. The letter is a cover note to accompany more detailed documents outlining the Irish case for independence that Wallace was asked to forward to his government. The victorious allies, such as Britain and the United States, ultimately had little interest in the Irish cause, and such lobbying was, in the end, fruitless. (P150/1317. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A huge crowd attends a rally addressed by Éamon de Valera in Boston’s Fenway Park (the home ground of the Red Sox baseball team), 29 June 1919. Born in New York, de Valera was a former teacher who had served as a commandant in the Easter Rising of 1916, and whose seniority led to his becoming the leader and public face of the Irish independence movement. In 1919–20, as president of the Dáil, he embarked on an eighteenth-month fundraising and publicity tour of the United States, seeking support from the very substantial and vocal Irish American community for Irish independence in the hope that this might bring pressure to bear upon the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. (P150/753. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Éamon de Valera is greeted disembarking off a ferry at Newport, Rhode Island, 13 September 1919. He was subsequently granted the freedom of the city before addressing a rally at Newport’s Freebody Park. While the major urban centres of the US were a natural focus, de Valera and his colleagues visited a remarkably wide range of locations across the continent during his tour. (P150/834. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Michael MacWhite in the uniform of the French Foreign Legion. (1918) by Harris and Ewing, WashingtonUniversity College Dublin Archives

Michael MacWhite in the uniform of the French Foreign Legion, c.1918. Born in Cork, MacWhite was a journalist before enlisting in the Foreign Legion during the First World War. He was decorated for gallantry on three occasions. He subsequently joined the Sinn Féin delegation in Paris, and was responsible for distributing its propaganda. He retained his dress uniform, which apparently came in useful when seeking to create a good impression in Paris. MacWhite later served as Ireland’s representative to the League of Nations, and as minister (the diplomatic rank immediately below ambassador) to the US and Italy. (P194/736. Papers of Michael MacWhite.)

Sketch of a bronze palm left by MacWhite at the memorial to the French revolutionary general Lazare Hoche in Versailles in June 1920, during a ceremony to commemorate his birth in 1768. In 1796 Hoche had led the abortive French expedition to Bantry Bay in support of the United Irishmen. MacWhite surreptitiously joined the military parade that formed part of the ceremony in his uniform and left the palm amidst a number of floral wreaths; a form of propaganda by deed that garnered a good deal of contemporary publicity. Upon inquiring after its whereabouts in 1957, MacWhite was informed that the palm was still held in the Musée Lambinet in Versailles; he was provided with this sketch of the artefact. (P194/680. Papers of Michael MacWhite.)

A note signed by Michael Collins, the Dáil’s Minister for Finance who also held senior rank in the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA), on the possibility of sending funds to the Sinn Féin mission in Rome, 13 May 1921. (1921) by Michael CollinsUniversity College Dublin Archives

Note signed by Michael Collins, the Dáil’s Minister for Finance who also held senior rank in the paramilitary Irish Republican Army (IRA), on the possibility of sending funds to the Sinn Féin mission in Rome, 13 May 1921. While the approach to the Paris peace conference ultimately failed, Sinn Féin made use of a wide international network of representatives dedicated to distributing propaganda that detailed the Irish claim to independence and British repression in Ireland. This was intended to garner international sympathy and to maintain pressure on the British to concede Irish independence. (P150/1377. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

The signed copy of the credentials issued by de Valera to the delegates, or plenipotentiaries, appointed to negotiate what became the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 7 October 1921. (1921) by Éamon de ValeraUniversity College Dublin Archives

A signed copy of the credentials issued by de Valera to the delegates, or plenipotentiaries, appointed to negotiate what became the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 7 October 1921. ‘It is understood however that before decisions are finally reached on the main questions that a despatch notifying the intention of making these decisions will be sent to the Members of the Cabinet in Dublin and that a reply will be awaited by the Plenipotentiaries before the final decision is made’. The delegation was led by Arthur Griffith, who had originally founded Sinn Féin in 1907, and Michael Collins. (P150/1495. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Two of the plenipotentiaries leaving 10 Downing St during the Treaty negotiations., Daily Mirror, 1921, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Two of the plenipotentiaries leaving 10 Downing St during the Treaty negotiations. L-R: Eamonn Duggan and George Gavan Duffy. (P80/PH/171. Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald.)

A copy of a memorandum from Arthur Griffith to de Valera, written from the headquarters of the Irish delegation in Hans Place, London and describing a meeting between Griffith, Collins and Tom Jones, the cabinet secretary to the British coalition government led by David Lloyd George, 8 November 1921. (1921) by Arthur GriffithUniversity College Dublin Archives

Copy of a memorandum from Arthur Griffith to de Valera, written from the headquarters of the Irish delegation in Hans Place, London and describing a meeting between Griffith, Collins and Tom Jones, the cabinet secretary to the British coalition government led by David Lloyd George, 8 November 1921. ‘He said that Lloyd George is going to put up to the Ulster government on Thursday its proposal that they should accept the six-county area under an Irish Parliament. If they refuse he will go down to the House of Commons and announce his resignation’. (P150/1500. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A memorandum noting ‘informal conversations’ between Collins, Griffith and Jones in November 1921., Unknown, 1921, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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A memorandum noting ‘informal conversations’ between Collins, Griffith and Jones in November 1921. The eventual Treaty itself was signed on 6 December 1921. (P150/1513. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A copy of a note from the Free State’s Minister for External Affairs (foreign affairs), Desmond FitzGerald, deals with an unnamed anti-Treaty propagandist overseas during the Irish Civil War, 17 January 1923. (1923) by Desmond FitzGeraldUniversity College Dublin Archives

A copy of a note from the Free State’s Minister for External Affairs (foreign affairs), Desmond FitzGerald, deals with an unnamed anti-Treaty propagandist overseas during the Irish Civil War, 17 January 1923. ‘It was decided to send a messenger across to our representative in Geneva, to see if steps can be taken have the woman representative of the Irregulars watched and arrested on her return to England or Ireland’. The ratification of the Anglo-Irish Treaty split the independence movement, as the British insistence on Ireland remaining within their empire ensured that the new Irish Free State was a ‘Dominion’ rather than a fully independent republic. The visceral disagreement over the constitutional status of the new state led directly to the outbreak of civil war between pro- and anti-Treaty factions in June 1922. The first government of the Free State was led from August 1923 by W.T. Cosgrave. ‘Irregular’ was a term used by the Free State for its republican opponents. (P80/384. Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald).

Handwritten notes by Joseph Walshe, composed circa 1923, detailing the projected functions and aims of the Free State’s new Department of External Affairs, which had emerged from the remnants of the Dáil’s earlier foreign service. As well as noting that the issuing of passports and visas could be a useful revenue stream for the new state, it identified a key priority: ‘to establish and maintain with the chief countries of Europe and America such friendly relations as will lead to the universal practical recognition of Ireland as a distinct sovereign state of the Commonwealth’. ...

Handwritten notes by Joseph Walshe, composed circa 1923, detailing the projected functions and aims of the Free State’s new Department of External Affairs, which had emerged from the remnants of the Dáil’s earlier foreign service. (1923) by Joseph WalsheUniversity College Dublin Archives

Walshe served as secretary of the Department of External Affairs from 1922 to 1946 and can be credited with establishing the Irish diplomatic service on a permanent basis. (P80/396. Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald.)

A memorandum from Hugh Kennedy, the Irish Free State’s Attorney General, on the legal processes required to join the newly founded League of Nations, 4 June 1923. (1923) by Hugh KennedyUniversity College Dublin Archives

A memorandum from Hugh Kennedy, the Irish Free State’s Attorney General, on the legal processes required to join the newly founded League of Nations, 4 June 1923. Membership of the League was seen as an important step for the nascent Irish state, in terms of both engaging with the wider world and asserting a degree of autonomy from the UK irrespective of Ireland’s status as a Dominion. (P80/520. Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald.)

The Irish Free State joined the League of Nations on 10 September 1923. (1923) by F.H. Jullien, GenevaUniversity College Dublin Archives

The Irish Free State joined the League of Nations on 10 September 1923. Pictured here attending the 1923 League Assembly are, seated (L-R) Hugh Kennedy (Attorney General), William T. Cosgrave (President of the Executive Council) and Eoin MacNeill (Minister for Education); standing (L–R) the Marquis MacSwiney of Mashanaglas (Irish representative accredited to the League of Nations) and Michael MacWhite (Irish Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations). (P285/373. Papers of W.T. Cosgrave.)

A note relating to the 1923 Imperial Conference, held in London from October to November 1923. (1923) by Irish delgation, Imperial ConferenceUniversity College Dublin Archives

A note relating to the 1923 Imperial Conference, held in London from October to November 1923. These were convened on a regular basis to discuss matters of mutual interest between Britain and its Dominions, including the Irish Free State: ‘The Imperial Conference is a consultative body, and has no legislative or executive status’. (P24/217. Papers of Ernest Blythe.)

Another note, in Hugh Kennedy’s handwriting, on issues expected to arise at the 1923 Imperial Conference, including the proposed Boundary Commission to be established under the terms of the 1921 Treaty to adjudicate on the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. (1923) by Hugh KennedyUniversity College Dublin Archives

Another note, in Hugh Kennedy’s handwriting, on issues expected to arise at the 1923 Imperial Conference including the proposed Boundary Commission to be established under the terms of the 1921 Treaty to adjudicate on the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. ...

Another note, in Hugh Kennedy’s handwriting, on issues expected to arise at the 1923 Imperial Conference, including the proposed Boundary Commission to be established under the terms of the 1921 Treaty to adjudicate on the border between the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland. (1923) by Hugh KennedyUniversity College Dublin Archives

...‘My information is too hazy as yet to say very definitely what the proposals are likely to be but it is almost certain that they will be put forward with a view to prejudicing us in connection with the Boundary Commission’. While the commission was eventually convened, its report was suppressed after its recommendations were leaked and the border remained unchanged. (P4/909. Papers of Hugh Kennedy.)

A photograph in an unidentified location of (L-R) Diarmuid O’Hegarty (Secretary to the government, which was formally known as the ‘Executive Council’); Kevin O’Higgins (Vice President and Minister for Justice); Desmond FitzGerald (Minister for External Affairs), Joseph Walshe (Secretary, Department of External Affairs); and Michael MacWhite, (Irish Permanent Delegate to the League of Nations). Of those pictured, O’Hegarty had served as clerk of the Dáil during the independence struggle, while O’Higgins briefly served as Minister for External Affairs prior to his assassination by the IRA in 1927. (P197/188. Papers of Kevin O’Higgins.)

Members of the Irish delegation to the League of Nations on the balcony of Ireland’s permanent representation to the League on Geneva’s Quai Wilson., Unknown, 1924, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Members of the Irish delegation to the League of Nations on the balcony of Ireland’s permanent representation to the League on Geneva’s Quai Wilson. Joseph Walshe can be seen on the left, with Michael MacWhite on the right. (P194/781. Papers of Michael MacWhite.)

The great seal of the Irish Free State or, as it was known in Irish, ‘Saorstát Éireann’. (1923) by Executive Council of the Irish Free State and Archibald McGooganUniversity College Dublin Archives

The great seal of the Irish Free State or, as it was known in Irish, ‘Saorstát Éireann’. This was to be used on official documents authorised by the Governor-General, the representative of the British monarch, who was officially the head of state. The design was overseen by Hugh Kennedy and the use of the Irish language and the traditional motif of the harp could be seen as at attempt to bolster the distinctively Irish identity of a state that, however reluctantly, remained within the British sphere of influence at this time. (P4/1314. Papers of Hugh Kennedy.)

Kevin O’Higgins (R) and South African Prime Minister J.B.M Hertzog walking together on a London Street while attending the 1926 Imperial Conference. (1926) by Sports and General Press Agency Ltd, LondonUniversity College Dublin Archives

Kevin O’Higgins (R) and South African Prime Minister J.B.M. Hertzog walking together on a London Street while attending the 1926 Imperial Conference. The Irish Free State maintained an active role at Imperial Conferences, and in 1926 Irish delegates (led by W.T. Cosgrave) were central in negotiating the Balfour Declaration that led to the 1931 Statute of Westminster, which in turn confirmed the domestic sovereignty of the Dominions over that of Westminster. (P197/198. Papers of Kevin O’Higgins.)

The cenotaph in London’s Whitehall on Armistice Day, 11 November 1926; Kevin O’Higgins is present, second from the right in the back row. (1926) by Sports and General Press Agency Ltd, LondonUniversity College Dublin Archives

The cenotaph in London’s Whitehall on Armistice Day, 11 November 1926; Kevin O’Higgins is present, second from the right in the back row to the right of the cenotaph. Commemorating the dead of the First World War was contentious in independent Ireland, which had only recently emerged from a political and military conflict with the British. Irish soldiers in the ‘Great War’ had generally served in the British or Dominion armed forces. This ensured that the subsequent commemoration of the war was politically sensitive, though Irish representatives sometimes attended First World War commemorations such as this overseas. O’Higgins’ himself had lost a brother in the war. Participation in events, and political structures, that were ultimately derived from Ireland’s status as a Dominion left Cosgrave’s government vulnerable to attack by republican opponents of the 1921 Treaty. (P197/186. Papers of Kevin O’Higgins.)

A note from Seán Lester of the Department of External Affairs, signed in Irish, enclosing a copy of a memorandum from Professor T.A. Smiddy, Minister at Washington on the visit made by W.T. Cosgrave to the United States in January 1928. (1928) by Seán LesterUniversity College Dublin Archives

A note from Seán Lester of the Department of External Affairs, signed in Irish. Lester encloses a copy of a memorandum from Professor T.A. Smiddy, Minister at Washington, on the visit made by W.T. Cosgrave to the US in January 1928 (next panel). He also visited Canada; these were the first official overseas visits made by the leader of independent Ireland.  ...

A note from Seán Lester of the Department of External Affairs, signed in Irish, enclosing a copy of a memorandum from Professor T.A. Smiddy, Minister at Washington on the visit made by W.T. Cosgrave to the United States in January 1928. (1928) by Seán LesterUniversity College Dublin Archives

Cosgrave arrived in New York, and also travelled to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC, where he visited President Calvin Coolidge and addressed the Senate. One purpose of the visit was to counter growing support in the US for Éamon de Valera’s recently founded Fianna Fáil party, which had emerged from the defeated anti-Treaty republicans who had fought in the Civil War. This new party provided a political home to opponents of Cosgrave’s Cumann na nGaedheal. (P80/471. Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald.)

A December 1928 memorandum outlining reforms in the Department of External Affairs, and the expansion of its overseas representation. (1928) by Department of External AffairsUniversity College Dublin Archives

A December 1928 memorandum outlining reforms in the Department of External Affairs, and the expansion of its overseas representation. The existence of External Affairs as a distinct department of the state in its own right was only confirmed in 1927, when Joseph Walsh was formally appointed ‘secretary’; his role up to that had officially been ‘acting secretary’. (P24/562. Papers of Ernest Blythe.)

A press conference in the White House, Washington DC, celebrating the implementation of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact (officially ‘The international treaty for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy’) which had been signed in Paris in 1928. (1928) by Henry Miller, News Picture Service, WashingtonUniversity College Dublin Archives

A press conference in the White House, Washington DC, celebrating the implementation of the Kellogg-Briand Peace Pact (officially ‘The international treaty for the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy’) which had been signed in Paris in 1928. Originally sponsored by French foreign minister Aristide Briand and US Secretary of State Frank Kellogg, this was the first international treaty signed by the Irish Free State in its own right. Left to right seated: Katsuji Debuchi (Japanese ambassador to US); Sir Esmé Howard (British ambassador to US); Prince Albert Deligne (Belgian ambassador to the US); Calvin Coolidge (former US president); US Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson; president Herbert Hoover (standing), Senator William Borah (chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee); Frank B. Kellogg (former Secretary of State and co-author of the pact); Paul Claudel (French ambassador to the US); Nobile Giacomo de Martino, Italian ambassador to the US); Michael MacWhite (Irish Free State minister to the US); and Rudolf leitner, chargé d’affaires of the German embassy.(P194/788. Papers of Michael MacWhite.)

An undated Cumann na nGaedheal election poster that seemed to question the ‘republican’ credentials of Éamon de Valera. (1930) by Cumann na nGaedhealUniversity College Dublin Archives

An undated Cumann na nGaedheal election poster that seems to question the ‘republican’ credentials of Éamon de Valera. In 1922, in the debates over the Treaty, de Valera put forward a controversial alternative proposal (which became popularly known as 'Document No. 2') that would have permitted an Irish republic to maintain what he described as ‘external association’ with the British Empire. It was withdrawn at the time but was occasionally referenced by his political opponents as proof of his alleged insincerity on the ‘national question’. As it happened, his proposals of 1922 foreshadowed crucial aspects of the foreign policy he adopted when in government in the 1930s and 1940s. (P7a/172. Papers of Richard Mulcahy.)

An unsigned copy of a letter from Seán MacEntee to Éamon de Valera, dated 18 March 1932 and written just after the latter’s Fianna Fáil had come to power in February 1932, with de Valera replacing Cosgrave as President of the Executive Council., Seán MacEntee, 1932, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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An unsigned copy of a letter from Seán MacEntee to Éamon de Valera, dated 18 March 1932 and written just after Fianna Fáil came to power in February 1932, with de Valera replacing Cosgrave as President of the Executive Council.

An unsigned copy of a letter from Seán MacEntee to Éamon de Valera, dated 18 March 1932 and written just after the latter’s Fianna Fáil had come to power in February 1932, with de Valera replacing Cosgrave as President of the Executive Council., Seán MacEntee, 1932, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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MacEntee served as Minister for Finance in the first Fianna Fáil government.

An unsigned copy of a letter from Seán MacEntee to Éamon de Valera, dated 18 March 1932 and written just after the latter’s Fianna Fáil had come to power in February 1932, with de Valera replacing Cosgrave as President of the Executive Council., Seán MacEntee, 1932, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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‘I venture to submit that the time is now opportune to pursue a more vigorous diplomatic policy in the Department of External Affairs. ...

An unsigned copy of a letter from Seán MacEntee to Éamon de Valera, dated 18 March 1932 and written just after the latter’s Fianna Fáil had come to power in February 1932, with de Valera replacing Cosgrave as President of the Executive Council., Seán MacEntee, 1932, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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... It seems to me that we should endeavour so far as we can to isolate Great Britain, not merely amongst the States not members of the Commonwealth Group, but even the latter itself’ (P67/94. Papers of Seán MacEntee.)

A copy of the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Bill, 1932, introduced by de Valera on 20 April 1932 and passed on 19 May 1932. (1932) by Irish Free StateUniversity College Dublin Archives

A copy of the Constitution (Removal of Oath) Bill, 1932, introduced by de Valera on 20 April 1932 and passed on 19 May 1932. The oath of allegiance or fidelity to the British crown that was to be taken by all members of the Free State’s Dáil, as specified in the 1921 Treaty, had long been opposed by republicans; its removal was an imperative for de Valera’s government. (P150/2219. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

The Governor-General officially represented the British monarch in the Irish Free State; de Valera’s government made a point of snubbing him as they sought to expand the boundaries of Irish sovereignty beyond the limits specified in the 1921 Treaty. (1932) by James McNeillUniversity College Dublin Archives

The Governor-General officially represented the British monarch in the Irish Free State; de Valera’s government made a point of snubbing him as they sought to expand the boundaries of Irish sovereignty beyond the limits specified in the 1921 Treaty. This letter from Governor-General James McNeill, dated 23 April 1932, to Joseph Walshe, requests that he visit him at the Vice-Regal Lodge (now Arás an Uachtaráin): ‘I am rather bothered about my official and personal self-respect, and you are the only person to whom I can explain my views’. (P150/2220. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

‘In view of British penal tariffs Delegation should not attend opening or any meeting of Conference pending further communication’. (1932) by Éamon de ValeraUniversity College Dublin Archives

Note composed in preparation for the Imperial Conference in Ottawa held in August 1932 referencing the burgeoning ‘economic war’ between Britain and Ireland that dominated the mid-1930s. ‘In view of British penal tariffs Delegation should not attend opening or any meeting of Conference pending further communication’. The Irish delegation was led by Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh and included future Taoiseach Seán Lemass. (P150/2226. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

‘The Merry-Go-Round’: A 1933 cartoon by the Hungarian caricaturists Alois Derso and Emery Kalen about the thirteenth assembly of the League of Nations retained in de Valera’s papers (he is clearly depicted in the centre of the image). (1933) by Alois Derso and Emery KalenUniversity College Dublin Archives

‘The Merry-Go-Round’: A 1933 cartoon by the Hungarian caricaturists Alois Derso and Emery Kalen about the thirteenth assembly of the League of Nations retained in de Valera’s papers (he is clearly depicted in the centre of the image). Its provenance is unclear but the  English text of the caption overleaf reads: ‘Here we go round the merry-go-round – but not such a very merry-go-round. The merry-go-round is circling in an atmosphere of disappointment, lassitude and bitterness, and the world is in a bad way. Two members of the League, Paraguay and Bolivia, are at war. Japan has just left the League. The situation in central Europe is dangerous in the extreme, and Austria is on the verge of civil war. Even in the distant United States a crisis without precedent is raging. In such an atmosphere the idea of a humorous menu card was not much to our taste; but after all the caricaturist is only a moralist who has taken the wrong turning. This Assembly was attended by Herr [Joseph] Goebbels, Herr [Adolf] Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda. He took no part in the discussions, but invited the journalists to a lecture on National-Socialism. This was his only visit to Geneva. Shortly afterwards Germany left the League’. (P150/3803. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Éamon de Valera in attendance at the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva in the mid-1930s. (1930) by UnknownUniversity College Dublin Archives

Éamon de Valera in attendance at the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva in the mid-1930s. In 1930 Ireland had been elected to a three year term on the Council of the League; an indication of the active role the state and its diplomats had played at Geneva since the mid-1920s. Like his Cumann na nGaedheal predecessors, de Valera regarded engagement with the League of Nations as a central pillar of an independent Irish foreign policy. De Valera was a respected figure at the Assembly and remained a supporter of the League throughout the turmoil of the 1930s. (P150/2816. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A postcard of Danzig (Gdansk) collected by Seán Lester. (1935) by UnknownUniversity College Dublin Archives

A postcard of Danzig (Gdansk) collected by Seán Lester. Born in Antrim, Lester had a successful career as a journalist before becoming a diplomat. In 1929 he became Ireland’s permanent representative to the League of Nations, and in 1933 was the first Irish diplomat to directly serve an international institution when he was seconded to the League’s Secretariat as high commissioner to Danzig. The contested ‘Free City’ was ruled under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations from 1920 to 1939, and Lester saw at first-hand the potential implications of the ideology and actions of the Nazis as they came to power. (P203/126. Papers of Seán Lester.)

A memorandum by John J. Hearne, the legal advisor at the Department of External Affairs, noting the subjects discussed with de Valera as head of the government at meetings between the two men in April and May 1934., John J. Hearne, 1934, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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A memorandum by John J. Hearne, legal advisor at the Department of External Affairs, noting subjects discussed with de Valera as head of the government at meetings between the two men in April and May 1934. (P150/2303. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A letter dated 27 June 1935 from de Valera to British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. (1935) by Éamon de ValeraUniversity College Dublin Archives

Letter dated 27 June 1935 from de Valera to British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. The letter concerns the British Government’s proposal ‘to introduce legislation providing, in certain events, for a Regency and for the performance of Royal Functions in the name and on behalf of the Sovereign…I think I should inform you at once we should be unable to agree to the enactment by the British Parliament of a law which might be thought to provide for the performance of any royal functions in respect of the internal or external affairs of Saorstát Éireann. As you are aware, the sole and exclusive right to enact any law in respect of Saorstát Éireann is vested in the Oireachtas’. (P150/2317. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A memorandum dated 8 June 1936 ‘Sent to Ed. VIII, 8th June’, giving notice of the introduction of ‘a Bill for the purpose of setting up a new Constitution’ to replace the original Irish Free State constitution of 1922., Éamon de Valera, 1936, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Memorandum ‘Sent to Ed. VIII, 8th June’ [1936], giving notice of the introduction of ‘a Bill for the purpose of setting up a new Constitution’ to replace the original Irish Free State constitution of 1922. (P150/2372. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

‘This is just a note to say how glad I am to hear that your eye operation is safely over’: A personal note from Dominions Secretary Malcolm MacDonald to de Valera, dated 17 October 1936. (1936) by Malcolm MacDonaldUniversity College Dublin Archives

Personal note from Dominions Secretary Malcolm MacDonald to de Valera, dated 17 October 1936. ‘This is just a note to say how glad I am to hear that your eye operation is safely over’. MacDonald and de Valera had struck up an increasingly friendly working relationship throughout the 1930s. By 1936 British-Irish relations were increasingly dominated by attempts to negotiate a resolution to the trade conflict known as the ‘Economic War’.  (P150/2329. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

The cover of the External Relations (Executive Authority) Act of 1936, which had been passed by the Dáil in December of that year in the aftermath of the constitutional crisis that arose from the abdication of King Edward VIII (due to his relationship with the American divorceé Wallis Simpson). (1936) by Irish Free StateUniversity College Dublin Archives

The cover of the External Relations (Executive Authority) Act, 1936, passed by the Dáil in December of that year in the aftermath of the constitutional crisis that arose from the abdication of King Edward VIII (due to his relationship with the American divorceé Wallis Simpson). De Valera took the opportunity, via the act, to abolish the functions of the crown in relation to the internal affairs of the Irish Free State. It did, however, permit a continued association with the Commonwealth by allowing the incumbent monarch to exercise a role in Ireland’s external relations, on the advice of the Irish government. While ambiguous, this set a precedent that became increasingly relevant as decolonisation began to accelerate across the British Empire after the Second World War. (P150/2345/3. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A draft of article three of what became Bunreacht na hÉireann, dated March 1937 and drawn up by parliamentary draftsman Arthur V. Matheson with annotations, presumably by de Valera himself. (1937) by Arthur V. Matheson and Éamon de ValeraUniversity College Dublin Archives

Draft of article three of what became Bunreacht na hÉireann, dated March 1937, drawn up by parliamentary draftsman Arthur V. Matheson with annotations by de Valera himself. The new constitution was passed following a referendum in 1937 and remains in force, with amendments, today. Article three was removed in 1998 as part of the ratification of the Good Friday Agreement. (P150/2397. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A cover note dated 23 April 1938 for a memorandum by John J. Hearne, the legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs who was primarily responsible for drafting the new constitution. (1938) by John J. HearneUniversity College Dublin Archives

Cover note dated 23 April 1938 for a memorandum by John J. Hearne, the legal advisor to the Department of External Affairs who was primarily responsible for drafting the new constitution. The memo itself outlined some of the implications of the new constitution for the 1936 Act: ‘So clearly and completely is the National Constitution a Republican Constitution that, if no provision had been made in it validating the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936, in relation to the National Constitution, that statute would have lapsed, and legislation, even in the tenuous terms of that statute, would have been impossible. I hold that, so long as any prospect remains, of securing national unity on the basis of the Executive Authority (External Relations) Act, 1936, it would have been wrong to invalidate it altogether and thus deprive any Government which might be in office of that method of approach to the solution of the problem of national unity. The Constitution was designed to promote national unity not to prevent it’. To some degree, the retention of a link to the Commonwealth was seen as providing a possible basis for Irish unity in the future. (P150/2345. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Éamon de Valera and a number of Irish diplomats near Geneva while taking time off from attending a meeting of the League of Nations in 1938. (1938) by UnknownUniversity College Dublin Archives

Éamon de Valera and a number of Irish diplomats near Geneva while taking time off from attending a meeting of the League of Nations in 1938. Those pictured include (far left) John J. Hearne, Michael Rynne, the head of the department’s League of Nation’s section (second from right) and Frederick Boland (far right). Hearne was appointed High Commissioner to Canada in 1939, and later served as Ambassador to the US. Rynne succeeded Hearne as legal advisor in 1939 and was instrumental in devising the policy of neutrality adopted by de Valera during the Second World War, ending his career as Ambassador to Spain. Boland enjoyed a lengthy career, serving as Ambassador to Great Britain and Ireland's Permanent Representative to the United Nations; he also served a term as president of the UN’s General Assembly. (P150/2812. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

‘Papers brought by an Taoiseach to London, February 19th, 1938’., Taoiseach's office, 1938, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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‘Papers brought by an Taoiseach to London, February 19th, 1938’. Under the new Irish constitution, the term for the head of the Irish government changed from ‘President of the Executive Council’ to ‘Taoiseach’. (P150/2498. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

A statement prepared by de Valera and ‘shown to M[alcolm] McD[onald] as the type of statement that would be useful’ on the contested subject of relations between the governments in Belfast and Dublin. (1938) by Éamon de ValeraUniversity College Dublin Archives

Statement prepared by de Valera and ‘shown to M[alcolm] McD[onald] as the type of statement that would be useful’ on the contested subject of relations between the governments in Belfast and Dublin, 12 March 1938. ‘The Gov[ernment] of the U.K. declare that it is no part of the policy or intention of the Gov. of the U.K. to oppose any arrangement which may be freely and voluntarily entered into between the Gov. of Éire [Ireland] and the Gov. of N[orthern] I[reland]’. (P150/2501. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Under the terms of the 1921 Treaty the British retained three naval bases in the Irish Free State, all of which were returned to Irish control as part of the settlements that ended the trade war of the 1930s. Éamon de Valera is pictured here arriving at Spike Island, Cork, by boat on 11 July 1938, for the handover of one of the three ‘Treaty Ports’. Also visible are Minister for Defence (and future Minister for External Affairs) Frank Aiken; and, in uniform,  de Valera’s son Vivion. The return of these ports removed a British military presence from Irish territory and facilitated Ireland’s successful neutrality in the Second World War; lack of access to such naval facilities was bitterly resented by the British during the war. (P150/2536. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Frank Aiken, Minister for coordination of Defensive Measures, inspects members of the Defence Forces at the curragh camp, in the late 1930s. While Ireland’s military forces were weak, in the early years of the Second World War the de Valera government was concerned about the prospect of a German invasion as part of plans to invade Britain, or, conversely, a British incursion to repel a German invader or to seize control of military facilities. Aiken in particular was concerned about the prospect of a British attack. (P104/3817. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

Proposals by the British Government presented to de Valera by Malcolm MacDonald [Minister for Health] on 26 June 1940. (1940) by UK GovernmentUniversity College Dublin Archives

Proposals by the British Government presented to de Valera by Malcolm MacDonald (now Minister for Health) on 26 June 1940. MacDonald had come to Dublin to make clear the conviction of the British Government that a German invasion of Ireland was imminent and proposed a six-point plan which offered to accept the principle of a united Ireland and set up a joint body to work towards that end. The price of this was to be Irish support in the war. While discreet military co-operation was ongoing throughout the conflict, de Valera was unwilling to compromise Ireland’s neutrality in the conflict lest this result in devastating attacks by one of the belligerent powers. (P150/2548. Papers of Éamon de Valera.)

Frank Aiken being greeted in Philadelphia by a group including Sean Nunan, the Irish consul general in Washington (third from right), 19 April 1941. (1941) by UnknownUniversity College Dublin Archives

Frank Aiken being greeted in Philadelphia by a group including Sean Nunan, the Irish consul general in Washington (third from right), 19 April 1941. Aiken visited the United States in search of arms and supplies but the provision of vital supplies to a neutral country such as Ireland was simply not a priority. The resentment of Irish neutrality by both the British and US governments soured relations with them in the immediate aftermath of the war. (P104/3599. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

Aiken, de Valera and two unidentified Defence Forces officers inspect the coastal artillery at Lonehort Battery, on Bere Island, 1944., Unknown, 1944, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Aiken, de Valera and two Defence Forces officers inspect the coastal artillery at Lonehort Battery, Bere Island, 1944. Note the six-inch coastal defence gun, one of two at the fort, to the left. The defence of Ireland’s coastal waters was deemed vital to maintaining neutrality during the war. (P104/3822. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

Seán Lester, pictured here in 1946 with cigarette in hand in the Palais de Nations, Geneva, speaking to Swiss delegate Paul Reugger. (1946) by UnknownUniversity College Dublin Archives

Seán Lester, pictured here in 1946 with cigarette in hand in the Palais de Nations, Geneva, speaking to Swiss delegate Paul Reugger. Lester became the League’s last secretary general and ultimately oversaw its dissolution in 1947, before retiring to the west of Ireland. Ireland would not join its successor, the United Nations, until 1955. Ireland did not join NATO either, and so, bar association with the Commonwealth, remained relatively isolated internationally in the decade following the end of the war. (P203/151. Papers of Seán Lester.)

A letter from Senator Michael Hayes, dated 6 September 1946, asking John A. Costello of Fine Gael (the successor to Cumann na nGaedheal) to contribute an article on ‘Constitutional Development under the Treaty’ for a commemorative booklet to mark the 25th anniversary of the Treaty. (1946) by Michael HayesUniversity College Dublin Archives

Letter from Senator Michael Hayes, dated 6 September 1946, asking John A. Costello of Fine Gael (the successor to Cumann na nGaedheal) to contribute an article on ‘Constitutional Development under the Treaty’ for a commemorative booklet to mark the 25th anniversary of the Treaty. In 1948, Costello became Taoiseach at the head of a coalition (or ‘inter-party’) government. Amongst his partners in government was the new republican party Clann na Poblachta, led by former IRA Chief of Staff Seán MacBride, who became Minister for External Affairs. (P190/392. Papers of John A. Costello.)

A copy of a memorandum initialled by Frederick Boland (who had succeeded Joseph Walshe as secretary of the Department of External Affairs) in response to a query via Sheila Murphy (one of the very few senior female members of the department at the time) in relation to the vexing question of how to describe Ireland and its relations with the Commonwealth. (1948) by Frederick BolandUniversity College Dublin Archives

Copy of a memorandum initialled by Frederick Boland (who had succeeded Joseph Walshe as secretary of the Department of External Affairs) in response to a query via Sheila Murphy (one of the very few senior female members of the department at the time) in relation to the vexing question of how to describe Ireland and its relations with the Commonwealth. The initial query is dated two days after the first meeting of the new Dáil elected in 1948; an indication, perhaps, that this was to be a live issue for the incoming government. (P104/4437. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

John A. Costello (fourth from left in the front row) arrives in Ottawa in September 1948, on the official visit to Canada in which he stated (on 7 September) that he intended to repeal the 1936 External Relations Act. (1948) by Richard Arless Associates, MontrealUniversity College Dublin Archives

John A. Costello (fourth from left in the front row) arrives in Ottawa in September 1948, on the official visit to Canada in which he stated (on 7 September) that he intended to repeal the 1936 External Relations Act. As a result, Ireland would formally leave the Commonwealth, paving the way for the formal declaration of Ireland as a republic in April 1949. Pictured between Costello and his wife Ida (neé O’Malley) is Canadian prime minister William Mackenzie King. (P291/47/14. Papers of John Hearne.)

Unidentified public meeting during Costello’s visit to canada; he is seated second from left. There seems little basis for the story that Costello’s decision arose after he took offence at a replica of ‘Roaring Meg’—a cannon used in the 1689 siege of Derry, and therefore a symbol associated with loyalism in Northern ireland—being present on a table during an official dinner. (P291/47. Papers of John Hearne.)

A copy of a telegram from Dublin to the Irish embassy in Washington, 23 October 1948., Department of External Affairs, 1948, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Copy of a telegram from Dublin to the Irish embassy in Washington, 23 October 1948: ‘It would be useful at present juncture if we could get to know how the people inside the State Dept. feel about decision to repeal the external relations act’. (P104/4482. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

A report dated 30 October 1948 from John Dulanty to Frederick Boland, describing a conversation with King George VI in which the decision to leave the Commonwealth was discussed., John Dulanty, 1948, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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A report dated 30 October 1948 from John Dulanty to Frederick Boland, describing a conversation with King George VI in which the decision to leave the Commonwealth was discussed...

A report dated 30 October 1948 from John Dulanty to Frederick Boland, describing a conversation with King George VI in which the decision to leave the Commonwealth was discussed., John Dulanty, 1948, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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‘He thought the proposed change rather sad since it was a pity we were about to leave a circle in which the British and the Irish could help each other so much’. British official reaction to the move was, however, quite negative. (P104/4461. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

Draft of a proposed ‘Powers and functions of the President (External Relations) Act, 1948’, detailing the proposed future role for the president of Ireland in line with the 1937 constitution. (1948) by Taoiseach's officeUniversity College Dublin Archives

A draft by Michael Rynne, dated 3 February 1948, of a proposed ‘Powers and functions of the President (External Relations) Act, 1948’, detailing the proposed future role for the president of Ireland in line with the 1937 constitution. The eventual ‘Republic of Ireland Bill’ of 1948 included the simpler, more generic formulation that ‘the President, on the authority and on the advice of the Government, may exercise the executive power or any executive function of the State in or in connection with its external relations’. Rynne noted that 'I typed this out in 5 mins, At lunch time— it just shows how long it is!'. (P104/4428. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

The cover of the ‘Republic of Ireland Bill, 1948’, which repealed the 1936 External Relations Act and officially stated that ‘the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland’ (though the name of the state under the constitution was ‘Ireland’, in English). (1948) by Irish governmentUniversity College Dublin Archives

Cover of the ‘Republic of Ireland Bill, 1948’, which repealed the 1936 External Relations Act and officially stated that ‘the description of the State shall be the Republic of Ireland’ (though the name of the state under the constitution was ‘Ireland’, in English). De Valera had seemingly been reluctant to declare Ireland a republic (though such a move was apparently being considered prior to 1948). His successor Costello took the step of officially leaving the Commonwealth, in a move that was greeted with considerable surprise internationally. In response, the British government confirmed the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland

with the passing of the Ireland Act in June 1949. (P104/4541. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

A colourful note from the Irish consulate in New Orleans, acknowledging receipt of a number of official publications, including copies of the ‘Republic of Ireland Bill’, Michael J. Cousins, 1948, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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A colourful note from the Irish consulate in New Orleans, acknowledging receipt of a number of official publications, including copies of the ‘Republic of Ireland Bill’. (P104/4482. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

A note dated 29 January 1949 from John Dulanty to Frederick Boland, hinting at some of the wider implications of the decision to leave the Commonwealth. (1949) by John DulantyUniversity College Dublin Archives

A note dated 29 January 1949 from John Dulanty to Frederick Boland, hinting at some of the wider implications of the decision to leave the Commonwealth. While for the Irish government the repeal of the 1936 Act was essentially a formality (Costello himself had been a critic of it), for the British and the wider Commonwealth it was of great significance in the context of decolonisation and the beginning of emigration from the Commonwealth to Britain in the postwar era. The Ireland Act of 1949 confirmed the rights of Irish citizens to travel and work in the UK. (P104/4468. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

A telegram from the Irish embassy in Canberra to Dublin, seeking guidance on how best to formally describe the Irish state given the imminent change in its constitutional status, March 1949., Irish embassy, Canberra, 1949, From the collection of: University College Dublin Archives
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Telegram from the Irish embassy in Canberra to Dublin, seeking guidance on how best to formally describe the Irish state given the imminent change in its constitutional status, March 1949. (P104/4443. Papers of Frank Aiken.)

At midnight on Easter Sunday, 17 April, Ireland’s last links with the Commonwealth were severed. (1949) by John J. HearneUniversity College Dublin Archives

At midnight on Easter Sunday, 17 April 1949, Ireland’s last links with the Commonwealth were severed. Celebrations took place across the state, with the main official ceremonies in Dublin corresponding with the annual commemorations of the Easter Rising. Events to mark the occasion were also hosted by Irish legations abroad. This letter from John Hearne (by then Irish ambassador to Canada) to Costello at Easter 1949 congratulated him on the imminent declaration of Ireland as a republic: ‘This note will not, I fear, reach Dublin before you inaugurate and celebrate the great day. But it will arrive, I hope, in Easter Week in the first days of the new era’. (P190/392. Papers of John A. Costello.)

Credits: Story

Project curated by:
John Gibney, RIA
Kate Manning, UCD Archives

Acknowledgements
RIA
Ruth Hegarty
Michael Kennedy
Kate O’Malley

Google Cultural Institute
Izabela Palinska

UCD Library
Catherine Bodey
Josh Clark
John Howard

UCD Digital Library
Audrey Drohan

Collections in UCD Archives used for this project:
UCD-OFM partnership
Papers of Frank Aiken (UCDA P104)
Papers of Ernest Blythe (UCDA P24)
Papers of W.T. Cosgrave (UCDA /RIA P285)
Papers of Éamon de Valera (UCDA P150)
Papers of Desmond and Mabel FitzGerald (UCDA P80)
Papers of John Hearne (UCDA P291)
Papers of Hugh Kennedy (UCDA P4)
Papers of Seán Lester (UCDA P203)
Papers of Seán MacEntee (UCDA P67)
Papers of Michael MacWhite (UCDA P194)
Papers of Richard Mulcahy (UCDA P7)
Papers of Kevin O’Higgins (UCDA P197)

DIFP
DIFP is a long-term research project of the Royal Irish Academy, which publishes a wide range of works on Ireland’s foreign relations, including the DIFP series and the journal Irish Studies in International Affairs: full details, including submission guidelines, can be found at <www.ria.ie /publications>. <www.difp.ie>

UCD Archives
UCD Archives specialises in the acquisition of private paper collections associated with the history and development of the modern Irish State. It now preserves the papers of a great many Irish public figures including diplomats, senior civil servants, members of government and the judiciary, presidents and EU Commissioners. It also acquires the records of significant organisations such as political parties, trades unions, professional and cultural associations and sporting bodies. These collections constitute an essential resource for research into Irish history, politics and culture from the twentieth century onwards.

UCD Archives pursues an active acquisitions policy in seeking to preserve the papers and archives of contemporary public figures and bodies. Please contact <archives@ucd.ie> for further information. <www.ucd.ie /archives>

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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