seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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President Mary Robinson Meets Queen Elizabeth II

robinson-elizabeth-visit-1993Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland, becomes the first Irish head of state to meet with a British monarch when she visits Queen Elizabeth II on May 27, 1993.

For much of the 20th century, relations between Ireland and its nearest neighbour are cool. Temperatures drop significantly over the economic war in the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality in World War II. The sense of unfinished business permeates diplomacy during the Troubles, but by 1990 there is significant warmth in trade, tourism, business and even politics.

The newly elected Robinson makes a big play of reaching out to Irish emigrants and sees the opportunity to help Anglo-Irish relations. And so, on her 49th birthday, she pops in for tea with the British head of state.

None of Robinson’s predecessors had set foot in Britain, other than to change planes. Even when President Patrick Hillery is invited to the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, he is advised by the Government of Ireland to decline the invitation.

But Robinson decides she will not be pushed around, and successfully insists she be allowed to join other heads of state at the opening of a European bank in London. Next she asks the government if she might be able to travel to the University of Cambridge to deliver a speech and receive an honorary degree. It is only after he reluctantly agrees that Taoiseach Charlie Haughey realises that the Chancellor of the University is the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.

Robinson meets the royal, the world remains on its axis, and a precedent is set. “Partly because I’ve never been fazed by royalty of any kind, least of all the British royal family, I felt entirely relaxed,” she recalls in her authorised biography.

Robinson next meets the prince at a memorial service for the victims of an Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing in Warrington, where she is applauded as she leaves the church. Soon, she is meeting royals all over the place, at rugby matches and memorial ceremonies, and in a television interview says that she would like to meet the Queen.

By February 1993, Haughey has been replaced by Albert Reynolds and he grants permission for Robinson to travel for a strictly personal visit. The visit does not happen in a vacuum – Reynolds is in secret discussions with Republicans that would end in the IRA ceasefire – and the Taoiseach is keen not to give any suggestion that this is a State visit, which would require a reciprocal visit.

Robinson’s party arrives at Buckingham Palace at 4:55 PM on May 27 where they are greeted by the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Robert Fellowes. Robinson’s staff pushes the Palace to allow press photographers, reckoning that a historic moment should be captured.

Robinson, in an Ib Jorgensen fuchsia suit, later donated to Madame Tussauds waxworks, and her husband Nick are brought up to the first floor to meet the Queen for a friendly and informal tea party that lasts 30 minutes. They sip a blend of Chinese and India tea in Minton cups, exchange signed photographs of themselves, and discuss the prospects for peace. The President also hands over an extra present of a hand-turned wooden cup from Spiddal.

Afterwards, the ground-breaking photographs are taken and published all over the world, including the front page of the Irish Independent. “Palace Talks Prepare Way for State Visit” runs the lead headline over a piece by Bernard Purcell and Gene McKenna. They go on, reporting the President as saying the visit is “symbolic of the maturing relationship between Ireland and Britain.”

In 1996 President Robinson’s 15th visit to Britain is upgraded to an Official Visit, and she leaves office the following year.

Robinson’s successor, Mary McAleese, takes things further, and meets Queen Elizabeth II several times in London and at World War I commemorations on the continent. In May 2011 McAleese welcomes Queen Elizabeth II on her four-day State Visit to Ireland and in April 2014 President Michael D. Higgins makes the first State Visit to the UK.

(Pictured: President Mary Robinson with the Queen outside Buckingham Palace in 1993. Photo: Eamonn Farrell/Photocall Ireland | “Flashback 1993: The first Irish head of state meeting with a British monarch” by Ger Siggins, Independent.ie, May 22, 2016)


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Irish Neutrality During World War II

File written by Adobe Photoshop? 4.0On February 19, 1939 Taoiseach Éamon de Valera states his intention to preserve Irish neutrality in the event of a second world war.

The policy of Irish neutrality during World War II is adopted by the Oireachtas at the instigation of De Valera upon the outbreak of World War II in Europe. It is maintained throughout the conflict, in spite of several German airstrikes by aircraft that miss their intended British targets and attacks on Ireland’s shipping fleet by Allies and Axis alike. De Valera refrains from joining either the Allies or Axis powers. While the possibilities of not only a German but also a British invasion are discussed in Dáil Éireann, and either eventuality is prepared for, with the most detailed preparations being done in tandem with the Allies under Plan W, De Valera’s ruling party, Fianna Fáil, supports his neutral policy for the duration of the war.

This period is known in the Republic of Ireland as “The Emergency“, owing to the wording of the constitutional article employed to suspend normal government of the country.

Pursuing a policy of neutrality requires attaining a balance between the strict observance of non-alignment and the taking of practical steps to repel or discourage an invasion from either of the two concerned parties.

Ireland maintains a public stance of neutrality to the end, although this policy leads to a considerable delay in Ireland’s membership of the United Nations (UN). Ireland’s applications for membership are vetoed by the Soviet Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, from 1946 to December 1955. Seán MacBride considers that the UN boycott of Ireland had been originally agreed upon at the 1945 Yalta Conference by Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Ireland’s acceptance into the UN is finally announced by John A. Costello on December 15, 1955.

Despite the official position of neutrality, there are many unpublicised contraventions of this, such as permitting the use of the Donegal Corridor to Allied military aircraft, and extensive co-operation between Allied and Irish intelligence, including exchanges of information, such as detailed weather reports of the Atlantic Ocean. For example, the decision to go ahead with the Normandy landings is decided by a weather report from Blacksod Bay, County Mayo.

(Pictured: Markings to alert aircraft to neutral Ireland during World War II on Malin Head, County Donegal)


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Birth of Henry Harrison, Politician & Writer

henry-harrisonCaptain Henry Harrison, nationalist politician and writer, is born in Holywood, County Down on December 17, 1867.

A Protestant nationalist, Harrison is the son of Henry Harrison and Letitia Tennent, the daughter of Robert James Tennent, who had been Liberal Party MP for Belfast from 1847 to 1852. Later, when widowed, she marries the author Hartley Withers.

Harrison goes to Westminster School and then to Balliol College, Oxford. While there he develops an admiration for Charles Stewart Parnell and becomes secretary of the Oxford University Home Rule League. At this time, the Land War is in progress and in 1889 he goes to Ireland to visit the scene of the evictions in Gweedore, County Donegal. He becomes involved in physical confrontations with the Royal Irish Constabulary and as a result becomes a Nationalist celebrity overnight. The following May, Parnell offers the vacant parliamentary seat of Mid Tipperary to Harrison, who leaves Oxford at age 22, to take it up, unopposed.

Only six months later, following the divorce case involving Katharine O’Shea, the Irish Parliamentary Party splits over Parnell’s leadership. Harrison strongly supports Parnell, acts as his bodyguard and aide-de-camp, and after Parnell’s death devotes himself to the service of his widow Katharine. From her he hears a completely different version of the events surrounding the divorce case from that which had appeared in the press, and this is to form the seed of his later books.

At the 1892 United Kingdom general election, Harrison does not defend Mid-Tipperary. He stands at West Limerick as a Parnellite instead, but comes nowhere near winning the seat. In the 1895 United Kingdom general election, he stands at North Sligo, polling better but again far short of winning. In 1895 he marries Maie Byrne, an American, with whom he has a son. He comes to prominence briefly again in 1903 when, in spite of his lack of legal training, he successfully conducts his own case in a court action all the way to the House of Lords.

Otherwise, however, Harrison disappears from public view until his war service with the Royal Irish Regiment when he serves on the Western Front with distinction in the New British Army formed for World War I, reaching the rank of Captain and being awarded the Military Cross (MC). He organises patrols in “No Man’s Land” so successfully that he is appointed special patrol officer to the 16th (Irish) Division. He is invalided out and becomes a recruiting officer in Ireland. He is appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1919 New Year Honours.

Harrison then makes a return to Irish politics, working with Sir Horace Plunkett as Secretary of the Irish Dominion League, an organisation campaigning for dominion status for Ireland within the British Empire. He is a lifelong opponent of Irish partition. He is Irish correspondent of The Economist from 1922 to 1927 and owner-editor of Irish Truth from 1924 to 1927.

Harrison’s two books defending Parnell are published in 1931 and 1938. They have had a major impact on Irish historiography, leading to a more favourable view of Parnell’s role in the O’Shea affair. F. S. L. Lyons comments that he “did more than anyone else to uncover what seems to have been the true facts” about the Parnell-O’Shea liaison. The second book, Parnell, Joseph Chamberlain and Mr Garvin, is written in response to J. L. Garvin‘s biography of Joseph Chamberlain, which had ignored his first book, Parnell Vindicated: The Lifting of the Veil. Later, he successfully repulses an attempt in the official history of The Times to rehabilitate that newspaper’s role in using forged letters to attack Parnell in the late 1880s. In 1952 he forces The Times to publish a four-page correction written by him as an appendix to the fourth volume of the history.

During the difficult years of the Anglo-Irish Trade War over the land purchase annuities, declaration of the Republic, Irish neutrality during World War II, and departure from the Commonwealth, Harrison works to promote good relations between Britain and Ireland. He publishes various books and pamphlets on the issues in dispute and writes numerous letters to The Times. He also founds, with General Sir Hubert Gough, the Commonwealth Irish Association in 1942.

At the time of his death on February 20, 1954, Harrison is the last survivor of the Irish Parliamentary Party led by Parnell, and as a member of the pre-1918 Irish Parliamentary Party, he seems to have been outlived only by John Patrick Hayden, who dies a few months after him in 1954 and by Patrick Whitty and John Lymbrick Esmonde who are only MPs for a very short time during World War I. He is buried in Holywood, County Down.


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Birth of James Dillon, Fine Gael Leader

james-dillonJames Matthew Dillon, politician and Fine Gael leader, is born in Drumcondra, Dublin on September 26, 1902. He serves as Leader of the Opposition and Leader of Fine Gael from 1959 to 1965 and Minister for Agriculture from 1948 to 1951 and from 1954 to 1957. He serves as a Teachta Dála (TD) from 1932 to 1969.

Dillon is the son of John Dillon, the last leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party, which had been swept away by Sinn Féin at the 1918 general election. He is educated at Mount St. Benedict’s, in Gorey, County Wexford, University College Galway and King’s Inns. He qualifies as a barrister and is called to the Bar in 1931. He studies business methods at Selfridges in London. After some time at Marshall Field’s in Chicago he returns to Ireland where he becomes manager of the family business known as Monica Duff’s in Ballaghaderreen, County Roscommon.

Between 1932 and 1937 Dillon serves as Teachta Dála (TD) for the Donegal constituency for the National Centre Party and after its merger with Cumann na nGaedheal, for the new party of Fine Gael. He plays a key role in instigating the creation of Fine Gael and becomes a key member of the party in later years. He remains as TD for Monaghan from 1937 to 1969. He becomes deputy leader of Fine Gael under W. T. Cosgrave.

Dillon resigns from Fine Gael in 1942 over its stance on Irish neutrality during World War II. While Fine Gael supports the government’s decision to stay out of the war, he urges the government to side with the Allies. He is a rabid anti-Nazi, proclaiming the Nazi ideology is “the devil himself with twentieth-century efficiency.” His zealousness against the Nazis draws him the ire of the German minister to Ireland, Eduard Hempel, who denounces him as a “Jew” and “German-hater.”

Dillon has a personally eventful 1942. While holidaying in Carna, County Galway he meets Maura Phelan of Clonmel on a Friday. By that Monday the two are engaged and six weeks after that they are married.

Dillon is one of the independents who supports the first inter-party government (1948–1951), and is appointed Minister for Agriculture. As Minister, he is responsible for huge improvements in Irish agriculture. Money is spent on land reclamation projects in the areas of less fertile land while the overall quality of Irish agricultural produce increases.

Dillon rejoins Fine Gael in 1953. He becomes Minister for Agriculture again in the second inter-party government (1954–1957). In 1959 he becomes leader of Fine Gael, succeeding Richard Mulcahy. He becomes president of the party in 1960. In 1965 Fine Gael loses the general election to Seán Lemass and Fianna Fáil. The non-Fianna Fáil parties win 69 seats to Fianna Fáil’s 72. Had the other parties been able to win four more seats between them, they would have been able to form a government. Having narrowly failed to become Taoiseach, Dillon stands down as Fine Gael leader after the election.

Dillon is a colourful contributor to Dáil proceedings and is noted for his high standard of oratory. He remains a TD until 1969, when he retires from politics. He died in Malahide, Dublin on February 10, 1986 at the age of 83.