seamus dubhghaill

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


Leave a comment

Death of James McNeill, Second Governor-General of the Irish Free State

James McNeill, Irish politician and diplomat who serves as first High Commissioner to London and second Governor-General of the Irish Free State, dies on December 12, 1938.

One of five children born to Archibald McNeill, a Roman Catholic working class “baker, sailor and merchant,” and his wife, Rosetta (née McAuley) McNeill, McNeill is the brother of nationalist leader Eoin MacNeill. He serves as a high-ranking member of the Indian Civil Service in Calcutta.

Although unconnected with the Easter Rising in 1916, McNeill is arrested and jailed by the British Dublin Castle administration. On release, he is elected to Dublin County Council, becoming its chairman. He serves as a member of the committee under Michael Collins, the chairman of the Provisional Government, that drafts the Constitution of the Irish Free State. He is subsequently appointed as High Commissioner from Ireland to the United Kingdom.

When the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State, Tim Healy, retires in December 1927, McNeill is proposed as his replacement by the Irish government of W. T. Cosgrave and duly appointed by King George V as Governor-General of the Irish Free State.

In office, McNeill clashes with the King’s Private Secretary when he insists on following the constitutional advice of his Irish ministers, rather than that of the Palace, in procedures relating to the receipt of Letters of Credence accrediting ambassadors to the King in Ireland. He also refuses to attend ceremonies in Trinity College, Dublin, when some elements in the college try to ensure that the old British national anthem God Save the King is played, rather than the new Irish anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann.

When Éamon de Valera is nominated as President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State in 1932, McNeill opts to travel to Leinster House, the parliament buildings, to appoint de Valera, rather than to require that he go to the Viceregal Lodge, the Governor-General’s residence and the former seat of British Lords Lieutenant, to avoid embarrassing de Valera, who is a republican.

However, McNeill’s tact is not reciprocated by de Valera’s government, and some of its ministers seek to humiliate him as the King’s representative by withdrawing the Irish Army‘s band from playing at functions he attends and demanding he withdraw invitations to visitors to meet him. In one notorious incident in April, two ministers, Seán T. O’Kelly (a future President of Ireland) and Frank Aiken, publicly walk out of a diplomatic function when McNeill, there as the guest of the French ambassador, arrives. In a fury, McNeill writes to de Valera demanding an apology for this treatment. When none is forthcoming, apart from an ambiguous message from de Valera that could be interpreted as partially blaming McNeill for attending functions at which ministers would be present, he publishes his correspondence with de Valera, even though de Valera had formally advised him not to do so. De Valera then demands that George V dismiss him.

The King engineers a compromise, whereby de Valera withdraws his dismissal request and McNeill, who is due to retire at the end of 1932, will push forward his retirement date by a month or so. McNeill, at the King’s request, resigns on November 1, 1932.

In June 1932 John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College hosts an extravagant garden party to welcome Papal Legate Lorenzo Lauri, who had arrived in Ireland to represent Pope Pius XI at the 31st International Eucharistic Congress. While de Valera maintains a very high profile at the event, McQuaid, at de Valera’s request, goes to great lengths to avoid MacNeill to the extent possible.

McNeill dies on December 12, 1938 at the age of 69 in London. His widow Josephine is appointed Minister to the Hague by Seán MacBride, Minister for External Affairs in the coalition government of 1948.


Leave a comment

The 31st International Eucharistic Congress Begins in Dublin

eucharistic-congress-closing-ceremony-1932The 31st International Eucharistic Congress begins in Dublin on June 22, 1932 and runs through June 26. The congress is one of the largest eucharistic congresses of the 20th century and the largest public event to happen in the new Irish Free State. It reinforces the Free State’s image of being a devout Catholic nation. The high point is when over a million people gather for Mass in Phoenix Park.

Ireland is then home to 3,171,697 Catholics. It is selected to host the congress as 1932 is the 1500th anniversary of Saint Patrick‘s arrival. The chosen theme is “The Propagation of the Sainted Eucharist by Irish Missionaries.”

The city of Dublin is decorated with banners, bunting, garlands, and replica round towers. Seven ocean liners moor in the port basins and along Sir John Rogerson’s Quay. Five others anchor around Scotsmans Bay. The liners act as floating hotels and can accommodate from 130 to 1,500 people on each. The Blue Hussars, a ceremonial cavalry unit of the Irish Army formed to escort the President of Ireland on state occasions, first appears in public as an honor guard for the visiting Papal Legate representing Pope Pius XI.

John Charles McQuaid, President of Blackrock College, hosts a large garden party on the grounds of the college to welcome the papal legate, where the hundreds of bishops assembled for the Congress have the opportunity to mingle with a huge gathering of distinguished guests and others who have paid a modest subscription fee.

The final public mass of the congress is held at 1:00 PM on Sunday, June 26 in Phoenix Park at an altar designed by the eminent Irish architect John J. Robinson of Robinson & Keefe Architects, and is celebrated by Michael Joseph Curley, Archbishop of Baltimore. A radio station, known as Radio Athlone, is set up in Athlone to coincide with the Congress. In 1938 it becomes Radio Éireann. The ceremonies include a live radio broadcast by Pope Pius XI from the Vatican. John McCormack, the world famous Irish tenor, sings César Franck‘s Panis Angelicus at the mass.

Approximately 25% of the population of Ireland attend the mass and afterwards four processions leave the Park to O’Connell Street where approximately 500,000 people gather on O’Connell Bridge for the concluding Benediction given by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Lauri.

The English Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton is also present, and observes, “I confess I was myself enough of an outsider to feel flash through my mind, as the illimitable multitude began to melt away towards the gates and roads and bridges, the instantaneous thought ‘This is Democracy; and everyone is saying there is no such thing.'”

On the other hand, such an overwhelming display of Catholicity only confirms to Protestants in the North the necessity of the border.

(Pictured: the closing ceremony of the Eucharistic Congress that was held in Dublin in June 1932)