Skip to main content

In December 2021 the National Archives’ landmark centenary exhibition on the Anglo-Irish Treaty, The Treaty, 1921: Records from the Archives, will open in Dublin Castle. It is being presented by the National Archives in partnership with the Royal Irish Academy, the Office of Public Works and the National Library of Ireland, to mark the centenary of the signing of the Treaty in London on 6 December 1921.

Using the Treaty itself as the centrepiece, this major exhibition of records relating to the negotiation and signing of the Treaty is placing significant documents from the collections of the National Archives on public display for the first time, with records also on display from the collections of the Military Archives, Dublin, and UCD Archives. The RIA’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) project has played a central role as a partner in the exhibition, developing the exhibition text and co-curating the structure and content for the exhibition with the National Archives.

The exhibition will open to the public in Dublin Castle on 7 December 2021. To mark the centenary of the beginning of the negotiations in October 1921, a preview of the exhibition was hosted from 12-23 October at the British Academy, London, in partnership with the Embassy of Ireland, Great Britain.

The signature page of the Irish copy of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives.

Watch this RTÉ report on the London preview exhibition, read this short guide to the Treaty negotiations by John Gibney (Assistant Editor, DIFP), from RTÉ’s Century Ireland project, and listen to this podcast on the exhibition featuring John Gibney and Zoë Reid (Senior Conservator, National Archives), recorded for Westmeath County Council. Many of the documents relating to the Treaty negotiations were published in the first volume of the DIFP series and are available online here.

The Treaty, 1921: records from the archives opens to the public on 7 December 2021 and runs until 27 March 2022 at the Coach House Gallery, Dublin Castle Gardens, Dame Street, Dublin 2, D02 X822. Opening hours: 10am – 5pm, daily. Admission free but booking essential.


The ninth volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy covers the term of Ireland’s first ‘Inter-Party’ coalition government between 1948 and 1951, led by Fine Gael’s John A. Costello, with Sean MacBride of Clann na Poblachta serving as Minister for External Affairs. Originally published in 2014, this unique edition of primary source material (drawn from the National Archives of Ireland and UCD Archives) and is now available online in open-access format.

While DIFP IX covers the entire term of the Inter-Party Government, it focusses on its most active years in foreign relations: 1948 and 1949. During these two years Ireland formally left the Commonwealth, declared itself a Republic, refused to join the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) participated in the European Recovery Program (Marshall Aid), and pursued an active international campaign aimed at ending the partition of Ireland.

The legacy of Ireland’s wartime neutrality was compounded in some American eyes by Ireland’s refusal to join NATO, and the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, which looms large in the volume, led to questions about where Ireland really stood in relation to the Cold War and support for the West. The war further strengthened the Anglo-American alliance and highlighted the futility of trying to use the prospect of Ireland’s NATO membership as a lever for ending partition. By way of contrast Ireland became a founder member of the Council of Europe, and the volume also covers the state’s response to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 – the origins of today’s EU. But by standing aloof from other institutions of the new post-war international order, by the Ireland’s options in the international system were more limited in 1951 than they had been in 1948. Other themes explored in DIFP IX include communism at home and abroad and the intensifications of the Cold War, relations with Israel, the admission of post-war refugees and even fugitive Nazi collaborators to Ireland, and the overseas adoption of Irish infants.

DIFP IX is now free to access on our dedicated open-access DIFP website. To provide an overview of the period covered by the volume, here is an edited extract from our recent centenary history of Irish foreign policy by John Gibney, Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley, Ireland: A voice among the nations.

Explore Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume IX, 1948–1951 online here

From Ireland: A voice among the nations:

In February 1948 a broadly based ‘inter-party’ government made up of Fine Gael (the successor party to Cumann na nGaedheal), the new radical republican party Clann na Poblachta, the Labour Party, and Clann na Talmhan (the Farmers’ Party) took office in Dublin. The Fine Gael leader Richard Mulcahy had served as chief of staff of the army and as minister of defence during the civil war, and he was still blamed by many for the ruthless repression of republicans during the conflict. Clann na Poblachta refused to join any government under his leadership, so his party colleague John A. Costello became taoiseach in his stead, and Clann na Poblachta’s leader, the barrister and former IRA leader Seán McBride, was appointed Minister for External Affairs.

Costello and MacBride were from very different political parties. Fine Gael was traditionally seen as conservative, wealthier and more favourable towards the Commonwealth, while Clann na Poblachta had emerged after the Second World War with a socially radical and explicitly republican agenda. One area in which Costello and MacBride did share common ground was their Catholicism. The archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, regularly advised Costello and MacBride, and both men regarded obedience to Catholic values as the pre-eminent guide to their political actions.

The ‘Inter-party government’, as the coalition became known, went to great lengths to appease the Catholic Church; its approach to foreign policy was no exception.

MacBride lacked experience in government and ran Ireland’s foreign policy as he believed international relations should be run, rather than in accordance with international practice and diplomatic procedure. This lack of experience made MacBride more susceptible to alarmist reports on the progress of the Cold War in Europe and on Ireland’s position in the deepening East–West struggle. Unsettled on his second day in office by a report from Joseph Walshe that the Italian press was reporting that Ireland was veering to the left under the new government in Dublin, MacBride instantly reacted by instructing, with the approval of Costello, that a message of Ireland’s ‘filial devotion’ to the Holy See be sent by the Irish government to Pope Pius XII. In this context Walshe, who had seemed to exert less influence on policy-making in Dublin since his appointment as ambassador to the Holy See, now became a major influence on MacBride (whom he privately disdained). Walshe now found a receptive listener to his own increasingly narrow obsession with the Communist threat to Europe.

MacBride’s approach to foreign policy emphasised anti- Communism, a vocal support for Christianity and democracy and an avowedly pro-Western stance, along with a strong desire to promote Ireland’s independence and international sovereignty and above all the ending of the partition of Ireland. His highhanded and idiosyncratic personal style impacted on his working relationship with senior officials such as Boland, who became ambassador to Great Britain in 1950. Boland was replaced at the helm in Iveagh House by yet another veteran, this time Sean Nunan, who had spent most of his diplomatic career in the US, having begun it with de Valera on his American tour in 1919.

When it came to the appointment of officials, MacBride did oversee one landmark decision. The appointment of Josephine McNeill as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Netherlands in November 1949 made her one of only two female heads of diplomatic missions in the world (the other was Clare Luce Booth, then US ambassador to Italy). The expansion of the department in the late 1940s had led to a shortage of senior staff, and it was decided that suitable individuals should be brought directly into the diplomatic service. McNeill was thewife of former governor-general of the Irish Free State James McNeill, a role in which, MacBride argued, she had gained a good deal of relevant experience (though she was also known to be a supporter of his party, Clann na Poblachta). The Irish legation at the Hague was seen to be one of Ireland’s less important diplomatic missions; the Netherlands was deemed to be a country to which it was acceptable to send female diplomats.

MacBride also instituted structural changes in the department that he now headed. Following a suggestion originally made at the 1945 heads of missions conference, he created a ‘Cultural Relations Division’ to foster international appreciation of Ireland’s culture and heritage. He also had great ambitions for the newly established ‘Information Division’, which would work with another new venture, the ‘Irish News Agency’, to establish an international consensus on ending partition. While the traditional hierarchy of secretary, assistant secretaries and the legal adviser remained the key senior officials in Iveagh House, MacBride’s tenure in External Affairs also saw the rise of the new ‘Political Division’, which would, by the mid-to-late- 1950s, become the core area in the department that oversaw foreign policy development.

In his first months in office, MacBride displayed great dynamism, most notably travelling to Washington, DC in May 1948 to negotiate on the financial provisions earmarked for Ireland under the European Recovery Program (the Marshall Plan). Ireland eventually received $18-million of grants under the plan, in addition to $130-million of loans (the form of aid which the United States preferred to give to neutral countries).

There was, however, one major and somewhat unexpected development that essentially defined the foreign policy of the Inter-Party government. After the 1936 External Relations Act, neither Dublin nor London had sought clarification of Ireland’s exact status in relation to the Commonwealth; both sides seemed willing to tolerate the status quo that had prevailed since the legislation was enacted. Ireland had continued to show considerable interest in the Commonwealth in the years after the war; it allowed Irish officials to participate in scientific, technical and trade-related conferences in an era when other opportunities for such multilateral engagement did not exist. Yet by 1947 it appears that plans were in hand to repeal the 1936 act and declare a republic.

De Valera may have been waiting to see how newly independent India managed its relationship with the Commonwealth before proceeding further, possibly on the grounds that a republic within the Commonwealth, as India would become in 1949, might serve as a model to emulate. But on 7 September 1948, whilst in Ottawa, Costello suddenly announced that the repeal of the External Relations Act was imminent and that Ireland’s formal departure from the Commonwealth and the declaration of Ireland’s status as a republic would follow.

There appears to be little truth in the story that Costello was prompted to declare a republic after taking offence at the presence of a replica of ‘roaring Meg’—one of the cannon used in the defence of the besieged city of Derry in 1689 and a symbol beloved of unionists in Northern Ireland—on a table during an official dinner, despite the fact that Costello told the anecdote himself to a number of people. But the repeal of the 1936 act and the declaration of the republic was, to the Irish authorities, simply a matter of altered legal language and expression regarding the Crown. For the British, on the other hand, this was a development of the deepest political and economic significance, as the Commonwealth was evolving and decolonisation across the British Empire was accelerating. London remained more deeply affected by Costello’s actions in Canada than Dublin understood, and the British explained to their Irish counterparts that there could be consequences for Ireland: citizens’ rights, trade and freedom of travel now became live issues, and subject to negotiation. The British also hinted at punitive measures against Ireland, but Canada, Australia and New Zealand persuaded them to tone down their attitude. At the same time London confirmed the territorial integrity of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom with the passing of the Ireland Act in June 1949, in a move that took Dublin by surprise. That said, this act also gave Irish citizens a special status within the UK; there was no restriction on their rights to travel to and work within the UK, a status that became increasingly important given the mass emigration of Irish people to the UK that took place in the 1950s.

Ending partition had always been to the fore in the rhetoric, if not in the conduct, of Irish foreign policy and it remained so for the Inter-Party government. Following de Valera’s example, MacBride placed ending partition and uniting Ireland as the primary goal of Irish foreign policy. MacBride’s raising of the ‘sore thumb’ of partition, as it was popularly dubbed, at all international opportunities won Ireland few friends and did nothing to improve already poor relations with Northern Ireland.

The Inter-Party government placed great emphasis on vocal opposition to partition, during a period in which the Ireland Act became a further political barrier between north and south. But ironically, the term in office of this government also saw the most successful developments in cross-border co-operation since partition. The conclusion of an agreement to develop the Erne Hydro-Electric scheme, the establishment of the Foyle Fisheries Commission and a series of direct north-south ministerial meetings concerning the future of the Dublin to Belfast railway line saw real progress in relations. But Dublin’s anti-partition campaign in Britain, North America and elsewhere held the limelight.

At no time while MacBride was minister did Dublin ever attempt to understand the Ulster Unionist position; in essence, cross-border co-operation was seen only as a means to short-term technical ends. Moreover, opposition to partition was shared across the Irish political spectrum: de Valera, whilst out of government, embarked on a world tour to highlight the partition of Ireland. MacBride, acutely conscious of de Valera’s global presence and international impact, and knowing that many senior Irish diplomats remained personally loyal to their former minister, prohibited de Valera and members of the opposition from staying in Irish diplomatic residences whilst campaigning overseas.

MacBride did take an interest in one very distinctive new state: Israel. In February 1949 the Cabinet agreed de facto to recognise Israel, making Ireland one of the last states to do so. Ireland refused to give de jure recognition to Israel, however, citing Vatican concerns about the future control of the Holy Places in Jerusalem as the reason. MacBride saw strong parallels between Ireland and Israel when it came to their freedom struggles, and by mid-April 1951 MacBride envisaged Ireland’s complete de jure recognition of Israel, but by this date the Inter-Party government was facing into a general election, and ultimately no action was taken.

In Europe, MacBride played a leading role in the drafting of the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights. The country’s refugee policy, however, remained ungenerous during the Inter-Party government. Despite its pro-Western outlook, Ireland was also unenthusiastic about joining the various post-war collective security pacts proposed by the Western Allies. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was a specific case in point. Membership of NATO involved commitment to the mutual self-defence of all members, including the UK, and, by extension, Northern Ireland. Joining a pact of which the UK was a member would mean accepting the reality that British military forces were stationed in Northern Ireland, and thus the acceptance of partition.

In spring 1949 MacBride indicated to the American government that Ireland agreed with the terms of the alliance and would be prepared to join NATO if Washington first put pressure on London to end partition, but as NATO had access to facilities in Northern Ireland, access to bases elsewhere on the island of Ireland was deemed irrelevant. Washington was not moved by Irish arguments to do anything that might go contrary to the

Anglo-American relationship. The legacy of Ireland’s wartime neutrality was compounded in some American eyes (and especially those of the State Department) by Ireland’s refusal to join NATO. The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 led to some in Washington questioning where Ireland really stood in relation to the Cold War and support for the West, though Ireland’s reputation as a staunchly Catholic society ensured that it was not seen as a country likely to turn to Communism. The Korean War further strengthened the Anglo-American alliance and highlighted the futility of trying to use the prospect of Ireland’s NATO membership as a lever against ending partition.

The one notable exception to Ireland’s detachment from the multilateral institutions of the post-war world was the Council of Europe. In May 1949 Ireland was one of the ten founding members of the Council, which had been established in the aftermath of the Second World War to promote democracy and human rights on the continent, and ultimately to begin to work towards European integration. While Ireland would not seek to join the latter project until the 1960s, membership of the Council of Europe allowed Irish politicians and diplomats to explore the possibilities of European integration. In that sense, involvement was a crucial, if often overlooked, milestone in Ireland’s foreign relations.

By the summer of 1951 the Inter-Party government had collapsed for a variety of domestic reasons. As MacBride prepared to leave Iveagh House, Ireland’s external relations had become increasingly international in scope but remained limited in many ways. While Ireland had a definite series of international interests to enhance and protect, it now did so in an orbit somewhat removed from the major foreign relations actors of the period.

Limited in size and power, Ireland had never been as significant geopolitically in the Cold War world as MacBride had believed; it certainly never had the means and influence to direct the major international crises of the day in a manner he had hoped. The question of how Ireland could most effectively and actively play a role in the post-war international system remained unanswered.

Cover image: In 1947 women entered the diplomatic ranks of the Department of External Affairs at third-secretary level. Here, Máire MacEntee (Mhac an tSaoi), the first woman appointed by open competition, walks in procession with Ireland’s ambassador to Spain Leo T. McCauley as he presents his credentials to Generalissimo Francisco Franco in Madrid in 1949. (Reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives).

The twelfth volume in the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series came out in November. Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume XII, 1961-1965 covers the first half of the 1960s, when Fianna Fáil were in power under Seán Lemass, and covers such topics as Irish attempts to join the then-EEC, Ireland’s first stint on the UN Security Council and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 1963 visit of John F. Kennedy, the repatriation of the remains of the executed 1916 leader Roger Casement from London, and much else besides.

The volume was officially launched by MInister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney TD, with the release of this short film, using contemporary footage and photographs to highlight the contents of the volume. We have also collated some of the media coverage the new volume has received below to give a further flavour of its contents, and of the subjects it can be used to explore.

This collaborative piece between DIFP and RTÉ Archives links some of the newly-published documents with archival footage from RTÉ. DIFP staff have also contributed a short series of articles based on the volume to RTÉ’s Brainstorm platform, on the repatriation of Roger Casement, on why it matters to Anglo-Irish relations that Guinness might be a food and not a beer, on how Ireland was affected by the Cold War between the superpowers, and how Irish diplomats viewed the US in the 1960s.

In October the Trinity Long Room Hub hosted a webinar on the period covered by Vol. XII with a range of academics and former diplomats, with the participants offering their own analysis and recollections of some of the individuals and issues that appear in the volume; listen to the full recording here.

Prior to publication two pieces in The Irish Times, on cultural diplomacy and post-war emigration respectively, that touched on some of the contents of the new volume.The Irish Times also reported on some of the documents relating to the exhumation of Roger Casement and Ireland’s attempts to join the EEC, while the contents of the volume have been referenced in op-eds both there and in The Sunday Times.

John Bowman’s weekly archives programme on RTÉ Radio One also explored some of the topics in the volume, as reflected in RTÉ’s audio archives, and the volume was also the subject of a special edition of RTÉ’s Brexit Republic podcast.

Finally, the volume was reviewed by David McCullagh for RTÉ and by Rory Montgomery for the Dublin Review of Books.

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume XII, 1961-1965, is available now from the Royal Irish Academy.

Cover image: Irish ambassador William P. Fay presents a bowl of shamrock to US President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on St Patrick’s Day, 17 March 1965. Reproduced by kind permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland.

In March 1965 the Irish diplomat Paul Keating wrote that a report he had composed might be published ‘perhaps in 50 years or so’. The document in question was his eyewitness account of the exhumation of the remains of the executed 1916 leader Roger Casement from London’s Pentonville Prison. Keating’s report is published, 55 rather than 50 years later, in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume XII, 1961-1965, now available from the Royal Irish Academy.

The volume was officially launched by MInister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Simon Coveney TD, with the release of this short film, using contemporary footage and photographs to highlight the contents of the volume.

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archives. In 1998 DIFP published its first volume of official archival material relating to Ireland’s foreign relations since 1919 and now, with the publication of Volume XII, has reached 1965. The DIFP series is unique in publishing primary sources for Irish history in the post-war period.

The new volume covers the lifetime of the 10th government (October 1961 to April 1965), when Fianna Fáil were in power under Seán Lemass, whose key foreign policy objective was to secure early Irish membership of the European Economic Community. The slow and painstaking attempt to achieve that goal is a dominant theme in DIFP XII.

The volume also includes documents on the June 1963 visit of President John F. Kennedy to Ireland, on early steps taken to create Ireland’s development aid policy, and the opening of Irish missions in Nigeria and India, and even on how Ireland would respond to the outbreak of a third world war. In December 1961 Ireland championed the passage through the UN General Assembly of a ground-breaking resolution promoting nuclear non-proliferation. In 1962 Ireland sat on the UN Security Council for the first time, a term that coincided with the Cuban Missile crisis, which also features here. And in 1964 the Irish Defence Forces joined the first units of UN peacekeepers deployed to Cyprus, following the end of their difficult, if more well known, deployment to Congo.

Irish ambassador to Nigeria Eamonn Kennedy pays an official call on H.E. Sir Adesoji Aderemi, governor of Nigeria’s Western Region, 17 January 1962. Reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland.

Alongside these are documents on subjects as diverse as race relations in the United States, the Irish diaspora, IRA gun-running, espionage and the Cold War, pen portraits of figures like Lyndon Johnson and Charles de Gaulle, and even a report on the perils of pirate radio stations. Changes in Anglo-Irish relations also feature, with a sequence of documents on the repatriation of the remains of Roger Casement that culminates in the eyewitness report mentioned above.

And as the period covered by this volume drew to a close, another development comes into view as Lemass and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Terence O’Neill, met in early 1965 to seek common ground between Dublin and Belfast. In their meetings there was little sign of the mounting pressures in Northern Ireland which were soon to place immense strain on these new directions; a theme that will loom large in future volumes of the DIFP series.

The Trinity Long Room Hub recently hosted a webinar on Vol. XII with a range of academics and former diplomats; listen to the full recording here. In addition, this collaborative online piece between DIFP and RTÉ Archives gives a flavour of the contents of the volume, and The Irish Times has reported on some of the documents relating to the exhumation of Roger Casement and Ireland’s attempts to join the EEC. DIFP staff have also contributed a short series of articles based on the volume to RTÉ’s Brainstorm platform, on the repatriation of Roger Casement, on why it matters to Anglo-Irish relations that Guinness might become a food instead of a beer, on how Ireland was affected by the Cold War between the superpowers, and how Irish diplomats viewed the US in the 1960s. The volume was also the subject of a special edition of RTÉ’s Brexit Republic podcast.

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume XII, 1961-1965, is available now from the Royal Irish Academy.


Nazi gold, fugitive war criminals, the rebuilding of Europe, the threat of nuclear war and the growing dominance of Communism: these are among the central themes of the eighth volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, the open-access version of which is now available online. Originally published in 2012, it covers the period from end of the Second World War in 1945 to the aftermath of Fianna Fáil’s defeat in the 1948 general election. This unique edition of primary source material (drawn from the National Archives of Ireland and UCD Archives) explores the immediate post-war years during which Ireland was forced to grapple with the challenges presented by the aftermath of the Second World War, and the emergence of the Cold War.

The dedicated open-access DIFP website is being expanded and redesigned, and will be relaunched later in the year. But in the circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak, we are making DIFP VIII free to access on our existing platform, ahead of the website relaunch. And to provide an overview of the period covered by the volume, here is an edited extract from our recently-published centenary history of Irish foreign policy by John Gibney, Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley, Ireland: A voice among the nations.

Explore DIFP Vol. VIII online here

From Ireland: A voice among the nations

The Second World War formally ended in Europe in May 1945. As the continent returned to peace, the Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera began to adjust to the challenges of the post-war world. In September 1945 senior diplomats, and officials from other key departments, met in Dublin at the headquarters of the Department of External Affairs, at Iveagh House on St Stephen’s Green, for an unprecedented four days of discussions on the future direction of Irish foreign policy.

After the critical interlude of the ‘Emergency’, many crucial pre-war issues, such as Anglo–Irish relations, participation in international institutions and the maintenance of international sovereignty, resumed their places as the central concerns of Irish foreign policy. De Valera, as Taoiseach and Minister for External Affairs, stressed the need to redouble efforts to end the partition of Ireland and secure Ireland’s national identity in an increasingly Anglo-American dominated world. He accepted that the legacy of neutrality would make relations with Britain and the United States difficult in the short to medium term.

Ireland’s immediate post-war foreign policy was concerned not with these idealistic plans, however, but with specific technical and legal legacies of the war. This included explaining to the Allies that there were no significant German assets in Ireland, seeking compensation for bombing of Irish territory, dealing with German internees in Ireland and former Axis diplomats in Dublin, ensuring the removal of British minefields off the southeast coast, and addressing the position of Irish nationals who had fought in the Allied forces; especially those Defence Forces deserters who had joined the Allied armies. External Affairs did ask its overseas missions to stress that legislative action against these men was taken because they had deserted the Irish Defence Forces and not because they had fought with the Allies. Dublin would not do anything overt to alienate the victorious Allies, but this was a small attempt to demonstrate that as a sovereign state Ireland would not automatically accede to what appeared to be unilateral demands from the victors of the war.

A more pressing issue, which provoked considerable disagreement between the departments of External Affairs, Justice and Industry and Commerce, was the post-war immigration of displaced persons from Europe to Ireland. The three departments were aware of the need to guard against the arrival in Ireland of individuals sought by the Allies. But the Department of Justice remained opposed generally to opening up immigration to Ireland, particularly for Jews, the arrival of significant numbers of whom, it was argued, would stir up anti-Semitic feeling. In addition, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Seán Lemass, was opposed in principle to allowing refugees into Ireland purely on humanitarian grounds. For Lemass, refugees had to have the specific skills and resources that Ireland needed for economic modernisation (a stance that dated from before the Second World War).

The more open views of the Department of External Affairs won the argument, at least in theory. De Valera himself favoured the admission of at least 10,000 refugees to Ireland, though no such numbers were actually admitted. Ireland did not adopt a welcoming attitude to refugees in the post-war years. Immigration of all kinds, but particularly that of displaced families without resources, continued to be viewed largely in terms of the alleged burden it placed on the taxpayer, and the associated risk of public resentment, rather than of wider humanitarian and other considerations.

Maintaining Anglo–Irish relations remained vital to independent Ireland. In July 1945 Britain’s wartime coalition government led by Winston Churchill was replaced in the first post-war British election by a Labour government led by Clement Attlee. It was expected by External Affairs, without any solid evidence, to adopt a warmer attitude to Ireland than its predecessor. Although British resentment of Irish neutrality endured, the Anglo–Irish relationship was moving on because of economic and geopolitical necessity and the practicalities of the close connections between the two jurisdictions. The United Kingdom, faced with the massive challenges of post-war reconstruction at home and in Europe, needed Irish food and Irish labour. Ireland, equally, needed outlets for her produce and for her emigrants.

Attlee’s government was also expected by Dublin to display less commitment to Northern Ireland, and even to be well disposed towards ending partition by negotiation. Northern Ireland’s strategic wartime role in the Allied victory had, however, augmented Belfast’s standing in London and the new Attlee government, many of whom had served in Churchill’s wartime coalition, displayed no interest at all in moving to end partition or even to put pressure on the unionist administration in Belfast to take a more accommodating approach towards the Catholic minority population in Northern Ireland. Cross-border relations remained frozen. The differing paths taken by Dublin and Belfast during the Second World War ensured that the two Irish jurisdictions were, if anything, further apart in 1945 than had been the case in 1939. Northern Ireland did not receive a great deal of attention in Dublin in the immediate post-war years.

Dublin felt that one of the legacies of neutrality was that London and Washington purposely ignored Ireland’s post-war relief programme to Europe. Using food and materials stockpiled for domestic use during the war, Ireland made aid available to Europe through 1945 and into 1946. The initial focus was the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany and Italy, but aid was redirected to central Europe in 1946, and consignments of food and living materials were sent to Poland, Yugoslavia and Hungary.

External Affairs had a particular interest in post-war developments in Eastern European countries with significant Catholic populations, specifically Poland and Yugoslavia. The threat posed by the Soviet Union to these countries became a recurrent theme in Irish foreign policy after 1945. The commencement of the Cold War called a halt to plans to initiate formal diplomatic relations with the states of Eastern Europe for over a generation. Joseph Walshe, who moved from the role of secretary of the Department of External Affairs to became ambassador to the Holy See from 1946, and the vastly experienced Michael MacWhite in Rome were External Affairs’ most active commentators on the development of the Cold War in Europe. The Irish legations in Paris, Madrid and Lisbon, on the other hand, were often quiet places during the immediate post-war years.

The Irish diplomatic network did begin to expand, both inside and outside Europe, as peace returned. New offices were opened in Canberra (1946), Stockholm (1947), and Buenos Aires (1947). Ireland’s presence in Canberra was initially focussed on the Irish community in Australia and Ireland’s links with Australia as a dominion, but the mission provided Dublin with its first insight into post-war Asia. The chargé d’affaires in Buenos Aires had the short-term goal of ensuring wheat supplies for post-war Ireland, but was mainly concerned with the large Irish community in Argentina. The opening of this mission, along with that in Canberra, indicated a growing concern for the wider Irish diaspora. The legation in Stockholm gave Ireland its first formal diplomatic contacts with Scandinavia, and this along with the mission in Berne became extremely important in developing Dublin’s understanding of the outlook of fellow European neutrals.

Ireland remained a member of the League of Nations until its dissolution in April 1946. It was not a founding member of the new United Nations in 1945, having neither sought nor received an invitation to attend the San Francisco conference that established the organisation. On 2 August 1946, Éamon de Valera informed the UN’s first secretary-general, Trygve Lie, that Ireland was applying for membership and was prepared to accept the obligations contained in the UN Charter. But on 29 August the Soviet Union vetoed Ireland’s admission, citing the country’s wartime neutrality and its lack of diplomatic relations with Moscow (Ireland was one of a number of Western states whose admission was vetoed by the Soviets). There was an element of Cold War politics in the Soviet action, as Ireland was seen as a natural ally of the Western powers. In fact, all other members of the Security Council, including Poland, supported Ireland’s bid for UN membership. Irish hopes were repeatedly dashed over the next nine years by the Soviet stance. Lie’s successor as UN secretary-general, Dag Hammarskjöld, noted in 1954 that half the states of Europe, including Ireland, remained absent from the General Assembly.

An Anglo-French invitation to participate in the Conference on European Economic Co-operation (CEEC) in July 1947 gave a new impetus to Irish foreign policy. In 1946 Frederick Boland had replaced Joseph Walshe as secretary of the Department of External Affairs, and he guided Ireland through its first steps in multilateral economic and financial diplomacy via involvement in the United States’ move to reconstruct Europe’s devastated economies through the European Recovery Programme (the Marshall Plan). The international conferences and committees Boland attended from the summer of 1947 gave External Affairs a much greater insight into the challenges of European reconstruction and recovery, and especially the question of how to rebuild Germany as the engine of European growth. Boland began to establish informal alliances with the Swiss and the Swedes, knowing that de Valera’s preference was for Ireland to associate primarily with other European neutrals.

Though given a considerable degree of latitude, Boland, like Walshe, made sure to obtain de Valera’s consent on all major decisions. He also ensured de Valera’s attendance at the closing session of the CEEC in Paris. The conference was convened in order to draw up an inventory of European needs for recovery to present to the United States government, which was preparing to distribute extensive aid to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan. The conference established the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), membership of which allowed Ireland to become involved once again in mainstream European multilateral relations.

Early Irish views on European unity did not go beyond advocating the primacy of the nation state in a ‘Europe of the states’. Sharing or pooling sovereignty, as the 1950 European Coal and Steel Community would later propose, was not then considered. De Valera remained sceptical of the concept of a customs union, although he had no difficulty with Ireland being party to discussions on its establishment. Post-war Ireland remained tied economically and financially to Britain. The impact of this on Ireland’s economy and national finances became clear in August 1947, when Sterling ceased to be convertible against the dollar and Ireland, as a member of the Sterling Area pool, was forced to negotiate with Britain to ensure that it was able to maintain a supply of dollars to buy American imports.

This economic crisis demonstrated that the Department of External Affairs and the Department of Finance had fundamentally different views of Ireland’s place in the international economic system. External Affairs looked to develop a specific Irish attitude towards the international monetary and financial system, whereas Finance maintained that Ireland’s international economic and financial position was best served by maintaining a close relationship with London. It was a difference of opinion that would recur as Ireland slowly shifted its foreign policy focus toward Europe and European integration. But this lay in the future: in February 1948 when, as the result of a general election defeat, de Valera and Fianna Fáil left office after sixteen years, the adjustment of Irish foreign policy to meet the challenges of the post-war world was far from complete.

Cover image: An unidentified but nonetheless delighted Italian girl eating from a packet of Irish sugar distributed as food aid in Italy in 1946. After the end of the Second World War, the Irish government followed the example of other neutral states such as Sweden and Switzerland and established humanitarian aid programmes to provide food, material and medical supplies across post-war Europe. Image reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland.

Banner image on homepage: Aid distribution in post-war Berlin. The gender and age profiles of those pictured suggest that many younger men were unavailable to take part, perhaps having been killed or captured during the war. Image reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives of Ireland.

The ‘Books of Survey and Distribution’ record one of the fundamental consequences of the seventeenth-century conquest of Ireland; and the Royal Irish Academy has a set of them.

The first of those statements sounds dramatic, and at first glance you might be forgiven for wondering what the fuss is about when you see what the books contain: lists of landowners and landholders, along with the size of their holdings. Yet these relatively plain manuscripts reveal a revolution. During the 1650s, in the aftermath of the intertwined British and Irish civil wars of the 1640s and the devastating reconquest of Ireland by the English parliament, vast quantities of Irish land was confiscated from Irish Catholics (who were deemed to have been in rebellion), in order to pay for the parliamentarian war effort. The Books of Survey and Distribution record the outcome.

The Irish Manuscripts Commission published editions of four of the books held in the pre-1922 Public Record Office (which are now in the National Archives). The RIA copies consist of ‘sixteen splendid volumes in folio ruled in red ink and written with the greatest neatness and accuracy in period size’. They were purchased by the British Government in 1883 from the library of the duke of Buckingham, and are copies originally composed in 1677 at the behest of Arthur Capel, earl of Essex (1631-83), lord lieutenant of Ireland from 1672 to 1677 (who eventually cut his own throat while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1683). Essex, in correspondence, had no problem describing Ireland as a ‘plantation’, so what do the records he had copied reveal?

Bookplate of Algernon Capel, 2nd earl of Essex, from the RIA volumes, which had been commissioned by his father.

In a nutshell, they are records of landownership. Between 1640 and 1670 the proportion of land in Ireland owned by Catholics went from 42.2% to 16.6%, while the proportion owned by Protestants jumped from 42.1% to 69.8%. A new wave of British settlers had obtained lands in Ireland that had been confiscated and redistributed by the Cromwellian authorities in the 1650s; and equally, many of those who had settled in earlier waves of colonisation acquired lands and consolidated their wealth and status in a new order. The Jacobean plantation of Wexford is a case in point. The plantations of Ulster and Munster are the most well-known British colonisation projects in Ireland, but there were many other, smaller plantation schemes, and the plantation of Wexford was the first of these.

Beginning in 1618, North Wexford witnessed a dramatic shift in land ownership, as land deemed to be in the gift of the crown was granted to a mixture of military veterans and administrators under specific conditions, such as undertakings to fortify the new settlements that were to be established (uniquely for a plantation scheme in this era, no new British grantees were involved). The proportion of land in the hands of the ‘New English’ (the newer, largely Protestant settlers of the early modern period) went from 14% to 50%, while the share of land belonging to those descended from the original medieval settlers (the so-called ‘Old English’) went from 11% to 14%. The proportion of Irish-owned land dropped from 75% to 36%.

Spine title from the Books of Survey and Disctribution. Vol 2. County Wexford and County Kildare (RIA MS G iii 2)

It also appears that land clearances took place: in the 1620s complaints were made by landowners, of both Irish and Old English extraction, that they had been harshly and avariciously dispossessed. Many of those who seem to have dispossessed them survived as a new elite beyond the war and upheaval that erupted in Ireland after 1641. The Book of Survey and Distribution covering Wexford (which also covers Kildare) does give a strange sense of who the winners ultimately were in Wexford. In the barony of Gorey, for instance, the list of individuals confirmed in various landholdings by 1668 under the Acts of Settlement and Explanation (which had adjusted and regularized the new dispensation) includes the names of landowners and landholders who had been present in the region since the early years of the plantation in the county, such as the Masterson and Sinnott families, Dudley Colclough, or the earl of Anglesey (who enriched himself enormously in these years).

Books of Survey and Distribution: Vol 2. County Wexford and County Kildare. Entry for the Barony of Gorey (RIA MS G iii 2)

And this is what gives the Books of Survey and Distribution a claim to be considered among the most important documents in modern Irish history. Their neat and accurate tabulations of who owned how much land, and where, starkly reveals the foundation on which the power and influence of the new ruling elite of seventeenth-century Ireland came to rest. The revolution in Irish land ownership that took place between 1640 and 1670 was the most dramatic social transformation to take place in Ireland between the Flight of the Earls in 1607 and the Great Famine of the 1840s. It effectively shaped the balance of social, economic and political power on the island for the next two centuries. The copies of the Books of Survey and Distribution held in the RIA illustrate how that balance of power stood at the end of the 1660s, and how it had changed since the outbreak of war in 1641.

Dr John Gibney
Assistant Editor with the Royal Irish Academy’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series.

Sources and further reading:

Kevin Whelan (ed), Wexford: history and society (Dublin, 1987).

Trinity College Dublin Down Survey website:

On Wednesday 27 November 2019 the RIA’s new illustrated history of Irish foreign policy, Ireland: A voice among the nations, by John Gibney, Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley, was launched in Academy House by Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney TD. Speaking ahead of the launch, the Tánaiste noted that ‘Ireland: A voice among the nations provides a wonderful insight into the evolution and history of Irish foreign policy. At the heart of this publication are the people who have worked tirelessly since the foundation of the state to promote Irish values and interests throughout the world’. The book was commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to mark the centenary of its foundation in 1919 and was researched and written under the auspices of the RIA’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series.

Learn more about Ireland: A voice among the nations and explore this RTÉ photoessay based on the book.

Above, L-R: Simon Coveney TD, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade; Dr John Gibney, Assistant Editor, Documents on Irish Foreign Policy; Dr Kate O’Malley, Managing Editor, Dictionary of Irish Biography; Dr Michael Kennedy, Executive Editor, Documents on Irish Foreign Policy; Niall Burgess, Secretary General, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Prof. Peter Kennedy, President, RIA. Photo by Mark Stedman.

Ireland has the unusual distinction of having had a foreign policy and a diplomatic service before there was an internationally recognised independent Irish state. The roots of both lie in the turmoil of the Irish revolution and the remoulding of the international order in the aftermath of the First World War. The origins of the modern Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lie in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established as one of the first four government departments of the first Dáil Éireann in January 1919. Since before the Easter Rising of 1916 republicans had anticipated Ireland making a claim for the recognition of its independence at a post-First World War peace conference, and the new foreign affairs ministry was intended to do that. Thus, a mission was established in Paris.

Despite the best efforts of the independence movement, however, the Irish Free State that legally came into existence in December 1922 was a dominion within the British Commonwealth. As a result of Britain’s partition of Ireland in 1920 and the creation of Northern Ireland, the Irish Free State comprised only 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties.

Independent Ireland sought to carve out an international identity; nevertheless, a key theme that ran through the first three decades of Irish independence was the British-Irish relationship, and the efforts of successive Irish governments to build upon the measure of sovereignty obtained in 1922 against the unstable backdrop of the interwar period.

The Second World War—the ‘Emergency’—was, and remains, the greatest international challenge faced by independent Ireland. The state sought to navigate a path between the belligerent powers, ensuring in the process that neutrality would become enshrined as a core principle of Irish foreign policy. The post-war era brought attempts to grapple with new realities, along with efforts to highlight the partition of Ireland to an international audience preoccupied with the Cold War; ‘cultural’ diplomacy increasingly became part of the state’s diplomatic repertoire. The change of government in 1948 opened the door to the severing of Ireland’s remaining links to the Commonwealth, and, in April 1949, brought the declaration of Ireland as a republic.

Yet Ireland remained relatively isolated internationally in the first decade of the Cold War. This would change from 1955 onwards, however, following admission to the United Nations. With increased involvement in the UN—such as participation in peacekeeping missions and service on the Security Council at times of great international tension—and the expansion of Ireland’s diplomatic footprint into Asia, the 1950s and 1960s could be seen to mark a shift from Ireland’s traditional focus on the Anglo-American axis.

By the early 1970s, however, three developments had redefined the scope of Ireland’s foreign policy: an official commitment to overseas aid; membership of the European Economic Community (the forerunner of the modern European Union); and the outbreak of conflict—the ‘Troubles’—in Northern Ireland in 1969, which brought Anglo-Irish relations back to the fore. After 50 years of independence, the key preoccupations of Ireland’s foreign policy were redefined in the 1970s, with a renewed emphasis on multilateralism, in particular via the United Nations; attempts at brokering a peace settlement on the island of Ireland; a commitment to the provision of aid to developing countries; and a commitment to the long-term project of European integration. In the twenty-first century, these remain core planks of Ireland’s foreign policy.

Ireland: a voice among the nations examines how a small European state has, in the century since its foundation, engaged with the wider world. It is conceived of as a history of Irish foreign policy, presented through text and images, rather than as an institutional history of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its predecessors (though the two obviously go hand in hand). It takes a broadly chronological approach, with some key themes ranging more widely over time. Yet the book is also intended to be a visual essay, in which the diverse range of images and documents reproduced reveal the story of Ireland’s engagement with the world since independence. In short, Ireland: a voice among the nations explores, in a broad sense, how Irish diplomats and politicians responded to the challenges presented by the upheavals of the twentieth century and beyond, from the Paris peace conference of 1919 to the globalisation of the twenty-first century.

This is an edited extract from John Gibney, Michael Kennedy and Kate O’Malley, Ireland: a voice among the nations, available now.

DIFP is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the National Archives of Ireland, and the Royal Irish Academy. Most of what DIFP publish (not to mention the office) is in the National Archives itself on Dublin’s Bishop Street. As that 2019 marks the centenary of the founding of the Irish diplomatic service, between now and the end of the year we will be curating a series of monthly mini-exhibitions in the National Archives on some aspects of Ireland’s relations with the wider world. For the first exhibition, we have gone back to the start with a selection of documents relating to the foreign policy of the first Dáil Éireann in 1919-21.

Sinn Féin’s manifesto for the 1918 general election included a promise to lobby the post-First World War peace conference to recognise Irish independence, and in 1919 future Irish president Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh was sent to Paris with this in mind; he was soon joined by George Gavan Duffy, and correspondence from both men in August 1919 on their various activities forms part of the exhibit. The Irish mission failed to get a hearing at the peace conference but attempts to bring international pressure to bear on the British became an integral part of the Irish struggle for independence.

Mobilising the support of the Irish diaspora was an important tactic for keeping the question of Irish independence relevent in the eyes of world opinion. Also in the exhibition is a letter from a Welsh branch of the Irish Self-Determination League of Great Britain (ISDL) pledging support for the Irish delegation that had recently arrived in London to negotiate the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921. Sinn Féin had agents and emissaries in a surprising number of places, including, from April 1921 onwards, Berlin, in the form of John Chartres and Nancy Wyse-Power. On the same day as the letter from Wales was written, a German edition of the Dáil’s international propaganda organ, The Irish Bulletin, was also published, and it too reported on the arrival of the Irish negotiators in London.

Ultimately, the negotiating of the Treaty was a separate matter and was not directly shaped by Sinn Féin’s attempts to secure international recognition for Irish independence, but many of those who became diplomats after independence had cut their teeth in the Sinn Féin diplomatic service during the revolution.

The documents mentioned above are now on display until 31 January 2019 in the lobby of the National Archives of Ireland, Bishop Street, Dublin 8, which is open from 9.15am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

All images courtesy of the National Archives of Ireland.

The eleventh instalment of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy, covering the period 1957 to 1961, was launched on 13 November by An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney TD in Iveagh House. It covers the period when Éamon de Valera stepped down as Taoiseach, to be replaced by Seán Lemass. This was at the height of the Cold War, when, despite Ireland’s neutrality, the Department of External Affairs (as it was then called) prepared for Ireland actually being involved in a potential third world war (these preparations included plans to arm Irish diplomats in danger zones in case of public unrest).

In the late fifties and early sixties the Department also had to grapple with legacies of the Second World War, such as whether the former Nazi paratroop commander Otto Skorzeny (best known for rescuing the Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini) should be given an Irish residence permit. Here Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken prevailed over the Department of Justice, and Skorzeny never received authorisation to reside permanently in Ireland.

The years from 1957 to 1961 also marked the heyday of Ireland’s activism at the United Nations, with Ireland playing a central role on issues ranging from nuclear disarmament to apartheid to the discussion of the admission of Communist China. The volume includes documents on the ‘China vote’, nuclear non-proliferation, and an account of Frederick Boland, whilst President of the UN General Assembly, breaking his gavel whilst trying to call Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to order.

Significantly, the volume also covers the years in which Irish Defence Forces personnel first participated in peacekeeping missions with the United Nations in Africa and the Middle East. These include proof that the UN approved Conor Cruise O’Brien’s taking the organisation to war in Congo’s Katanga province and documents on the Niemba Ambush (November 1960), and the fighting at Jadotville and Elisabethville (September 1961).

A constant theme through the volume is Ireland’s desire to become involved in European integration, a policy vigorously pursued by Lemass. The volume includes the high-level diplomacy surrounding Ireland first application for membership of the European Economic Community in 1961, with some striking parallels to Brexit – striking in that the parallels with Brexit are clear, except that the question asked is ‘What if Ireland is out and Britain is in?’  There’s mention of a border down the Irish Sea, the status of Northern Ireland, that separate trade agreements between North and South and Ireland and the UK are possible, and that London thought little about Ireland (north and south) in undertaking entry to the EEC.

Alongside such key topics are documents dealing with a wide range of others: the prospect of the deposed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista taking refuge in Ireland, overseas adoptions of Irish children, Irish diplomats’ views on the election of John F. Kennedy, the Cold War context of Irish-Soviet (non)-relations, Frank Aiken’s distrust of public opinion in foreign policymaking, the Irish embassy in London’s views on race relations in Britain, Ireland’s first diplomatic moves in Africa, and links between the Defence Forces G2 and MI6 and the CIA.

Using original declassified documents from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade‘s archive, the volume pieces together as no other source can, the top-level decision making by Minister for External Affairs Frank Aiken, Taoiseach Seán Lemass and Irish diplomats such as Frederick Boland and Conor Cruise O’Brien that saw Ireland come to play a central role on the world stage.

Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Volume XI, 1957-61 is available to buy now.

Image: L-R Prof. M. Peter Kennedy (President, RIA), Dr Kate O’Malley (Assistant Editor, DIFP), Prof. Eunan O’Halpin MRIA, An Tánaiste, Simon Coveney TD, Dr Michael Kennedy (Executive Editor, DIFP), Prof. Bernadette Whelan MRIA, Ms Fiona Flood (DFAT).