Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Dev and Ulster

I thought I would interrupt my break to make a post on an interesting book I've been reading called 'De Valera and the Ulster Question 1917-73' by John Bowman. De Valera is a fascinating figure and a man I have alot of respect for. The book is an interesting look at de Valera's attitude towards partition right through his career. I thought this was an interesting piece in relation to the oft-mentioned condolences Dev sent after Hitler's death which unionists just love to bring up! Bowman writes on page 255:

"With the news of Hitler's death on 30 April 1945 de Valera insisted - ignoring his closest advisers - on expressing his sympathy to Hempel (Hempel was German ambassador to Ireland). He believed Hempel's conduct throughout the war to have been 'irreproachable' and he believed it would have been 'an act of unpardonable discourtesy' not to have called. He was aware of the inevitable propaganda, telling Hempel:'No matter. I do what I think is right.' Maffey, (Sir John Maffey was Britain's representative in Ireland)...believed that de Valera's condolences to Hempel, particularly as they had been followed by the revelations of Buchenwald, 'gradually took on a smear of turpitude'. Maffey was upset some days later when Churchill, in his victory broadcast at the conclusion of the war, focussed attention on de Valera with a bitter attack on Irish neutrality. De Valera made a politically brilliant reply. According to Maffey, he 'saw his addvantage, found the authentic anti-British note and did not put a foot wrong'.

I think this point about the condolences offered is important. The myth that rose from his gesture - which admittedly was foolish - was that Dev had sympathy with the Nazis. This was not true. Indeed, if you have a read through
this article in The Guardian, you'll see these final lines:

"De Valera is famous for having signed the book of condolences for Adolf Hitler in the German embassy in Dublin at the end of the second world war. Sir John, however, observed in 1940: "I dined with [de Valera] and he expressed the strongest anti-German and anti-Russian sentiments and deeply regretted our inability to help Finland."

To go back to the book, I found the following interesting in relation to Nazi attitudes towards Ireland on pages 240/241:

"After the war, it was not in the south's interest to admit that for most of 1940 and 1941 at least, a German victory was considered probable in Dublin. But to base policy on the expectation of a German victory was, unfairly, in some quarters, confused with sympathising or aiding such an outcome. The Irish were not alone in expecting a German victory. In December 1940, Maffey presumed to advise the Ulster Unionists to prepare for such a contingency, surprising and annoying Spender with the suggestion that 'if the British Empire were defeated' that 'it would be very greatly to the advantage of Northern Ireland to join up with Eire and that the British government would advise Ulster to do so.'"

Although Hitler himself claimed in December 1940 that 'possession of Ireland could have the effect of ending the war', he accepted the counsel of his military advisers that, strategically, German 'occupation of the island of Ireland' was 'impossible', if Ireland were not at war with Britain. The following year when Rudolph Hess was being questioned after his flight to Britain, his interrogator 'dropped a fly at him on Ireland' and received the reply that Hitler had 'no intention vis-a-vis that country. It had done nothing for Germany, and why should Germany do anything for her'?

And page 242 offers an insight into the Irish views of the time:

"The possibilty of a German invasion of the north, ostensibly to unite Ireland, was still de Valera's worst fear. That such a development would have caused confusion in Fianna Fail's ranks is clear; only Fine Gael seem to have been confident that the correct response would be to aid the Unionists and British. Cosgrave wrote to Mulcahy: 'If we could help the north and don't, we are plumping for German occupation of a part of our country. Dermot [?MacMurrough] over again in a new shape.' In general, Mulcahy was critical of de Valera's policy: he disliked the 'prevarications, contradictory statements and the extraordinary equating of the British with the Germans.' O'Higgins agreed. His paper, for a front-bench meeting in March 1941, suggested that 'the most serious aspect' of Irish neutrality as practised was 'the indifference as to which side may become our enemy and therefore which side may become our ally': if Britain in desperation seized the ports we must make war on Britain and 'make a Nazi victory a certainty'. O'Higgins believed the most probable outcome of the war was a negotiated peace, in which case Ireland would learn that because of neutrality she had 'made an enemy of Britain for years to come, and...Partition as permanent as British power can make it. Any future Commonwealth Conference will see our representatives begging for the scraps.' In the event of a German victory, O'Higgins believed that Ireland would become a German base. He suggested that policy should be reviewed in the light of these probabilities and considred exclusively in terms of Ireland's rights, which could be 'summed up in one sentence, Ireland's territorial unity - the restoration of Ulster to Ireland.' O'Higgin's preferred solution to this dilemma was to lend or lease ports to the Allies on the strength of an American guarantee of their evacuation at the end of the war.

All in all, I'm finding the book a great read and if you're interested in de Valera and the 'Ulster question', as you well know I am, you will love this book.

Anyway, I have to get back to drinking...I mean fishing!


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