No. 78 NAI DFA Secretary's Files P12/14/1
LONDON, 26 May 1941
I informed Mr. Churchill today that I had received the following message for him from Mr. de Valera:-
'Mr. Dulanty has reported to me your conversation on the subject of Conscription in the Six Counties area. Before your final decision is taken I feel that I should again put before your Government as earnestly as I can my view that the imposition of Conscription in any form would provoke the bitterest resentment amongst Irishmen and would have the most disastrous consequences for our two peoples.
A feeling of better understanding and of mutual sympathy which held in it the promise of ultimate close friendship has grown up between our peoples in recent years. The existence of Partition was the only stumbling block, and there was the hope that in the improved conditions it too would disappear. The imposition of Conscription will inevitably undo all the good that has been done and throw the two peoples back into the old unhappy relations. The conscription of the people of one nation by another revolts the human conscience. No fair minded man anywhere can fail to recognise in it an act of oppression upon a weaker people, and it cannot but damage Britain herself. The Six Counties have towards the rest of Ireland a status and relationship which no Act of Parliament can change. They are part of Ireland. They have always been part of Ireland, and their people, Catholic and Protestant, are our people.
I beg of you before you enter on a course which can affect so profoundly the relations of our two peoples to take all these matters into the most earnest consideration.'
After reading the foregoing I handed the message to him in typescript.
'Does Mr. de Valera' he inquired, 'want an answer to this message, because if he does I will give him one – an answer which will resound throughout the world'. Without waiting for any reply Mr. Churchill began to pace up and down the room speaking with a passion which certainly did not seem simulated. 'When I think of the fine men with whom I worked in past years, men who gave their lives for Ireland – the two Redmonds,1 Dillon2 and Kettle3– one of your finest modern minds – and all those other Irish who shewed such courage and valour in the last war, my blood boils to think of your present position. Ireland has lost its soul.' If some thought to harm the British by keeping them out of their ports they would probably not do so much harm as they intended. The Battle of the Atlantic would be won – though the fight would be long, strenuous and at times seemingly uncertain.
He mentioned again the feeling in Britain and said that when recently he visited Glasgow after an air raid a prominent Irishman, Sir Patrick Dollan, Lord Provost of Glasgow,4had told him that if the British took the ports he and many other Irishmen in Britain would support it. It was difficult, such was the Niagara-like rush of his talk, to make any reply, but I did manage to tell Mr. Churchill that Dollan could of course speak for himself but for no one else. Since 1908 (when I reminded him we first met in a bye-election on his entry into the British Cabinet)5 I had worked with most movements in the Irish national cause in Great Britain but had never heard of this 'prominent Irishman', though I had in the past few years known of him as a Scottish Labour journalist.
When he became First Lord of the Admiralty in Mr. Chamberlain's Government he of course accepted, however regretfully, the position of the ports whose return to us he had stoutly opposed. That was his attitude today but speaking for himself if it came to the death point for the British he might have to reconsider the whole question. There would be no invasion of Ireland by them unless to refrain meant the destruction of Britain – a contingency he did not think would arise.
He repeated his remarks about the Treaty which we had so wantonly repudiated and said that his action as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 'wiping out this charge and that' over the Boundary settlement had been described at the time by our own representatives as 'not only just but generous'.
In these conversations he became at times emotional and would suddenly stop and say petulantly 'But why should I go on like this' (I would have liked to ask 'What was the good?' also). I do not think there was any play-acting because this tendency of his to emotion is the cause of some apprehension amongst his own supporters.
From the beginning I had emphasised the fact, which of course was patent to him, that all parties were united in our policy of abstention from war. His mentions of An Taoiseach were therefore few, his references being mostly to the Irish leaders.
The atmosphere of this and the preceding interview was unfriendly. There was no exchange of views, no consideration of the position and its difficulties, but a torrent of talk from the British Prime Minister which seemed sometimes to overwhelm that gentleman himself – indeed at times I did not feel sure that he was attending to what I was saying.
He is regarded by some, not in any fault-finding way, as having an eighteenth century mind. As I left Downing Street I thought of a speech I heard him make over thirty years ago exhorting the English to look on Irish problems with a modern and unprejudiced mind. He himself looks today on Ireland with a mind which is neither.
What he said against our Government lost nothing from the acerbity with which he said it. His feeling of hostility was known; these conversations made crystal clear the depth and bitterness of that hostility.
[signed] J. W. DULANTY
The Royal Irish Academy's Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series has published an eBook of confidential correspondence on the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations.
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