Category Archives: De Valera

Economic War, Mk II

DrumsalongthemohawkHark! ‘Tis Drums Along The Water of Leith! And in Technicolor©!

Or hear it from The Scotsman‘s lead story (by-lined to David Maddox):

THE UK government will not agree to allow an independent Scotland to use the pound, Chancellor George Osborne is to say tomorrow in a major speech in Edinburgh.

 In a watershed for the referendum debate, Mr Osborne is set to be joined by his Labour shadow Ed Balls and Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, who will also say they are ruling out a sterling zone.

That means that even after the 2015 General Election, whoever is in power is likely to block a formal currency union with an independentScotland.

The move is a blow to the Scottish Government, which laid out its plans for a formal currency union using the pound in its white paper on independence. Yesterday Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon retaliated by warning that Scotland would not take on its share of the UK’s national debt if an independent Scotland was excluded from formally using sterling.

Real fear rather than just rhetoric?

However much the Salmond administration protest their “rights”, and assert that this is “bullying”, there are good reasons why London is leery.

The chimaera of oil and gas aside (which are declining assets), the Scottish economy is even more biased towards banking than (say) Iceland’s ever was. That was the point Mark Carney of the Bank of England tried to hammer home; and with which he has apparently skewered the English politicos subsequently:

In a “technocratic assessment” to Scottish business leaders Mark Carney was careful to be diplomatic, making no judgement on whether Scotland would be better or worse off if independent. But the speech pointedly contained a table comparing the size of Scotland’s banking sector unfavourably with Ireland, Iceland, Cyprus,  and Spain.

In all these places, a bankrupt banking system too big for the host country led to the need for a national bailout. These countries had a banking system of between three and seven times the size of their GDP. Scotland’s banking system is 12 times the size of its GDP.

We have been here before

I cannot avoid recalling this has the making of a re-run of 1934-37 and what is grandly termed the Anglo-Irish Trade War, but more normally the “Economic War”.

  • That, too, occurred as European nations strove to rebuild from a great international financial collapse. Protectionism was the current mood.
  • De Valera’s Fianna Fáil government had just come to power, and was setting about making a mark for itself.
  • De Valera unilaterally decided that the Land Annuities were part of the UK national debt, from which the Free State had been exempted. In a direct parallel with Nicola Sturgeon’s crude threat, payments due to the UK Exchequer were shut off.
  • London’s response was to ban imports of Irish cattle. That didn’t greatly and directly hurt the Irish middle classes. It was a boon to the poorer ones (who now received “free beef”). It did heavily impact on the ranchers and big farmers, who had to switch suddenly to tillage, at a time when, worldwide, agricultural gate-prices were rock-bottom.
  • The farmers stopped (and many were unable anyway) to pay rates and taxes. That, in turn, meant effective collapse of the Irish local government system — and a corresponding concentration of control at the centre (which was no great pain to Fianna Fáil).
  • It all played to a rise in Irish national consciousness (again, no great pain to Fianna Fáil). There was a revival of the slogan derived from Jonathan Swift’s pamphlet of 1720:

I hope and believe nothing could please His Majesty better than to hear that his loyal subjects of both sexes in this kingdom celebrated his birthday (now approaching) universally clad in their own manufacture. Is there virtue enough left in this deluded people to save them from the brink of ruin? If the men’s opinions may be taken, the ladies will look as handsome in stuffs as brocades; and since all will be equal, there may be room enough to employ their wit and fancy in choosing and matching of patterns and colours. I heard the late Archbishop of Tuam mention a pleasant observation of somebody’s; ‘that Ireland would never be happy till a law were made for burning everything that came from England, except their people and their coals.’ Nor am I even yet for lessening the number of those exceptions.

Malcolmian aside:

I am constantly amazed and depressed by the number of times I come across that, mis-quoted, cut-and-pasted, by persons, even scholars, who cannot be arsed to check out the original. The final sentence is so quintessentially Swift it deserves to be included whenever possible.

  • Ramsay MacDonald (for it was he) was happy to repay in kind, even to fulfil Swift’s advice. He had coal supplies to the Free State cut off. Welsh coal-owners were less enthused.
  • Ireland began a programme of import substitution. Déanta in Éirinn appeared on all kinds of goods, a few of which were actually “made in Ireland” (and fewer still of real quality), rather than bolted, screwed and soldered together from imported products. The least said about native fuels (with the possible exception of Castlecomer anthracite) the better.

Even in the 1960s, drinking Bass beer was a distinct no-no among the Dublin lefties whose company I shared in the side-bar of O’Neills, Suffolk Street. I can still, just about, stomach Smithwick’s gaseous substitute.

We all knew that #Indyref would turn nasty.

Did we expect it all to go so poisonous, so early?

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, broken society, De Valera, History, Ireland, Irish Labour, Irish politics, Salmond, Scotland

Culpable negligence

Household insurance at Redfellow Hovel requires three locks on the rear doors to the garden. After all, that’s the weaker, less observed point of access. So very reasonable stuff.

richard-mulcahy-michael-collinsIn another context Malcolm found himself reviewing how Éire coped with the outbreak of World War II. That’s a far bigger topic than can easily be contained here; and others — Brian Girvin, John Duggan, and Clair Wills sit on Malcolm’s shelves, alongside more general histories — have done it more than adequately anyway.

In the course of his fossicking, Malcolm hit on this, from Questions in Dáil Éireann on Thursday 25th April, 1940:

Risteárd Ua Maolchatha: asked the Minister for External Affairs if he will state the number of occasions since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 25th April, 1938, on which there was direct personal discussion between Irish and British Ministers on matters of mutual trade, and if he will say in respect of each such occasion the date, the various Ministers who took direct part in the discussion, and the matters discussed.Minister for External Affairs (The Taoiseach): There have been no direct discussions between Irish and British Ministers since April, 1938. Questions connected with the trade between the two countries have, of course, been discussed from time to time through the High Commissioner and the British representative here, and within the last few months officials of the Department of Supplies and the Department of Agriculture, acting on behalf of their respective Ministers, have had direct discussions with officials of the corresponding Departments in Great Britain. I may add that, following these latter discussions, the Minister for Supplies and the Minister for Agriculture will go to London next week for conversations on certain outstanding points with the British Ministers concerned.

General Mulcahy: Seven months of the war situation have passed without any of our Ministers discussing their problems with the British, and nearly two years have passed since the Agreement was made. Is that so?

The Taoiseach: That is so.

General Mulcahy: Will the Taoiseach say whether he intends to report to the House, as a result of the meeting that, happily, it is proposed should take place next week after such a long period?

The Taoiseach: I do not know. Any arrangements that may be made will have to be reported to the House in one form or another.

 Read, mark and inwardly digest!

Most sentient beings here present may be raising a knowing eyebrow.

  • That was happening a fortnight after the German invasion of Denmark and Norway, and six days after the Dutch PM announced a “state of siege” (doubtless aware of troop movements next door).
  • Risteárd Ua Maolchatha had been Chief of Staff for Óglaíg na hÉireann (should you prefer: the IRA), and it was his signature on the ceasefire order for 11th July 1921, when the Treaty negotiations were begun.
  • The Taoiseach is none other than de Valera, himself. Dev was never one to use words lightly, and without deliberation.
  • Richard Mulcahy was no goat’s toe: the image at the top of this post is Mulcahy, watching his back, while Michael Collins wonders what he has just stepped in. Even in 1940 Mulcahy was the coming man in Fine Gael. Ua Maolchatha was, as far back as the War of Independence, Mulcahy’s backstop. Even if this was no “planted question”, the speed with with Mulcahy jumps in, and de Valera’s reply implies all parties were aware more was being said than being spoken.

The question was, ostensibly, about “trade”; but the answer seems more general: “There have been no direct discussions between Irish and British Ministers since April, 1938″.

That has to be a clue to intense frustration in Dublin. In any case, “trade” (the ostensible subject of that question) was code for beef, bacon and butter in exchange for fuel and some minimal matériel for the Defence Force.

There had been constipation in London. A proper diplomatic channel with Dublin had not been opened. De Valera wanted a British minister or ambassador in Dublin (a grandeur which Chamberlain couldn’t accept). The term “high commissioner” was too colonial for de Valera: its parallel was the British High Commissioner in Egypt, the de facto power in the land. The gap was finally plugged by Sir John Maffey, retired as permanent under-secretary for the colonies, becoming the British “representative” in Dublin — a rôle to which he was shackled for the next decade. All too little, too late.

We’d need to have in mind the other numerous other frustrations the British imposed, mainly out of necessity, on the Irish. All telegraphic and external postal traffic — and pretty well all other communications — went through London. Folk from Donegal could not pass through Northern Ireland into Great Britain — Sam Beckett, born in Dublin, claiming Irish citizenship, was refused permission to return to France by the only route possible. And so on.

Meanwhile Churchill, in the Cabinet, was muttering about invasion and seizing the Treaty Ports.

What had Neville Chamberlain’s Government in London had done to keep De Valera and Éire on side? Even after eight months of the war, had no serious attempt been made to lock the back door?

Incredible! But, apparently, true.

Leave a comment

Filed under Britain, De Valera, History, Ireland, Irish politics, World War 2

With an “e”

Frank McNally has appeared for repeated approbation here at Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service. Not, of course, that the Magnificent Frank needs such trifles.

Today’s Irishman’s Diary, though, is a special treat.


Until the M6 was built, this was the cross-roads of the Dublin-Galway N6 (which took one down Bridge Street, and past the distillery) and the Nenagh-Dundalk N52. Now you turn off the motorway onto the Tullamore Road.

The gift wrapping for McNally’s offering is the Kilbeggan Distillery, in the County Westmeath. That was originally the Brusna Distillery (because it sits on the River Brosna, and has a water-mill — soon again to be functioning). The original licence is dated 1757; and so claims to be the oldest continually licensed distillery in the world. Let us remember that every bottle of Bushmills boasts a 1608 licence from James I to distil uisce beatha … in the territory of the Rowte (Rowte = rout, the area controlled by the private army of the MacQuillans), and that  the Old Bushmills Distillery was recorded in 1743.

Malcolm will happily drink to either claim.

The original Brusna distillery was set up and owned by the McManus family, and control passed to the Codd family in 1794. The distillery manager was John McManus, who was also a colonel in the United Irishmen, and who ended his life, condemned for treason (and apparently for breaching the curfew), on the gallows at Mullingar in the aftermath of 1798.

In 1843 the distillery was taken over by John Locke and Sons, by which name it became better known until Locke’s closed down in 1959. That led to one of those typically Irish shenanigans: the assets — which amounted to the run-down property in Kilbeggan and some 60,000 gallons of mature whiskey — had been “acquired” in 1947 by The Transworld Trust, based in Switzerland. To nobody’s great surprise The Transworld Trust, and its £305,000 was a wide-boy operation. From the start Oliver J Flanagan was asking awkward questions. As McNally puts it succinctly:

A subsequent tribunal of inquiry found that Flanagan had over-egged the allegations, somewhat. Even so, a bad smell lingered. And the Locke’s scandal helped usher De Valera out of power after 16 years, to be replaced by the first inter-party government.

… which all sounds dismally familiar

Inside this wrapping, McNally rattles through a broad view of what went wrong for Irish whiskey. His account boils down to:

1. Coffey

In 1830 a Dublin-born (the DNB prefers Dublin to the alternative of Calais) exciseman, Aeneas Coffey (left), came up with an alternative to the ancient alembic:

The Coffey still (a.k.a columnar still) consists of three interconnected towers equipped with perforated trays stacked at intervals of approximately 20 – 30 centimetres. Each tower has to inlets; one for the alcohol-containing liquid the other for pressurized steam. The ferment is fed through the top inlet and the steam from the bottom. As the liquid trickles down the steam rises and literally strips the alcohol from it at a high temperature and speed. The vaporized alcohol travels to the top of the tower and to the next tower to undergo the same process. The third tower usually shorter distils a smaller quantity, as the volume is now much smaller than at the beginning of the process. 

At the end of the run, a highly purified (90 percent ABV) alcohol is obtained which is, regardless of the base material, tastes the same -colourless, and tasteless much like vodka or industrial food-grade alcohol. This alcohol consists mainly of ethyl alcohol and very little, lethal methyl alcohol.

The result was a lighter distillate, cheaper to produce. The Scots took up the invention: the Irish stuck with traditional methods, or as the DNB has it:

Initial production problems and the conservatism of Irish distillers meant that Coffey had little success in introducing his apparatus in Ireland, and in 1835 he moved his business to St Leonard’s Street, Bromley by Bow, Middlesex. From the 1840s his patent still gained in popularity, notably in Scotland. During his tour of 1887 Alfred Barnard found Coffey stills in all the major Scottish distilleries. Improved versions are widely used in the manufacture of grain whisky, gin, and other potable and industrial spirits.

2. Prohibition

The Volstead Act (the National Prohibition Act of 1919) implemented the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. Instantly Irish whiskey lost its main export market.

Worse still, the Locke’s brand and others were so well known they was counterfeited for hooch. By 1928 whiskey production in the Free State was 36.6% down, to 560,000 barrels.

When prohibition was repealed in 1931, the reputational damage had been done.

3. Independence

Sales in Britain of all things distinctly “Irish” were damaged by the War of Independence.

In 1932 the incoming  Fianna Fáil government of Éamon de Valera ramped up tariffs on imported goods, which in those days were mainly British exports. In retaliation Irish whiskey went AWOL across the British Empire.

4. Overpaid, over-sexed and over here

There should have been a reprieve when the GIs arrived, during the Second Unpleasantness.

Alas, thanks to a combination of the above factors, the American occupation developed a taste for Scotch, in McNally’s racey account:

Dev’s economic war with Britain was a disaster, and neutrality didn’t help much either. All those US troops stationed in the UK were a whisky marketer’s dream, bringing their newly acquired taste for Scotch home with them after the war.

… and a round finish

They are back distilling at Kilbeggan: production restarted in 2007, and will be on the market in a couple of years time.

Meanwhile the Cooley Distillery (now yet another subsidiary of the Jim Beam operation) in the County Louth will offer substitutes: Kilbeggan, Locke’s Blend and Locke’s Malt. The link with Kilbeggan, for the moment, is that the maturing process takes place in Locke’s old granite bond-store.


Leave a comment

Filed under De Valera, Dublin., economy, Frank McNally, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, politics, Scotland, World War 2

Hempel & Bewley: lickspittles to Der Führer

The Irish Times has a continuing correspondence on Edouard Hempel, the German minister plenipotentiary in Ireland from 1937 to 1945. New readers might usefully start here.

Hempel’s can hardly have been an easy billet: he was under constant scrutiny by (among others) the Irish military intelligence (G2), the British Representative to Ireland (Sir John Mahaffy) and his various spooky minions, David Gray (the prickly and bellicose US minister in Dublin), not to forget the German Sicherheitsdienst (which was constantly in competition with the Abwehr). Added to which Hempel had to cope with the friends of Germany in Irish society, notably the ménage around Maud Gonne MacBride.

Quite how sincerely committed Hempel was to Nazism is, as the Irish Times correspondence suggests, a topic worthy of debate.

What is not so debatable is the loyalty of Ireland’s man in Berlin, the anti-semite Charles Bewley, of whom Malcolm has written previously. When de Valera finally sacked Bewley from his diplomatic post in Berlin (and that only in August 1939), Bewley took Goebbels’ Reichsmarks and churned out propaganda for the duration.

Despite a nudge from Malcolm, the Irish Times letters column finds German Hempel of far greater interest than one of its own.

Odd, that.

Leave a comment

Filed under De Valera, Dublin., Fascists, History, Ireland, Irish politics, Irish Times, World War 2

A non-apology

Typically circuitously, this was provoked by the small fuss that Ed Miliband’s “partnership” has provoked.

It put him in mind of Georges Brassens’ magnificent La non-demande en mariage:

For Anglophones, that says something like this:

Ma mie, de grâce, ne mettons/ Beloved, for mercy’s sake, let us
Pas sous la gorge à Cupidon/Not load, beneath Cupid’s throat
Sa propre flèche,/ His own arrow.
Tant d’amoureux l’ont essayé/ So many lovers have tried
Qui, de leur bonheur, ont payé/ Who spent their happiness for
Ce sacrilège.This sacrilege.

J’ai l’honneur de/ I have the honour
Ne pas te demander ta main:/ Not to ask for your hand:
Ne gravons pasLet’s not inscribe
Nos noms au basOur names at the end
D’un parchemin.Of some parchment.

The rest is on-line here.

“Joha’s not my wife: she’s my goddess!”

For the last forty-odd years of his life, Brassens’ soul-mate was Estonian-born Joha Heiman. They never married; they never shared a house; yet she was his Püppchen (even if Brassens’s animal of choice was the cat). She is the recipient of this non-proposal. They now share a plot in the Cimetière du Py, the “Cemetery of the Poor”, in Brassens home-town of Sète:

Juste au bord de la mer, à deux pas des flots bleus

Which, of course, is from his plea to be buried just there:

Not a bad way for Malcolm to spend twenty minutes this Saturday lunch-time, awaiting the return of the (married) Lady in his Life from places Yorkshire-ish. And provoking intimations of immortality and mortality (and the route from the latter to the former): sooner or later, we’ll all go together, when we go …

Meanwhile …

iTunes threw up more of the same, but different.

Malcolm has previously been offensively rude about the Pub-Oirish output of the Clancys. He feels particularly unforgiving about Liam Clancy’s molesting of Dominic Behan’s The Patriot Game. Indeed, he sees he has made something of a habit of just that.

So, a non-apology to the late and generally-lamented Clancys. What they did, they did outstandingly well; and a country mile better than any of their pale imitators. Which is why Malcolm now plays out with what his iPod has just gratuitously offered:

Leave a comment

Filed under De Valera, Ed Miliband, folk music, nationalism, Tommy Makem

Conscription and consequence

One of the many reasons Malcolm could not write a novel is his inability to manage convincing dialogue.

Parliamentary language

In a different context, he came across a very telling example from real life. That exchange on Slugger O’Toole had worked round to the topic of conscientious objectors in the two World Wars, and that since conscription wasn’t applied in Ireland, there were no Irish conscientious objectors.

If anyone needed further proof positive of the obtuseness of the Northern Irish administrations run by Craig and Andrews, then the Unionists’ gung-ho enthusiasm for conscription amply provides.

First, before Malcolm recapitulates the story so far, here is that piece of actualité, taken from parliamentary questions of 20th May 1941:

Brigadier-General Clifton Brown (MP for Hexham): asked the Prime Minister whether he will reconsider the question of conscription for Northern Ireland; and whether he can make any statement about it?

Sir Annesley Somerville (MP for Windsor) asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the strong feeling in Ulster in favour of conscription, he will consider the desirability of introducing this measure?

Mr Henry Harland (MP for East Belfast) asked the Prime Minister whether His Majesty’s Government will reconsider the policy of not applying military conscription to Northern Ireland, in view of the fact that the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of this course?

The Prime Minister: This question has for some time past engaged the attention of His Majesty’s Government, and I hope to be in a position to make a statement about it on the first Sitting Day after this week.

Sir A. Somerville: Does not my right hon. Friend remember that the people of Northern Ireland regard this negative policy up to the present as a slight on their patriotism, and also that one frightful result of it is that the good men volunteer while the less good men get their jobs?

Sir Hugh O’Neill (MP for Antrim): Would my right hon. Friend agree that the reason conscription was not originally applied in Northern Ireland was that strong representations were made to the British Government by Mr. De Valera against it, and that Mr. De Valera stated that if it were imposed, it would lead to strong opposition from the minority in Northern Ireland? Is not the present time, when people of all classes and parties in Northern Ireland are mercilessly bombed, a good opportunity for reconsidering the whole matter?

The Prime Minister: The facts are, I believe, as stated by my right hon. Friend, but I hope to be in a position to make a statement on the whole subject shortly.

Mr George Buchanan (MP for Glasgow, Gorbals): Seeing that the Prime Minister of the Irish Free State did make representation, will the right hon. Gentleman agree that before he makes any statement on the matter, any new representations which Mr. de Valera may make will be considered also?

The Prime Minister: Representations which reach His Majesty’s Government from any quarter are always considered.

Professor Douglas Savory (MP for Queen’s University of Belfast): Will the Prime Minister bear in mind that the Cabinet of Northern Ireland were unanimous in 1939 in pressing that conscription should be applied to Northern Ireland?

The usual image of Churchill is one of pugnacious bombast: in this exchange we see him being measured, shrewd and reticent, even evasive. He is being harried by aggressive questioners, men of some intellect, but here blind to the consequences of their intent. In all of the comings-and-goings over conscription for Northern Ireland Malcolm senses dissimulation: the Unionists are kept on side, the differences in the Northern Ireland cabinet allowed to simmer on, de Valera kept on the hop: the issue is kept bubbling, but never allowed to boil over. To what extent was this a deliberate, if tacit, policy from London?

Here, Malcolm feels, is a moment of pure theatre. It has a particular context, too, which makes the singlemindedness of the Unionists more understandable: this was in the shadow of the Belfast Blitz of Easter Tuesday, 15th April, 1941, with a thousand dead and nearly a quarter of the city’s population homeless.

A brief bit of history

Malcolm found his shelves had few immediate sources. Jonathan Bardon seems to address it just the once:

‘Is it credible’, the Daily Mirror asked in May 1939, ‘that the British government can even dream of enforcing conscription in any part of Ireland?’ Freshly returned from a long Pacific cruise, Craigavon announced in the spring that he wanted his people to make an equal sacrifice in defence of the realm. De Valera was outraged and declared that as his constitution claimed all Ireland to be part of Éire’s territoty, conscription in Ulster would be nothing short of ‘an act of aggression’. ‘I have just read a speech by de Valera, the Irish Taoiseach,’ Hitler told the Reichstag, ‘in which … he reproaches England with subjecting Ireland to continuous aggression.’ Next day the Manchester Guardian reminded its readers ‘that Herr Hitler, as he sarcastically reminded us yesterday, keeps a sharp eye on this rather vulnerable spot in our heel’. Determined to show that his people were prepared to accept the burdens as well as the benefits of the Union, Craigavon travelled to London in May in a high state of agitation. There Chamberlain gently and skilfully forced the premier to back down, as Lady Craigavon records in her diary:

The British Government were frightened of the issue being complicated by de Valera kicking up a dust, though Ulster affairs have nothing to do with him … J. was asked flat out by Chamberlain, ‘Is Ulster out to help Britain in her war effort?’ to which, of course, he answered, ‘You know we are …’ Chamberlain then said, ‘If you want to help us, don’t press for conscription. It will only be an embarrassment.’ What else could J. do than say, ‘Very well, I won’t!’

Craigavon faced sharp criticism from his cabinet colleagues when he returned and Brooke recalled that the premier felt ‘resentment, anger and hurt pride’. Craigavon’s response was that, in compensation, he had pressed strongly for an increased share in rearmament work.

Again, a passage pregnant with hidden messages. We are used to the neat conflation of the six counties with “Ulster”; but might usefully muse on Craigavon’s reference to “his people”.  And, of course, the compensation for forgoing the gesture of conscription is improved employment for the loyalist urban workforce.

The topic is much more complex even that that. Brian Girvin, in The Emergency addresses it over a couple of pages. The British conscription law applied to Irishmen who had been resident in Britain for two years or more. There was an opt-out for anyone returning to Ireland, and staying there for the duration. It seems to exploit this bolt-hole, one needed an address in Ireland to which to return, and John Dulanty, the High Commissioner in London, was selective in issuing certification. Girvin has a couple of exemplary anecdotes:

  • In one case the Department of External Affairs tersely and explicitly told a Mrs Curran that her English-resident son had obligations under the 1939 Act, and the Department had no control.
  • In another, a Mr Faulkner in Paisley had a certificate from the High Commissioner, but hadn’t applied for an exit visa. He expected to fight conscription on the basis of his citizenship, but was sadly disappointed by the Scottish courts. This led to a review and clarification at the highest levels. It didn’t prevent further actions, which went all the way to a ruling of the British Lord Chief Justice, and a response by de Valera.

Reading even these cursory accounts, it is patent that both sides sought to avoid confrontation, anything that would obstruct the flow of volunteers, both combatant and civilian, to Britain.

Enter Uncle Sam

Tim Pat Coogan quotes at some length a cable David Gray, the US minister in Dublin, sent (24th May, 1941) to Cordell Hull, FDR’s Secretary of State. One might, just might detect a whiff of overheated panic:

Opposition leaders informed me that conscription without a conscientious objector’s escape clause for minority Catholic nationalists will constitute a major and probably fatal political blunder at this time and play directly into de Valera’s hands with grave possibilities for American interests. They predict draft riots, the escape of draft dodgers to Southern Ireland who will be acclaimed as folk martyrs by three-quarters of the population and the fomenting of trouble by Republicans and Fifth Columnists. The clearest headed leader predicts that de Valera will seize the opportunity to escape from economic and political realities by proclaiming himself the leader of the oppressed minority and with the blessings of the Cardinal will arouse anti-British feeling and call a Holy War. I think it a very likely prediction. All classes of opinion here unite in condemning the move as calamitous. It appears to be a repetition of the same blunder made during the last war. The weak and failing Ulster Government is probably seeking to sustain itself by provoking a crisis. Unless Great Britain is prepared from a military point of view to seize the whole country it appears to be madness. So little can be gained and so much lost.

Had conscription been imposed, much of Gray’s predictions seems reasonable. One has to wonder who were his sources in the Northern Irish “opposition”: could they include Tommy Henderson, the independent and highly critical Unionist (Gray’s avoidance of word “nationalist” is suggestive of something)?

Gray was not alone in that rush of blood to the head. De Valera sent a strong complaint to London. The US Ambassador in London, John Winant, had extended sessions with Churchill and the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Churchill eventually sent Hull  a cable of concession:

The Ulster Government has weakened considerably over the weekend and in consequenc the Cabinet is inclined to the view it would be more trouble than it’s worth to go through with conscription …

Coogan’s reading of that is:

Andrews had drawn back leaving Churchill with no option but to call off the attempt. Andrews apparently took the RUC’s estimate of the situation more seriously than did the hard-liners in the cabinet, notably Sir Basil Brooke …

It is equally possible that Churchill was merely playing with Andrews, de Valera and the Americans: he was not above such machinations. On many occasions, despite public eruptions and mutterings, his dealings with things Irish were well-intentioned. Soon after, in July 1941, the imprisonment of Cahir Healy under Defence Regulation 18B gave the Unionist a consolation prize.

Matters would proceed without too much friction until the US forces started to arrive in Northern Ireland. They noticed that the local citizenry, unlike themselves, were immune to conscription. This raised eye-brows and GI hackles.

Churchill, either seriously or as a palliative gesture, again raised the matter with Washington, declaring he his sympathy for

young Americans taken by compulsion from their homes to defend an area where young fellows of the locality loaf around with their hands in their pockets.

FDR showed no enthusiasm to impose conscription; and Churchill let the matter lie. Again he had shown concern, but no great intent. By then the tide had changed, passions cooled, and conscription for Northern Ireland was quietly dropped.


Filed under Britain, De Valera, Dublin., History, Ireland, nationalism, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, politics, Tories., World War 2

Robert Gibbings: a sample

Robert_Gibbings1After that previous post, Malcolm was challenged:

“Gibbings? Don’t you mean “Gittings”?

No: Malcolm is equally aware of Robert Gittings, the rightly-celebrated biographer of Keats and Hardy. In the last-but-one book-sort-out, duplicates of those went to the charity shop.

And that’s Gibbings (right).

This is Gibbins, Chapter Eight of Coming Down the Wye:

EVERY TIME I HEAR the name of Evans, and that’s not seldom in Wales, I think of a story l once heard in Ireland. It was about a woman called Hannah Doolan, who lived in a cottage with a thatched roof and a mud floor, at the top of a lane not far from Inchigeela in County Cork. It was a neat house, and a clean one, so far as she could keep it so, but a leak in the roof and an ever increasing family rendered the task a difficult one.
One day a little wizened-up bit of a man came up the lane and asked Hannah if she could spare him a drink of water. Hannah filled him out a glass of milk.
“Could you tell me”, said he, “where could I find a few duck eggs, because the hen eggs at the hotel don’t suit my stomach?”
“Wait a minute,” said Hannah. “Mary Kate,” said she to her daughter, “will you go and ask Patsy Cronin for a few duck eggs for the gentleman. I’ll send them down to you, sir, at the hotel. What name will I say?”
“Evans,” said he, “Evan Evans from Cardiff.”
So that evening five duck eggs arrived at the hotel for Mr. Evans, and a couple of days later there were three more, and within a week another five had been delivered. And then Mr. Evans came to say good-bye.
“How much do I owe you?” said he. “Yerra, nothing at all,” said Hannah. “But I must pay you,” he says.
“What’s a few duck eggs?” says Hannah.
The long and the short of it was that Mary Kate found a two-shilling piece in each of her hands, in spite of her mother’s protestations.
Nothing more was heard of the gentleman until one rainy afternoon, about a year later.
“Good evening, Mrs. Doolan, I suppose you don’t remember me?”
“Well now, glory be to God! Come in out of the wet. Mary Kate, go and ask Patsy Cronin for a couple of duck eggs for the gentleman. I hope ‘tis keeping well you are, sir. Ah, indeed, not too well me self. There’s one in the cradle since, and there’s another coming, and I do be hard put to it at times. Wouldn’t you take off your wet coat now, and sit down awhile? Mind that chair: ‘tis a bit broken it is. These children do be destroying everything.”
She pulled up a sound chair for him. “Taedy, bring in a bit of turf. Patcheen, will ye give the fire a blow? Glory be to God, the weather’s a fright.”
Every other day during the following week a few duck eggs arrived at the hotel, and then Mr. Evans went back to Cardiff, and there was nothing more heard of him for another year. Just when he might have been expected, who should come up the hill but the lame tax collector, who was also the local contractor, limping on his iron stirrup?
“We’re destroyed,” said Hannah to her eldest child. “The rent is due this eight months. Let ye tell him I ‘m gone out,” she said. “Tell him I’m gone down to the town with the money to pay him. Tell him I’m gone out this three hours back.”
“Come out of that and listen to me,” said Mr. Jeremiah Mulcahy, a few minutes later. “Tis news I have for you.”
Hannah, under the old feather bed, didn’t move.
“Come out from under that bed, Hannah Doolan. Can’t I see your two feet?”
Hannah emerged
“How would you like a new house?” said he.
“Oh, to be sure,” said she, “in the Phoenix Park in the centre of Dublin, I suppose.”
“Here’s the plans,” said he.
“Plans of what?” said she.
“Your new house,” said he.
Hannah picked up an earthenware jug. “Now,” said she, “are you going before I split your skull with this, tormenting a woman, is seven months gone.”
Mulcahy paid no attention to her. Instead he unrolled a large blue architect’s plan. “Here’s a house,” said he, “commissioned by Mr. Evan Evans of Cardiff, to be constructed for the benefit and exclusive possession of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Doolan.”
“And where is he going to build it?” asked Hannah.
“He isn’t going to build it. He’s dead,” said Mulcahy.
“God rest his soul,” said Hannah, crossing herself.
“Overright ye there in the valley it’s to be, with yer front door to the sun and five acres of good land behind you,” said Mulcahy.
“Saints of God protect us!”
“He’s after leaving the money in his will.”
Hannah looked up at the hole in the roof. “Well, praise be to God, we didn’t mend it,” she said.

It was in a pub near Rhayader that I met “ ‘Iggs,” who came from Berkshire, a little old man, neatly dressed, with bright blue eyes in a wrinkled face.
“Very proud to meet you, sir. ‘Iggs is my name. I comes from Wantage. Seventy-three, and w’en I goes it’s ‘ere goes ‘Iggs, never did no ‘arm to no one, no one never did no ‘arm to me. I was in ‘Yderabad in 89. Yes, an’ ‘Ounslow an’ ‘Ampton Court we did guard, an’ didn’t we ‘ave to sit on our ponies? As still as marble! I ’ad a lovely moustache in those days, could tie it under me chin. But you’s an artist. There was a man live near ‘ere. Mr. Davis was ‘is name. H. W. B. Davis, that was ‘im. Do you know ‘e painted a picture of that ‘ill above Glaslyn, an’ w’at d’ you think folks in London paid ’im for it? Seven ‘undred an’ fifty guineas ‘e arsks ‘em, an’ that’s w’at they pay ‘im. Damn it, they could ‘ave bought the ‘ole ‘ill for fifty quid.”
Higgs chuckled through his long drooping moustache.
“Did you know,” he asked me, “there’s only two straight streets in Oxford, and that’s an edicated city? But give me travel for edication. You and me ‘as travelled. We’re edicated. ‘Aven’t ‘ad a smoke for fourteen days, but this mornin’ I says I must ‘ave a bit  o’ ‘bacco. Got to ‘old pipe in me ‘and now, w’en I wants a smoke, but I ‘ad a full mouth till five years back; could bend a nail between me teeth. My brother, ‘e couldn’t put ‘is mark on a sausage. Never did lose a tooth till five years back, and never ‘ad a ‘eadache in me life. Me wife died in nineteen ‘undred an’ three. Never ‘ad no ambitions for another woman. No ambitions,’ he repeated meditatively. ‘Not that I ‘aven’t ‘ad chances, you know, plenty of chances. But w’at I says is, w’en you falls in love once, real love, mind you, you never does it again, and w’en you breaks your heart once you doesn’t do that again neither.”

An easy, gentle, undemanding read. All the stereotypes one could wish for. Nice piece of stichomythia (look it up!). Such simplicity inevitably disguises a plunder of writing talent.

Yes, it’s dated, likely to have been hand-buffed to its finished form early in the Second War . To that extent, it represents a bit of propaganda for England, home and beauty, unlikely to cause any quivers at the Ministry of War Production.  Nor even palpitations chez de Valera (on which, see the post over on Malcolm Redfellow’s World Service).

Leave a comment

Filed under De Valera, leisure travel, reading