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Response to Review no. 204

Reflecting upon Dr Owen Dudley Edwards’ review, we are pleased that he appreciates our co-edited volume, Irish Foreign Policy, 1919-66: From Independence to Internationalism. His general praise for book, as well as his positive remarks concerning several of its specific chapters, is welcome. It is evident from the wide-ranging contents of his review that our collection of essays has provided him with much to think about. Reading his comments, it appears that the book has achieved one of its aims, namely, to offer a more rounded picture of the development of Irish foreign policy from 1919 to 1966, or, in other words, to fill in several lacunae in the historiography of Irish diplomatic history, including sub-fields that had previously been written out of this discipline or not even considered at all. As we stress in our introduction, our volume showcases the research interests of many well-respected historians currently engaged in analyzing the history of Irish foreign policy. Indeed, each essay in the collection is based upon original archival research carried out both in Ireland and abroad. In total, the chapters offer an overview of Irish diplomatic history, which is one of the book’s primary strengths. Thus it is gratifying to hear that the collection succeeds as a technical entity: it is free of major errors and is eminently readable.

By the same token, we are glad that Dr Edwards recognizes the book’s utility as a first class teaching volume. This is one of our primary objectives. We also wish to present a snapshot of the research being undertaken in Irish foreign policy in the late 1990s, a scholarly pursuit that has expanded exponentially since the opening of the Irish National Archives ten years ago. We want to emphasize that this intellectual endeavor is being carried out not just by a handful of senior historians, but by up-and-coming scholars and postgraduate students as well. Irish Foreign Policy, 1919-66: From Independence to Internationalism will, therefore, be used not just in the classroom, but, since it possesses inherent historiographical significance, by future experts on Irish diplomacy.

That said, we do depart from some of Dr Edwards’ conclusions. We do not agree that Irish diplomatic history should root itself primarily in the study of social history and popular attitudes. It should take account of these factors, of course, for at times it has been influenced by them. But by no means has this always been the case. Ireland’s application to the EEC in the early 1960s took place largely behind the scenes, despite the gradual improvement of public attitudes towards Europe during the 1950s and 1960s. Likewise, Dr Edwards’ comments regarding Professor Fanning’s and Professor Keogh’s analyses of Ireland’s EEC bid ignore the role that economics and Anglo-Irish trade played in this process. Ireland decided to sacrifice its independence in foreign policy, which was of dubious value in the larger diplomatic context, for a greater good.

Irish diplomatic history should thus anchor itself in an understanding of Irish national interests. Overlooking this conceptual apparatus causes Dr Edwards to misinterpret recent historiography. This is particularly apparent in his comments about Robert Patterson’s treatment of Joseph Walshe, who was not pro-Axis, although he had an interest in Italian fascism and in Vichy France. Much of the scholarship written about Joseph Walshe’s predilections and alignments makes this clear.

It is, perhaps, a fair comment that the personalities of various Irish diplomats merit attention. Studies of several of these figures, however, have appeared. Denis Devlin has been the subject of a recent biography (A Broken Line, Alex Davis, Cork, 2000), as have Tommy Kiernan and Delia Murphy (I’ll Live ‘Till I Die, Aidan O’Hara, Manorhamilton, 1997). The career of Tommy Woods has also been covered in some detail (Ireland and the Council of Europe, Michael Kennedy and Eunan O’Halpin, Strasbourg, 2000). Conor Cruise O’Brien’s memoir, My Life and Themes (1998), also provides a useful picture of the personalities in the Irish civil service. It t is hardly objective, though, since it lauds individuals Dr O’Brien saw eye-to-eye with (Tommy Woods and Seán Mac Réamoinn) and critiques conservative diplomats (M.L. Skentleberry) or those who irked O’Brien (W.P. Fay, Nicholas Nolan).

There are some factual errors in Dr Edwards’ charming review. The quote from England, Their England may be intended to highlight some form of Commonwealth allegiance, but it is incorrect. The delegates were from South Africa, India and an observer from the United States, not Australia and New Zealand. Is Dr. Edwards trying to identify a British “fifth column” in Iveagh House, as his treatment of Freddy Boland might suggest? Elsewhere Dr Edwards simply misinterprets important aspects of Irish Foreign Policy, 1919-66: From Independence to Internationalism. There is nothing of Whiggish intent in the sub-title. Indeed, the notion of moving from independence to internationalism was regularly debated within Iveagh House, with some senior diplomats querying Ireland’s desire to pursue a foreign policy based more on internationalist idealism than nationalist self-interest, and others, such as Freddy Boland, arguing against a neo-isolationist posture in favor of an amalgam of national interests and a confident internationalism, a model that, by the mid-1960s, clearly defined Ireland’s diplomacy.

Dr Edwards’ reference to the concept of a Festschrift is invalid. In no sense whatsoever is our book a Festschrift, so to hint at such is misleading. His description of Professor Patrick Keatinge’s Foreword is inappropriate and wrong. The bibliography is a selection of the most recent works in the field. It is designed for students who wish to have a reliable, comprehensive guide to the historiography of Irish diplomatic history, and it has already been utilized in this manner. The book, too, has reached its target audience in Irish universities and beyond. Dr Edwards’ review, on the contrary, does miss its mark at times, but its aim of widening the scholarly discussion of Irish foreign policy is well intended.