Friday, 24 April 2015

Lady Gregory

Lady Gregory – an Irish Life. Judith Hill. Sutton Publishers, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2005, pp 420. Photos.

This review was written on May 7th 2011

Lady Gregory was born Isabella Augusta Persse in 1852, the ninth of the 13 children of Dudley Persse and Frances née Barry who were part of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and who lived in Roxborough, an extensive estate in East Galway. Augusta was a disappointment to her mother who had hoped for a fifth boy. It is thought that she had little affection for the child   Augusta was more in tune with her brothers who were her nearer siblings. She was less attached to her sisters who were conservative, straight-laced and religious. She appears to have had a poor education and showed little interest during her growing years in reading and other intellectual activities.  She joined her brothers' outdoor pursuits which were eschewed by her older sisters. She was considered something of an oddity by the family.
A wild swan at Coole

After this unpromising start, she met Sir William Gregory and
 remained on friendly terms with him for a few years before accepting a proposal of marriage at the age of 25. He was a widower, 35 years older than she but this did not prevent his proposing marriage which she bravely accepted.  Gregory was part of the establishment in Westminster and had been a member of parliament. He had some important diplomatic duties and appointments during his career. He was extravagant and profligate, like many of his privileged land owner colleagues, having lost most of his land in Coole close to Gort in East Galway through gambling. He was left with a mere 5,000 acres when he married Augusta.

Vanity Fair caricature of William Gregory
After marriage he led her a merry dance, travelling Europe and the world. She benefited through the many social and influential contacts she made during her travels with Sir William and through her own curiosity, intelligence and personality, and her natural ease in male company. They had one child, Robert, who was the light of her eyes. He was to inherit the Coole estate and had three children but was to die at the age pf 35 during the Great War in Italy. It was about Robert that Yeats wrote his poem An Irish Airman foresees his Death.

During their eleven years of marriage and after Sir William’s death Augusta Gregory showed political instincts which were to lead her to an increasing sense of Irish nationalism, to disapproval of the wide social, economic and cultural divisions which existed in the country, and to the baleful effects of government by Westminster. By the time of the Treaty ratification she had become politicised to the extent that she had some sympathy for those who opposed the Treaty. However, she did not approve of the military resistance to the Provisional Government by the irregulars and she deplored the vandalism and the social and economic consequences of the Civil War. She and Sir William were on good terms with their tenants and, although Coole was like many other estates gradually passed over to its tenantry, the stresses involved were alleviated by the understanding and goodwill of both parties, and by the inevitability of land purchase through the Land Act of 1909.

Coole House - now demolished.
She became more intimately involved with the local people through her charitable work in the locality of Coole and Gort, and, significantly in relation to her increasing contacts with Yeats, Hyde, Martyn, Synge, and others who were driving the mounting Celtic Revival. She began to collect Irish songs and stories from the country people who, in the absence of formal education, still possessed a vast collection of oral folklore. It was her increasing familiarity with the stories of the country people that inspired her to write the many books, plays, essays, articles and political pamphlets which made such a seminal contribution to the Irish cultural advances of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

She was quite extraordinarily prolific with 39 plays and 18 books mentioned in the index of this biography, and with a record of numerous essays, articles and pamphlets.

While obviously she was in a minority among the Irish landowning class and among the urban Anglo-Irish, her career and her increasing attachment to Ireland and the Irish social and cultural background, in contrast to the English, was part of a movement which presaged at the turn of the century an advance of democracy and of equality among the different Irish social classes. Such a social trend was also driven by the advance of the land question, the emergence of a Catholic middle class following Catholic Emancipation in 1827, the huge contribution the Catholic teaching orders were making to secondary education among Catholics, and by the gradual taking over of local government by the majority Catholic population.

Reading this book left me with the thought that 1916 may have been a great disaster with its aftermath of a destructive War of Independence and the ‘compound disaster’ (My father’s words) of the Civil War with its long-standing bitterness, its baleful effect on Ireland’s reputation, its vandalism, its moral and economic ill-effects at a time of serious post-war recession, and the futility of its genesis and its anti-democratic origin. Unfortunately the execution of the 1916 leaders created a martyrdom which made it difficult to make a dispassionate appraisal of the Rising’s justification or at least to be seen to be critical of its motives. The heroism of its leaders and the rhetoric of the Republic should not blind us to the adverse political and military consequences of the Rising

Lady Gregory had a strong influence on her many colleagues who joined her in literary, cultural, academic and artistic circles. In particular she had a huge influence on WB Yeats and his success as a poet and playwright, just as he had a powerful influence on her. In her role in founding and safeguarding the Abbey Theatre, she played a seminal role in management, financial and moral support, in sound advice and in contributing plays which were widely acknowledged by national and international audiences. Her close association with the Abbey was a constant source of concern because of recurring personality problems, political conflicts between nationalists and conservatives, and chronic financial worries.

Yeats' signature, amongst others, on a tree at Coole Park.
She paid four prolonged visits to the United States where her lecture tours were most popular. In America she organised and managed visits by the Abbey players and became spectacularly and courageously involved in combating the many protests of the Irish-Americans who were incensed by The Playboy of the Western World. Following the death of her nephew, Hugh Lane, during the war, she devoted the rest of her life in a personal campaign aimed at the return of his pictures to Dublin.

Although separated from the masses in terms of birth, education, wealth, religion, social life and political affiliations, she emerges from the pages of this fine biography as patriotic, energetic and intelligent, with a great love of Ireland and its people. She was passionate about Ireland’s folklore and its unique Celtic culture and, above all, she played a leading role in the Celtic Revival and in encouraging and advising those who were active during this important phase of Irish life.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Newman's Way

Newman’s Way by Sean O’Faolain. Longmans Green   & Co., London, 1952.

This review was written on January 31st 2005

This book was a gift from me to my mother at Christmas 1952. I had earlier read another biography of Newman but I cannot recall the name of the author. What I had read was about Newman himself and his long career but there was little about his family and his family background and the social circumstances of his time. O’Faolain’s book is very different. While John Newman remains the dominant figure, he emerges from the strong background of his family and of the separate lives and fortunes of his parents and his five siblings. I was not previously aware that John Henry Newman, as the eldest boy, remained in touch with his widowed mother and his sisters who were in later years virtually on the poverty line, nor was I aware that he and his brother Frank gave them great moral and financial support despite their own limited finances.

O’Faolain’s biography is both interesting and absorbing. It provides a good background to the social and religious life of mid-nineteenth century England. Newman’s father had been a generous, warm-hearted and surprisingly irreligious man within a family deeply committed to religion. He had good connections and reasonably good opportunities, but he finished a poor man following bankruptcies in 1816 after Waterloo and subsequent business failures. The young John Newman had rather rigid evangelistic views which were shared by his siblings and which were to dominate his early life in Oxford up to his ordination in the Church of England.  Later, through the influence of others in Oxford and through his own reading of the early history of the Christianity, he was to drift from the arid liturgy of the Church of England to the high church movement and eventually to Rome.

He struck one as a lonely isolated figure in Oxford at the beginning of his career there. Despite a slow start in the university where he had disappointing first examinations, he eventually became a Fellow of Oriel College. He was much given to self-analysis and not very comfortable at first in the company of the Fellows of the College, although he became much more so in the company of his intimates as his career progressed.

As a Fellow he became actively involved in the work of the College where he was greatly influenced by his contact with other distinguished and radical members. He soon became an increasingly important figure in the academic world of Oxford and in its religious institutions and he remained so until he was forced to resign his Fellowship because of his perceived leanings towards Rome which were evident in his many publications on the subject of religion and the origin of the Christian faith. He was also suspect because of his association with other radical thinkers. He was obviously a very sensitive and introspective person with rigid and inflexible views although he was capable of changing these from time to time. He was compassionate and considerate towards his family but could be quite irritable and, according to O’Faolain, he admitted to having a temper which he described as ‘with a devilish temper, and a passion so ungovernable as to unman him and a tongue that could clip a hedge’. In his later years he had obviously learned to control these overt and undesirable attributes.

It is interesting that Newman first opposed Catholic Emancipation although his reasons were rather academic and were almost certainly based on the prevailing prejudices of Protestant England. It is quite clear from the author’s account that the Newman family proved to be dysfunctional. The rather abnormal and inharmonious relationship among the six children tended to worsen with the passage of time. This circumstance could be attributed to the narrow, bitter and arid upbringing which was a feature of the puritan ambience of mid-nineteenth century protestant England, and perhaps to a lesser extent to the failure of his father’s business ventures and the family’s impoverishment.

Newman’s long drawn out and painful conversion to Rome is described in the penultimate chapter of the book but little information is provided about his life following his conversion nor is there much about his last few years before his conversion and after his departure from Oxford. His Dublin period is not mentioned. The origins and the evolution of the Oxford Movement, and the leading figures in the Movement, are, of course, dealt with in some detail.

Cardinal Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010
The book is essentially an account of the family and of John Newman’s background, and the tensions which existed within the Church of England during the mid-nineteenth century. The tensions were aggravated by the secular aspects of the established church, by its political associations, by its attenuated spirituality, and by the conflict created by its more radical members who had leanings towards a warmer and more passionate liturgy which inevitably was perceived as a leaning towards Rome. Newman’s conversion to Catholicism and his ordination in Rome took place after a few years of severe stress and isolation from the academic world which he had been so attached to in Oxford. Nevertheless, his conversion to Catholicism was inevitable as he gradually realised that only the Roman Church could legitimately claim to represent the apostolic succession, and that all breakaway and dissident churches, such as the Church of England, lacked that essential link with Christ.

Newman’s youngest sister died at an early age. After his conversion he virtually lost all contact with his two brothers and another sister. Only one sister remained in any way close to him afterwards. There is a poignant note at the end of the book describing how Newman, when he was very old and infirm and an isolated and lonely figure, decided to visit his youngest brother, Charles, whom he had not seen for many years. Charles, who had a lifetime history of instability and dependency, was living in reclusive poverty in a small port on the west coast of Wales where he had been vegetating for twenty five years.  When, after a tedious journey, John arrived at his lodgings, Charles refused to see him. Charles died shortly after this visit. His funeral expenses were paid by the Cardinal. 

John’s brother Frank was an eccentric, particularly in the field of religion. Frank, who held an academic chair in Oxford, also lived to a good age and in later years during his retirement began to visit John more frequently in Birmingham but they apparently never discussed religion and confined their conversation to ‘neutral subjects’. Newman died on 11 August 1890, in his ninetieth year. He died a lonely man, the victim of his dysfunctional family circumstances and the mindless divisions and prejudices of religion.

O’Faolain describes Newman in appropriate terms in the last phrase of the introduction to his book --- who can other than revere that brave, kind, solitary, gifted, tormented angel

The entrance to University Church
Some months before reading Seán O’Faolain’s biography, I had recorded the following note after a visit to University Church in St. Stephen’s Green. This very beautiful church in the Byzantine style was built by Newman when he was rector of the Catholic University of Ireland. He described it as the most beautiful church in the world.

I dropped into University Church one day after an hour long tranquillising massage by Eileen Fitzsimons whose apartment is beside the church.  I must have been in a contemplative mood after her ministrations. I found a booklet about Newman and his association with Dublin among the publications at the entrance. It lead to the following thoughts.

Inside University Church
Newman had done much to invigorate and awaken the Anglican Church before he became involved in the Oxford Movement and became a Catholic.  He was ordained in Rome in 1847. He subsequently was largely responsible for popularising the Catholic Church in the late nineteenth century. Until then, the Church was the object of the most bitter prejudice in predominantly Protestant England as a result of which the Catholic leadership had a closed and defensive mentality. As late as 1850, when the British Government first allowed Catholics to establish a Hierarchy, this prejudice was evident by violent protests, including the Gordon riots.

Newman was also much concerned with the traditional hostility of the Catholic Church towards science and scientific enquiry. He accepted that the discoveries and opinions of Darwin were not inconsistent with biblical studies and that there was no conflict between the findings of science and the truth of revelation. He supported research and the freedom to do research.

His outspoken and courageous reputation in defence of the Church and his ecumenical reputation were no doubt responsible for the change in attitude of Protestant England to the Catholic Church and the warm reception his cardinalate was to receive by his old alma mater and enemy, Oxford, and people of all denominations in these islands. His colleagues Cardinals Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, and Manning also played a part in restoring the confidence of Catholics and the prestige of the Church in Britain.

Nowadays, one feels that the English have a vague nostalgia for the old religion and a quiet affection for the Catholic Church in their country; for Catholics’ law abiding reputation, their patience at times of adversity, their patriotism, and for the prestige of their modest aristocracy.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Ultimate Imperial Adventure

Khartoum – The Ultimate Imperial Adventure. Michael Asher. Penguin Books, 2005. pp 450

This review was written on March 4th 2013

This is a long book read on Kindle,  tedious at times because of much military detail and the numerous names and titles of people, the various inhabitants of the near East and of North Africa and of  the British politicians and military personnel. Added to these are the names of various places cited. It is essentially about Sudan and the attempted rescue of Major General Charles George Gordan in Khartoum, and the British ambitions to include Sudan in part of its wide spreading imperial interests during the latter half of the 19th century.

Imperial powers in Africa in the late 19th century.
Sudan lies just south of Egypt in the north-easterly part of Africa.  In size it is 74 times greater than Britain itself.  It is largely desert and sand with rock and wilderness and some forest.  It was inhabited by numerous different tribes of various ethnic origin and various languages and religions.  But by the mid 19th century, the Islamic incursions over the previous centuries had created a permanent group under the control of Mohamed Ahmad, who claimed to be the Mahdi, who believed he was the direct descendent of Mohamed and whose commitment to his religion was as powerful and compelling as his commitment to political and military power.  Those who were not Muslim were treated as outsiders and they were politically disadvantaged in every way. 

At the time, Britain was in a very close military relationship with Egypt and was in full control of the British and Egyptian military.  Britain was obviously concerned about the Suez Canal which was built in the 1840s and which provided the vital route between the British Isles and India.  Britain was also concerned about the potential rivalry with the French since the earlier conflict with Napoleon and early incursions into East Sudan.  Egypt itself was controlled by Mohamed Ali from 1811 to 1849 and his control and the gradual disintegration of the Turkish Empire allowed the British predominance to develop at the time.  Mohamed Ali had annexed Sudan and Syria during his time in the earlier part of the 19th century. 

Khartoum was the capital of Sudan and is 1400 miles south of the Egyptian capital Cairo.  It is situated on the confluence of the Blue and White Niles, was a vital centre of control of Sudan and was almost impregnable as a military centre because of the two rivers which enclosed most of the town and its environs.

Gordon was a very controversial character.  He was deemed to be unstable and over-religious but more directly to God than to any formal faith. Whilst he deplored corruption, hypocrisy and military incompetence, he was notoriously unreliable in the sense that he would follow his own instincts irrespective of political direction and of military rules.  He is described as cold and composed when in action but was prone to violent tempers and on some occasions could be quite physically aggressive.  He had little or no respect for seniority.  He became a hero with many of the British when, as a young man, he played a major role in the British wars in China.  He had many faults and many virtues and thus will always remain a controversial figure.  He lacked that sense of conformity that makes it easier to understand, particularly in a military person. 

A romantic depiction of Gordon's last stand.
Despite the controversies which surrounded him, Gordan will always remain a hero in the eyes of the British because of the nature of his life and death and the stirring political and military affairs which were a feature of his time in Sudan. The   details described during the three military expeditions at Gordon’s time in the Sudan were only some of the many wars which were conducted by the British imperial expansion worldwide during the latter half of the 19th century. It is hard for us in these years of peace to understand the courage, the commitment and the enthusiasm which was shown by the soldiers and the officers, even under the most frightful military conditions in the Sudanese time. 

Gordon was in many ways the central figure of this book.  The principle theme of the book was his isolation by the Mahdi in Khartoum after the Muslims had taken over the country in the military sense after the defeat and massacre of the first Anglo-Egyptian expedition.   It was his isolation there and the valiant but failed attempt by the Anglo-Egyptian army to rescue him that makes the theme of the book.  Gordon’s role and his dying in the hands of the Mahdi in 1885 enormously enhanced the appreciation of his heroism by the British.  His plight in Khartoum when isolated there  became a matter of huge importance in Britain where Queen Victoria herself, the Tory party and most of the British people demanded that he should be rescued irrespective of the price.  Gladstone was less than enthusiastic about committing more military reserves to the problem as he was also less supportive of Britain’s imperialistic ambitions. He was supported by his Foreign Secretary and by members of his own party on the issue of Gordon’s relief. Gladstone’s lack of enthusiasm for the undertaking was responsible for the fatal delay in sending a relief force and was to lead to his defeat in the next election. Eventually, thanks to the outspoken concern of Queen Victoria and of public opinion, and a reluctant Gladstone, an army of Anglo-Egyptians set out on an eight month odyssey to Khartoum, arriving close to the city just to find it had just been sacked by the Mahdi forces.  All the members of the town were killed, including Gordon.

After Gordon’s death, Sudan remained in the hands of the Mahdi and his successor until the might of new British forces relieved Khartoum 14 years later and shortly before the Boer War.  Mahdi died shortly after Gordon’s death and was succeeded by his successor Torshayn, a simple man of nomadic origin, who proved an inspired military tactician.  He was to survive the later recovery of Sudan by the Anglo-Egyptians.

Statue of Gordon in Khartoum  offered back to Britain in 1959
It was a remarkable period of imperial expansion in countries such as Britain, France and Italy. The influence of the European powers on the African continent, bringing with them their social, secular and materialistic policies, can hardly justify the changes imposed on the rational social structures of these more primitive countries.  Among British politicians and military  there was always tensions and concern about the French invading central and western Africa and the Eastern Sudan and the active interest of Italy in Eritrea and Ethiopia. 

I was struck by the bravery and at times the enthusiasm among the officers and men facing battle and the indifference to the risks involved during these military activities. The hardship endured by the members of the Anglo-Egyptian armies must have been incredible.  It must have required a tremendous sense of courage and toleration of hardship. At the same time the dervishes were foolhardy to the very limit in their total disregard of fear and often fought with nothing more than swords and pikes and would race vast numbers into the guns and artillery of the invading forces.

I read the book in detail at the beginning and at the end on Kindle but during the details of the military campaigns, which included more than 200 of the 450 pages of text, I fast read or skipped the many details of army logistics, manoeuvres and strategies because of their detailed and complex nature and the maps which, on Kindle, are virtually impossible to interpret because of their limited size.

For those who are specialists in political and military history this is a useful bibliography of some of the major military figures and of some of the Egyptian and the Sudanese politicians and generals. The book is worth reading to provide insights into the political and military situation at the time in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa but there are two excessively long descriptions, firstly the army attempt to rescue Gordon and, secondly, the army under Kitchener 14 years later sent to retrieve Sudan for the Anglo-Egyptian group. Kitchener was greatly served by cartographers and engineers who did much of the work in connection with transport, railways and technology. These chapters extended to more than 200 of the book’s 450 pages and they could well be a source of confusion to experts in military affairs.

After 1898 Sudan remained a joint Anglo-Egyptian possession until Egypt achieved its independence in 1958.  Kitchener’s success in 1898, at the battle of Omberman close to Khartoum is described as a great and most romantic adventure of the imperial age. Against this romantic adventure we must recall that the rescue of Sudan required the most detailed logistic organisation and training problems and was marked by considerable loss of life, many injuries suffered and huge cost of the enterprise in terms of investment and money. Added to these were the huge loss through injury and death of horses and camels which were required during the campaign and the cruelty they must have suffered.

Sudan was followed shortly afterwards by the Boer War.  These two wars were only part of many wars, which were a feature of British imperial aspirations in various parts of the world in the late 19th century. Whatever about the success of these aspirations there must have been some compensations for the victim nations. The spreading of the English language has certainly made a huge academic and practical contribution to modern communication.  The successful building of a railway by Kitchener to Khartoum and the Egyptian railways, like the training of the Egyptian soldiers, had been greatly improved by that time. Britain had a huge influence on Egypt in terms of its modernisation and its political maturity. 

The British Empire in 1914

Sunday, 5 April 2015

A History of the Irish Army

A History of the Irish Army. John P. Duggan. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1991. pp 373. SB.

This review was written on September 4th 2011

I read the above history shortly after it was published. I made notes at the time but I failed to write a review about it nor did I think of writing my comments to the author. It was only in the late 1990s, after I had reviewed a few books for the Irish Times that I adopted the habit of reviewing all books I read irrespective of their subjects and largely for my own edification. 

Dad's distinctive writing on his pension application
I received a letter in July 2011 from a correspondent in England who was enquiring about an army census which was held by the National Army on the 13 November 1922 during the Civil War. On that day every member of the army had their record included in the census. I guess that there must have been at least 50,000 men in the inflated force at this time.  My correspondent was interested in researching this census and was enquiring if my father as head of the army had supplied his personal information and, if so, was it in his own handwriting. I was unaware of this census but I enquired about it with the Military archivist, Comdt. Victor Laing, and he confirmed that the writing was in my father’s typical script with his flowing custom of eliding many of his words. In my correspondent’s letter he wrote of the census

This was a major undertaking for a fledgling army and the fact it was successfully completed and presumably fulfilled its purpose shows that first class organisers had come on board.

The Army census of 1922
It was this comment that induced me to check Duggan’s book and to provide my views about the army during the War of Independence and Truce. I reviewed the comments I had made at the time of reading his text. There was no mention of the General Headquarters Staff before 1922 during the War of Independence and the prolonged Truce preceding the passage of the Treaty in January of that year. The seeds of a national army were sown, not in 1922 as implied by the author but earlier with the setting up of the GHQ staff in March 1918. Its establishment lead to the gradual evolution of an army, through the close association between GHQ and its members and the active volunteers who fought during the war. From its earlier days GHQ was designed along lines which might lead to a peacetime army committed to the democratic institutions of the state.  It is clear from reading the Valiulis biography and my own biography of my father that, despite the insurgent nature of the war against the British, the role of the GHQ staff was organised and developed along the lines of a national army devoted to the support of a democratic nation.

Duggan’s failure to include the first four years of GHQ leaves an important gap in his account of the genesis of our military forces and can only be explained by the failure to consult the Mulcahy papers which were deposited in the UCD Archives shortly before Mulcahy’s death in 1971. Of course Duggan may have been at a disadvantage in that my father’s biography had not yet been published by Maryann Valiulis and he may have been unaware of the UCD papers and may have been over influenced by the absence of reference to GHQ which was a feature of the early 1926 Collins biography by Beaslai. The Mulcahy papers included the details concerning the army from November 1920 until March 1924 at the time of the Army Mutiny. These papers had been kept by my father in his home and were not available to historians until 1971.  His papers before November 1920 were captured by the British forces and were subsequently destroyed by a German doodle bomb in London during the World War.

It is also relevant that my father’s decision to retain his army papers and to delay their release to historians and the public  led to overshadowing his own role as head of the military from March 1918 to the end of the Civil War in May 1923 (except for his appointment as Minister for Defence  after the Treaty). However, he returned as military head of the army at the beginning of the civil war and remained as such until the end of the Civil War in May 1923 (apart from the six weeks Collins’s became Commander in Chief before he was killed on August 22 1922). It is still the popular view that Collins was the leader of the military independence movement, a view which is also shared by many of our current-day military

On page 73 Duggan states

The debate (that is, the Treaty debate in January 1922 - RM) divided the country and split the army which had not yet become accustomed to subordinating itself to the civil authority.

And on page 113 he states

It would have to learn (that is, the army’s unawareness of the primacy of politics – RM). The Defence Forces Temporary Provisions Act 1923 put it on a statutary footing under the law

Richard Mulcahy denied the claim that the army was not subordinate to the Dáil. As chief of staff he kept in close touch from 1918 to January 1922 with Cathal Brugha, the Chairman of the Military Executive and subsequently Minister for Defence in the two Dála before the Treaty.  No complaint about military policies was ever raised by Brugha apart from some minor events which were unrelated to policy and De Valera’s unrealistic comments about military policy after his return from America were not supported by either the chief of staff or the Dáil. Mulcahy was a member of the Dáil as was Collins and other leading volunteers. He was appointed Minister for Defence (while continuing as Chief of Staff) in the interim first Dáil from January to April 1919 while Brugha stood in as chairman in Dev’s absence in jail in Britain. Collins was Minister for Finance during the period of the War and the Truce.

Mulcahy and Collins at Arthur Griffith's funeral.
In addition, Griffith never disapproved of military policies. He was greatly regarded by my father and he acted as president of Sinn Féin while Dev was away in the United States. Griffith remained a close friend of my father and fully approved of his role as chief of staff. Even when Brugha had arranged to visit England with a view to assassinating British politicians (!) and when he and Dev proposed the attack on the Custom House the army assisted despite the disapproval of the chief of staff, Collins and other army leaders. It is surely ignoring the circumstances of the army/political relationship during and after the War of Independence to suggest military policies which were not approved of by the political leaders and the Dáil.  And no army could have responded so strictly to the acceptance of the newly elected Fianna Fáil government in 1932 just ten years after the bitterness of the Civil War and the role of the National Army in their defeat.   

It would be inconsistent with Mulcahy’s character as head of the army to act without the full approval of the elected representatives of the people.  He always spoke of his ambition for Ireland’s future. He simply desired that we in Ireland should be absolutely free to run our own country. He supported the Treaty because he realised that the agreement provided us with that objective. He had no concern about the symbol of the Crown. Indeed he was subsequently always an admirer of the Commonwealth. He was aware that nothing could be done at the time to alter the intransigence of the Unionists in the North and that partition was already a fait accompli at the time of the Treaty; nor did he think that the retention of the three ports by the British prevented us from running our own country. Indeed he thought that a full break with Britain would have aggravated the situation as regards the North and future integration with the South.

We in Ireland can be justly proud of our army and its dedicated apolitical role, a dedication which was initially born in the backrooms and secret conclaves of the Irish Volunteers long before the foundation of the Irish Free State. It was the Crown, the North and the ports which were the stumbling block for those intransigents who were obsessed by the rhetoric of the Republic and who precipitated the Civil War. My father, like all his colleagues in the Free State Cabinet, could never forgive De Valera for his lack of leadership which led ultimately to civil strife. Nor should the Army in its understandable pride and admiration of Collins forget that the seeds of the success of the Army, its devotion to democracy and its strict adherence to a neutral political role, were laid in 1918 when the GHQ was established. A perusal of the Mulcahy papers and his biographies leaves no doubt that the early military leaders were committed to its role not only as the creater but as the defender of independence and of a democratic nation.

Despite my reservations about the author’s failure to include the pre-Treaty history of the army and its influence on its remarkable non-political role in our national affairs, I can say that his account of our military standing in internal and international affairs brings credit to the Irish Army and to his scholarship. However, we need a new history of the National Army to bring us up to date on internal and external affairs and to provide more information about the early and seminal years which were not fully included in this volume.

Apropos of the army relations with the government, the reader should refer to document P7/A/33 the Mulcahy UCD Archives. This 3 page document deals with the role of the army in the State.  It is likely that it was written in late 1922. The first paragraph begins as follows and it says it all:

The army is merely an instrument of Policy in the State: As such it has no title to express opinions on public affairs and in fact should none.