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‘Cuckoo in the Commonwealth Nest’: The Irish Impact and the Commonwealth Legacy for Ireland



Donal Lowry assesses Ireland’s ‘restless’ association with the Commonwealth, a country which decided to leave the association just days before India’s decision to join. Lowry brings to the fore seemingly unlikely forms of allegiance between Irish nationalism and Afrikaner nationalism (prime ministers Hertzog and Malan as well as diplomat Eric Louw) through the figures of Arthur Griffith, a founder of Sinn Fein, and Eamon De Valera. Lowry maps complex Dominion connections, too, via networks like The Round Table and also in the field of Commonwealth history, some of whose leading exponents (e.g. Nicholas Mansergh, Jack Gallagher and Keith Jeffery) were of Irish origin. In Lowry’s analysis, Ireland serves not so much as one of the most troublesome elements in the Commonwealth—the view from the centre—as a distillation of antagonisms and so as a counterpart of other problematic territories, such as Rhodesia, South Africa and India.
181© The Author(s) 2020
S. Dubow, R. Drayton (eds.), Commonwealth History in the
Twenty-First Century, Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial
Studies Series,
‘Cuckoo intheCommonwealth Nest’:
TheIrish Impact andtheCommonwealth
Legacy forIreland
The ‘IrIsh’ OrIgIns OfCOmmOnwealTh hIsTOry
On the morning of 21 January 1919, in Greenane House, a country man-
sion in County Tipperary, the daily routine of an eight-year-old schoolboy
was disturbed by the shooting dead of two armed policemen who were
escorting a consignment of gelignite to a quarry at the neighbouring vil-
lage of Soloheadbeg. For him, this event would become a profoundly
formative inuence, as these were the opening shots of the Irish War of
One of the leaders of the ambush party, Dan Breen, grew up in a nearby
cottage, where his earliest memories were—not uncommon in rural
Ireland at that time—‘of neighbours sitting around the re, listening to
someone reading the news … and their exultation over the victories gained
by the Boer Generals, Cronje, and de Wit [sic], and how thrilled they were
D. Lowry (*)
Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
by the British defeat at Spion Kop’.1 The area was immediately proclaimed
under martial law. Breen went on the run, through many assassinations,
ambuscades and escapes, with £1000 on his head and several near-fatal
gunshot wounds, to become one of the most feared and uncompromising
of guerrilla commandants, as well as a long-standing Irish parliamentarian,
before dying, somewhat surprisingly, in old age.
Within a few weeks of the ambush, another local gure would have an
equally momentous impact on British authority. Michael O’Dwyer was
one of fourteen children of a Catholic farmer. He, like Breen, had been
nurtured with an acute sense of ancestral dispossession by Cromwellian
adventurers. Moved by having witnessed harrowing evictions, he had been
‘brought up in a world … of threatening letters and houghed cattle, where
you were for the Government or against it, where you passed every day the
results of lawlessness in the blackened walls of empty houses’.2 Barely a
dozen miles distant and towering over the surrounding landscape was the
ancient and stately Rock of Cashel ‘of the Kings’—for many, a reproachful
reminder of lost nationhood. Such an environment as this might well have
fomented a rebel, but the O’Dwyers were landowners of relative substance
who had witnessed many vicissitudes, engendering an instinct for endur-
ance. ‘The foreigners come, and leave again’, O’Dwyer mused, quoting
Friedrich Schiller, ‘We obey them, but we remain’.3 Compromise could
prove advantageous. A prominent tomb in a local churchyard commemo-
rated the life of Lieutenant-General Sir William Butler, a Catholic scion of
the Anglo-Norman House of Ormond, who had sympathised with the
plight of evicted tenants following the Great Famine and who later became
a Liberal Party-supporting advocate of Irish home rule. Butler had risen,
despite denominational prejudice, to become an exemplary imperial sol-
dier, Commander-in-Chief, Acting Governor and High Commissioner in
the Cape Colony in 1898, with a reputation for empathy with ‘the
underdog’. He married Elizabeth Thompson, the famous Victorian
painter of military subjects.4
O’Dwyer’s career would prove no less extraordinary. British India
attracted him, along with two of his brothers. He passed the coveted
1 Dan Breen, My Fight for Irish Freedom (Dublin, 1981 edn), p.8.
2 Philip Woodruff, The Men Who Ruled India, Vol. II: The Guardians (London,
1954), p.236.
3 Sir Michael O’Dwyer, The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh: The History of an Irish Sept
(London, 1933), p.36.
4 Martin R yan, William Francis Butler, 1838–1910: A Life (Dublin, 2003).
entrance examination for the Indian Civil Service and, following a First
Class degree in Jurisprudence at Oxford University, rose steadily to
become Sir Michael O’Dwyer, GCIE, KCSI, Lieutenant Governor of the
Punjab. There, he fatefully endorsed the actions of Brigadier-General
Reginald Dyer at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in April 1919, which led
to the deaths of 379 protesters and the injury of 1200 others. He lamented
the separatist trajectory of his own compatriots and doubted whether they,
in light of British concessions and reforms, ‘would be willing to exchange
the honourable status of partnership in the British Commonwealth of
Nations, with its solid advantages, for the will-o’the-wisp of a republic’.5
In March 1940, at the Caxton Hall, London, however, he was shot dead
by Udham Singh, a Sikh survivor of the Amritsar massacre, whose subse-
quent judicial martyrdom became a key ingredient in the breaking of
British authority in the subcontinent.6
So, within these few square miles of the Irish countryside, the parochial
and the imperial worlds forcefully intersected. ‘Where Tipperary leads,
Ireland follows’, a local churchman cautioned after the Soloheadbeg
ambush; where Tipperary led, so, too, the Empire-Commonwealth fol-
lowed, for the eight-year-old schoolboy whom we glimpsed at the begin-
ning of this chapter was Philip Nicholas Seton Mansergh (1910–1991),
who would progress to a long and illustrious academic career as Smuts
Professor of Commonwealth History at Cambridge and an expert on the
politics of Ireland, India and South Africa, as well as of the Commonwealth
as a whole.7 He became aware that the Soloheadbeg incident was but a
rehearsal in microcosm for many more such confrontations across the
Empire over the coming half-century, with much the same sensitivities and
motivations. This background provided him with a particular advantage of
an external yet intimately rooted observer, for, although the Manserghs
had been settled in Tipperary for centuries, he was acutely aware that he
was an Anglo-Irish Protestant, a people who were—as he described
them—‘for the most part…descendants of English settlers in Ireland
[who] have little or no Irish blood’, proverbially Janus-faced: ‘English to
5 O’Dwyer, The O’Dwyers of Kilnamanagh, p.36.
6 Anita Anand, The Patient Assassin: A True Tale of Massacre, Revenge and the Raj
(London, 2019).
7 Nicholas Mansergh, The Unresolved Question: The Anglo-Irish Settlement and Its Undoing
1912–72 (New Haven, 1991), p.3.
the Irish, but Irish to the English’.8 His father had been a railway engineer
in the colonial empire, chiey in Australia and British East Africa, at a time
when Dan Breen’s neighbours were cheering on the Boers.
Thus, in this nexus of Ireland and the Empire, a wide gulf of ethnicity,
as much as that of religion or social class, separated the world of the
Manserghs and—although Catholic—the O’Dwyers, too, from that of the
Breens, who had been raised on the peculiar resentments of a district
which, scarcely a generation earlier, had been one of the vital ashpoints
of the Land War. While Dan Breen, like Udham Singh a generation later,
believed in the violent overthrow of the British Empire, Mansergh was
aided by an unusual combination of empathy for protagonists and sympa-
thy for antagonists, thus enabling him to relate to gures as diverse as
Eamon de Valera, Jan Smuts and Jawaharlal Nehru. As Harshan
Kumarasingham has remarked in his survey of Commonwealth constitu-
tional history, a convincing argument could certainly be made to place
Mansergh retrospectively as ‘the rst Head of the Commonwealth
Another eminent historian of the Empire, Jack Gallagher, was no less
inuenced by his Irish parents, in his case, in Catholic and still- sectarian
Merseyside. ‘The Irish troubles are useful to us [historians]’, he noted,
‘because they form a kind of intersection between the problems of empire
and of domestic British politics’; and he asserted in another article, dis-
cussing the imperial crises that followed the Great War, that ‘for us the
road to Asia lies through the swing doors of the Grafton Hotel in Dublin,
one of the cover headquarters of the revolutionary Irish government’. He
most likely had the Gresham Hotel in mind, for there never has been a
Grafton Hotel’, but his point about the interconnectedness of the Empire
was well made, as Keith Jeffery, another Irish historian of the Empire, has
noted. It is this feature of Irish connections, exchanges and inuences in
both directions that form the subject of this chapter.10
8 Nicholas Mansergh, Nationalism and Independence: Selected Irish Papers (Cork,
1997), p.178.
9 H. Kumarasingham, ‘Written Differently: A Survey of Commonwealth Constitutional
History in the Age of Decolonisation’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 46,
5 (2018), p.897.
10 John Gallagher, The Decline Revival and Fall of the British Empire, ed. Anil Seal
(Cambridge, 2004 edn), 98; John Gallagher, ‘Nationalisms and the Crisis of Empire,
1919–1922’, Modern Asian Studies, XV, 3 (1981), p.359; Keith Jeffery, ‘The Road to Asia
In the intervening decades, academic analyses of Ireland’s imperial and
Commonwealth associations have developed considerably. In the late
1970s and early 1980s, in spite of the labours of Mansergh and Gallagher,
as well as such scholars as Ged Martin, David Harkness and Deirdre
McMahon, interest in Ireland’s imperial past at Irish universities was lim-
ited. From a relatively eccentric and neglected academic interest, it has
since developed into a growing body of academic literature.
Yet, awareness of Irish links to the Commonwealth remains scant. It is
widely—if erroneously—assumed, for example, on both sides of the Irish
Sea, that Ireland proceeded directly to republican status in 1922. Such
amnesia reects a general political ignorance of Irish constitutional and
political history. This was clearly evident in the years leading to Britain’s
assumption of direct rule of Northern Ireland in 1972, when James
Callaghan, as Home Secretary, discovered that scarcely any ofcial les
had been kept on the province, whose affairs hitherto were regarded as
outside the remit of Westminster. The Defence Secretary, Denis Healey,
similarly admitted that the Army, which was about to be deployed there in
large numbers, knew next to nothing about the territory.11
Popular opinion, then, has largely forgotten Ireland’s membership of
the Commonwealth as a ‘restless’—if not a ‘captive’—dominion, from
1922 until 1949, notwithstanding its singular role, in close cooperation
with Canada and South Africa, in the achievement of the Statute of
Westminster. This truncated memory has been intensied by the wide-
spread tendency to date the Commonwealth to the London Declaration,
rather than to previous constitutional developments.12 In the 1990s, there
were low-key visits to Dublin by Commonwealth Secretaries General
Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Don McKinnon for discussions about humani-
tarian cooperation. There was talk of an Irish return to the Commonwealth,
but this faced inaccurate Irish popular perceptions of the organisation as
still essentially monarchical in character. Most Irish people would doubt-
less have been bemused by the call in 2010in the journal, Round Table,
and the Grafton Hotel in Dublin: Ireland in the “British World”’, Irish Historical Studies,
XXVI, 142 (2008), p.243.
11 Peter Rose, ‘Labour, Northern Ireland and the Decision to Send in the Troops’, in Peter
Catterall and Sean McDougall (eds.), The Northern Ireland Question in British Politics
(Basingstoke, 1996), p.99.
12 David Harkness, The Restless Dominion: The Irish Free State and the British Commonwealth
of Nations (London, 1969).
by the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Sir Shridath Ramphal,
to ‘Ireland: Time to Come Home’.13
Queen Elizabeth II’s state visit to the Republic in 2011 was hailed as
inaugurating a constructive new chapter in Anglo-Irish relations. Her
unprecedented gesture of laying a wreath at the monument to Ireland’s
revolutionary dead was balanced by the laying of an ofcial wreath by the
Irish ambassador at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in Whitehall
in 2014, the rst such diplomatic representation since 1946. This sig-
nalled a new recognition of Irish participation—for so long ofcially
ignored or shunned as ‘un-Irish’—in British and Commonwealth forces
during the two world wars. There was further surprise in 2018, when the
leader of the avowedly separatist Sinn Fein Party, Mary Lou McDonald,
stated that she was open to discussion regarding Ireland rejoining the
Commonwealth if this would facilitate Irish reunication. A year later,
however, an article in the Conservative-leaning Spectator condemned an
Irish decision to become an associate member of the Francophonie as ‘a
calculated two ngers to Brexit Britain’ and contrasted this with its unwill-
ingness to remain in the Commonwealth in 1949. The publication led to
a letter of protest from the Irish ambassador to Britain.14
Despite these strains, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the leaders of the
Democratic Unionist Party, suggested to polite applause at a conference of
the ruling Fine Gael Party that Ireland should r eturn to the Commonwealth.
He later highlighted the fact that it was ‘no longer an exclusively British
institution’, that most members of the Commonwealth were now repub-
lics and that a return to the Commonwealth on that basis might further
encourage reconciliation across the island.15 It is widely acknowledged
that Irish reunication, which now seems a real possibility, may necessitate
a fundamental reconsideration of Irish identity and its symbols and that
the Commonwealth may have a part to play in such a process. In the
13 Shridath Ramphal, ‘Ireland: Time to Come Home’, Round Table, 99, 108 (2010),
14 John Manley, ‘Mary Lou McDonald says that Sinn Fein is open to discussions about
Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth’, Irish News, 26 August 2018; Robert Hardman,
‘Ireland’s Strange Decision to join the French Commonwealth’, Spectator, 6 April 2019.
15 ‘DUP applauds as Donaldson says Ireland should rejoin Commonwealth’, Independent.
ie, 23 March 2019,ne-gael-audience-applauds-
as-dups-donaldson-says-ireland-should-join-the-commonwealth-37944279.html; ‘Sir
Jeffrey Donaldson suggests Republic of Ireland could rejoin Commonwealth’, Belfast
Telegraph, 8 September 2019.
febrile atmosphere of Brexit, however, the Anglo-Irish relationship has
come under renewed strain.
Irelands hIsTOrIC lInks TOTheCOmmOnwealTh
The Commonwealth was written into the Irish Free State (Agreement)
Act of 1922, the very birth certicate of the new state, occasioning the
rst use of the term in a statutory instrument. The compromise dominion
agreement on which this measure was based was the trigger of the bitter
civil war, rather than partition, which erroneously remains in the popular
imagination the key cause of post-independence strife. The settlement,
which conceded to Ireland the status of the Dominion of Canada, was not
without reservation, even among those who had negotiated it: ‘One of the
most questionable and hazardous experiments upon which a great empire
in the plenitude of its power has ever embarked’, Churchill regretfully
recalled.16 It was Churchill’s friend, General Jan Christiaan Smuts, who
rst introduced the Commonwealth as a signicant factor in 1917. In that
year, while Smuts wisely counselled against the extension of conscription
to Ireland, an Irish Convention was held in Dublin which drew heavily on
South Africa’s precedent, with Sir Francis Hopwood again acting as secre-
tary to the Convention. The idea of a convention emerged during a con-
versation between the Marquess of Crewe, another veteran of South
Africa, and John Redmond, the Irish nationalist leader, at a state banquet
in honour of Smuts in May 1917. The Colonial Secretary, Walter Long,
recalled the exemplary success in reconciling Boers and Britons in South
Africa. Sir Leander Starr Jameson, of the Raid, and a former Cape premier,
was in attendance as an adviser. Lionel Curtis and Richard Brand, both
members of Milner’s Kindergarten and advocates of imperial federalism,
took a keen interest in the proceedings. It was widely assumed that Smuts
or General Louis Botha might chair the gathering, but this duty fell instead
to Sir Horace Plunkett, a reformist Unionist, and sometime correspon-
dent of Cecil Rhodes, Smuts and John X. Merriman, another Cape pre-
mier. Plunkett hoped that an historic settlement might be signed on the
verandah of his house in Dublin Mountains, modelled on the stoep of
Groote Schuur, Rhodes’s house in Cape Town, but this was not to be, for
16 Mansergh, Nationalism and Independence, 151; ‘“Phrases Make History Here”:
Churchill, Ireland and the Rhetoric of Empire’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth
History, 34, 4 (2010), pp.549–70.
it would soon be torched in the fratricidal civil war that followed British
withdrawal, led by guerrilla ghters who frequently modelled themselves
on Boer combatants in 1899–1902.17
The Convention, however, marked a beginning rather than the end of
these Commonwealth connections. At this time, as F.S. Crafford aptly
described in his biography, ‘Smuts had become the demigod of Empire’,
and it was to Smuts that both sides turned to facilitate a settlement. He
helped to draft the conciliatory speech of George V for the opening of the
Northern Ireland parliament, with its emphasis on the sense that ‘every-
thing that touches Ireland nds an echo in the remotest corner of the
Empire’, described by the historian A.J.P. Taylor as ‘perhaps the greatest
service performed by a British monarch in modern times’.18 Based not
least on this intervention, Smuts’s ‘secret’ early-morning arrival at the port
of Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) disguised as ‘Mr Smith’ and accom-
panied by his secretary, Captain Lane, was already the talk of Dublin; con-
dentiality was not helped by the provision of a yellow Rolls Royce owned
by Oliver St John Gogarty, the famous surgeon and model for ‘Buck
Mulligan’ in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Smuts and Lane had already made their
way to the Shelbourne Hotel, where the statesman impressed his IRA
driver with a tale of how he had once been warned of a plot by British
ofcers to capture or assassinate him near Bloemfontein during the South
African War, before setting off to his secret rendezvous with de Valera to
advise him about the merits of dominion status. Erskine Childers warned
that such status would never work in such close geographical proximity to
Britain. De Valera proposed an alternative settlement, under which Ireland
would agree to be associated with, but not a member of, the British
Commonwealth of Nations, and to recognise the British sovereign as
Head of the Association, but not as an Irish head of state, a formula which
pregured that of India remaining in the Commonwealth as a republic in
1950. Moreover, Irish nationalists generally regarded Ireland as a ‘mother
country’ and an ancient European nation, not a ‘daughter nation’ like the
dominions. Smuts was impressed by Arthur Grifth, the founder of Sinn
17 Donal Lowry, ‘Making John Redmond “the Irish [Louis] Botha”: The Dominion
Dimensions of the Anglo-Irish Settlement, c.1906–1922’, in Martin Farr and Stephanie
Barczewski (eds.), The MacKenzie Moment and Imperial History (London, forthcom-
ing, 2019).
18 F.S.Crafford, Jan Smuts: A Biography (London: 1946): 175–76; A.J.P.Taylor, England
1914–1945 (London: 2001 edn), p. 157; ‘George V, Belfast, 22 June 1921’, in Brian
MacArthur (ed.), The Penguin Book of Modern Speeches (Harmondsworth: 2012).
Fein, who had worked in South Africa in the 1890s and was ‘reasonable’,
but he was disappointed to nd that they ‘continually harped on visionary
aims and believed that they could win the Republic by force of arms’.19 He
failed to persuade de Valera of the wisdom and inevitability of dominion
status, but his mediation greatly assisted the negotiation of a truce.
In the event, and divisively, the Irish delegates accepted dominion sta-
tus on the template of Canada, the senior dominion, but modied by a
system of appeals to the Privy Council based on South African practice.
Britain retained naval facilities in the south, loosely based on the
Simonstown precedent in South Africa. The Irish negotiators made imagi-
native attempts to reconcile dominion status with popular, republican-
style, sovereignty. Nevertheless, the Crown, represented by a
Governor-General, even if shorn of much of the deferential language and
symbolism of monarchy, remained in place, and this compromise was to
prove far-reaching. Before the Great War, signicant constitutional ele-
ments of nationalist opinion had been warming towards the monarchy.
Despite George V’s historic plea for peace, which was universally wel-
comed, the association of irregular counter-insurgency units such as the
Black and Tans and Auxiliaries under the titular authority of ‘Crown
forces’ had done much to undermine the monarchy. The Anglo-Irish
Treaty demanded an Oath of Allegiance that was fundamental to
Commonwealth membership at that time, and it was this, rather than the
partition of the country, which provoked a bitter civil war among national-
ists following the British withdrawal. To this extent, the Commonwealth
connection continued to dene Irish politics long after its original signi-
cance had disappeared. More immediately, it also dened the country in
other ways: it was as a dominion that the Irish Free State was admitted to
the League of Nations in 1923, where dominion support greatly assisted
Irish participation in the inter-war period. The dominion tie was further
evident in the choice of Judge Richard Feetham of the South African
Supreme Court, another former member of Milner’s Kindergarten, to
chair the abortive Boundary Commission, established to dene the fron-
tier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State.20
19 Oliver St John Gogarty, As I Was Going Down Sackville Street: A Phantasy in Fact
(London, 1936), pp.285–87; Kenneth Grifth and Timothy O’Leary, Curious Journey: An
Oral History of Ireland’s Unnished Revolution (Cork, 1998), pp. 228–30; the Earl of
Longford and Thomas P.O’Neill, Eamon de Valera (London, 1970), pp.129–32.
20 Donal Lowry, ‘New Ireland, Old Empire and the Outside World: The Strange Evolution
of a Dictionary Republic’, in M. Cronin and J.M. Regan (eds.), Ireland: The Politics of
The resTless dOmInIOn
There is little need to rehearse the Irish role in the achievement of the
Statute of Westminster. As Ged Martin has argued, moderating David
Harkness’s claims in his ground-breaking The Restless Dominion, a decen-
tralised British Commonwealth was already emerging under South African
and Canadian pressure before the Irish Free State was admitted.
Nevertheless, Irish lawyers proved to be assiduous in the detail of expand-
ing dominion rights. When, in 1926, the South African Prime Minister,
General J.B.M. Hertzog, returned from the Imperial Conference with the
Balfour Declaration on dominion equality, boasting that he had ‘brought
home the bacon’, the soon-to-be-assassinated Irish vice-president, Kevin
O’Higgins, had reason to quip: ‘Irish bacon!’ Following the resulting pas-
sage of the Statute of Westminster, the importance of the two ‘restless
dominions’ was reected in the seating of the Prince of Wales, the future
Edward VIII, between the Irish Minister of External Affairs, Patrick
McGilligan, and Hertzog.21
Irish events, in turn, resonated in the wider Empire during this decade.
In the South African general election in 1920, Smuts stated in a speech
near Pretoria that Hertzog’s advocacy of a republic would result in what
Ireland was experiencing over the same demand: tanks and aeroplanes and
an army of occupation. In the same year, an energetic Irish Republican
Association of South Africa emerged, elements of which fought Smuts’s
government in the Rand Revolt of 1922, underlining his warning about
the ‘poisonous’ impact of Irish issues in the wider Empire.22 The Irish
Independence 1922–49 (London, 2000); Mervyn O’Driscoll, ‘“To Bring Light Unto the
Germans”: Irish Recognition-seeking, the Weimar Republic and the British Commonwealth,
1930–32, European History Quarterly, 33, 1 (2003), pp. 65–100; Jason K. Knirck, ‘The
Dominion of Ireland: The Anglo-Irish Treaty in an Imperial Context’, Eire-Ireland, 42, 1&2
(2007), pp. 229–55; Gerard Keown, First of the Small Nations: The Beginnings of Irish
Foreign Policy in the Interwar Years, 1919–1932 (Oxford, 2016).
21 Donal Lowry, ‘The Captive Dominion: Imperial Realities behind Irish Diplomacy’, Irish
Historical Studies, XXXVI, 142 (2008), pp.202–26.
22 Ged Martin, ‘The Irish Free State and the Evolution of the Commonwealth, 1921–49’,
in Ronald Hyam and Ged Martin (eds.), Reappraisals in British Imperial History (London,
1975), pp.201–23; Donal Lowry, ‘“Ireland Shows the Way”: Irish-South African Relations
and the British Commonwealth of Nations, 1902–61’, in Donal McCracken (ed.), Ireland
and South Africa in Modern Times (Durban, 1996), pp.89–135; Bill Nasson, ‘Piet on Peat:
The Irish Romance of Afrikaner Nationalism’, in Keith Jeffery (ed.), The British Empire and
its Contested Pasts (Dublin, 2009), pp.253–72.
crisis also inuenced events in British East Africa at the end of the Great
War, where white settlers, led by former members of the British Indian
Army, threatened to overthrow the Governor, under the banner of ‘For
King and Kenya’, in order to forestall a policy of Indian immigration in the
region. A volunteer force was modelled on the loyalist Ulster Volunteer
Force of 1912–1914.23
Southern Rhodesia was another possession where the Irish impact was
felt. In October 1921, Sir Charles Coghlan, the leader of the Responsible
Government Association (RGA), arrived in London for discussions with
the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Winston Churchill, whose govern-
ment was then much preoccupied with simultaneous crises in Ireland,
Egypt, East Africa and India. For several weeks, Coghlan and his col-
leagues were forced to make their way through throngs of green ties,
rosettes and banners of Sinn Fein supporters whose delegation, represent-
ing the revolutionary Dail Eireann, were coincidentally visiting London
for historic negotiations leading to the establishment of an autonomous
Irish state. Coghlan was puzzled as to why the same crowd gave King
George V a rousing cheer on his return from Scotland, seemingly unaware
of the monarch’s recent appeal for peace which, as we have seen, had been
substantially drafted by General Smuts.
This mediating role would also come to inuence Rhodesian political
developments. Although staunchly proud of his Irish roots, Coghlan
regarded the crowd as ‘a funny lot, and what between assassinations and
good nature one does not know what to make of them’. He wondered
what they would have made of him, ‘a Catholic of Irish name and extrac-
tion’, and whether they would have regarded him as a ‘traitor’, with ‘a title
from the hated foreign government of bloody England’. The Irish of
southern Africa had ‘nothing to thank them for in their ght for liberty,
either in the Anglo-Boer War or in the recent world conict’, he mused.
When he and his delegation met George V, the king remarked that
Rhodesia appeared to be ‘the Ulster of South Africa’. Coghlan replied that
Rhodesia would prove just as loyal—and, in 1965 the territory’s fateful
Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) ended with the salutation,
‘God Save the Queen’. The king was not alone in drawing parallels
between Rhodesia and Northern Ireland, both of which entities came into
existence at almost the same time. Indeed, for the greater part of the
23 Donal Lowry, ‘Ulster Resistance and Loyalist Rebellion in the Empire’, in Keith Jeffery
(ed.), ‘An Irish Empire’? Aspects of Ireland and the British Empire (Manchester, 1996).
twentieth century, Rhodesian politicians and outside observers alike would
often draw this comparison.24
In negotiating the Rhodesian settlement, Churchill contrasted Irish
republican disaffection in conversation with Coghlan with the avowed loy-
alty of his colony. In 1926, Trinity College Dublin, ever keen to assert
what remained of the imperial connection, honoured Coghlan with an
LLD, as they had previously honoured Botha and Smuts. Smuts’s nation-
alist successor, Hertzog, was welcomed on a state visit to Dublin in 1930,
one of the largest of its kind, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate
by the more nationalist-minded National University of Ireland. South
Africa was the least Irish of the dominions, with relatively few Catholics,
but they shared a strong tradition of republican anti-imperialism. Both
states were founded by divisive treaties, and their parliaments were domi-
nated by former guerrilla commandants who had fought the British. This
led to a strong sense of fellow feeling and personal friendships.
‘Ireland shOws Us Theway’: afrIkaner
repUblICan sOlIdarITy
With the electoral victory in 1932 of Eamon de Valera, pledged to unravel
the Treaty and the symbols of dominion status, active involvement in the
Commonwealth ceased. This, however, was by no means the end of the
story. In retaliation for de Valera’s withholding of land annuities, an
Anglo-Irish tariff war ensued. Here, too, a Commonwealth dimension was
evident. De Valera rejected a British suggestion of Commonwealth arbi-
tration by Hertzog, members of whose National Party were strongly sym-
pathetic to de Valera. In the South African senate, T.C. Visser praised de
Valera’s ‘manly behaviour’, while Dr N.J. van der Merwe MP was keen to
distance South Africa from British policy. ‘Thousands of Afrikaners admire
your determination to secure the freedom of Ireland’, he cabled de Valera:
‘Your recourse to the Statute of Westminster is a test of English sincerity’.25
Van der Merwe’s intervention was all the more signicant since he
24 J.P.R.Wallis, One Man’s Hand: The Story of Sir Charles Coghlan and the Liberation of
Southern Rhodesia (London, 1950), pp.196–67; Donal Lowry, ‘A Mirror to Ireland’s Face:
Colonial Analogies and Ethnic Echoes in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, ca.1910–2019’, in Joseph
Woods (ed.), The Mashonaland Irish Association (Harare, 2019).
25 ‘Die kabelgramme aan de Valera’, Die Burger, 11 April 1932, `General Smuts on the
Irish “family trouble’, Cape Argus, 18 April, 1932.
represented a powerful strand within the secretive Broederbond and had
founded a Republican Union within the National Party in 1930. In 1935,
the judgement of the Privy Council upholding de Valera’s right under the
Statute of Westminster to secede also had South African implications. The
eminent constitutional expert, Arthur Berriedale Keith, pointed out that
this decision also effectively upheld Hertzog’s arguments that the Union
possessed the powers of neutrality and secession. Sir Edward Harding,
permanent under-secretary at the Dominions Ofce, explained to Smuts
that concessions to de Valera might only strengthen republican secession-
ists in South Africa. Smuts had already warned that ‘If Ireland hives off,
South Africa is sure to follow’.26 He was aware that there was widespread
support for de Valera on the back benches of the Afrikaner National Party.
Opinion was moving in favour of an Anglo-Irish settlement. In 1933,
Reginald Coupland, Beit Professor at Oxford, visited the Irish Free State
and concluded that it would be best if the ‘imperial factor’ were removed,
as it was inammatory and served only to discredit the Crown, a view
shared by Berriedale Keith.27 Some arrangement for an organic evolution
of Irish status was being discussed, but dramatic events in the form of the
abdication of Edward VIII intervened. In order to prevent the anomaly of
Edward remaining King of Ireland while George VI succeeded elsewhere
in the Empire-Commonwealth, de Valera summoned the Dail to recog-
nise that the king had abdicated, but not that George VI had succeeded as
King of Ireland. He now put his idea of ‘external association’ into action.
While removing all vestiges of dominion status, including the replacement
of the governor-general with a president, he did not declare the state to be
a republic, but retained the king in the External Relations Act for the pur-
poses of making treaties and accrediting diplomats. The British regarded
de Valera’s action as a direct and embarrassing assault, without consulta-
tion, on the position of the Crown, but their response was moderated and
restrained by the reaction of the dominions. Hertzog, in particular, advo-
cated a conciliatory approach, declaring at the 1937 Imperial Conference
that ‘the extrusion of the Irish Free State from the Commonwealth [was]
almost unthinkable’, adding that it should be retained as a member even if
26 University of Cambridge, Smuts papers (microlm): Smuts to A. and M.Gillett, 13 July
1932. See also Donal K. Coffey, Constitutionalism in Ireland, 1932–1938: National,
Commonwealth and International Perspectives (London, 2018).
27 Clyde Sanger, Malcolm MacDonald: Bringing an End to Empire (Montreal & Kingston,
1995), p.111.
it were to declare a republic. Sir William Clark, the British High
Commissioner to South Africa, reported to the Dominions Ofce that Dr
D.F. Malan, Hertzog’s nationalist rival, had demanded an assurance that
he would ensure that Ireland would not be discussed without Irish con-
sent. Thus, although de Valera would have been loath to admit it, the
dominions would prove to be essential in restraining potential British
reactions to Irish constitutional assertiveness.
The country’s status was gravely threatened by the onset of war. In
1938, much against the protests of Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain
returned the Irish ‘Treaty ports’, thus facilitating a policy of neutrality.
Ominously for the British, given their crucial strategic and economic
interests, Afrikaner nationalist advocates of neutrality were following these
developments closely. In 1939, Eric Louw, a South African former diplo-
mat and strident nationalist politician who had come to know and admire
de Valera when they were both at the League of Nations in Geneva, deliv-
ered a lecture at the University of Stellenbosch, titled Ierland toon die weg
aan (Ireland shows us the way), in which he cited de Valera’s exemplary
moves towards a republic and neutrality and praised the centrality of the
family, rather than the individual, at the heart of his new constitution. Irish
neutrality was cited as a precedent in debates surrounding South African
entry into the war.28
neUTralITy, dOmInIOn leverage andfears OfIrIsh
repUblICan COnTamInaTIOn
Smuts’s return to power in 1939 marked a cooling in the South African-
Irish relationship. Mindful of his experience of the 1914 Afrikaner
Rebellion (which he had a leading hand in suppressing) and the danger of
making martyrs, he advised the British not to proceed with executions fol-
lowing an IRA bombing in Coventry. He also counselled Churchill not to
employ ‘Irish tactics of partition’ in India.29 Less cautiously, for one so
conscious of international and particularly American opinion, he urged
28 A. van Wyk, Vyf Dae: Oorlogskrisis van 1939 (Kaapstad, 1985); Eric Louw, Ierland toon
die weg aan (Stellenbosch, 1939); Donal Lowry, ‘The Neutral Dominion: Ireland and the
British Empire in the Second World War’, Global War Studies, 7, 1 (2010), pp.37–46.
29 Deirdre McMahon, ‘A Larger and Noisier Southern Ireland: Ireland and the Evolution
of Dominion Status in India, Burma and the Commonwealth, 1942–9’, in Michael Kennedy
and Joseph Morrison Skelly (eds.), Irish Foreign Policy, 1919–1966: From Independence to
Internationalism (Dublin: 2000), p.161.
Churchill to seize the former Irish Treaty ports, a piece of advice that con-
trasts with his views on the sinking of the French eet in 1940, as Luc-
André Brunet shows in this volume.
In 1939, South African Minister of Justice, Colin Steyn, advised Robert
Briscoe, a Jewish Irish parliamentarian and condant of de Valera, who
was visiting South African Zionists, that the British had forewarned him of
his arrival and of the inammatory inuence he might have on Afrikaner
nationalist opinion on the eve of war.30 Smuts’s security police were also
aware of the parallels. ‘The best way for an outsider to understand the OB
(Ossewa Brandwag, or Oxwagon Sentinel, a secret organisation of armed
dissidents) was to equate it with the Sinn Fein rebellion and its long strug-
gle against the British Empire’, Colonel George Visser reected.31 De
Valera was made aware of such ssures by his Secretary of External Affairs
on the eve of the fall of France, who warned that white South Africa was
on the verge of civil war because it was split down the middle on the ques-
tion of ghting with the Allies.32
Throughout 1940–1941, Malan, as opposition leader, ensured that the
issue of Irish neutrality remained prominent at National Party congresses,
where a draft republican constitution, loosely based on the Irish model,
began to be circulated. Even if the Germans were defeated, Malan declared,
South Africa could still ‘follow in the footsteps of Ireland’. The Herenigde
Nasionale Party federal council concurred, calling for Afrikaners to take
the same road ‘which Ireland took [since] Afrikanerdom is now unani-
mous on the breaking of the British connection and the establishment of
a republic’.33
De Valera was nevertheless careful to cultivate Commonwealth sympa-
thies. His wartime visitors included Deneys Reitz, the deputy-prime min-
ister of South Africa, and Robert Menzies of Australia, who counselled
British restraint. In 1943, a heated row broke out in the South African
parliament between Smuts and Malan, who had sent a cable of solidarity
to de Valera following a threatening Allied ultimatum urging the closure
30 Robert Briscoe with Alden Hatch, For the Life of Me: The Adventurous Autobiography of
the Irish Rebel Who Became the First Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin (London, 1958),
31 George Cloete Visser, OB: Traitors or Patriots (London, 1976), pp.26–27.
32 National Archives of Ireland, DFA Secretary’s Files A2, Memorandum from Joseph
P.Walshe to Eamon de Valera, 21 June 1940.
33 Nicholas Mansergh, Survey of British Commonwealth Affairs: Problems of Wartime
Cooperation and Post-War Change, 1939–1952 (London, 1958), p.155.
of Axis legations in Dublin. The assertion of wartime neutrality high-
lighted the anomaly of Irish status, but it came at the price of the country
being diplomatically isolated from Britain, the dominions and the United
States, as well as, until 1955, the United Nations. In 1948, the country’s
rehabilitation in Commonwealth political circles was signalled by the
inclusion of its High Commissioner, John Dulanty, at a dinner in London
in honour of Smuts, attended by leading British and Commonwealth
political and military gures.34
Ireland, sOUTh afrICa andIndIa: TOwards
arepUblICan COmmOnwealTh
De Valera’s policy remained the stretching of the Commonwealth elastic.
He would not leave the organisation; the British would have to kick him
out.35 But his loss of power in 1948 changed this strategy. His successor,
John Costello, suddenly declared his intention to proclaim a republic dur-
ing a visit to Canada. The almost simultaneous coming to power of new
governments in Dublin and Pretoria signalled a further rising of the
republican tide. India’s independence added a powerful new impetus.
Malan’s new foreign minister, Eric Louw, was excluded from discussions
at Chequers regarding Ireland’s departure from the Commonwealth, as
he was ‘felt to be so completely in favour as to be unwelcome to the
Sean MacBride, a former IRA chief of staff and son of the executed
former commander of the Irish Transvaal Brigade in 1899–1902, was
especially keen on establishing closer relations with Louw in order to fur-
ther their respective republican objectives. He also wished to foster trade
links, notwithstanding the incipient notoriety of apartheid and the anti-
Catholic ideology of Malan’s National Party (in a reversal of this afnity,
MacBride later became a leading anti-apartheid activist and United
Nations High Commissioner for Namibia), MacBride wanted both Louw
and Nehru to visit Dublin but, mindful of growing Indo-South African
34 A.Worrall and W.Lorimer, “Highveld”: The Story of a House. The Residence of the South
African Ambassador to the United Kingdom (Johannesburg, 1986), pp.37–38.
35 See Deirdre McMahon, Republicans and Imperialists: Anglo-Irish Relations in the 1930s
(London, 1984).
36 David Harkness, ‘Patrick McGilligan: Man of Commonwealth’, in Norman Hillmer and
Peter Wigley (eds.), The First British Commonwealth (London, 1980), p.129.
tensions over apartheid, advised the Irish High Commissioner to ‘Be care-
ful that [they] do not arrive at the same time’.37
Clement Attlee’s government was taken aback by these developments,
as they were then engaged in delicate discussions with Nehru about his
intention to proceed from dominion to republican status within the
Commonwealth. Initially, it was feared that the Irish would be declared
foreigners in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth.
Pakistan, in particular, was not keen on Irish citizens being treated as
‘non-foreign’. In the event, dominion attitudes crucially moderated British
reaction in 1949. Ireland was able to benet from all the advantages of
Commonwealth membership, including freedom of movement,
labour, trading and citizenship rights, while remaining outside of the
organisation and with no obligations to it.
Ironically, only a matter of days separated Ireland’s departure and the
decision in the London Declaration which enabled India to move from
dominion status to that of a republic. This arrangement was substantially
based on Eamon de Valera’s rejected1922 proposal of ‘external associa-
tion’. Indian nationalists, as well as Mohammed Ali Jinnah, had long been
familiar with the constitutional developments of Anglo-Irish relations.
The precedents these provided were in the foreground of discussions
between Lord Louis Mountbatten, as Governor-General, and Sir Benegal
Narsing Rau, Nehru’s constitutional adviser.38 In 1951, de Valera told the
South African High Commissioner, Dr A.L. Geyer, thenon a visit to
Dublin, that he would have been satised with the status that hadrecently
beengranted to India, and in the 1950s, he did not preclude a return to
the Commonwealth, which outcome he favoured over that ofjoining the
European Common Market.
De Valera was chiey concerned with the strength of the Afrikaans lan-
guage, in comparison with Irish Gaelic, rather than the racial policy of
apartheid then being promoted by Geyer’s government. On hearing that
so many spoke Afrikaans, he exclaimed: ‘How I envy you. Oh! How I envy
you!’39 In the immediate post-war years, the relationship remained warm.
Geyer was treated to a private dinner attended by President McEntee, de
37 Dermot Keogh, Twentieth-Century Ireland: Nation and State (New York, 1995), p.235.
38 Kate O’Malley, Ireland, India and Empire: Indo-Irish Radical Connections, 1919–64
(Manchester, 2009).
39 A.L. Geyer, Vier Jaar in ‘Highveld’: Diplomatieke Envarings—Soms Sonder Dorings—as
Hoe Kommissaris in Londen, 1950–4 (Kaapstad, 1969), pp.50, 70–71.
Valera, his deputy, Sean Lemass and the defence minister, Frank Aiken.
Even when, at the end of the 1950s, Ireland began to distance itself from
apartheid, Lemass, now Taoiseach and achildhood admirer of the Boers,
remarked that he ‘entertained nothing but friendly sentiments’ towards
South Africa, for theirs had been ‘a long relationship, marked by mutual
Ireland continued to come under the remit of the Commonwealth
Relations Ofce until 1966 and retained a dominion-styled ‘Department
of External Affairs’ until 1972, on the eve of the country’s accession to the
Common Market. After joining the United Nations in 1955, the country
pursued a foreign policy broadly sympathetic to decolonisation.41
Ironically—and contrary to the binary image of nationalism versus impe-
rialism in Irish nationalism and identity—Irish Catholics had continued to
administer parts of the colonial Empire, from O’Dwyer in the Punjab to
the Seychelles, Sierra Leone and Kenya, where Sir Joseph Byrne at various
times governed. Neither were all such administrators from patrician back-
grounds. Nicholas Canny, an editor of The Oxford History of the British
Empire, has described how his maternal grandfather rose from a humble
Irish Catholic background through the Malayan Police to become
Assistant Commissioner in the Sultanate of Kedah.42 When the former
Irish Minister of External Affairs, Patrick McGilligan, applied for a profes-
sorship of Law at University College Dublin, his referees included
Hertzog, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett of Canada and South African
Finance Minister, N.C. Havenga. Commonwealth constitutional conven-
tions survived separation, as the Irish Assistant Secretary of External
Affairs, Frederick Boland, noted in a 1944 memorandum, when, para-
doxically, Ireland was a quasi-republic under de Valera and conspicuously
neutral during the Second World War:
The parliamentary law of this State derives, like that of most democratically-
ruled States, from the practice of the British ‘Mother of Parliaments’. In our
case, owing to our close association for so long with Great Britain and, lat-
terly, with the British Dominions, we automatically turn to British and
40 Dail Debates, 18 November 1959, 178, cols. 28–9.
41 Kevin O’Sullivan, Ireland, Africa and the End of Empire: Small State Identity in the Cold
War, 1955–75 (Manchester, 2012).
42 Nicholas Canny, Foreword, in Kevin Kenny (ed.), Ireland and the British Empire
(Oxford, 2004), pp. xiii–xv.
Dominion precedents in many of the constitutional problems with which we
nd ourselves from time to time faced.43
Just as Irish jurists profoundly inuenced the constitutional evolution
of the Commonwealth, Irish lawyers administered and moderated British
justice throughout the Empire, not least in times of emergency, from
Cyprus, where Sir Paget John Bourke, uncle of a later Irish president,
Mary Robinson, was Chief Justice, to Kenya and post-independence
Zambia. The fourth president of India, V.V. Giri, studied Law at University
College Dublin, where he witnessed the Easter Rising. Irish inuences in
enforcing the law were also manifested in the ‘Irish colonial’ model widely
adapted, particularly in Palestine, where the police were heavily recruited
from veterans of the Irish insurrection, just as counter-insurgency meth-
ods honed in the Empire were adapted during the Northern Ireland crisis
of the late 1960s and 1970s.44
The Irish impact on nationalist movements can sometimes be exagger-
ated, but the British administration in 1920s Bengal feared the inuence
of Sinn Fein literature. The Zionist and Irgun ghter, Yitzhak Shamir,
adopted the name of Michael Collins as his nom de guerre. Subhas
Chandra Bose drew inspiration from de Valera. The Empire divided even
nationalist Irish Catholic families. Irish missionaries both helped to build
and to undermine the settler state in colonial Rhodesia. ‘That is what
made us, Irish discipline’, the mission-educated Robert Mugabe recalled,
while Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia remembered de Valera—‘the Old
Man’—as ‘a great freedom ghter’. Kenneth Shonk has gone as far as to
suggest that these inuences made Ireland into a ‘shadow metropole’ for
anti-imperialists.45 These connections were complex and occasionally inti-
mate. The Dublin-born Catholic Sir Gilbert Laithwaite, who was sometime
43 Trinity College Dublin, Frederick H.Boland papers, ‘MS 10470/9: Memorandum on
Taoiseach’s right to advise a dissolution’, 11 May 1944.
44 Georgina Sinclair, At the End of the Line: Colonial Policing and the Imperial Endgame
1945–1980 (Manchester, 2006), Tony Craig, ‘From Counter Subversion to Counter-
Insurgency—Comparing MI5’s Role in British Guiana, Aden and the Northern Ireland Civil
Rights Issue’, Journal of Intelligence History, 14, 1 (2014), pp.41–52; Sean William Gannon,
The Irish Imperial Service: Policing Palestine and Administering the Empire, 1922–1966
(London, 2019).
45 Kenneth J. Shonk Jr., ‘The Shadow Metropole: The Varieties of Anticolonialism in
Ireland, 1937–68’, in Timothy G.McMahon etal., Ireland in an Imperial World: Citizenship,
Opportunism and Subversion (London, 2017), pp.265–82.
secretary to the Viceroy of India and was appointed British ambassador to
Ireland in the 1950s, was also the rst cousin of Ernie O’Malley, one of
the most famous and inveterate IRA commanders of 1919–1923.46
Nevertheless, the rise of Irish Catholics within British colonial service
was not without obstacles. The rst Secretary of State for the Dominions,
Leo Amery, supported the Ulster loyalist reaction against the prospect of
home rule. In 1927, on hearing of the assassination of Kevin O’Higgins,
the Irish vice-president, he reected:
Poor fellow, he had many attractive personal qualities as well as courage and
patriotism. What a curse hangs over Ireland … I fear the starting point is a
fault in the blood, some element of ape-like savagery which has survived
every successive ood of settlers.
Racial and religious bigotry also combined. O’Higgins’s requiem struck
him as ‘curiously barbaric and in the direct line of succession from ancient
Egypt’. Neither were such attitudes conned to high politics. The militant
settler resistance to Whitehall in post-Great War Kenya exhibited both
anti-Irish and anti-Semitic tropes, and such views inuenced other preju-
dices. One of the characters in Wilfred Saint-Mande’s bestselling memoir,
War, Wine and Women, for example, reects a projection of Irish defects
on to the Boers:
[The Boer] will never learn anything and will never forget anything. He is
ruled by the predikants … Narrow-minded, intolerant, selsh, harsh … they
rule the dorps with a rod of iron. They have as much power as the Catholic
priest in Ireland.47
Such views persisted. Especially revealing is a memorandum prepared
for the Secretary of State for the Dominions by Sir John Maffey, later Lord
Rugby, on Ireland, where he had been the British Representative during
the period of wartime neutrality. He shared Amery’s disdain for
46 Helen O’Shea, Ireland and the End of the British Empire (London, 2015), and ‘Irish
Legal Geographies in the Era of Emergency: Independent Ireland Colonial Kenya and the
British Colonial Legal Service’, Eire-Ireland, 51, 1&2 (2016), pp.243–65; Sishuwa Sishuwa,
‘“A White Man Will Never Be a Zambian”: Racialised Nationalism, the Rule of Law, and
Competing Visions of Independent Zambia in the Case of Justice James Skinner, 1964–1969’,
Journal of Southern African Studies, 45, 3 (2019), pp.503–24.
47 Wilfred Saint-Mande, War, Wine and Women (London, 1931), p.295; John Barnes and
David Nicholson (eds.), The Leo Amery Diaries, 1896–1929 (London, 1980), p. 515.
Catholicism, as well as some of his views on ethnicity: ‘There still persists
the dark Milesian strain, the tribal vendetta spirit, hatred and blarney, reli-
gious fanaticism, swift alternations between cruelty and laughter. A knowl-
edge of the North-West Frontier tribes of India is a good introduction to
an understanding of the Irish.’ Maffey further opined that ‘Eire has none
of the attributes of a Dominion. She is a “Scotland” gone wrong, and we
cannot afford to let her be completely divorced from the strategic and
economic zone of England, Scotland and Wales’.48
Suspicions of Irish Catholic unreliability became evident in 1959, when
Harold Macmillan noted in his diary that Lord Devlin, who had led an
Inquiry into the Nyasaland State of Emergency, was a ‘clever lawyer’, but
he had discovered that ‘he was (a) Irish—no doubt with Fenian blood that
makes Irishmen anti-government on principle, (b) A lapsed Catholic. His
brother is a Jesuit priest’.49 Irish analogies returned to central Africa in
1961, as decolonisation advanced from the north. Dr Conor Cruise
O’Brien was appointed United Nations Representative in the Congo,
where he soon became a bete noire of the Federal Prime Minister, Sir Roy
Welensky, who supported Katangese secession. An autodidact with an
acute awareness of Irish history, Welensky described O’Brien as ‘hostile to
the idea of Katanga’s secession because he hated the secession of Northern
Ireland from Eire; and in me, perhaps, he saw a reincarnation of [the Irish
Unionist leader, Sir Edward] Carson. Ireland’s woes were to be avenged
in Central Africa’.50
ImperIal deClIne andlOyalIsT reaCTIOn InrhOdesIa
In the early 1960s, too, Sir Edgar Whitehead, the Southern Rhodesian
Prime Minister, advocated a subordinate relationship of Northern to
Southern Rhodesia, which he called his ‘Northern Ireland solution’. In
1963, he also called for Rhodesia’s entry into the United Kingdom on the
same terms as Northern Ireland, so that the rights of black Rhodesians
48 National Archives, CP. (45) 152. 7 September 1945 entitled ‘Relations with Eire’,
Memorandum by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, 21 August 1945.
49 Donal Lowr y, ‘The Crown, Empire Loyalism and the Assimilation of Non-British White
Subjects in the British World’, in Carl Bridge and Kent Fedorowich (eds.), The British World:
Diaspora, Culture and Identity (London, 2003), p.97.
50 Sir Roy Welensky, Welensky’s 4000 Days (London, 1964), p.221.
could be addressed by an overwhelmingly white electorate within the
United Kingdom. In November 1965, the government led by Ian Smith
declared independence unilaterally from the United Kingdom, an action
which would enmesh the Irish in Rhodesia and issues in Ireland. In the
1960s, analogies between the two countries returned to prominence as
both sympathisers and enemies drew parallels between these near and dis-
tant frontiers sharing vociferous attachments to the Crown and Empire,
combined with contempt for London’s interference and supposed
Meanwhile, Rhodesian affairs were inuencing Irish politics as well.
The Irish government’s condemnation of UDI, in keeping with its general
identication with anti-colonialism, brought a widespread sense of alien-
ation among many Irish Rhodesians. In a crucial BBC television broadcast
in December 1968, the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, Captain
Terence O’Neill, pointedly warned against a similar UDI by elements of
his Unionist Party who admired the Rhodesian action and who were
opposed to his reforms:
Rhodesia, in defying Britain from thousands of miles away, at least has an air
force and army of her own. Where are the Ulster armoured divisions and the
Ulster jet planes? …These people…are not loyalists, but disloyalists: disloyal
to Britain, disloyal to the Commonwealth, disloyal to the Crown, disloyal—
if they are in public life- to the solemn oath they have sworn to Her Majesty
the Queen.
The British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, remarked to O’Neill at the
onset of the Northern Ireland crisis that Ulster was rather like Rhodesia
and the Governor of Northern Ireland, Lord Grey of Naunton, who had
previously been Governor of British Guiana, was placed in a position
almost as invidious as that of his Rhodesian counterpart. At this time, too,
the Chief of the Defence Staff feared that, as in the case of Rhodesia,
with which he had recently been dealing, the armed forces would nd
confronting recalcitrant loyalists in Ulster a disrupting and ‘distaste-
ful’ task.51
51 Donal Lowry, ‘A “Supreme and Permanent Symbol of Executive Authority”: The
Governorship of Northern Ireland in an Age of Troubles’, in H. Kumarasingham (ed.),
Viceregalism: The Crown and its Representatives in Political Crises in the Post-War
Commonwealth (London, forthcoming 2020); Donal Lowry, ‘“King’s Men”, “Queen’s
Rebels” and the “Wards of the Outer Marches”: Ulster and Rhodesia in an Age of Imperial
The COmmOnwealTh andaChangIng Ireland
Ulster Unionists were not at all keen on the transition from Empire to
British Commonwealth or indeed from British Commonwealth to plain
Commonwealth. They showed no interest in dominion status, except
when they realised that this might give their southern neighbour greater
status and leverage than they had as a self-governing part of the United
Kingdom.52 During the peace negotiations, however, they warmed to
Commonwealth participation in order to balance American involvement
in the form of Senator GeorgeMitchell. Thus, General John de Chastelain
was deemed suitable as a disarmament inspector, despite his oath to the
Queen of Canada, while Judge John Toohey and Judge Sir Edward
Sommers were acceptable as members of the Bloody Sunday Inquiry,
regardless of their oaths to the Queen of Australia and the Queen of New
Zealand, respectively. Sinn Fein were keener on Cyril Ramaphosa, then
Secretary-General of the ANC (now president of South Africa), who was
appointed to the International Commission charged with overseeing IRA
disarmament, as this tted more closely with their international revolu-
tionary image.
The Commonwealth connection, as we have seen, was present at the
birth of an autonomous Irish state. Its requirement for a monarchical oath
lay at the heart of the civil war that followed British withdrawal, shaping
both its early constitution and political divisions that would last for gen-
erations. Yet, as correctly predicted by the guerrilla leader, Michael Collins,
who had negotiated the settlement, the dominions would prove crucial in
securing Irish independence against any interference by their former rulers
and nearest neighbour:
[T]he establishment of a Republican government so close to their own
shores … would be regarded by [the British] as a challenge … South Africa
would be the rst to follow our example and Britain’s security and prestige
would be gone … but Canada and South Africa are approaching the same
end [of freedom] by peaceful growth. Separation by peaceful stages of
Retreat’, in Stuart Ward and Christian D.Pedersen (eds.) The Break-up of Greater Britain
(Manchester, forthcoming 2020).
52 Philip Ollerenshaw, ‘Northern Ireland and the British Empire-Commonwealth,
1923–61’, Irish Historical Studies, XXVI, 142 (2008), 227–42.
evolution does not expose [Britain] … Our immunity can never be chal-
lenged without challenging the immunity of Canada….53
Fear of a separatist chain reaction in South Africa and India in particular,
as well as antagonising the dominions, was instrumental in restraining the
British government, not least during the Second World War, when they
might otherwise have dealt with neutrality as robustly as they had the
Vichy French eet at Mers-el-Kebir, yet historians of Anglo-Irish relations
in this period still tend to portray this relationship as almost wholly bilat-
eral, without recognising these crucial background Commonwealth inu-
ences. There was a similar global solidarity among dangerously unrequited
loyalists. Moreover, Irish independence straddled a moment of global
transition, from a European-dominated system whose vision was repre-
sented not least by Smuts, to the emerging ‘non-European’ world, led by
Nehru, with its emphasis on internationalism.54 Ireland shared Nehru’s
republicanism and policy of neutrality, but, tellingly, not to the extent of
joining the non-aligned movement. Neither did it remain in the
Commonwealth, even though it had pioneered the formula under which
republican India remained after 1950, transforming the organisation in
the process.
Running throughout the past century has been a belief as much as an
aspiration that Ireland has been an ‘international good citizen’, which to
some extent still pervades some of the scholarship on Ireland’s role. As
Kim Wagner has noted about an enduring British pride in imperial legacies:
Ultimately, this is not about the past but the present, it is not about facts but
feelings, and is not about history but identity … as long as the empire is
discussed only in reference to the moral balance sheet, we cannot even begin
to come to terms with the imperial legacies that continue to (mis)shape our
world today.55
Wagner’s warnings against evaluating the Empire as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, as
‘instilling “pride” or bringing “shame”’, are also salutary for historians of
53 Michael Collins, The Path to Freedom (Dublin, 1922), pp.88–9, 92–3.
54 Maurice Walsh, Bitter Freedom: Ireland in a Revolutionary World, 1918–1923 (London,
2015); Mark Mazower, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins
of the United Nations (Princeton, 2009).
55 Kim Wagner, ‘Rightwing identity politics and hostility to multiculturalism underpin this
whitewash of empire’, The Guardian, 10 August 2019.
Ireland’s broadly anti-imperial but complex association with the
Commonwealth, as well as the many points in between the ostensibly
polarised worlds of Nicholas Mansergh, Dan Breen and Sir Michael
O’Dwyer, with which we began this chapter. Jonathan Freedland has
noted the irritation of the Irish historian, Roy Foster, with ‘a lapse back
into an old Irish habit—reducing the complexity of history to a cosy
fairytale … [and] a national myth of victimhood endow[ing] the Irish with
a kind of moral superiority’.56 Historians of Ireland’s Commonwealth
connections should surely neither seek to denigrate piously nor edify
admiringly their impact, but to examine critically Irish agency in these
complex processes. Thus, there can be no ‘happy endings’, but an Irish
Commonwealth effect may well endure.
56 Jonathan Freedland, ‘It’s no fairy tale’, The Guardian, 23 October 2001. See also Roy
Foster, The Irish Story: Telling Tales and Making It Up in Ireland (London, 2001), pp. xii–
xiv, 20, 26, 41; Stephen Howe, Ireland and Empire: Colonial Legacies in Irish History and
Culture (Oxford, 2002).
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Much of the existing historical work on politics in independent Zambia stresses the country’s comparative lack of racial tension. However, this article argues that, as elsewhere in Africa, racial ideas were deployed in the early years after the achievement of independence in 1964 and found expression in the competing forms of nationalism that manifested themselves within the governing United National Independence Party. The article considers the case of James Skinner, a white Zambian of Irish descent and head of the country’s judiciary, who in July 1969 was forced to resign after he supported the decision of a white High Court judge to acquit two white Portuguese soldiers who had illegally crossed into Zambia from Angola. Drawing on archival, newspaper and oral sources, I argue that the Skinner case was a touchstone for divergent intra-party visions of Zambia as an independent nation: visions that played out through racial and regional security considerations. Slogans deployed during the campaign to oust Skinner, most notably ‘A white man will never be a Zambian’, shed light on how the construction of Zambian political attitudes, national identity and citizenship became closely aligned with racial identities. Zambia was not the exception within southern Africa that it has commonly been assumed to be.
No Enchanted Palace traces the origins and early development of the United Nations, one of the most influential yet perhaps least understood organizations active in the world today. Acclaimed historian Mark Mazower forces us to set aside the popular myth that the UN miraculously rose from the ashes of World War II as the guardian of a new and peaceful global order, offering instead a strikingly original interpretation of the UN's ideological roots, early history, and changing role in world affairs. Mazower brings the founding of the UN brilliantly to life. He shows how the UN's creators envisioned a world organization that would protect the interests of empire, yet how this imperial vision was decisively reshaped by the postwar reaffirmation of national sovereignty and the unanticipated rise of India and other former colonial powers. This is a story told through the clash of personalities, such as South African statesman Jan Smuts, who saw in the UN a means to protect the old imperial and racial order; Raphael Lemkin and Joseph Schechtman, Jewish intellectuals at odds over how the UN should combat genocide and other atrocities; and Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, who helped transform the UN from an instrument of empire into a forum for ending it. A much-needed historical reappraisal of the early development of this vital world institution, No Enchanted Palace reveals how the UN outgrew its origins and has exhibited an extraordinary flexibility that has enabled it to endure to the present day.
Despite the unprecedented interest shown by historians in Ireland and empire in recent years, comparatively little research has focused on Northern Ireland’s connections to the British Empire-Commonwealth in the post-partition decades. This article utilises some new sources to throw light on both the centrifugal and centripetal aspects of the imperial relationship. The discussion begins with the imperial significance of visits to Northern Ireland by statesmen such as William Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand, to his native Ulster in 1923, and that of Gordon Coates, also Prime Minister of New Zealand, three years later. At the end of the period, the visit of Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland can add to our knowledge about the changing relationship between Northern Ireland and the Commonwealth.
Welensky's 4000 Days
  • Sir Roy Welensky
Sir Roy Welensky, Welensky's 4000 Days (London, 1964), p. 221.
The Path to Freedom (Dublin, 1922)
  • Michael Collins
Michael Collins, The Path to Freedom (Dublin, 1922), pp. 88-9, 92-3.
Rightwing identity politics and hostility to multiculturalism underpin this whitewash of empire', The Guardian
  • Kim Wagner
Kim Wagner, 'Rightwing identity politics and hostility to multiculturalism underpin this whitewash of empire', The Guardian, 10 August 2019.