Events dealt with in the thirteenth volume of documents on Irish foreign policy featured in reports on RTÉ television in the 1960s.
The Documents on Irish Foreign Policy (DIFP) series is a partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archives, and since 1998 it has published archival material on Ireland's foreign relations from 1919.
Volume XIII covers the tumultuous era from April 1965 to June 1969. Like its predecessors, it contains a mixture of high-level correspondence, eyewitness reportage, and memoranda on a wide range of subjects. The documents published in the series cover a period that was being captured on RTÉ Television as well. In partnership with DIFP we have linked some documents that appear in the volume to stories broadcast on Irish television, as retained by RTÉ Archives.
Commemorating the Irish revolution in Britain in the 1960s
The fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising, in 1966, was to be marked overseas as well as at home. How it was to be commemorated in Britain was potentially a sensitive issue.
'The question again arose of the relationship of Clann na hÉireann to the group…After the meeting the officers met Mr. O'Sullivan, the Chairman of Clann na hÉireann, and told him that if there are any pickets or other displays by his organisation they would be expelled from the Committee and furthermore he would be expected to denounce such activities personally. He gave, it appears, satisfactory assurances on this point…It means that Clann na hÉireann is moving, to a certain extent, into a constitutional role and also that it will stop displays and picketing at least for the short term.
It does open the door, however, to another situation which will arise if the Connolly Association now asks to be associated with the 1916 Commemorative Committee. Although it is a front organisation, as we know, it has behaved with courtesy towards the Embassy and does represent an element of Irish life in Britain. If the Committee accept a group which is un-co-operative and fringing on the illegal, if not illegal, it appears more difficult for us to refuse to accept representation from another Irish group which has kept itself within the framework of legality at all times.
However, this is a contingency which has not yet arisen and it is to be hoped that it will not do so.'
Paul Keating of the Irish embassy in London reports on how the embassy sought to deal with some Irish organisations in Britain, 24 February 1966.
The ‘Irish Republic’ flag that flew over Dublin’s GPO during the Easter Rising was seized by British troops in 1916. The British authorities returned it for the fiftieth anniversary in 1966 but were wary about how best to do so.
‘Sir Geofroy Tory, the British Ambassador, confirmed that the British authorities are going to return to us the 1916 G.P.O. flag. He informed me that Whitehall were naturally anxious to obtain some favourable publicity from the gesture and he was asked whether he considered that he should make a formal presentation of the flag.
The Ambassador informed me that he was anxious to avoid the type of criticism that arose when he walked behind the remains of Roger Casement on their return to Ireland. He made a passing reference to possible protests and resignations (presumably from the British Legion)…The Ambassador appeared prepared to accept the idea of a presentation by him to the Minister without photographs, to be followed by subsequent press publicity. He said that he would give the matter some further thought and I undertook to consult the Minister with a view to ascertaining what our Government’s attitude might be’.
A note by Hugh McCann, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, 7 March 1966
The Easter Rising was not the only event from Ireland’s revolutionary era to be revisited in the 1960s. Joseph Dunne and Reginald O’Sullivan were two members of the London IRA executed for the assassination of Field-Marshal Henry Wilson in London in 1922, and in the aftermath of the return of the remains of Roger Casement to Ireland, a campaign to repatriate the remains of Dunne and O’Sullivan soon emerged.
‘The British Ambassador called to see me at my request this morning. I referred to the oral approach he had made to us in connection with an application made to the British Home Office for the repatriation of the remains of Joseph O’Sullivan and Reginald Dunne. I informed him that we did not regard the Casement case as a precedent for a series to follow. The Casement case was a special one and, in a sense, could be regarded as a symbolic act representing the return of the bodies of all who died abroad in the cause of Irish freedom, the repatriation of which would not be a practical proposition. The Minister had taken this line in reply to questions urging the repatriation of various bodies.
Needless to say we would not suggest that the British should refuse the present application. Nevertheless we recognised that the possibility did exist that the repatriation might re-awaken interest and, possibly, controversy within one or other parts of Ireland in a matter which might better be regarded as an event of history not to be highlighted at the present time. It is, however, a matter for the British themselves to decide what action to take on the present application… I emphasised that we are not suggesting that the application should be refused but are merely mentioning some of the considerations involved. The Ambassador indicated that he understood perfectly’.
Hugh McCann records a meeting with Geofroy Tory on the matter, 1 November 1966
The documents quoted above are retained in the National Archives, and are published in Documents on Irish Foreign Policy Vol. XIII, 1965-1969, published in November 2022. The documents published in the DIFP series for the period 1919-48 are freely accessible at www.difp.ie. Document images reproduced by permission of the Director of the National Archives.