In August 2020, a group of descendants decided to find a way to commemorate the contribution of the men and women who formed the Irish delegation sent by Dáil Éireann to negotiate peace in London in 1921, and, in the spirit of ethical remembrance, to do so in an inclusive, apolitical, and person-centred way.
The personal stories are as important as the historical event, and we owe it to them not to forget what they accomplished for us in their lifetime.
We asked questions such as: Who were the men and women of the Irish delegation, where did they come from, what were their influences, their backgrounds, their passions?
Why were they chosen to participate in such an important mission?
We also set out to find the personal stories of those less-well known individuals who worked behind the scenes, the backroom men and women who aspired to make their mission from Dáil Éireann succeed.
They formed the ‘engine room’ of the negotiations over the two-month period in London, and their contribution remains largely unrecognised and unacknowledged.
Following extensive research, we discovered that around 70 Irish personnel, men and women, were sent to London, in major and minor roles, for the peace negotiations, which commenced on October 11, 1921.
There were five plenipotentiaries, four secretaries, 28 advisers, secretarial assistants, and staff, 13 security and/or bodyguards, seven dispatchers, two chaperones, and 12 key members of the household staffs working between 22 Hans Place and 15 Cadogan Gardens.
Apart from plenipotentiaries — Arthur Griffith, Michael Collins, Robert Barton, Eamon Duggan, and George Gavan Duffy — and delegation secretary, Erskine Childers, most of these remarkable men and women are virtually unknown to the Irish public.
Their stories have never been told, although a small number have had biographies or memoirs published. We are particularly indebted to Kathleen McKenna, secretary to the delegation, whose memoir,, provides insightful observations, especially during the challenging two-month period of the Treaty negotiations.
It is an invaluable and authentic source of a contemporary perspective, uncontaminated by the passage of time or third parties.
The men and women of the Irish delegation came from diverse backgrounds, with experience in social, cultural, economic, financial, and political areas of endeavour.
The four secretaries to the plenipotentiaries were Erskine Childers, Fionán Lynch, Diarmuid O’Hegarty, and John Chartres.
Desmond FitzGerald, Joseph McGrath, and Daniel McCarthy were directed to accompany the delegation. FitzGerald was appointed publicity director. McGrath and McCarthy served on Collins’ personal staff. Michael Knightley was engaged as a press intelligence officer.
To underscore the seriousness of the mission and the focus on Ireland’s independence, the delegation brought its own staff and household staff. McGrath, accompanied by McCarthy, was directed to go to London and meet with Art O’Brien, the Cabinet’s representative, to arrange accommodation for the whole delegation. The premises at 22 Hans Place and 15 Cadogan Gardens were rented.
Throughout late September and early October, advisors and experts were appointed to the delegation. The economic advisers were Diarmaid Fawsitt, Charles Oldham, and Lionel Smith-Gordon.
The financial advisers were Henry Connell Mangan, John J Murphy, Timothy Smiddy, and Joseph Brennan. Seán Milroy was an adviser on Ulster and George Murnaghan was a legal adviser.
Concerns for safety always remained high as the premises at Cadogan Gardens, which housed Collins, his advisors, and his personal security team, was in a secluded area with a back garden giving access to quiet streets, making it a perfect get away for any would-be assassin.
Anonymous threatening letters arrived daily addressed to “the leader of the Irish Murder Gang” and depicting coffins, death’s heads, and crossbones. When the delegation was formed, Collins appointed Ned Broy to assist him as his personal advisor. Emmet Dalton was his military adviser. Eoin O’Duffy and JJ (Ginger) O’Connell were his defence advisers. His own personal security team included Tom Cullen and four others.
These five “young and devoted gunmen” were known as “the squad” and were assigned to “mind” him.
Liam Tobin was chief of the Intelligence squad. Security functions were also provided for the two houses by seven others.
Captain David Robinson, a cousin of Childers, was responsible for the summoning and disposal of the fleet of Rolls Royce limousines for the delegation. Easy and safe access between the two houses was important.
Indeed, a plane had been purchased by Charles Russell to lift the plenipotentiaries to immediate safety should they need to exit London quickly. The plane was named “The Big Fella”.
While none of the women — on either the Irish or British sides — was a member of the Dáil or the British parliament, significant contributions were made by five women appointed by Dáil Éireann to the delegation.
In addition to Kathleen McKenna, they included Elizabeth (Lily) O’Brennan, Gerty Conry, and the Lyons sisters, Ellie and Alice. These women were trusted members of the secretariat and formed its administrative wing.
The Lyons sisters were stenographers and clerical assistants on Collins’ staff in the finance office. They had both worked beside him throughout the War of Independence.
Conry had commenced working for O’Hegarty in the secretariat of the Dáil in the Summer of 1921. O’Brennan was private secretary to Childers and had been part of the first delegation led by de Valera to London in July.
McKenna was private secretary to Griffith, the chairman of the delegation, giving her unique access to some of the most significant documents and correspondence in Irish history at that time, and to the people ultimately responsible for the negotiations. She provides some invaluable including insights into their personalities and characters.
McKenna’s skills had been honed working with FitzGerald, Dáil Éireann’s director of propaganda on the republican news sheet, the Irish Bulletin. McKenna was involved from its first edition in November 1919, and her work was dangerous.
She was also responsible for safeguarding the publishing equipment which often meant moving from one hiding place to another to avoid capture by Crown forces.
According to McKenna, the Irish Bulletin was regarded as a “weapon so detrimental to British prestige that the Intelligence Service made the most elaborate efforts to locate our office and suppress our publication”.
The appointment of chaperones for the single women of the delegation was discussed at Cabinet level. Mrs Eamon (May) Duggan and Mrs Fionán (Bridget) Lynch were appointed. Unmarried women could not stay in the same house as men, unless chaperoned, such were the social mores of the time.
Mrs Folkard was installed as cook in Hans Place. Lunches would not be served in 10 Downing Street.
British hospitality, whilst offered, was declined lest it be thought to compromise the delegation. The house staff included Miss O’Donohue, housekeeper at Hans Place, and six others including Miss Hoey, who may have been the republican activist, Patricia Hoey.
Four waiters were appointed, most of whom came from the Gresham Hotel. John and Edward O’Brien were brothers and whilst working in the Gresham, were asked specifically by Collins, when lunching there one day, to come to London as “he could trust them”.
Seven messengers and dispatchers were also used, to avoid dependence on the British postal service or the telephone, for security reasons. The precise roles of four other members of staff appointed remain unknown.
The Treaty, signed on December 6, 1921, authorised the creation of the Irish Free State. Because of subsequent events, particularly the bitter and divisive Irish Civil War, the contributions and personal stories of these men and women have been largely ignored and forgotten.
Kathleen McKenna wrote: “The Treaty itself, the events and circumstances that led up to drafting and signing, will interest historians to the end of time. What is truth?
"Much must forever remain conjecture, supposition, and at worst invention.”
That being so, we must not forget the lives of the men and women behind the negotiations, and the human cost to all of them.
• Biographies of all the men and women involved on both the Irish and British delegations will be published in January 2022 in a book entitled.
• Carol Fawsitt is a member of the Steering Group of Descendants of the Irish Delegation sent by Dáil Éireann to London in October 1921, and granddaughter of Diarmaid Fawsitt.
One hundred years ago, on December 6, 1921, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in Downing Street, forever changing the course of the history of this country.
Historically a more significant event than even the Rising of Easter Week in 1916, the Treaty delivered the Irish Free State, it rid 26 southern counties of British forces and officials, and it provided the mechanism by which unity could eventually be achieved.
However, it also “split the country from top to bottom” as Cathal Brugha said. It divided the great republican Sinn Féin movement in two, and ultimately led to a bitter civil war, whose legacy has overshadowed politics on this island for a century.
The savagery of the Irish War of Independence was brought to an end in July 1921, when a truce was called to allow talks to commence between the British and the Sinn Féin rebel government, headed by Éamon de Valera.
Between 1920 and 1921, the Crown forces had suffered 525 dead and almost 1,000 wounded. At least 707 civilians were to die between January and July 1921. By Irish standards, these were horrific figures, as historian JJ Lee set out in his seminal book,.
The new parliament of Northern Ireland, established under the Government of Ireland Act of 1920, opened on June 22. Once a new Northern Ireland government was in place, the British government began to make contact with Sinn Féin leaders, and on July 9, a truce was agreed (coming into effect two days later).
Following an appeal from King George V for reconciliation, Lloyd George’s invitation sought “to ascertain how the association of Ireland with the community of nations known as the British Empire can best be reconciled with Irish national aspirations”.
Once the truce came into force, de Valera journeyed to London with Arthur Griffith and a small delegation to meet with Lloyd George to explore if a settlement was possible.
The talks, it is fair to say, did not go well.
De Valera insisted on lecturing the ‘Welsh Wizard’ on the seven centuries of wrongdoing by the British in Ireland while insisting nothing short of a fully independent republic was acceptable. Lloyd George made it clear a republic was out of the question. He offered dominion status, similar to Canada within the Empire.
This was unacceptable to de Valera and he returned to Dublin without any success. However, he softened his position over the summer months to one where he was arguing for “external association” rather than insisting on the republic. This was an idea that Ireland would be associated rather than be in the Empire.
It took until late September for agreement for a conference to be reached. When it was, de Valera would drop a major bombshell by insisting he would not go to London insisting that as President, he must remain in Dublin as “a symbol of the Republic” and “untouched” by the negotiations.
When selected in September as a delegate to the London conference, Collins suspected that he and Griffith had been set up by de Valera to make a compromise that de Valera himself would not wish to make.
The Cabinet divided evenly on whether he should go, and de Valera, now the self-styled President of Ireland used his casting vote to decide the matter.
Collins and Griffith were furious.
“Dev has laid the trap and I have tumbled right into it,” Collins confided to a friend.
De Valera’s decision not to travel was the single most controversial decision of his entire political career and has remained a source of considerable debate and rancour to this day.
The Sinn Féin delegates were Griffith (chairman of the delegation and Minister for Foreign Affairs), Collins (Minister for Finance), Robert Barton (Minister for Economic Affairs), George Gavan Duffy, and Eamon Duggan (both of whom had legal experience and were TDs).
Amid fears the British would seek to capture him should the truce break down, Collins refused to stay with the rest of the delegation in 22 Hans Place. Instead, he travelled to London on October 9, a day after the other members of the delegation, and stayed with his personal entourage at 15 Cadogan Gardens.
His chief aide, Emmet Dalton, had also procured the use of a small plane which he had readied at Croydon airfield in case Collins needed to escape London quickly.
Under the glare of the world’s media. the Treaty negotiations began in London on October 11, 1921.
Tensions within the Irish camp were not helped by a deliberate confusion created by de Valera over the extent of their powers.
While the Dáil had nominated them plenipotentiaries, de Valera added a letter of instruction instructing them to refer any major decisions back to the Cabinet in Dublin.
Facing off against the inexperienced Irish team was the cream of the British establishment.
Between October 11 and 24, the conference attended by all delegates met seven times, before splitting up into sub-conferences.
The most important sub-conference, dealing with unity and status were driven by leaders of the delegations Griffith and Collins; and Lloyd George, Birkenhead, and Chamberlain.
Between October 24 and November 17, Lloyd George won a significant concession from Griffith. Following one-on-one meetings, Lloyd George got Griffith to agree to the concept of a boundary commission, thereby accepting the principle of partition.
Griffith promised that, once he was satisfied on the issue of ‘essential unity’ of Ireland and other key issues, he would recommend some sort of recognition of the Crown and association with the Commonwealth.
Sinn Féin’s and de Valera’s willingness to accept any such relationship or recognition of the crown, however, depended on the Irish securing British commitments on the ‘essential unity’ of Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist leader James Craig, as prime minister of Northern Ireland, had enough political support in London to ignore suggestions that he make concessions towards Irish unity.
Lloyd George was a Liberal prime minister at the head of a coalition dominated by the Conservative Party, who were sympathetic to Ulster Unionism.
It was during this period that the British formally reject the de Valera concept of ‘external association’ and, on December 1, the British present their counter-proposals, including an oath of allegiance.
Believing that this is the last British offer, Griffith ordered the Irish delegation back to Dublin to discuss the views with the Cabinet, which was decidedly split.
In Dublin, Cathal Brugha attacked Griffith and Collins saying the British “selected their men well” in dealing primarily dealing with them. During that meeting, de Valera told the delegation that if the oath cannot be altered they were to tell the British the talks were over, even if that meant war.
It was agreed that there could be no final decision without referring the matter to the Dáil for rejection or ratification.
Back in London, fearing the collapse of the talks were imminent, the British decided to call time, but insisted they needed the Irish to trigger the break.
On December 4, the British team duly walked out of the discussions when Gavan Duffy suggested membership of Empire was unacceptable.
The resumption of war seemed inevitable. Collins was dejected and exhausted.
Following a meeting between Griffith and Lloyd George’s private secretary Thomas Jones, it was agreed that Lloyd George should meet Collins regarding the boundary commission proposal on December 5.
Following that meeting, the two delegations again convened in Downing Street when Lloyd George took to his feet in a moment of great drama and issued an ultimatum to the Irish delegation.
As the playwright of, Colin Murphy, wrote, Lloyd George stood up, and took two envelopes from his pocket. In one, he said, was the draft treaty the British were proposing the Irish should sign; in the other was a note saying the Irish had rejected the terms.
The following day, the new session of the Northern Irish parliament at Stormont was due to open. Lloyd George had promised the North’s prime minister James Craig that he would report the result of the negotiations to him in time for the opening.
A special train was waiting “with steam up” at Euston Station, Lloyd George told the Irish; the train was to meet a destroyer at Holyhead which would carry the chosen letter to Craig in Belfast. To meet his deadline, Lloyd George needed the Irish to sign or reject the treaty by 10pm.
If the Irish rejected it, he said, it would be war, “and war within three days!” He also produced a written agreement of November 12, indicating Griffith prepared to accept Empire if an effective boundary commission was established.
Whether such a threat could actually be delivered upon is highly questionable, but the bluff worked and, on the morning of December 6, the two delegations signed the 1,800-word document.
Initial optimism quickly gave way to shouts of betrayal from the republican diehards at home.
As Gretchen Friemann writes in her book, Mary MacSwiney TD, sister of Cork Lord Mayor Terence MacSwiney who died on hunger strike, suggested the delegation should be arrested as soon as they stepped off the boat in Dún Laoghaire.
Crucially, de Valera denounced the Treaty, and the subsequent treaty debates in Dáil Éireann copperfastened the split in the republican movement. Ultimately, the Dáil narrowly approved the Treaty by 64 votes to 57, de Valera resigned as President with Griffith taking over.
The Treaty was signed in a bid to avoid war with Britain. But, tragically, it ultimately led to another war, the Irish Civil War, which poisoned the Irish political landscape for much of the following century.
It became known yesterday that Mr Arthur Griffith and Mr Michael Collins were in consultation with Mr Lloyd George till the early hours of Friday morning.
The Dáil Cabinet met on Saturday and continued its sittings until 7pm. No statements were made regarding the result but it was believed that all necessary decisions were reached.
At 3am this morning, our London correspondent and our special reporter informed us over our private wire that when the Irish Conference broke at 2.20am it was announced that an agreement had been reached. The official announcement will be made today.
The full text of the Government’s proposals appears in our columns. It refers repeatedly to the Irish Free State as being similar to the dominion of Canada. It will include “Ulster”, and will have full fiscal autonomy.
• Abridged versions of articles published in.