RYLE DWYER: So Dev was ‘England’s greatest spy’. Yes, and the devil in disguise too

THE author of England’s Greatest Spy: Eamon de Valera was interviewed by John Green on Radio Kerry during the week. The 470-page book, by John J Turi, will not be published until the last day of November so it is not possible to comment on it.

It seems extraordinary, however, that it is assiduously plugged more than a month before publication. The pre-publicity is causing a sensation.

All of 20 years ago, in my book De Valera: The Man and the Myths, I dealt with a whole series of fictions about the Long Fellow. Many people thought his policies helped Britain, but seriously suggesting that he was doing so deliberately as a British spy is a different matter.

Are the Irish people so stupid that they need some Yank to tell them Dev was a British spy?

At least it was the British intelligence people who suspected that Harold Wilson might have been a Russian spy, and that was before he became prime minister.

Some people seemed to think de Valera was the devil incarnate. In his famous victory speech at the end of the Second World War, Winston Churchill essentially suggested that he was the personification of the devil and evil in Ireland. Churchill did this in his victory speech in May 1945 by repeatedly pronouncing his name as if it was “d’evil Éire.”

When asked about his research, Turi did not cite even one piece of information to support his contention that de Valera was an English spy, much less “England’s greatest spy”.

In my latest book, Behind the Green Curtain, I argue that de Valera could not have provided more help to the Allies during World War II. But he was acting as head of government and certainly not as a spy.

He authorised Irish diplomats to be used as American spies on the continent. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime forerunner of the CIA, formulated questions that were given to the Department of External Affairs in Dublin. These were sent to the diplomats in Berlin, Rome and Vichy, and Dublin forwarded the replies to the OSS.

This was handled by Joe Walshe, secretary of the Department of External Affairs, in cooperation with Ervin Marlin of the OSS. De Valera was helping the Allies because he believed that the defeat of fascism was in Ireland’s interest.

If he were a British spy, why would Churchill try to help the United States in ensuring that de Valera was discredited in American eyes in order to undermine his influence in there? During various interviews in recent days Turi seemed to be jumping to conclusions as a result of what he did not find, rather than what he actually found.

For instance, he states that there is no record of de Valera being tried by the British in 1916. Given the chaos in Dublin in the aftermath of the Easter Rebellion, one should not attach that much significance to the fact that such records have not been preserved.

Turi seems to think it was sinister that de Valera survived and, worse still, that at the moment of truth the Long Fellow had no desire to die for Ireland? He had a pregnant wife and three children, and one should be asking questions about his sanity if he had been anxious to be executed.

There was never any suggestion that de Valera’s trial took more than a matter of minutes in the midst of the confusion of the week after the rebellion, and he was the second last commandant to surrender. The last was Thomas Ashe, arguably the most successful commandant, but the British did not execute him either. The main reason has always been that London asked for the executions to be stopped.

While reading a book on Churchill, Turi initially developed an interest in Michael Collins. “I turned to books about him and became totally smitten with this wonderful person.”

The more he read about Collins the more de Valera kept coming up. “Every time he came up it was a disaster for Ireland,” Turi told the Irish Post. He therefore decided to write about the Long Fellow “because everything he touched was to the detriment of Ireland.”

Was de Valera’s seminal role in enlisting the support of the hierarchy against the conscription campaign in Britain’s interest? The British had to abandon their plans for conscription in Ireland.

De Valera “initiated the civil war,” Turi told John Green. Nobody has suggested that de Valera had anything to do with the murder of Field Marshall Sir Henry Wilson whose death sparked Lloyd George and Churchill to insist on the attack on the Four Courts. Moreover, it was Collins who ordered the attack on the Four Courts, not de Valera.

If de Valera was a British spy, why did they try to undermine his new government in 1932? He insisted that Ireland did not owe land annuities to Britain. Neville Chamberlain, the British chancellor of the exchequer, warned cabinet colleagues that de Valera had a good case and Britain might lose if they submitted the case to international arbitration.

Cumann na nGaedheal pleaded with the British not to give in to de Valera, or they would be undermined, so the British initiated the Economic War. This was clearly to undermine the man that Turi would have us believe was England’s greatest spy.

I cannot remember ever hearing anything about Michael Collins in primary or secondary school. I became interested in him while at university in Texas in 1966. I wrote a master’s thesis on the Anglo-Irish Treaty and could hardly have been more critical of de Valera.

IT WAS initially because I was so critical of de Valera that I became interested in the American ambassador’s assessment of him in 1940. David Gray wrote then that de Valera was “probably the most adroit politician in Europe and he honestly believes that all he does is for the good of the country. He has the qualities of martyr, fanatic and Machiavelli. No one can outwit him, frighten or brandish him. Remember that he is not pro-German nor personally anti-British but only pro-de Valera.”

While writing a doctoral dissertation on US relations with Ireland during the war, I came across Gray’s manuscript for a book that ran to more than 700 pages in typescript. It was a diatribe against de Valera with little historical merit, other than as an insight into Gray’s own twisted thinking.

Turi has been exhibiting the same approach with his unsupported allegations in his interviews. “I list literally dozens of instances in my book where De Valera’s activities benefited England,” Turi told the Irish Post. “Yet I could not find one major decision of his that benefited Ireland.”

There have always been people who were unwilling to give de Valera any credit for anything, such as those Irish people who essentially invited the British to wage the Economic War in order to undermine the Long Fellow in the 1930s.

For all his failings, and he had many, he made a major contribution to Irish life in taking the gun out of 26-County politics and asserting the country’s political independence.

Moreover, he did a magnificent job in keeping Ireland out of the Second World War.


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