WINSTON Churchill had a “longing” for a united Ireland, according to recently published government letters.
The letters have been published by the Royal Irish Academy in a book titled Documents on Irish Foreign Policy X, a collection of documents of the then-Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, which was known as Department of External Affairs.
In a series of four letters marked ‘secret’ and ‘confidential’ between Seán Nunan, who worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs, and Fred Boland, the Irish Ambassador to Britain, the pair discuss the kinship the former British Prime Minister felt for Ireland.
They were intrigued by Churchill’s attitude towards Ireland in 1952 when he expressed a ‘longing’ for a United Ireland and wondered if he would follow through on a plan to visit Ireland, using the running of his horses in Irish races as a cover.
In a letter from Nunan to Boland on January 23, 1952, he says:
Just a note to confirm that as you surmised the ‘British spokesman’ who expressed himself as ‘longing’ for a United Ireland provided that we could woo the Six Counties successfully was Churchill himself. He made these remarks in an off-the-record discussion to members of the working press at a lunch in the Mayflower, Washington. Apparently, the understanding was that the remarks could be quoted if the source was not identified.
From London, on February 5, Fred Boland wrote in response:
It was particularly interesting to see from this that in his talk at the press luncheon, Mr Churchill reverted to a theme which seems for some time to have become quite an obsession with him – praise of the cultured, well-ordered, ‘gracious’ (to use the adjective he has employed himself more than once when talking to me) way of life we have developed in the Twenty-six Counties!
In each of the five or six conversations I have had with Mr Churchill since I came to London, he has spoken on this same theme, sometimes at considerable length and always with apparent sincerity. You will see from the ‘Daily Telegraph’ of the 1st February, that he returns to it again in his foreword to the new edition of his life of his father.
The fact that Mr Churchill invariably mentions this theme in the context of his advice about ‘wooing’ the Six Counties suggests that, in his estimation, we have a strong card for the purposes of the ‘wooing’ process in the fact of our tolerance and good government.
It is a safe assumption that no part of Mr Churchill’s observations in Washington can have caused more indignation and alarm in Belfast than these compliments paid to us by the leader of the Conservative party in Britain; because, as the people in the Stormont must know well, nothing is better calculated to sway public sympathy in Britain to favour us on the Partition issue than a growing appreciation of our tolerance and fair-mindedness in public and private conduct in contradistinction to the bigotry and illiberalism of the ruling junta in the North.
The ‘Churchill Watchers’, as the pair have been coined, went on to describe in further letters how Churchill had planned to use the guise of his racehorse ‘Red Winter’ running in Ireland as an excuse to visit in 1954.
[In a brief meeting with Churchill] I said that, since he was so pleased with the horse’s running last Saturday, I was sorry he hadn’t been able to get away to see the race. He said that he was sorry too and that, as I knew, his idea in leasing the horse was to have occasion for visiting Ireland which he wanted to do. He went on: ‘I think I had established good personal relations with the last Government and that they would have been pleased to see me over there. I don’t know about your new Government’. I said that I was sure there was no difference between their feeling and that of their predecessors. He asked me to tell him something about the members of the new Government and he listened attentively while I did so. At the end he made the comment that he knew that Mr. W.T. Cosgrave had a son in the new Cabinet but he didn’t know that it included a nephew of Kevin O’Higgins also.
As I say, I didn’t think he looked well and he seemed to me to have given up any idea of visiting Ireland for the moment at any rate.