The Emerald Curtain and the Emergency
Gray contorted these shadows and shapes for his own ends. He quotes at length from a variety of telegrams, diary entries, newspaper articles and letters to Roosevelt, suggesting he was ultra-engaged with the whole infrastructure and intricacies of neutrality and Irish political and cultural life at that time, but he was clearly unaware of the extent of the private and pragmatic co-operation between Britain and Ireland. In editing and introducing the text, Paul Bew also acknowledges that Gray did not appreciate the balancing act that was involved in maintaining a workable relationship with both Germany and Britain while an invasion of Ireland was very much a possibility.
Joseph Walshe, secretary of the department of external affairs, moved to reassure the German representative in Dublin, Eduard Hempel, that comments by de Valera in Galway in May 1940 about the “cruel wrong”being perpetrated against Belgium and the Netherlands were not intended as “a gratuitous judgment on the rights and wrongs of the German action”. Gray had assumed otherwise.
The following month, Walshe and his colleagues were worried about noises from Hitler about German compromise with the British Empire, and asked for reassurance that this did not mean “the abandonment of Ireland” and the withdrawal of German support for “the final realisation of Irish demands”.
For Gray, this was a matter of great betrayal; indeed, it forms the spine of his memoir, as he returns to it repeatedly. Rather than appreciating that mixed signals from Ireland in 1940 were inevitable – many believed that Hitler would be in London by the end of that year, and who was to know what the postwar dispensation would be? – he crafted a narrative that seeks to treat this supposed betrayal as indicative of a political and moral degeneracy that was deliberately engineered by de Valera, who “became possessed by the neo-Gaelic afflatus”. He also wildly exaggerates the strength of the IRA in Ireland at the time, creating the impression that it was on the cusp of taking control of the State, telling Roosevelt in May 1940: “The IRA has the affirmative position and he [de Valera] is on the defensive as far as popular appeal is concerned.”
A measure of his poor reading of the Irish political scene is his assertion that, in 1937, “the Eire government was politically bankrupt”, a delusional assertion to make given that it was the year of the new Constitution and a year prior to the Anglo-Irish agreement that won back the Irish ports held by Britain under the terms of the Treaty, after which Fianna Fáil won an astonishing 51.9 per cent of the first-preference vote in the 1938 general election. Gray, however, refers instead to “the fantastic blunders in foreign policy, inspired by the emotional philosophy of Irish racial separatism”, perhaps an unsurprising assertion given that, in relation to Winston Churchill, he records: “I have always been a hero worshipper and unashamed.” He also condescendingly dismisses what he terms the “pathological psychology of the political Irish” and “the peasant masses”.