The Emerald Curtain and the Emergency
Admittedly, some of his pen portraits of contemporary diplomats and political and religious characters, including Douglas Hyde, Seán T O’Kelly, James Dillon and Cardinal Joseph MacRory, provide some light relief, and a sort of gossipy ramble through his social life and chats. But the narrative is truncated and badly structured, with an abundance of partial citations of documents and many inaccuracies – he informs us at one stage that Desmond FitzGerald was minister for defence during the War of Independence (he was appointed in 1927) and that de Valera was “defeated by the inter-party coalition in 1943” (it was 1948).
He often refers to Irish “mass opinion”, though it becomes clear from his round of lunches, golf trips and cocktail soirees – all recounted in excruciating detail – that the confidantes he relied on, including James Dillon, the only TD to oppose neutrality publicly, were hardly representative and had their own agendas. If de Valera had been honest with the Irish people, he dubiously contends, they would have “flocked to the allies”. He praises Cardinal MacRory for being “one of the few Irishmen that I met in high places who said openly what he thought”, and therein lies the evidence of Gray’s failure to understand: for those involved in managing Irish neutrality, the summer of 1940 was not a time for giving hostages to fortune through overexplicitness.
A more rigorous approach by Bew to the editing process could have resulted in a text less fractured and meandering, but perhaps to excise some of the excessive detail would be to shield the reader from the extent of Gray’s long-winded self-importance. Bew is keen to rehabilitate Gray and commend his “moral clarity”, but the impression that lingers is of an arrogant, vengeful and ill-informed petulance.
Diarmaid Ferriter is professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin. His book Ambiguous Republic: Ireland in the 1970s will be published later this month by Profile Books