Winston Churchill expressed his hopes for a united Ireland in 1946, in a conversation with the Irish ambassador to the Britain, John W Dulanty. Only a year after his bad-tempered joust with Eamon de Valera over the role neutral Ireland had played during the second World War, Churchill told Dulanty of his warm feelings for this country.
He spoke to Dulanty after the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph in London, during which the Irish diplomat laid a wreath in memory to the fallen of the two world wars. It was the last time an Irish ambassador attended the ceremony and laid a wreath until this year, when the current ambassador, Dan Mulhall, resumed the practice.
In a confidential report to the secretary of the department of external affairs Frederick Boland after the 1946 event, Dulanty recorded that as he was leaving, he was approached by Churchill, then leader of the opposition, to say he was glad to see him there.
Churchill then went on: “I said a few words in parliament the other day about your country because I still hope for a united Ireland. You must get those fellows in the North in, though; you can’t do it by force.”
Before saying goodbye and going off to greet the king, Churchill told Dulanty: “There is not, and never was, any bitterness in my heart towards your country.”
Five years later, in May 1951, shortly before he began his second term as prime minister, Churchill had a conversation about Ireland with Frederick Boland, who had succeeded Dulanty as ambassador in London. When they met at a reception at Buckingham Palace, Churchill told Boland he had been thinking of coming over to Ireland to see a horse which he had bought run in the Irish Derby but the horse had died of heart failure.
Churchill went on: “I’m sorry. I would have liked to have gone over and I’m sure the people would have given me a good reception – particularly if my horse had won. The Irish are a sporting people.
“You know I have had many invitations to visit Ulster but I have refused them all. I don’t want to go there at all, I would much rather go to southern Ireland. Maybe I’ll buy another horse with an entry in the Irish Derby.”
Writing the morning after the reception at the palace, Boland said these were the actual words Churchill had said to him as far as he could remember them.
Some of Churchill’s earliest and happiest childhood memories were of the time he spent living in what is now Áras an Uachtaráin, where his father Randolph acted as private secretary to his grandfather the Duke of Marlborough, lord lieutenant of Ireland from 1876 to 1880.