Arthur Griffith and Treaty negotiations


Sir, – Frank Pakenham’s 1935 book, Peace by Ordeal, has had an enormous influence on subsequent interpretations of the Treaty negotiations, with many historians accepting his version of events as gospel. The book is broadly sympathetic to the anti-Treaty side; Pakenham developed a friendship with Eamon de Valera and later co-wrote his authorised biography.

Pakenham’s basic thesis was that Lloyd George “trapped” Arthur Griffith into agreeing to, and possibly signing, a secret document, on November 12th/13th, accepting a boundary commission as a solution to partition; I say “secret” because the implication was that Griffith was on a “solo run” and hadn’t informed his colleagues on the Irish delegation about it. Lloyd George then produced this document on December 5th, like a conjuror pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and flourished it as an “undertaking” given by Griffith, which meant that the Irish could not break off the negotiations on the issue of partition, which was their basic strategy from the outset.

As Colum Kenny remarked in his piece in your 1921 supplement (“No fix for divisive Border problem”, May 25th): “Pakenham’s theory framed Griffith as a dupe, if not a knave, and has misled later historians.”

When I was researching my book on Arthur Griffith back in the 1990s, I wrote to Frank Pakenham, by then Lord Longford, posing a number of questions.

I was particularly interested in this “document” as I had been unable to find either it or where it was. I received a very courteous reply, on House of Lords notepaper, in which some of my questions were answered but no reference was made to the document I couldn’t locate.

It is to Prof Kenny’s credit that he has found the document. It is part of a long memo by British official Lionel Curtis and is among the archives of the Lloyd George papers in Westminster (LG/F/181/4). As Prof Kenny points out, there is nothing at all secretive or new about the document (nor did Griffith sign it, it should be added). It merely summarises the British boundary commission proposal, which had been discussed between the delegations in the week before November 12th/13th, and on which Griffith had kept the rest of the delegates and the remainder of the cabinet in Dublin well informed.

When the split happened over the Treaty, a split that sadly led to a bitter civil war, the boundary commission (and indeed partition) was not at all a divisive issue between the pro- and anti-Treaty sides. This causes one to wonder why Pakenham chose to give such weight to it in Peace by Ordeal. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 6.