Pakenham and Griffith


Sir, – Brian Maye’s revelation that Frank Pakenham (Lord Longford) did not identify for him in the 1990s a document on which Pakenham based his theory that Arthur Griffith “made startling and secret concessions” concerning the border about three weeks before signing Treaty proposals in 1921 is significant (Letter, May 31st). Too many others have relied on Pakenham’s claim of secret “assent” without any supporting evidence.

The document was placed on the table by prime minister Lloyd George, on the last day of treaty negotiations, in an effort to confound the three Irish negotiators present. One, Robert Barton TD, transcribed its contents but did not identify its author or source. At its nub was the proposition that if Ulster opted out of a united Ireland “it would be necessary to revise the boundary of Northern Ireland”, possibly by a boundary commission, “both by inclusion and exclusion”.

In Peace by Ordeal (1935) Pakenham repeated the 220 words of Barton’s transcription and claimed that they were cunningly composed on November 13th, 1921, by Tory leader Austen Chamberlain and cabinet secretary Thomas Jones, at Lloyd George’s behest, to entrap Griffith.

In fact the document (now published online by The Irish Times to coincide with my article in the 1921 centenary supplement) is itself verbatim the final paragraph of a memo dated November 8th, 1921, written by Lionel Curtis with input from other British officials, to advise the UK cabinet on responding to unionist intransigence. It is among undigitised Lloyd George papers in the parliamentary archives at Westminster (LG/F/181/4). Its final page is a paragraph typed up and then shown to Griffith on November 13th, following Irish discussions about the paragraph throughout that week with Jones and Lloyd George that Griffith immediately reported to de Valera in Dublin.

That the paragraph did not change from its original form is evident from its inclusion by November 12th in two secret drafts of a British memo intended to be sent on November 14th to James Craig that are now in the UK National Archives (CAB 43/2/4, f. 139). The document flourished by Lloyd George was not a later elaboration by Chamberlain to elicit Griffith’s assent.

Why did Pakenham, whom Nicholas Mansergh characterised as “sympathetic to de Valera’s position”, rely for his version on a subsequent conversation with Chamberlain who declined to share his papers with the author? I see nothing in the UK archives or among Chamberlain papers at the University of Birmingham to support Pakenham’s theory, while Griffith’s account of events is supported by his surviving contemporary letters to de Valera and by the 1921 diary of cabinet secretary Thomas Jones published in 1971.

The Irish delegates in London fought for the best deal possible, one approved by them all and subsequently by the cabinet in Dublin and by Dáil Éireann. Whatever one’s view of the treaty, Griffith was not seduced by Chamberlain into “secret concessions” as Pakenham claimed – and as too often suggested by others on the basis of his book. – Yours, etc,


Professor Emeritus,

Dublin City University.