Ireland day 0100. Thursday 06 January 2022- ChesterBeatty
I could write a very long blog about today’s exploits, but will try my best not to. So here’s a summary of what we did and learned today.
When we got up, it was hammering down with rain, so we decided to delay our departure a bit, and spent the morning in the flat doing a bit of planning. We skipped breakfast and had an early lunch, by which time it had more or less stopped raining. We had also by then decided that we wanted to visit the Chester Beatty museum and library, situated just behind the castle, and one of Dublin’s top-rated visitor attractions.
After an uneventful train journey into town, we got off the DART at Tara Street, heading on foot along the southern embankment towards the castle. We managed to dodge the frequent downpours more or less successfully, and as a reward were treated to a stunning rainbow display just as we passed Ha’penny bridge.
By the time we arrived at the castle and had managed to locate the Chester Beatty, we were ready to head indoors to somewhere a bit drier, but at that point Val spotted a sign alerting us to an alternative destination. Right next door to the Chester Beatty is the National Archive and, until March, a temporary exhibition to mark the centenary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921 is being hosted there.
We decided to divert briefly and have a look around. It was an interesting display, which required quite a lot of concentration and detailed reading to get through it all. So I won’t recite all the details – and in any case you can read about most of the run-up to the treaty negotiations in the Custom House blog of a few weeks ago. But three things stuck in my mind as I looked at the exhibits this afternoon.
Firstly, I had to acknowledge the calibre of the negotiating teams on both sides. Lloyd George, on the British side, pulled together a particularly talented team including Lord Birkenhead and Winston Churchill. And on the Irish side, they found very competent adversaries in the form of Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins. Lloyd George, a Liberal, also recognised that the negotiations were likely to be politically contentious, so included members from the opposition Conservative party in the team. Although I try not to stray into modern politics in this blog, I couldn’t help wondering why all the talent that was on display in the 1920s has disappeared so spectacularly from some of the recent 21st century negotiations affecting the British Isles.
Secondly, I noticed than no fewer than three of the Irish negotiating team were actually English, and a significant number, if not actually born in England, had lived or been educated there during the formative years in their lives. I was quite surprised by how readily a number of influential English people adopted the Nationalist cause, and wondered what had driven them to change their affiliations. It would be interesting to know, although almost impossible to fathom, as I am sure we could learn a lot which might be relevant to the future development of the nations in these islands
And thirdly, although it’s contentious even to think it, I did have a bit of secret admiration for Eamon de Valera (President of the Irish Republic)’s decision not to attend the negotiations in person. It seems likely that he could foresee that his ideal of a 32 state fully independent united Irish republic, including both north and south, was unlikely ever to be conceded by the British. Indeed this turned out to be the case, with Griffith and Collins finally agreeing to a 32 county Free State with the option for the northern 6 Counties to opt out (which they did) albeit with a border commission to soften the blow, and for Dominion status, like Canada, with allegiance to the Crown. So de Valera was free to vote against the treaty in the Dáil in 1921 and then to lead the anti-Treaty forces in the Civil War which broke out in 1922 almost immediately after the Dáil ratified the treaty. Although the Free State (pro-Treaty) prevailed, both Griffith (who succeeded de Valera as President in January 1922) and Collins (its chairman) died in the war – Collins was murdered and Griffith died ten days later from a heart attack brought about by exhaustion. In due course, de Valera, unscathed in the war and on the losing side, went on to become president of the Free State and oversaw its eventual peaceful transition to a fully independent republic – albeit lacking the northern six counties – after the second world war. So in hindsight, a shrewd position for de Valera to adopt although had he attended the negotiations, nobody can ever know if the outcome might have been different.
Well – all that delayed our visit to the Chester Beatty by a couple of hours, so when we got there, we only had time for a very quick look round.
Beatty himself was an interesting character. He was born in New York and amassed a huge fortune in the 1920s in the mining industry, particularly from copper in what are now Zambia and Congo. His company was eventually bought by BP who subsequently sold it to Rio Tinto. Because in the glory days of the 1920s – aside from the British difficulties with Ireland and the Empire in general – London was the centre of the global mining industry, he moved his family to the UK, after eventually recovering from a protracted illness following on from the Spanish Flu pandemic. He eventually became a British Citizen.
But nowadays, Chester Beatty is best known for his philanthropy in the British Isles. In fact I remember my very first ever job after graduating was located in a building recently vacated by the Chester Beatty Research Institute (later the ICRF and now the Institute of Cancer Research). During the second world war he had helped import materials and food from the US into the UK to support the war effort. But the incoming Atlee government in 1945 was not to Beatty’s liking – especially after they landed him with a huge tax bill.
So Beatty upped sticks and moved his fortune out of the UK over to Ireland in 1950. He had always had an affinity for the country, and had Irish grandparents – as so many successful Americans seem to. He had also become an avid collector of priceless artefacts, and he moved his eclectic collection with him to Dublin. A small proportion of this extensive collection is on display in the gallery we visited to today in Dublin.
My impression of the gallery was that it was exceptionally well laid out, very attractively housed – and free! The display features religious iconography from the middle and far east, and would be a treasure trove if your mind were big enough to accommodate all the knowledge that was on display. But my mind was already full with more contemporary Irish history so I am afraid that while I found the exhibition superficially interesting, I lacked the energy to study it in depth and to consider what deeper messages it might be conveying.
Anyway, the café was very nice so we treated ourselves to some refreshment just before everything closed, and headed off back into the darkness and the train back to Malahide. I’m hoping we can arrange something tomorrow that’s a bit less mentally taxing – one of the things that is currently preoccupying me is where in Ireland you can get Seville oranges, as I want to make some marmalade. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Today’s photos (click to enlarge)