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Sean MacBride : A Republican Life, 1904-1946 - Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid

Sean MacBride

A Republican Life, 1904-1946

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Published: 3rd April 2014
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Now available in paperback, this book critically examines the republican career of one of Ireland's more controversial political figures, Sean MacBride (1904-1988), focusing on his subversive activities prior to his reinvention as a constitutional politician.

MacBride, a Nobel and Lenin prize-winning humanitarian, was a youthful participant in the Irish Revolution of 1916-1923. He was an active member of the Dublin Brigade of the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, and found himself on the losing side of the 1922-23 Civil War. Rising through the ranks of the depleted and demoralised post-revolutionary republican movement, MacBride occupied a leadership position in the Irish Republican Army for fifteen years, bridging the difficult formative years of the Irish Free State to the ascent of de Valera and Fianna Fail. Leaving behind an active part in the republican movement in 1938, MacBride moved into legal circles, carving out a successful career at the Irish Bar through the years of the Emergency, while maintaining links with both the IRA the German legation in Dublin.

As well as providing the first scholarly assessment of MacBride's political career within the Irish republican movement, this book offers wider reflections on the transition from violent republicanism to constitutional politics. The book also analyses internal tensions and strategic shifts within the Irish republican community in the post-revolutionary period, in particular the oscillations between politics and militarism, and considers the political, ideological and moral challenges that the Second World War presented to Irish political culture.

An extremely interesting biographical study, written with a light and sensitive hand, which skilfully paints a credible portrait of a complex and elusive character. -- Professor Eunan O'Halpin BIOGRAPHY: Sean MacBride: A Republican Life 1904-1946 By Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid Liverpool University Press 245pp. GBP65 'WHEN HE LAUGHS, which he does often, his skin, of very good quality parchment, crackles into a complex system of fine folds; the remarkable eyes, prominent and yet recessed, like those of some mad monk of romance, flicker with the persuasions of gaiety; the chuckle of that exotic uvula conspires, with the bandit eyebrows, giving a touch of diablerie to what you may be very sure is a most harmless witticism. "The total effect is rather impressive and not at all amusing ...". So begins Conor Cruise O'Brien's anonymously-published 1952 portrait of Sean MacBride, a bravura piece invoking Charlie Chaplin, Nero, Jan Masaryk and Don Quixote. O'Brien remained fascinated by MacBride all his life but, as this gallery of comparisons suggests, found it hard to nail him down. Many people felt the same. MacBride inhabited many conflicting worlds. His mismatched parents, Maud Gonne and John MacBride, were key figures in the Irish revolutionary pantheon; his early childhood was lived out against the background of their deeply antagonistic separation, and his mother's immense and charismatic personality remained a powerful influence upon him - along with her tendency to conspiracy theories and dictatorial politics. Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid's elegantly written and penetrating study of MacBride's early career suggests that he was touched with "otherness" all his life. Growing up in his mother's "bohemian Parisian apartment, its artistically and politically diverse visitors, the menageries of exotic pets, the insistent occultist slant", he was pitchforked into the Irish revolution from 1917; with Gonne's imprisonment in 1918 he was left in the charge of his erratic half-sister Iseult, and family friends such as WB Yeats and sundry republican women. Little wonder that he grew up self-contained, watchful and enigmatic. But he was also his mother's son. Reading her autobiography shortly before he died, Yeats reflected, "remarkable intellect at the service of the will, no will at the service of the intellect", and something of the same was true of MacBride; this study exposes and clarifies some basic inconsistencies that would bedevil his domestic political career. Nic Dhaibheid's book charts his life up to the formation of Clann na Poblachta, in 1946, tracing with a fine, forensic touch his precocious involvement in the republican struggle. He played a violent part in operations from the age of 17, accompanied the Collins team to the Treaty negotiations and fought in the Four Courts on the side of Rory O'Connor and Ernie O'Malley: years of clandestine activity and imprisonment followed, as well as obscure gunrunning enterprises and alleged involvement in assassinations. What emerges is distinctly new. The most recent biographical treatments have taken a credulous view of MacBride's own patchy memoir, and have been stymied by MacBride's secretive approach to his own archives; Nic Dhabheid has amplified the picture by dedicated sleuthing in the Bureau of Military History witness statements and various government papers, as well as by an approach that is fair-minded if on occasion astringent. She contradicts several of his own claims, and affirms MacBride's close connection with the IRA during the mid-1930s, when a series of murders and the infighting over the Republican Congress alienated much potential support; here as elsewhere, an illuminating contrast is drawn between MacBride and his one-time comrade-in-arms Peadar O'Donnell, whose ebullient and charismatic personality ensured him the kind of popularity always denied to his colleague with the death-mask face. MacBride's embrace of socialist rhetoric wavered in these years, and was later quietly abandoned; what remained was a powerful ambition and a firm belief that the British secret service was behind everything undesirable in Irish life from Partition to revisionist historiography. Nic Dhaibheid pays particular attention to MacBride's chequered course during the "Emergency", where she contests his claim (trustingly accepted by a previous biographer) that he was consistently in favour of neutrality and "democratic politics" throughout. Though he was untainted by the anti-Semitism embraced by his mother and sister, and less openly favourable to Nazi policies than his brother-in-law, Francis Stuart, Nic Dhaibheid argues that a network of contacts and overtures indicate that MacBride favoured the Axis cause until the tide turned against them in 1942, and anticipated future rewards in a New Order Europe after the Allies lost. While this is hard to prove incontrovertibly, especially given the inaccessibility of his personal papers, the case is suggestive. It would partly fit Cruise O'Brien's analysis, or Noel Browne's later denunciation of his ex-colleague as "cruel and authoritarian" - though O'Brien judged that MacBride was in the end not like Hitler but more resembled "one of those through whom dictatorships occur". Whatever the truth of this, one should note - as Nic Dhaibheid fairly does - the time, ingenuity and commitment that MacBride put into his legal work, as defender of republican cases throughout his life, and the principled stand he took on behalf of civil liberties threatened by special legislation, from the 1940s on. This was the foundation for his distinguished international career as defender of juridical liberties and human rights in the postwar years, bringing many prizes and honours. Pausing the narrative in 1946 leaves this out, along with the brief experience of coalition government and the debacle of the Mother and Child scheme. But turning the searchlight on his early career has the great merit of emphasising the influence of MacBride's extraordinary background, the precociousness of his revolutionary career, the overpowering shadow of his iconographic family, and the identification with prewar Europe rather than an Ireland growing into compromise. It might all belong in a novel by Thomas Mann, though indications in Nic Dhaibheid's quietly subversive study suggest that MacBride's personality could also be seen in the flawed mould of Klaus Mann's Mephisto. Roy Foster is Carroll professor of Irish history at Oxford University; earlier this year he published Words Alone: Yeats and His Inheritances (Oxford University Press) -- Roy Foster Irish Times 20110820 [An] ... elegantly written and penetrating study of MacBride's early career... Nic Dhaibheid's book charts [MacBride's] life up to the formation of Clann na Poblachta, in 1946, tracing with a fine, forensic touch his precocious involvement in the republican struggle... What emerges is distinctly new. -- Roy Foster Irish Times 20110820 'WHEN HE LAUGHS, which he does often, his skin, of very good quality parchment, crackles into a complex system of fine folds; the remarkable eyes, prominent and yet recessed, like those of some mad monk of romance, flicker with the persuasions of gaiety; the chuckle of that exotic uvula conspires, with the bandit eyebrows, giving a touch of diablerie to what you may be very sure is a most harmless witticism. "The total effect is rather impressive and not at all amusing ...". So begins Conor Cruise O'Brien's anonymously-published 1952 portrait of Sean MacBride, a bravura piece invoking Charlie Chaplin, Nero, Jan Masaryk and Don Quixote. O'Brien remained fascinated by MacBride all his life but, as this gallery of comparisons suggests, found it hard to nail him down. Many people felt the same. MacBride inhabited many conflicting worlds. His mismatched parents, Maud Gonne and John MacBride, were key figures in the Irish revolutionary pantheon; his early childhood was lived out against the background of their deeply antagonistic separation, and his mother's immense and charismatic personality remained a powerful influence upon him - along with her tendency to conspiracy theories and dictatorial politics. Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid's elegantly written and penetrating study of MacBride's early career suggests that he was touched with "otherness" all his life. Growing up in his mother's "bohemian Parisian apartment, its artistically and politically diverse visitors, the menageries of exotic pets, the insistent occultist slant", he was pitchforked into the Irish revolution from 1917; with Gonne's imprisonment in 1918 he was left in the charge of his erratic half-sister Iseult, and family friends such as WB Yeats and sundry republican women. Little wonder that he grew up self-contained, watchful and enigmatic. But he was also his mother's son. Reading her autobiography shortly before he died, Yeats reflected, "remarkable intellect at the service of the will, no will at the service of the intellect", and something of the same was true of MacBride; this study exposes and clarifies some basic inconsistencies that would bedevil his domestic political career. Nic Dhaibheid's book charts his life up to the formation of Clann na Poblachta, in 1946, tracing with a fine, forensic touch his precocious involvement in the republican struggle. He played a violent part in operations from the age of 17, accompanied the Collins team to the Treaty negotiations and fought in the Four Courts on the side of Rory O'Connor and Ernie O'Malley: years of clandestine activity and imprisonment followed, as well as obscure gunrunning enterprises and alleged involvement in assassinations. What emerges is distinctly new. The most recent biographical treatments have taken a credulous view of MacBride's own patchy memoir, and have been stymied by MacBride's secretive approach to his own archives; Nic Dhabheid has amplified the picture by dedicated sleuthing in the Bureau of Military History witness statements and various government papers, as well as by an approach that is fair-minded if on occasion astringent. She contradicts several of his own claims, and affirms MacBride's close connection with the IRA during the mid-1930s, when a series of murders and the infighting over the Republican Congress alienated much potential support; here as elsewhere, an illuminating contrast is drawn between MacBride and his one-time comrade-in-arms Peadar O'Donnell, whose ebullient and charismatic personality ensured him the kind of popularity always denied to his colleague with the death-mask face. MacBride's embrace of socialist rhetoric wavered in these years, and was later quietly abandoned; what remained was a powerful ambition and a firm belief that the British secret service was behind everything undesirable in Irish life from Partition to revisionist historiography. Nic Dhaibheid pays particular attention to MacBride's chequered course during the "Emergency", where she contests his claim (trustingly accepted by a previous biographer) that he was consistently in favour of neutrality and "democratic politics" throughout. Though he was untainted by the anti-Semitism embraced by his mother and sister, and less openly favourable to Nazi policies than his brother-in-law, Francis Stuart, Nic Dhaibheid argues that a network of contacts and overtures indicate that MacBride favoured the Axis cause until the tide turned against them in 1942, and anticipated future rewards in a New Order Europe after the Allies lost. While this is hard to prove incontrovertibly, especially given the inaccessibility of his personal papers, the case is suggestive. It would partly fit Cruise O'Brien's analysis, or Noel Browne's later denunciation of his ex-colleague as "cruel and authoritarian" - though O'Brien judged that MacBride was in the end not like Hitler but more resembled "one of those through whom dictatorships occur". Whatever the truth of this, one should note - as Nic Dhaibheid fairly does - the time, ingenuity and commitment that MacBride put into his legal work, as defender of republican cases throughout his life, and the principled stand he took on behalf of civil liberties threatened by special legislation, from the 1940s on. This was the foundation for his distinguished international career as defender of juridical liberties and human rights in the postwar years, bringing many prizes and honours. Pausing the narrative in 1946 leaves this out, along with the brief experience of coalition government and the debacle of the Mother and Child scheme. But turning the searchlight on his early career has the great merit of emphasising the influence of MacBride's extraordinary background, the precociousness of his revolutionary career, the overpowering shadow of his iconographic family, and the identification with prewar Europe rather than an Ireland growing into compromise. It might all belong in a novel by Thomas Mann, though indications in Nic Dhaibheid's quietly subversive study suggest that MacBride's personality could also be seen in the flawed mould of Klaus Mann's Mephisto. -- Roy Foster Irish Times 20110820 Somebody should write a book comparing the emergence through revolutionary activity of Sean MacBride and Sean Lemass. Both names have become synonymous with the Easter Rising by accident. Lemass found out about it as a 14-year-old, fired a few shots from the roof of the GPO and, when the insurrectionists surrendered, was simply sent home with a clip across the ear by a kindly policeman. MacBride wasn't there, but his father - Major John MacBride - also encountered it by accident and joined in. He had no part in its planning, but was still picked out because of his reputation and executed. MacBride barely knew his father and never heard a good word said about him, mainly because of his parents' bitter separation. But he suddenly found himself, at the age of 12, bearing the surname of a Republican martyr. When the irregulars made their last stand in the Four Courts, Sean MacBride found himself side by side with Lemass, but after the surrender, the future taoiseach who would later shape Ireland was considered so unimportant that he was allowed to escape to go on the run. His young French-speaking contemporary, who seemed destined by divine right to be a major part of Ireland's future, bore the brunt of imprisonment, sharing cells with men he idolised and would see executed. There are many biographies of Lemass, but Caoimhe Nic Dhabheid's fine forensic book is only the second study of MacBride, complementing (if often contradicting) Elizabeth Keane's 2007 study of his life. A quarter of a century after his death, MacBride's personal papers are still closely guarded. However, Nic Dhabheid is more dismissive or even suspicious of his limited, self-serving memoir, That Day's Struggle, and makes great use of the archives of Irish military intelligence to shed light on MacBride's involvement in links between the IRA and theNazis early in the war. Like many, including some in Fianna Fail, MacBride saw the seemingly inevitable German victory as being beneficial to Irish unity and, in terms of political advancement, beneficial to him. A role in a puppet state might have given him the exalted posit ion that his mother, Maud Gonne, felt he was destined for, but though he was briefly in charge of the IRA in the 1930s - true popularity and power eluded him, because, for all his pedigree, he remained an outsider in accent and outlook. Lemass could build a power base in Eamon de Valera's slipstream by being a straight-talking, poker-playing man of the people. MacBride so lacked any common touch that he was baffled at one IRA council meeting that rural members seemed distracted with wanting to discover the result of the All-Ireland final on the radio. But MacBride's childhood was so strange that perhaps his real triumph was turning out to be any way normal. His mother was a famously beautiful, headstrong English woman who reinvented herself as an extreme Irish nationalist. Sean was her third child, though the only child she publicly acknowledged. Gonne perpetually dressed in black, but these mourning clothes were not for her husband, John MacBride, whom she detested until he was executed. Her mourning started with the death of her first illegitimate child, Georges, whom she had in Paris with her French lover, Lucien Millevoye. Longing for his reincarnation, she conceived a second child by making love to Millevoye at Georges's grave. She raised this secret daughter, Iseult, as her adoptive niece. When Gonne fell out with Millevoye, she sought out a genuine man of action in John MacBride who had fought the British in the Boer War. This marriage would position her within the nationalist fold. The honeymoon in Spain was meant to provide cover for a plan to assassinate Edward VII, which failed due to MacBride's inability to stay sober. The marriage was a disaster, with the couple embroiled in a public divorce that polarised Irish nationalist opinion. Its one positive outcome was the birth of Sean MacBride, viewed by many from birth as Ireland's future leader. Pope Pius X was informed by telegram that "the King of Ireland had been born". In his final decades, by moving his attention abroad, MacBride did achieve acclaim, being the only winner of both the Nobel and Lenin peace prizes and doing major work for Amnesty International. His middle years were preoccupied with briefly entering mainstream politics with his Clann na Poblachta party, though he is mainly remembered for not supporting the Mother and Child Scheme. This book focuses on his fragmented childhood when, as a teenage boy, he saw his mother imprisoned and had his first battles with authority. Nic Dhabheid's book not only throws fascinating light on MacBride's formative years, but also on the bitter internal struggles of the IRA, leading to the torture of its alcoholic chief of staff, Stephen Hayes, and the brutal murder of Wexford man Michael Devereux. By then, MacBride had ceased to be the IRA's leader and become its lawyer, but those bitterly fought cases laid the groundwork that led to his reinvention on an international stage. Sunday Business Post Sunday 20111016 A welcome addition to the literature on twentieth-century Ireland in general and MacBride in particular. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of his early years. The book is also essential reading for anyone interested in the revolutionary period and the IRA's relationship with the new state after independence. -- Ciara Meehan Irish Literary Supplement 2013 This book focuses on his fragmented childhood when, as a teenage boy, he saw his mother imprisoned and had his first battles with authority. Nic Dhabheid's book not only throws fascinating light on MacBride's formative years, but also on the bitter internal struggles of the IRA, leading to the torture of its alcoholic chief of staff, Stephen Hayes, and the brutal murder of Wexford man Michael Devereux. 20111016 Few public figures in twentieth-century Ireland were as complicated, controversial, and enigmatic as Sean MacBride (1904-88). The child of Anglo-Irish actress and revolutionary celebrity Maud Gonne and 1916 Rising martyr John MacBride, the French-born MacBride was destined for an extraordinary life. The turbulent nature of his life odyssey is suggested by the diverse company he kept over the years: from W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound; to the Irish Republican Army (pre- and post-civil war; left and traditionalist factions); to the prestigious ranks of the Irish bar; to Nazi agents; to the social democratic-cum-republican party, Clann na Poblachta; to the United Nations, Amnesty International, and (allegedly) the inner councils of the Provisional IRA. The second half of his idiosyncratic career-from the mid-1940s, when he reinvented himself as a constitutional politician at home and then made his mark on the world stage in conflict resolution, human rights, and antinuclear activism-has been explored by a number of scholars. However, much less is known about MacBride's earlier decades on the dissident margins of southern Irish politics. Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid fills this gap with a meticulously researched and sharply argued account of Mac-Bride's formative years before he (very belatedly) adopted the "slightly constitutional" trajectory of more mainstream republicanism. While foregrounding MacBride's own exploits from before the War of Independence to the end of the "Emergency," Nic Dhaibheid draws many fruitful connections to broader political, social, and cultural dynamics and patterns. Her impressive study complements a growing body of critical biographies of Irish revolutionary figures (e.g., Eoin O'Duffy, Ernie O'Malley, and Harry Boland), while contributing fresh insights and arguments to several important historical issues, including the role of youth in nationalist political culture; southern Ireland's transition to statehood and political stability; debates within the interwar IRA; emergency law in postindependence Ireland; and political, security, and diplomatic developments during the "Emergency." Critical of MacBride's previous biographer for, among other things, overreliance on his highly selective memoir, Nic Dhaibheid overcomes the inaccessibility of MacBride's private papers by weaving together a wide range of sources to reconstruct his shadowy activities as adolescent revolutionary, post-civil war IRA insider, and "mob lawyer" (171) to the marginalized IRA of the 1930s-1940s. As with past studies of the republican underground, police and military intelligence archives serve as crucial sources (the abundance of which would seem to justify MacBride's penchant for conspiracy theories). The book divides MacBride's first forty years into three periods: first, his unusual and tumultuous childhood and youthful immersion in revolutionary activism; second, the immediate post-civil war years when he was at the center of the ideological, strategic, and leadership conflicts within the weakening but sporadically violent IRA; and, finally, 1939- 46 when he served as standing counsel to the embattled IRA, mounted legal challenges to Emergency laws, and facilitated IRA contacts with Germany. It is in this later period that Nic Dhaibheid discerns an "acute concern for his own personal advancement" (199), culminating in his belated support for Irish neutrality and politically astute use of IRA prisoner reprieve campaigns and hunger-striking deaths to recast himself as a constitutional politician. Nic Dhaibheid traces many of MacBride's contradictions and complexities to his unusual childhood, which was initially quite privileged but was increasingly marked by tragedy, anxiety, and uncertainty due to his parents' highly public divorce and father's execution. This points to the fundamental-and acknowledged-challenge of the study: finding commonalities between the young MacBride's most uncommon life and the broader experiences of rank-and-file republicans. With his exotic French accent, "cultivated European sophistication" (55), and university education, MacBride stood out in a working-class IRA milieu, yet Nic Dhaibheid succeeds in relating his revolutionary experience, which included a "respectable number of ambushes" (31), to broader patterns of IRA mobilization. Despite being a member of Collins's personal entourage in London, MacBride took the anti-Treaty side in the civil war, a significant break with former colleagues. In ensuing chapters on the republican movement's increasing "political irrelevance" from the mid-1920s, Nic Dhaibheid damns with faint praise by noting that MacBride was a "key figure in the playing-out of that process" (77). In line with Richard English and Henry Patterson, her picture of IRA and left republican political culture in this period stresses its political immaturity, reflexive Anglophobia, and ideological solipsism. Lost causes tend to attract the condescension of posterity, but arguably, MacBride's cosmopolitan background and sophisticated intellectual formation contradict so dismissive an assessment of these failed movements. The final fascinating section explores MacBride's post-1938 activities, when he ended his short-lived leadership of the splintering IRA and focused on his legal career, albeit in the service of the republican movement. This section drives home the key argument that despite his reputation as a dangerous subversive, MacBride's underlying motive in this period was advancement of his own professional and political ambitions. The complex process whereby Irish revolutionaries became "respectable" politicians is undoubtedly critical to understanding southern Irish politics and society post-1921, and Nic Dhaibheid provides ample evidence of the careerist and opportunist slant to MacBride's actions from the late 1930s. However, one is ultimately struck by how much later, and less gracefully, he made this political transition compared to the bulk of the revolutionary generation (nearly twenty years after pro-Treaty Sinn Feiners and over a decade after Fianna Fail republicans). Readers will be especially interested in Nic Dhaibheid's extensive treatment of MacBride's unsavory role in IRA-Nazi collaborations, which she attributes more to Anglophobia, friendships and family connections, and political opportunism than to any sympathy with National Socialism (the same cannot be said for his antisemitic family members). When a Nazi victory became unlikely, MacBride publicly embraced neutrality and began planting the seeds of a new constitutional party, Clann na Poblachta, which begins the better-known second act of his remarkable life. Nic Dhaibheid's impressive and important new study now stands as the essential work on MacBride's equally fascinating early years. -- Gavin Foster Journal of British Studies, Vol. 51, No. 4 201210 Nic Dhaibheid's impressive and important new study now stands as the essential work on MacBride's equally fascinating early years. Journal of British Studies Vol. 51, No. 4 201210 In 2012, for the first time in its history, the International Peace Bureau, the oldest international peace movement in the world, presented its annual Sean MacBride Peace Prize in Dublin. The medals were awarded by Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland. This ceremony showed how well regarded Sean MacBride is both internationally and within Ireland. So it was with some pleasure that I looked forward to reviewing Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid's book on MacBride's early life, from 1904 to 1946. The clear impression from her book is that the author does not like MacBride, Republicanism or Irish neutrality. So, while it is well written, there was no pleasure in reading Sean MacBride: A Republican Life. It is, in fact, just another in a long series of such books that seek to 'revise' Irish history by denigrating the Republican tradition that led the struggle against British imperialism. They provide an intellectual role in restoring imperial values as the Irish political elite actively integrate Ireland into the US/EU/NATO axis by ensuring Irish Army participation in the Afghan War, allowing millions of US troops to land at Shannon Airport, support for the NATO conquest of Libya, and its sanctions and threats of war on Iran. In an Ireland dominated by British imperialism, where there was virtually total support for the Empire, with the only issue being if there was to be a degree of Home Rule within it, MacBride was born into a family that identified with the minority Irish Republican tradition that stretched back to the 1790s. MacBride's childhood in France, and where his parents separated, clearly had an impact on him for the rest of his life. The events between 1916 and 1918, including the 1916 Rising and the anticonscription campaign, transformed Ireland and ensured the revitalisation of the Republican values as dominant in Ireland. MacBride took an active role in the united IRA struggle for national independence against the British Army of occupation. His father, Major MacBride, had been executed for his role in the Easter Rising, and his mother was Maud Gonne. These factors clearly facilitated his rise within the IRA's ranks, but his participation in the struggle was surely the key factor. The author frequently shows her own inclinations by referring to those supporting imperialism as being 'murdered' rather than 'killed'. In 1922, the Treaty negotiated with the British Empire and accepted by Dail Eireann and a decisive majority of the people, was rejected by an IRA Army Convention. Despite serious efforts to avoid it, a civil war broke out, which MacBride supported as a prisoner. The execution of Republican prisoners left a bitter legacy. The fact that the war ended by an IRA ceasefire rather than by a negotiated peace agreement, as is correctly pointed out by the author, meant that the IRA never reconciled itself to the reality of the new democratic State. In the aftermath of the civil war, Sean MacBride played a key role in rebuilding and sustaining the IRA, but it was an IRA that remained loyal to 'The Republic' that became more and more remote from the actual people, especially after the formation of Fianna Fail, the Republican Party. In fact, well into the early 1930s, the IRA supported Fianna Fail, and many of its progressive members left to join, as did others who went in a different political direction with the formation of the Republican Congress, a short lived left-wing political grouping. By the end of the decade, what had been a military force of 17,000 in the early 1930s, had been reduced to a shattered organisation. Essentially, the overwhelming number of Republicans steadily came to accept Michael Collins' analysis, that the treaty provided a 'stepping stone' to the Republic, by participating in the democratic state it created. In 1938, Sean MacBride, who had previously supported IRA political involvement via Saor Eire and Cumann Poblachta, which gained little support in the 1936 election, after a brief tenure as Chief of Staff, resigned from the IRA. A member of the IRA from the age of 16, he now entered the legal profession as a barrister where he defended IRA prisoners and civil liberties as well as civil cases between 1939-45, a period dominated by World War Two and Irish neutrality during that war. All but one member of the Dciil supported Irish neutrality during the war, a political view, according to the author, 'which was of course in the German interests'. With this perspective, the author's suggestion that MacBride was/may have been pro the Nazis is suspect. The reality is that virtually every state, including the United States, remained neutral until attacked, and to expect the Irish state to volunteer to fight shoulder to shoulder with the British Empire, which less than twenty years earlier had poured the Black & Tans into the country to apply state terror, was a political view verging on the bizarre. Indeed, as one would expect as being reasonable, the government's neutrality was in practice far more pro-British than pro-German, a position that reflected the views of the decisive majority of the people, even if there were those more in sympathy with the Germans, such as MacBride's mother. The policy of neutrality was first advocated by Wolfe Tone, in 1790. When Fianna Fail, supported by Fine Gael and Labour, unlike the Home Rule Party, which supported imperialism during the 1914-18 war, advocated neutrality between 1939-45, it was advocating a value system that remains so strong, that the current FF/FG/Labour Party leadership have to declare their loyalty to it even as they destroy it. By 1946, Sean MacBride had built up links with Fine Gael through the law courts and had established contact with the Labour Party, which was taking a more Republican position. His role in mobilising campaigns for clemency for IRA members, which stretched way beyond IRA membership, helped to build an anti-Fianna Fail alliance. The party he founded in 1946, Clann na Poblachta, played a key role in the formation of an alternative government in 1948, thus eventually following Collins and De Valera into participation in the democratic state and the stepping stone to the Republic. By helping to create an alternative government to Fianna Fail he, in fact, played a key role in consolidating democracy. That McBride, like Peadar O'Donnell, continued to support the concept of British withdrawal was, according to Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid, a failure 'to recognise the inherent validity of the Ulster unionist identity', and his values 'appear increasingly irrelevant to contemporary observers'. Not to this reviewer, they don't. British imperialism is alive and well, supporting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more than willing to help launch others against Syria and Iran. MacBride remained an opponent of imperialism all his life. When it is finally defeated, he will rest more easily. Speed the day. The Spokesman, On Palestine and Prisoners, edited by Tony Simpson. 120 2013 SEAN MACBRIDE has attracted much attention. The story of an IRA activist, once Chief of Staff, turned constitutionalist and awarded with a Nobel Peace Prize, is an appealing one. But most studies tend to focus their analysis on MacBride the politician, with varying levels of attention paid to his previous incarnation. This earlier life is regularly introduced by means of illustrating the contrast with his subsequent career; the transition is often presented but not fully analyzed. Caoimhe Nic Dhaibheid's impressive and confidently written new book seeks to rectify this imbalance and to offer a greater understanding of the forces that shaped MacBride and the role he played prior to the formation of Clann na Poblachta, the party he led into the first inter-party government in 1948. There is a vast literature that includes MacBride, yet he is also conspicuously absent. MacBride's own heavily edited memoirs were published posthumously in 2005. The content, as Nic Dhaibheid points out, has often been used unquestioningly by his biographers, while there are also aspects of his life about which he remained silent. Eithne MacDermott's and Kevin Rafter's treatments of Clann na Poblachta offer an insight into MacBride the politician, as does David McCullagh's A Makeshift Majority, a study of the first inter-party government. But MacBride has, to borrow Nic Dhaibheid's phrase, been "a tangential figure in a number of important studies of the mid-century IRA" (2). Recent, concentrated studies include Anthony J. Jordan's 1993 biography and Elizabeth Keane's two works. The first, An Irish Statesman (2006), begins with the formation of Clann na Poblachta, although her 2007 biography of MacBride, starting with his early life, offers a more complete view. It is with the latter publication, in particular, that this new biography takes issue. Throughout the text, Nic Dhaibheid, with reference to a wider variety of sources that cast new light on her subject, repeatedly criticizes Keane's interpretations. The diversity of the sources she uses-including the witness statements to the Bureau of Military History-has been important in opening up new insights and challenging previous interpretations. MacBride did not comment on his childhood in his memoir, and Nic Dhaibheid takes great care to reconstruct a period in which his mother, Maud Gonne, was a constant presence, contrasting with the absence of his father, John MacBride, whose execution "transformed him in the eyes of his estranged wife and son from feared bogeyman to revered martyr" (17). The discussion of John MacBride's activities and strained relationship with his family also offers an insight into MacBride Senior, whose life has not been as well recorded as his wife's. The 1916 Rising changed Sean MacBride's life; the book chronicles the breakdown of his world, torn from the comfort and safety of Paris, where he and Gonne lived, and cast into the uncertainty of Ireland. Dublin re-politicized his mother, who had taken a step-back during her son's early childhood. Her imprisonment in Holloway after the Rising exposed him to the British authorities as he wrote an increasingly frustrated stream of letters in an attempt to secure her release as her health deteriorated. Despite the formative influence Gonne had on MacBride, she is curiously absent from the second half of the book. MacBride concealed his membership of the IRA from her for most of the War of Independence; her views on his involvement thereafter are not explored. Similarly, her death is mentioned only in passing-we are told that his half-sister, Iseult's spirit was "weakened irrevocably by the death of her mother the previous year"' (196)-but no mention is made of how MacBride reacted or to what extent her death impacted on him, if at all. MacBride joined the IRA in early 1920 but his involvement, despite his father's pedigree, was gradual. He was, however, known to the British authorities by March 1920, and his home at Stephen's Green was raided specifically to secure his arrest. By the summer of 1921, he had come to the attention of Michael Collins, and by the early 1930s, he was a leading figure in the republican movement. The book offers an interesting insight into how the IRA searched for a meaningful role within the new Free State arrangement. Attempts at uniting the IRA and Fianna Fail in 1932 were ineffective. Though initially continuing to support Fianna Fail, by November 1933, MacBride had moved into open conflict with the party, casting de Valera and Fianna Fail's policy in the same mold as W. T. Cosgrave's Cumann na nGaedheal. When de Valera's government finally moved against the IRA and declared the organization illegal in 1936, MacBride resigned the following year, having already been replaced as Chief of Staff. Nic Dhaibheid presents the years 1938 to1940 as a critical transition period, during which time MacBride's legal career was central to his transformation. In establishing the importance of his legal career, great detail is provided of numerous cases he defended. The analysis of the various trials can, however, be a little tedious at times. It is shown how his attendance at various social functions indicated his growing legitimacy within the Irish establishment, but that MacBride was also leading something of a dual life. His transition was not as neat as conversion from subversive activity to constitutionalism, and the book skilfully demonstrates how he kept one foot in both worlds. Despite his departure from the IRA, he had not completely detached himself from republican circles and those whom he represented in court tended to be IRA members. Furthermore, while his public reputation was growing by the mid-1940s, thanks to a blossoming legal career, behind the scenes he was carefully cultivating links with German representatives in Ireland in preparation for the new order. When the balance of power during the war shifted, MacBride sought to reposition himself. This challenges MacBride's own later assertions that his sympathies had always been with the democratic powers throughout the war years (186). What emerges is a picture of a calculating and opportunistic MacBride. At several points in the book, we are shown how he maneuvered himself into a more favorable position, often at odds with the original stance he had adopted. Such insights help place his later actions in context: his conversion from dismissing the use of constitutional politics to forming a political party of his own was, therefore, by no means at odds with his character. The book makes no claim to be a complete biography of MacBride, but the penultimate chapter, labeled "epilogue" and which offers a brief, four-page overview of the formation of Clann na Poblachta, feels rushed in comparison to the impressive level of detail offered in the preceding chapters. Minor quibbles aside-they certainly do not detract from the overall impact of the book-Sean MacBride: A Republican Life is a welcome addition to the literature on twentieth-century Ireland in general and MacBride in particular. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of his early years. The book is also essential reading for anyone interested in the revolutionary period and the IRA's relationship with the new state after independence. Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 2013

Acknowledgements Abbreviations Introduction 1. 'The Centre of Delight of the Household': 1904-1916 2. 'Fighting the Tans at Fourteen': 1916-1918 3. Sean MacBride's Irish Revolution: 1919-1921 4. Rising through the Ranks: 1921-1926 5. 'The Driving Force of the Army': 1926-1932 6. 'The Guiding Influence of the Mass of the People should be the IRA': 1932-1937 7. Becoming Legitimate? 1938-1940 8. 'Standing Counsel to the Illegal Organisation': 1943-1946 Epilogue Conclusion Bibliography Index

ISBN: 9781781380116
ISBN-10: 1781380112
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 245
Published: 3rd April 2014
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Dimensions (cm): 23.4 x 15.6  x 2.0
Weight (kg): 0.4