Ireland and the United States from 1917 to Trump

Published in Editorial, Issue 4 (July/August 2017), Volume 25


Our last History Ireland Hedge School (National Library, 23 May 2017) to mark the centenary of the entry of the United States into the First World War provided a timely opportunity to review the ‘unique relationship’ with Ireland based on common ancestral ties and supposedly shared values. But it was not always close or cordial. The 1916 Rising had cast Ireland’s ‘exiled children in America’ in the role of actual or potential subversives, in league with Imperial Germany. After the war, to their great disappointment, Irish nationalists discovered that President Woodrow Wilson’s advocacy of self-determination did not apply to the subject nations of the victorious Allied powers but only to those of the vanquished empires.

In an effort to carve out a role in the international arena, the Irish Free State fancied itself as a ‘bridge’ between Europe and the United States. In reality, it had little diplomatic traction in Washington against a backdrop of virulent anti-Catholicism (witness the treatment of Al Smith in the 1928 US presidential election) and meagre resources focused on dealing with the fractious Irish-American scene.

Relations reached their nadir during the Second World War, with US ambassador David Gray’s ‘American note’ of February 1944 implicitly threatening violation of Ireland’s neutrality unless Dublin’s Axis missions were expelled. Things only improved in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s 1963 visit, and, notwithstanding continuing popular opposition to US foreign policy, particularly during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and George W. Bushe in the 2000s, reached their high point with the ‘shamrock diplomacy’ of the Clinton era and the brokering of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. But how will the ‘unique relationship’ fare in the wake of the election of the xenophobic, anti-environment and protectionist Donald Trump? For a lively, informative discussion with Michael Kennedy (RIA’s Documents on Irish Foreign Policy), Bernadette Whelan (UL), Patrick Geoghegan (TCD) and John Borgonovo (UCC), click on

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