Analysis

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Molly, the alleged of Collins's war

Published 29/04/2006 | 00:11

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Michael Collins's Intelligence War The Struggle Between The

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Michael Collins's Intelligence War The Struggle Between The

British and the IRA 1919-1921

By Michael T. Foy Sutton, ?29.20

Alan Dukes This would be a work of considerable interest even without its main dramatic claim. That claim is that Molly Childers was a British spy who had access to the inner workings of Sinn Fein and passed on highly sensitive information about what her husband and his closest colleagues thought and planned during the War of Independence. Molly, an American by birth, was married to Erskine Childers, the gun-runner, Sinn Fein inner circle member and author of The Riddle of the Sands. She was the mother of a future Fianna Fail Minister and President of Ireland.

Foy's claim is not absolute. Molly Childers's name, it seems, does not appear anywhere in the many documentary sources on which he draws. Foy deduces the probable identity of the spy from the kinds of information passed on, the timing, the personalities of the protagonists and Molly's own character and background.

The circumstantial evidence is certainly strong. Reading the rest of the book, one could come to the conclusion that, if either Sinn Fein or the British had such evidence in the period 1919-1921, the person in question would have been in great danger of assassination or imprisonment.

But is the evidence enough to support the claim?

Molly's husband was a British Army officer when they met and married. He later became a House of Commons clerk and a Home Rule supporter. He lent his yacht, the Asgard, to the Irish Volunteers for a gun-running venture in 1914. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War and reportedly regarded the 1916 Rising as "a pro-German stab in the back".

It was during his service as assistant secretary to the Irish Convention in Dublin in 1917 that he changed his views, to the extent that he joined Sinn Fein on his discharge from British service in 1918.

Molly did not share this change in view. She did not want to go to Ireland in 1919. When she did, her activities included holding a political salon in her Dublin home and running a press cuttings and reference service. Given her husband's closeness to Collins, de Valera and other Sinn Fein personalities, she was well placed to be a spy. Foy surmises that she was recruited by the British before going to Ireland and that her sympathy for Britain (where she had been decorated for war work) and antipathy to her husband's republican conversion provided the motive.

He claims that Molly had "the qualities to carry off such a dangerous role" and that she "consistently displayed intelligence, courage, decisiveness and single-minded determination". He claims that the language used in the communications quoted by Sir Hamar Greenwood, Chief Secretary for Ireland, to Lloyd George's mistress betrays an American origin. "Red-hot extremist" (de Valera), "get 'em really on the run", "treat 'em rough", "I am risking my sanguinary neck" are all phrases adduced as evidence of an American source,

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