The Birth of the Irish Free State, 1921-1923

By Joseph M. Curran | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The First Stage
of the Conference:
October 11-November 3, 1921

A cheering crowd greeted the Irish delegates when they arrived in Downing Street at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, October 11. After meeting and shaking hands with them as they entered the Cabinet Room, the prime minister directed the Sinn Feiners to their places and introduced them to their British counterparts across the table. 1 This exchange formally initiated almost two months of negotiations, which would include seven plenary sessions, twenty-four subconferences, and nine meetings of special committees. A series of nine informal interviews between Tom Jones and Griffith, sometimes accompanied by Collins or Duggan, played a vital part in these negotiations. 2

If they were to reach agreement, the delegates had first to learn mutual respect and trust. Almost at once, Griffith and Chamberlain, so much alike in their integrity and loyalty, established a rapport. Lloyd George and Churchill shared Chamberlain's high regard for Griffith. At first, Griffith distrusted the prime minister, but came to have confidence in him as a result of their interviews and Tom Jones's powers of persuasion. 3

Unlike Griffith, Collins felt that Chamberlain was aloof, patronizing, and not to be trusted. He initially viewed Churchill as an opportunist and jingoist, but learned to value his support after he knew him better. Churchill, for his part, was fascinated by Collins but, like Chamberlain, was repelled by Collins' association with "terrible deeds." The two men could work together, but the gulf between them could never be completely bridged. Collins never really trusted Lloyd George, regarding him as a crafty antagonist, who would do anything for political gain. He found the prime minister's comradely and benevolent air "particularly obnoxious" because he felt Lloyd George would cheerfully have had him hanged, if he could have managed it. At first, Lloyd George thought Collins more capable than Griffith, but once he began to make headway with Griffith, Collins seemed to have only the "simple sort of mind" befitting "a great military commander." Of all the British delegates, only Birkenhead won Collins' confidence, largely because they were kindred spirits, like Griffith and Chamberlain. Collins admired Birkenhead's

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