Frank Aiken: Nationalist and Internationalist


Bryce Evans & Stephen Kelly

A fascinating biography of one of the most significant and controversial Irish politicians and revolutionaries of the twentieth century. Aiken’s remarkable career as a military commander, politician and, eventually, statesman on the international stage is subjected to a thorough analysis and a brilliant light is shed on the life of Aiken as a man, politician and myth.


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Revolutionary; statesman; polymath: Frank Aiken cuts a colossal figure in twentieth century Irish history. However, he remains a controversial figure—regarded as a war criminal by some and a principled proponent of National liberation by others.

In this engaging biographical collection, contributors scrutinise Aiken’s thoughts and actions at several critical junctures in modern Irish and world history, taking readers through the War of Independence, Civil War, the birth of the new state, the Second World War, the Cold War and the modern Northern Ireland Troubles. Divided into two sections – Nationalist and Internationalist – and based on an unrivalled breadth of testimony from academics, family members, rivals and colleagues, this study ultimately details the footprints Aiken left on the national and international political stage

Aiken owed his early eminence to military rather than political leadership; he was commandant of the 4th Northern Division of the IRA during the War of Independence and was driven to undertake the most daring and spectacular feats of the Irish Civil War. He went on to become the Chief of Staff of the Anti-Treaty IRA but was expelled for backing de Valera’s plan for a Republican government – the beginnings of Fianna Fáil. Thereafter his instrumental role was to be political: a Minister for Defence, Finance, and External Affairs over the course of the following decades;  he was to oversee much success and controversy in the burgeoning state. This biography represents the first deserving assessment of a monumental personality in 20th century Irish History.

Table of Contents

Preface by Frank Aiken Jnr
Nationalist: Stephen Kelly
Internationalist: Bryce Evans

Part One: Nationalist

Chapter One: Aiken: Family, Early Life and the Revolutionary Period, 1898–1921 ~ Eoin Magennis
Chapter Two: Frank Aiken’s Civil Wars, 1922–1923 ~ Robert Lynch
Chapter Three: Frank Aiken and the IRA, 1923-1933 ~ Brian Hanley
Chapter Four: Frank Aiken and the Volunteer Force of the Irish Army, 1934–1939 ~ Lar Joye
Chapter Five: ‘The Iron Man with the Wooden Head’? ~ Frank Aiken and the Second World War ~ Bryce Evans
Chapter Six: Experiment or a New Departure? ~ Frank Aiken in Finance, 1945–1948 ~ Conor Keelan
Chapter Seven: From Anti-Partitionism to Realpolitik? Frank Aiken, Partition and Northern Ireland, 1948–1954 ~ Stephen Kelly

Part Two: Internationalist

Chapter Eight: Frank Aiken at the United Nations: Some Personal Recollections ~ Noel Dorr
Chapter Nine: ‘Personally I Think it Would be Positively Hilarious’: The European Convention, the Cyprus Question and Frank Aiken’s State of Exception Helen O’Shea
Chapter Ten: ‘Initiative and Courage’: Frank Aiken and the Congo Crisis, 1960-1961 ~ Michael Kennedy
Chapter Eleven: ‘China is More important to you than Armagh’: Frank Aiken and Tibet ~ Kate O’Malley
Chapter Twelve: A Man with a Cause: Frank Aiken, the Palestine Refugee Issue and the Evolution of Ireland’s Middle East Policy, 1957–1969 ~ Rory Miller

About the Authors

Bryce Evans is the author of Seán Lemass: Democratic Dictator (2011) and Ireland during the Second World War: Farewell to Plato’s Cave (2014).
Stephen Kelly is the author of A conservative at heart? The political and social thought of John Henry Newman (2012) and Fianna Fáil, Partition and Northern Ireland, 1926-1971 (2013).