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A scholarly biography of  Ireland’s revolutionary diplomat
Kerney declines to give fascist salute while presenting his credentials to General Franco on 10 April, 1939

13 Jan 2020 / Ireland Print

A scholarly biography of a revolutionary diplomat

A book on revolutionary diplomat Leopold Kerney, by Barry Whelan of the Law Society’s Diploma Centre, has been published by Notre Dame University Press.

Kerney (1881-1962), the son of an Irish Times editor, and a political ally of De Valera, is described as one of the most influential diplomats of the 20th century. This book is the first comprehensive biography of his career in its entirety.

Ireland’s Revolutionary Diplomat – A Biography of Leopold Kerney draws on a decade of archival research and unrestricted access to Kerney’s private papers.


Kerney’s diplomatic career spanned several decades, including postings to fascist Spain and South America, and is remembered for standing up to fascism.

The Republic’s first generation of foreign attachés were not trained in the art of diplomacy, and operated on an ad hoc basis, with reports smuggled back home to an unrecognised fledgling republic whose political leaders were often on the run, and in danger of imprisonment or death.

Kerney was born in Sandymount, Dublin, in 1881 into what he later described as an “Anglicised atmosphere of contented provincialism”, and was brought up as a typical Anglo-Irish gentleman of the times.


He broke free of this world having been inspired by the writings of Irish nationalist John Mitchel and, thereafter, dedicated himself to breaking all links between Britain and Ireland.

He worked to reorient Ireland away from Britain and towards continental Europe, and embraced revolutionary politics, settling in France.

A chance meeting with Seán T O’Kelly  in 1919 convinced him to join the republican movement.

His gift for trade proved a valuable asset when he became a trade envoy for Ireland, travelling the length of France promoting Irish goods. He established the first direct shipping route between France and Ireland, in 1922.


Later, in Spain, he briefed Irish officials on General Franco, and also met with Nazi leaders to find out what Hitler was planning for Ireland in the event of a victory in WW2.

His ally Eamon De Valera praised him highly, saying: “There is nothing that can be said about Mr Kerney except that which is good.”


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