A new book on Frank Aiken has been launched by Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore.
Frank Aiken: Nationalist and Internationalist is a collection of biographical essays that looks at the long and eventful career of the Louth Dail deputy, revolutionary, founder member of Fianna Fail, confidant to de Valera, revolutionary, government minister and international statesman.
Born in Armagh, Frank Aiken was an Irish Volunteer and then an active insurgent in the War of Independence. After the Treaty, he eventually sided with DeValera – a lifelong friend – and became commander of the Fourth Northern Division of the IRA before becoming IRA Chief of Staff in March 1923.
He then went on to personally issue the ceasefire and ‘dump arms’ order in May 1923 which essentially ended the Civil War. At first he opposed partition.
In 1932 he entered the Dail with de Valera and his former anti-Treaty colleagues. It was the start of a long political life.
After his death, several pistols and ammunition from that time were found in his filing cupboard. they had been held for the first Fianna Fáil cabinet to defend themselves, should their accession be opposed by the outgoing government or others.
He became the second-longest serving member of Dáil Éireann, serving as Minister for Defence, Co-ordination of Defensive Measures, Finance, External Affairs, and Lands and Fisheries.
As Minister for External Affairs he would encounter and interact with a number of global figures, receiving mixed responses. President Roosevelt pulled the tablecloth and crockery off a table during a heated discussion with Aiken on Irish neutrality.
Aiken’s proudest moment was that he was the first signatory of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Arms Treaty in Moscow in 1968. He is greatly credited with helping Ireland’s strong reputation and – disproportionate for its size – influence in the UN.
He had his eccentric side. He tried to invent a gun that shot around corners.
He quit politics in 1973, true to his promise to Jack Lynch that he would not stand if Charles Haughey was ratified as a Fianna Fáil candidate.
He came to despise Haughey and privately said: “He will ruin Fianna fail”.
At his state funeral in 1983, at the request of the family, George Colley gave the oration instead of party leader Haughey (as was customary).
This biographical collection covers his local, national and international activities and reflects the impressive depth of his involvement in Irish and international politics.
One of the contributors is Conor Keelan, the Fianna Fail Louth county councillor. Conor holds a Ph.D in Economics from Trinity College Dublin and has written a very insightful chapter on Aiken’s time as Minister for Finance.
This new book, edited by Bryce Evans and Stephen Kelly is published by Irish Academic Press and available at local bookstores.