Identity Statement for Frank Aiken

  • Reference code: IE UCDA P104
  • Title: Papers of Frank Aiken (1898–1983)
  • Dates: 1913–82
  • Level of description: Fonds
  • Extent: 225 boxes
  • Context
  • Content and Structure
  • Conditions of Access and Use
  • Allied Material

Biographical History

Frank Aiken was born in Armagh in 1898. He was politically and militarily active from a young age, joining the Irish Volunteers at sixteen, and within a few years becoming Chairman of the Armagh Comhairle Ceanntair of Sinn Féin and elected onto Armagh County Council. During the War of Independence, he commanded the Fourth Northern Division of the IRA. The split over the Anglo-Irish Treaty left Aiken ultimately aligned with the Anti-Treaty side in spite of personal efforts to prevent division and civil war. He succeeded Liam Lynch as Chief of Staff of the IRA in March 1923 and issued the cease fire and dump arms orders on 24 May 1923 that effectively ended the Civil War. He was first elected to the Dáil as a Sinn Féin candidate in the Louth constituency in 1923, continuing to be re-elected for Fianna Fáil at every election until his retirement from politics fifty years later. He entered the first Fianna Fáil government as Minister for Defence (1932–9), later becoming Minister for the Coordination of Defensive Measures (1939–45) with responsibility for overseeing Ireland’s national defence and neutral position during the Second World War.

Aiken was Minister for Finance (1945–8) for three years following the war and was involved in economic post–war development, in the industrial, agricultural, educational and other spheres. However, it was as Minister for External Affairs (1951–4, 1957–69) that Aiken fulfilled his enormous political potential. As Foreign Minister he adopted where possible an independent stance for Ireland at the United Nations and other international fora such as the Council of Europe. Despite a great deal of opposition, both at home and abroad, he stubbornly asserted the right of UN members to discuss the representation of communist China at the General Assembly. Unable to bring the issue of the partition of Ireland to the UN, Aiken ensured that Ireland vigorously defended the rights of small nations such as Tibet and Hungary (invaded by China and Russia respectively, in the 1950s), nations whose problems it was felt Ireland could identify with and had a moral obligation to help. Aiken also supported the right of countries such as Algeria to self-determination and spoke out against apartheid in South Africa. Under Ireland’s policy of promoting the primacy of international law and reducing global tension at the height of the Cold War, Aiken promoted the idea of areas of law, which he believed would free the most tense regions around the world from the threat of nuclear war. Likewise, Aiken sponsored a resolution to prevent the ‘wider dissemination of nuclear weapons’ and proposed peace initiatives for the crisis in the Middle East.

In 1969, Aiken, who was then seventy, stepped down from his positions as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste, at a time when the gradual move towards membership of the European Union and growing tensions in Northern Ireland would soon shift the focus of Foreign Affairs policy from the UN to matters closer to home. Positions and policies nurtured and guarded from the 1950s—neutrality, independence, Ireland as a ‘middle power’—would come to change or have different meanings as new alignments were formed in the 1970s. Aiken would watch these changes from the sidelines and at the age of seventy-five, in the midst of the arms crisis of 1973, he decided finally to retire from political life, opting not to stand for re-election in his County Louth constituency. During an incomparable ministerial career he had also held briefly the portfolios of Lands and Fisheries (June–November 1936) and Agriculture (March–May 1957).

Frank Aiken married Maud Davin in October 1934. They had three children, Frank (Francis), Lochlann and Aedamar. In 1983 he died peacefully, at the age of eighty-five, his wife having predeceased him by five years.

Archival History

This collection was deposited in UCD Archives on 9 July 1991 by Frank and Eileen Aiken, his son and daughter-in-law. 

Scope and Content

Personal material relating to the Aiken family: school essays, reports and certificates of Frank Aiken (1913–29), Proinnsias, Lochlann and Aedamar (1939–58); photographs and correspondence between Aedamar (Rhodesia) and her parents, Frank and Maud Aiken (1948–86); notes and correspondence on Sandyford and the ‘Three Rock Dairy’ farm and on Aiken’s inventions (1920–83); letters from charities, supporters and friends (1927–83); correspondence and notes on the Irish Amateur Boxing Association (1938–78); family photographs (1900–80); correspondence, notes, diaries and photographs of the marriage and personal lives of Frank and Maud Aiken, family and friends; correspondence relating to the musical career of Maud Aiken.

Revolutionary period, 1916–23: minutes and agendas of meetings of the Executive of Óglaigh na hÉireann and correspondence with members of the Fourth Northern Division, including truce negotiations and correspondence on the end of the Civil War (1922–24); correspondence with Mary MacSwiney (1923); correspondence concerning the death of Liam Lynch (1923–64); contemporary and commemorative accounts of the attack on Dundalk Military Barracks and republican activities, including articles, statements and photographs (1922–80).

Fianna Fáil TD for County Louth: policy statements, speeches, election promotional material, notes, photographs and correspondence relating to presidential, general, local and Senate elections, (1926–78); routine correspondence and commemorative material relating to Fianna Fáil (1927–82); correspondence from party representatives; memoranda, notes, photographs, maps, plans, newspaper cuttings and correspondence concerning local developments in County Louth (1924–72); speeches, correspondence and accounts of Aiken’s retirement from public life (1973–86).

Early years in politics: reports and correspondence on legal, agricultural, social, religious, industrial and defence issues by government (Cumann na nGaedheal) and opposition (Fianna Fáil) (1926–32); letters and notes on Northern Ireland and the status of Northern nationalists (1922–31); material on Aiken’s trip to the U.S. to raise funds for Fianna Fáil, including correspondence with Seán T. O’Kelly, Mary MacSwiney,Eamon de Valera, L.H. O’Cearnaigh and others (1925–26); reports, statements and correspondence with Ernie O'Malley, Eamon de Valera and Kathleen O'Connell concerning Aiken’s trip to the U.S. to raise funds for the Irish Press (1928–29).

Minister for Defence: correspondence, reports, notes, printed material and memoranda on the treatment of republican prisoners in the Curragh and Arbour Hill (1932–38); memoranda, reports and statements on employment in the defence forces (1924–38); reports of the Intelligence Summary of International Affairs (1934–38); diary and notes on discussions at the London Conferences on Anglo-Irish Relations (1938); memoranda, reports and publications on the work of the Banking Commission, on social credit and the International Exchange Clearing House, (1924–39); memorabilia on Thirty-First International Eucharistic Congress, Dublin (1932); government memoranda, memorabilia, publications and reports on issues such as the Irish Constitution, government buildings, sale of turf, (1930–39); correspondence and photographs on the stopover in Shannon of Charles Lindbergh (1936).

Minister for Lands and Fisheries: correspondence, memorabilia, annotated drafts of legislation, publications on the Land Acts and Land Annuities (1929–37).

Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defensive Measures: Correspondence, reports, memoranda and speeches on recruitment of voluntary defence forces and on domestic production during the Emergency (1939–44); material on censorship, including correspondence with Michael Knightly, Chief Press Censor, and Thomas J. Coyne, Assistant Controller of Censorship (1939–47); minutes of Defence Conferences (1940–44); correspondence, notes, speeches, photographs and publications on Aiken’s trip to the US to procure arms (1941–42); statements and publications on neutrality (1939–72); memoranda on an International Exchange Clearing House and Central Bank (1939–45); correspondence and memoranda on the treatment of prisoners in Arbour Hill and the Curragh Camp (1939–42).

Minister for Finance: memoranda, reports and correspondence on the Budgets (1945–48) and on proposed stock issue by Dublin Corporation (1942–48); memoranda and statements on employment within the Civil Service and the teaching and banking professions (1945–47); memoranda and correspondence on international financial matters, such as the Bretton Woods Agreement and the International Monetary Fund, the Committee on European Economic Co-Operation and the Marshall Plan (1939–48); memoranda, notes and correspondence on post-war planning and development, including schemes for the Gaeltacht and agricultural and educational programmes (1945–48); reports, memoranda and notes on general post-war government policy (1945–48).

In Opposition, 1948–51: material mainly relating to the anti-partition campaign, including ‘Reports from the North’ by Séamus McCall (1949–53), correspondence, agendas, minutes, speeches and reports on the Anti-Partition League of Great Britain (1949–50) and on the Mansion House All-Party Anti-Partition Conference (1947–51); correspondence, memorabilia and photographs on Aiken and de Valera’s trip around the world, including to Britain, Italy, USA, Canada, India, Burma, Australia and New Zealand, including correspondence with family members during the trip (1948–50).

Minister for External Affairs

Council of Europe: reports, correspondence, publications and memorabilia on the Consultative Assemblies (1948–50, 1960, 1962–63, 1967–73); reports, minutes of meetings and correspondence on human rights issues, including Northern Ireland (1963–74); material, including speeches, resolutions and memoranda on European co-operation and development, including reference to the European Union (1949–76).

International Trade and Finance: reports, memoranda, correspondence, speeches, statements and publications on international financial matters, including the European Payments Union; Spend-Lend Agreement (1949–63); external assets and exchequer financing (1951–56); Free Trade Area Agreement (1957–65); OECD (1960–68); and the European Monetary System and International Monetary Fund (1963–1981).

European Economic Community: reports, memoranda, speeches and publications on preparations for membership, including the referendum on entry to the Community (1950–73).

North Atlantic Pact: reports and correspondence on NATO and Ireland’s neutrality (1949–72).

United Nations Organisation General Assembly: speeches, reports, correspondence, publications, photographs, newsreel, magnetic tape and newspaper cuttings on the twelfth-twenty fifth sessions of the UN General Assembly (1957–69); on matters arising at the UN including the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons; the Middle East; the withdrawal of troops from Europe; Algeria; human rights in Tibet; apartheid in South Africa; South West Africa; discussions on the representation of China at the UN; the UN Relief and Works Agency; the candidature of Frederick Boland as President of the UN General Assembly; UN intervention in the Congo; independence for Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe); financing of peace-keeping operations; Vietnam.

UN other matters: correspondence on UN participation (including Irish troops) in the Congo and the resignation of Conor Cruise O’Brien (1961); correspondence on participation by UN (Irish) troops in Cyprus (1964–65).

General External Affairs policy: correspondence, photographs and publications on aid to Nigeria and Biafra and the role of Irish missionaries (1960–72); correspondence, notes, speeches, interviews and publications on general external affairs policy, including correspondence between Aiken and Chester Bowles, US Secretary of State, with the Department of the Taoiseach, with Frederick Boland, with Con Cremin and with Maud Aiken (1950–82); memorabilia, including medals and awards, film footage and photographs on general external affairs matters (1950–80).

Diplomatic relations: correspondence with embassies and consular offices, including with J.P. Walshe, Irish Ambassador to Rome (1951–60), with Leo T. McCauley, Irish Ambassador to the Holy See (1960–67), with the Italian Legation in Dublin (1951–64); with the Irish embassies in France (1952–70), Spain (1951–54), Australia (1951–73), Canada (1957–67), and Switzerland (1963–69); correspondence and notes on consular and diplomatic matters concerning relations between Ireland and Sweden, India, Germany, the Netherlands, Malawi and other countries (1952–76); notes, correspondence and memoranda concerning relations with Britain, including on the subjects of partition, the Common Market, the reinterment of the remains of Roger Casement and controversy over publication of his diaries (1948–80); correspondence, notes and articles and publications regarding relations with the United States of America, including correspondence with the US ambassador to Ireland (1950–75).

Visits abroad and to Ireland: memorabilia and photographs on de Valera and Aiken’s trip to St Gallen (1951); correspondence, speeches, memorabilia, publications and photographs on President Seán T. O’Kelly’s visit to the US (1959); correspondence, memorabilia and publications on Aiken’s visit to the celebrations on Congolese independence (1960) and on his trip with Eamon de Valera to Rome (1957–63); correspondence, speeches, itineraries, photographs, memorabilia and publications on the visits to the US by An Taoiseach Seán Lemass (1963) and by President Eamon de Valera (also to Canada) (1964); itineraries, photographs and publications on Aiken’s visit to Zambia and other countries (1957–77); letters, photographs and memoranda on official visits to Ireland by foreign dignitaries including Princess Grace of Monaco, Charles de Gaulle, President of France, and President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline (1959–72); correspondence with Eamon de Valera while in Utrecht for an eye operation (1951–52).

Northern Ireland: correspondence, policy statements, reports, publications and speeches on the conflict in Northern Ireland and civil rights issues. Includes material on the Anti-Partition League of Great Britain (1950–70); the All-Party Anti-Partition Conference (1949–80); ‘Reports on the North’ by Séamus McCall (1951–53); resolutions submitted to the US House of Representatives and Senate on partition (1951–54); and reports in the Dáil on gun-running in Northern Ireland (1969–70).

General government issues: reports, correspondence, memoranda and publications concerning the Cabinet Committee for the Provision of Employment (1951–54); the American Grant Counterpart Fund; and the European Recovery Programme (1948–54); government policies on agriculture, fisheries, education, transport, trade, Irish language, employment, health, local government and industrial issues (1951–76); memoranda, speeches and reports on constitutional reform and proportional representation and on general government policy (1951–76).

Minister for Agriculture: memoranda and reports relating to agricultural schemes and research (1957).

  • Access: Available by appointment to holders of a UCD Archives reader's ticket. Produced for consultation in microform. Press photographs available online at the UCD Digital Library.
  • Language: English and Irish.
  • Finding Aid: Descriptive catalogue

Publication Note

Bryce Evans, Stephen Kelly (eds). Frank Aiken, Nationalist and Internationalist. (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2014)