Book Review ~ England’s Greatest Spy – Eamonn De Valera ~ John J. Turi

England's Greatest SpyTitle: England’s Greatest Spy – Eamonn De Valera
Author: John J. Turi
Publisher: Stacey International, London 2009
ISBN: 978 – 1 – 906768-09-6

REVIEWER: Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc

I stumbled across the above book, in O Mahony’s Bookshop, Limerick. I was completely unaware of the radio debate that had taken place on RTE a few hours earlier between the author and the veteran Irish historian and journalist Tim Pat Coogan. I found the title of the book both shocking and intriguing as this weighty tome seemed to rally against the perceived orthodoxy, and whole fabric of accepted modern Irish politics and twentieth century Irish history. After reading the sleeve notes which stated: “Turi presents startling new evidence to prove the man who led Ireland throughout most of the 20th century [De Valera] … was an agent for England” I decided, although immediately sceptical of such a controversial claim, to read the book eager as a historian examine this “new evidence” and determined to try and keep an open mind about the book’s central thesis.

Unfortunately the new evidence promised in the sleeve notes does not appear in the main body of the book. Instead the reader is treated (mistreated?) to a whopping 462 page political rant which re-hashes worn out conspiracy theories and pub talk about ‘Who killed Michael Collins?’. Added to these are the author’s even more fantastic deductions about the War of Independence and Civil War which he arrives at without providing any conclusive documentary evidence.

In fact Turi’s whole thesis that De Valera was a British Agent seems based completely on supposition, propaganda stories, wild interpretation of accepted facts, hear say and illogical conjecture. Throughout the book any setbacks that are encountered by those fighting for Irish independence are immediately ascribed to conspiracy by Mr. Turi, who never considers the more realistic possibility that these events were due to bad luck, chance, incompetence or poor decision making. What little he does offer as evidence to prove his claims is regularly liberally interpreted to suit his theories – rather than adjusting his theories to suit the facts.

Turi’s central argument is that the British authorities in Ireland were fully aware of the I.R.B’s plans for the 1916 Rising but allowed the rebellion to take place so that they could organise a “machine gun massacre” of the rebel Irish. According to Turi the British had already ensured the rebellion would failure through the actions of their spy Austin Stack was responsible for the capture of the German arms shipment on the Aud. This and not Eoin Mc Neill’s countermanding order was responsible for the failure of the rebellion. Turi then claims that after his surrender to the British and imprisonment in Kilmainham Jail, De Valera was given a stark choice become a British Agent or else be executed along with Pearse, Connolly and co…

De Valera readily agrees and through the secret machinations of Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, he is appointed leader of Sinn Fein in 1917. This of course was part of a secret British plot to split the Sinn Fein party, code named: “Assignment Sinn Fein” Unfortunately for the British this plot is then foiled by one of the heroes of Mr. Turi’s tale Arthur Griffith. De Valera is arrested by the British and imprisoned in Lincoln Jail, England and then his escape is staged so that De Valera can go to America to sabotage the Irish American groups lobbying the American President to support Irish Independence. This secret operation is dubbed “Assignment America”.

Eventually De Valera takes part in “Assignment Ireland” whereby he returns home to destroy Sinn Fein and The I.R.A. From within – he succeeds and the I.R.A. are forced to negotiate with the British.

In two further British assignments – ‘Chaos’ and ‘Civil War’ De Valera first ensures that the Irish delegation in the Treaty negotiations will not secure a Republic and then he argues against the Treaty so that he can plunge the south of Ireland into Civil War. This of course is orchestrated by the British because Michael Collins is about to cause trouble for them in the north, and the Civil War will keep him distracted long enough for De Valera’s next assignment – the assassination of both Griffith and Collins.

Turi’s heroes Collins and Griffith of course by how are about to discover De Valera’s role as a British agent. Griffith is murdered after being served arsenic laden chocolates, and Collins’s assassination / murder is organised personally by De Valera and Emmett Dalton in Cork. Collins wasn’t hidden by the I.R.A. ambushers at Bealnablath on 22nd of August 1922 he was actually shot in the back and then in the head by a British agent who was posing as a Free State soldier. The story doesn’t end there – Sean Hales T.D. starts investigating the plot and is also murdered by De Valera’s henchmen.

De Valera remains working as a British agent long after he is elected President and under their guidance manages to sabotage the Irish economy and keep Ireland neutral during World War Two in order to create anti-Irish feeling in the U.S. By the end of the book the only thing surprising to the reader is that Mr. Turi’s does not claim that De Valera’s masters in the British Government were not themselves being controlled by the Free Masons and the Elders of Zion who secretly control the world!

Does Mr. Turi’s book present any real proof to support these claims? Of course not, but he claims the proof exists – on page 302 Turi actually calls for the exhumation of Collin’s remains to prove he was murdered! On page 298 he quotes a Dr. Singh calling for Griffiths remains to be exhumed to prove he was also murdered. What would be the purpose of these exhumations? On page 462 the need for these exhumations is made clear when Turi calls for De Valera to be given a posthumous trial on charges of “treason, fraud and conspiracy to murder.”

Not content with merely vilifying De Valera, the author also derides a whole host of Republican figures who opposed Collins and the Treaty. Turi often uses rumour innuendo and Pro-Treaty and British propaganda tales of the period to do so. According to Turi: Countess Marcivictz was a coward. De Valera may have had an extra marital affair. Liam Lynch was ‘quite possibly insane’. Oscar Tranor the leader of the I.R.A.’s Dublin brigade was more interested in killing Irishmen than British soldiers. Austin Stack was a British spy since at least 1916. Erskine Childers ‘spent his whole life in the service of England and English Imperialism.’

One of the only leading anti-Treaty republicans who does not suffer character assassination at the pen of Mr. Turi is Cathal Brugha. It would have been incredibly difficult for Mr. Turis to question the integrity and motives of Brugha who had been severely wounded by a hand grenade, as well as by multiple gunshot wounds during the 1916 rising. After suffering these wounds Brugha initially was not expected to survive by his comrades. However since Brugha did survive and became one of Collins’s main rivals for power after 1916 it is surprising that Turi does not implicate him in the conspiracy.

In fact the name Cathal Brugha does not occur once in the whole book!!! Instead, rather confusingly, Brugha is only referred to by the English language translation of his name Charles Burgess. Turi who boasts that he has read over two hundred books on the subject must have known that Irish and British historians uniformly refer to the man as Cathal Brugha. Intriguingly when Turi quotes passages from other books which mention Cathal Brugha he seems to have deliberately translated the name in the quote from ‘Brugha’ to ‘Burgess’. Is it possible that when Mr. Turi was unable to discredit one of Michael Collins’s main rivals for power that he decided instead to try and airbrush him from the history books using literary slight of hand? Or have I too begun to suffer the effect of Mr. Turi’s love of illogical and absurd conspiracy theories?

As well as having a very thin, convoluted, unrealistic and often contradictory plot, Mr. Turi’s book suffers further from a disorganised chronology which has several large gaps in the first half of the book. The narrative constantly jumping back and forward in time to so often that it reminded me of the television series “Quantum Leap” Amazingly there is no account of the East Clare by-election of 1917 – I cannot think of too many biographies of politicians that do not give an account of the first time they stand successfully for public office! The whole narrative of the book is badly written, confusing and in some places incomprehensible, In the chapter about the Treaty negotiations and the causes and beginning of the Irish Civil War Turi’s thesis that De Valera was a spy gets lost completely, only to re-emerge in the narrative like a nmany headed hydra at a later point.

The language, grammar, terms and descriptive phrases used in the book are very, very poor, and couched in ‘twee’ Irish-American stereotypes of Ireland. This occurs so often as to be annoying and distracting. Ireland is referred to as ‘the Emerald Isle” or the “oulde sod”, books about Irish history are ‘Gaelic history books’, De Valera’s friends and comrades are his ‘buddies’ etc. The author also seems to suffer from difficulties with the geography of Britain and Ireland. The phrases England and Britain are constantly interchanged and confused in the text, on page 258 Turi paradoxically defines Scottish Planters as being “English settlers.” The British Prime Minister of the period Lloyd George is described on page 192 as “Lloyd George, a Welsh [sic] and Celt himself” – surely this should have read: ‘Lloyd George, a Welshman and fellow Celt (like De Valera). In many cases the language appears, to me, to be low brow and crass ie. page 259 “The decision was a slam-dunk, a no brainer”, on page 292 events are “shifted into fast forward”.

On page 294 “Modest and frugal, Griffith literally sold the shirt off his back to keep his newspapers alive.” Whilst I can appreciate and agree with the point Turi is apparently(?) trying to make here that Griffith often deprived himself of money which he diverted to ensure the survival of his political newspapers – the sentence quoted suggests that Arthur Griffith went bare-chested to a used shirt traders in Dublin to finance his newspapers!

While I can appreciate that these seemingly grammatical mistakes may be the result of the many cultural and linguistic-dialectic differences between America and Ireland , it should be noted that other American / Irish American historians writing about the same period such as T. Ryle Dwyer and John Borgovono do not use similar phraseology in their work and take some care to tailor it to their Irish readership. I do not mean to ‘nit pick’ or become pedantic in highlighting these grammatical / descriptive errors which seem trivial when taken individually, occur so often through out the text that they become infuriating.

There are no attempts at impartiality of language or tone throughout the book
British soldiers are described as ‘screaming deamons’ Cromwell is the ‘plague of all plagues’. Orangemen and Irish Unionists are ‘Unionist goon’s’ Members of the Anti- Treaty I.R.A. during the Civil War are described as ‘IRA dissidents’ a heavily politicised, and ‘loaded’ modern political term connected with the post 1998 peace process.

De Valera is described by Turoi using imagery which is suggest to my mind the forces of the occult – the implication being as far as I could see that De Valera was a tool of evil. “Eamonn De Valera cast his long black shadow on events…” De Valera’s supposed British allies are “screaming demons”. Page 66 “Eamonn De Valera, forsaking martyrdom, made his Faustian pact with the Devil…” Or if the Prince of Darkness isn’t harsh enough how about Hitler! Page 450 “De Valera’s extremists in the Irish Republican Army were the Irish version of Hitler’s Brown Shirt enforcers.”

The only redeeming features in the whole book are Mr. Turi’s critical examination of the many myth’s surrounding of De Valera’s parentage in Chapter 2, and the examination of De Valera’s poor performance as a military commander during the 1916 Rising in Chapter 4. These deservingly challenge propaganda myths later created around De Valera’s early life and career, by sympathetic historians. Perhaps if Mr. Turi had not indulged in fantastic conspiracy theories, and firmly grounded himself in factual evidence, he might have produced a poor to fair critical biography of De Valera worth reading.

Finally to make matters worse Turi continually makes scathing and insulting references to a whole host of Irish historians and previous De Valera biographers including Longford and O Neill, Desmond Ryan, Joe Whelan, Dorothy Mc Ardle, T.Ryle Dwyer and Tim Pat Coogan. He seemingly regards them all as incompetents for not discovering De Valera’s alleged role as a British spy. These attacks are counter productive to Mr. Turi’s argument, and give the impression that not only is he a ‘conspicary nut’, he is also a bitter ‘crank’.

This book is not a work to be tossed aside lightly – it should hurled away from the reader with great force! It has often been said with regard to publishing that “Paper never refused ink.” I would suggest that if Mr. Turi publishes any other similar works in the future that he uses softer and more absorbent paper! The great tragedy here is that Mr Turi’s unfounded conspiracy ramblings will receive far more media attention and airtime, because of their controversial nature, than more deserving, thought provoking and well researched books on the period that have been recently published such as Terrence O Reilly’s “Rebel Heart – George Lennon Flying Column Commander”, William Sheehan’s “Hearts And Mines” or T.Ryle Dwyers “Michael Collins The Man Who Won The War”

In Turi’s interview with Fiona Audley for the Irish Post newspaper, the author commented about De Valera: “I don’t have enough bad words to say about him.” Having taken the time to read and suffer through all 462 pages of it, it is my humble opinion that the same could be said about Mr. Turi’s book! So I think I’ll end it here…

If the above arguments have failed to convince you that the book is a “feeble effort” ( The authors own modest description. Preface Page xi) then you might be interested in listening to Tim Pat Coogan in debate with Mr. Turi on the Pat Kenny Radio show, available by podcast at the below link.

Padraig Óg Ó RuaircPádraig Óg Ó Ruairc is originally from Co. Clare but now lives in Cork. He works seasonally for the Irish Heritage Service at Fort Charles in Kinsale and is currently researching the Anglo-Irish Truce for a Ph D in the University of Limerick.

He is the author of Blood On The Banner and The Battle For Limerick City.

He is the administrator for the website a resource page dedicated to making public new research about the War of Independence in Clare and Galway.

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