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Michael MacWhite Soldier and Diplomat.

Printed From: The Gallipoli Association
Category: Research
Forum Name: French Biographical profiles
Forum Description: Biographical profiles of those who served with French contingents
Printed Date: 14 Oct 2019 at 13:01
Software Version: Web Wiz Forums 10.12 -

Topic: Michael MacWhite Soldier and Diplomat.
Posted By: Mal Murray
Subject: Michael MacWhite Soldier and Diplomat.
Date Posted: 01 May 2015 at 14:27
I have finally found an Irish born soldier who served at Gallipoli with the French forces and his life makes for interesting reading.

Michael MacWhite was born in 1883 in Reenogreena, County Cork. In his early twenties he travelled extensively in central Europe, Scandinavia and western Russia. He studied agricultural co-operation and high school teaching in Denmark, worked as a newspaper correspondent, and fought for Bulgaria in the first Balkan War in 1912. A born adventurer, he joined the French Foreign Legion in 1913 and saw action on the battlefields of France, Greece and Turkey. 

He was wounded at Gallipoli and Macedonia and received the Croix de Guerre three times for his valour in combat. Highly regarded within the army, he was selected to lead a French military mission to the United States to raise the 'Fourth Liberty Loan'.

Following the Great War, he returned to Dublin to his old friend, Arthur Griffith and offered his services to the fledgling Dail Eireann. In January 1919 Harry Boland sent him to Paris with the Declaration of Independence, the Provisional Constitution and the democratic programme that had just been adopted. MacWhite succeeded in getting these seditious documents published in Paris. He also became the Paris correspondent for the United Irishman and Arthur Griffith's paper, Young Ireland. George Gavan Duffy, envoy for the Government of the Republic, offered him the post of secretary to the Irish Legation to the Pairs Peace Conference in 1919.

In 1921, MacWhite was sent to Geneva as Dáil Éireann representative to Switzerland on the establishment of the League of Nations. MacWhite unintentionally made a significant indirect intervention in the Dáil debate on the Treaty. In the last speech before the vote, Arthur Griffith quoted from one of MacWhite's letters from Geneva, reporting world opinion as being in favour of the Treaty.

Following admission of the newly formed Irish Free State to the League of Nations in 1923, MacWhite was appointed permanent Free State delegate to the League. He played a very active role in League affairs and helped to secure the Free State's position as separate from that of the British Empire.

In 1929, MacWhite was appointed Minister Plenipotentiary and Envoy Extraordinary of the Irish Free State to the United States, with a mandate to consolidate and encourage existing ties between Irish America and Ireland and to promote trade agreements between the two countries. He was an extremely energetic and popular diplomat in Washington circles and succeeded in cultivating contacts with the powerful Irish-American community and the Catholic hierarchy.
MacWhite's next diplomatic posting was to Rome in 1938. This was an altogether different experience, the international situation making the Fascist government suspicious of foreign diplomats. When war broke out, MacWhite, as representative of a neutral country, was responsible for the Irish citizens in Rome, most of whom were clergy. He arranged travel documentation for those wishing to return to Ireland and protected the property of those who wished to stay.

MacWhite retired in 1950 with the personal rank of Ambassador, having served as a diplomat for Ireland for 30 years. In correspondence with writer Seán Ó Faoláin in 1949, he wrote: 'I am laying down the wand of office with no regrets. I have got as much out of life as any man could hope for. I have travelled a long distance from a thatched farm house on the top of File-na-Shouk, a mile or so south of Glandore, to the Palaces of Kings and Presidents and to hold my own amongst them, is I suppose, something to brag about.'

MacWhite died in 1958 and is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery.

To protect our history, we must secure it's future.

Posted By: Mal Murray
Date Posted: 01 May 2015 at 14:34
The following story about MacWhite shows how strongwilled a man he was.

MacWhite knew the founder of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith, and after the end of the war he offered his services to the movement. Sinn Féin sent him to Paris, where he became part of the team that included Sean T. O’Kelly and George Gavan Duffy who worked out of the Grand Hotel in a propaganda and lobbying campaign designed to swing the international public opinion behind Irish independence during the Paris Peace Treaty negotiations in Versailles.

The efforts of the Irish were only intermittently successful. The French authorities were anxious not to upset their British allies (who engaged in counter-propaganda against the Sinn Féiners in Paris), and actually expelled Gavan Duffy in September 1920.

It may well be that Gavan Duffy’s expulsion was in retaliation for a memorable stunt pulled off by MacWhite three months earlier. On June 27, 1920, a large ceremony was organised to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Admiral Lazare Hoche (the ceremony should have been held two years earlier, but had been delayed by the war). Given Hoche’s command of the ill-fated naval expedition to Bantry Bay in December 1796, the representatives of Ireland’s provisional government felt they could legitimately participate in the ceremony. MacWhite, by now officially the secretary to the Irish delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, went to see the mayor of Versailles, Henri Saint-Mleux. According to MacWhite himself, the mayor gave the Irish the green light to partake in the ceremony but to "act discretely and avoid publicity". Saint-Mleux also apparently agreed with the idea that the Irish should be able to place a bronze palm on Hoche’s statue with the inscription Hommage de l’Irlande reconnaissante, 1798-1920.

 Hoche parade some years after MacWhite's exploit For the purposes of the ceremony a platform was erected in front of Hoche’s statue from which a collection of French notables and members of the diplomatic corps were to review a procession of 5,000 soldiers marching down the wide avenue between the town hall and the statue on the Place Hoche. It so happened that MacWhite had yet to be officially demobbed and could still wear the uniform of an officer of the Foreign Legion. Which is what he did on that Sunday in June 1920. The rest of the story is best left to MacWhite himself.
“As the party with huge wreaths passed the town hall, I slipped out at a slight interval bearing the Irish tribute. As I was dressed in a military uniform, decorated with the Croix de guerre and the fourragère of the Legion of Honour people wondered who I was and what I represented. I was thought of a delegate from the Foreign Legion (…) The large weaths were placed on the right and left of Hoche's statue. I placed my tribute in front at his feet, retreated three steps and gave the military salute, then turned around and saluted those on the platform. After the bands had played the Marsellaise I disappeared into the crowd. My work was done. The British military attaché reported the matter to his chief, and an energetic protest from the British embassy followed to the French foreign office “against the French military authorities for permitting a bronze palm with so-called Irish republican colours to be carried on the military processions”...
A special meeting of the French cabinet was convened to decide on a reply to the British protest, but neither Gavan Duffy nor MacWhite were ever questioned on the matter. However, the mayor of Versailles found himself in hot water. In a newspaper article in the French edition of the New York Herald that carried the headline: ‘Versailles Mayor gives recognition to Fenians’, it was even mentioned that the mayor "was in danger of losing his job". In the event, Saint-Mleux held on to his job and Gavan Duffy was expelled, supposedly for an unrelated incident. But of the “bronze palm” the Irish apparently left in homage to Admiral Hoche there is no sign today." rel="nofollow -

To protect our history, we must secure it's future.

Posted By: momsirish
Date Posted: 08 Aug 2015 at 23:22
Hi Mal: What a great piece of history, thanks for keeping us informed.   That MacWhite traveled so much as a young man in those times was a sign of his resourcefulness.    His learning to speak several languages and then surviving two wars and showing an obvious ability to influence others put him in a great position to help the development of free Ireland.   That others recognized his abilities and used them is a credit to those leading Ireland. in those growing years.   

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