British Spies and Irish Rebels

June 2008
37 black and white, 1 line illustrations
540 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
History of British Intelligence
Library eBook
Boydell Press

British Spies and Irish Rebels

British Intelligence and Ireland, 1916-1945

Paul McMahon

The turbulent history of English/Irish intelligence reinterpreted, using documents now available for the first time.
One of the Irish Times' Books of the Year, 2008
Rebellion, partition and a messy peace settlement ensured that Ireland was a constant thorn in Britain's side after 1916. Britain was confronted by the bombs and bullets of militant republicans, the clandestine intrigues of foreign powers and the strategic dangers of Ireland's wartime neutrality - a final, irrevocable step in the country's difficult transition to independence.
Using newly-opened archives, this book reveals for the first time how the British intelligence system responded to these threats. It lifts the lid on the underground activities of Britain's secret agencies - MI5, MI6/SIS and the Special Branch. It puts secret intelligence in the context of the government's other sources of information and explores how deep-rooted cultural stereotypes distorted intelligence and shaped perceptions. And it shows how, for decades, British intelligence struggled to cope with Ireland but then rose to the challenge after 1940, largely because the Dublin government began to share its secrets. The author casts light on characters long kept in the shadows - IRA gunrunners, Bolshevik agitators, Nazi agents, Irish loyalists who acted as British spies. His compelling book fills a gap in the history of the British intelligence community and helps explain the twists and turns of Anglo-Irish relations during a time of momentous change.

PAUL MCMAHON gained his PhD from Cambridge University.

An e-book version of this title is available (9781846156144), to libraries through a number of trusted suppliers. See here for a full list of our partners.

Table of Contents

Losing Southern Ireland
Alarms, Excursions and Civil War
An International Conspiracy
Security and Sectarianism in Northern Ireland
British Images of Ireland
The Cosgave Years
The de Valera Challenge
England's Back Door
The Irish Fifth Column
Operational Intelligence
Debunking the Fifth Column
Opinion and Propaganda
Leakage of Information
Coming to Terms with Irish Independence


Melds impressive research and analysis with an entertaining writing style. JOURNAL OF IRISH AND SCOTTISH STUDIES

McMahon's excellent book traces the long path from the intelligence debacle of 1916-1921 to the successful security partnership of World War II. [...] McMahon succeeds admirably not only in illuminating intelligence and security issues, but also the wider trajectory of Anglo-Irish relations over the course of the twentieth century. AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW

Provides a well-written and impressively researched narrative history of British intelligence concerning Ireland between 1916 and 1945. [...] An important contribution to the scholarship of intelligence, and a worthy first volume in the Boydell Press History of British Intelligence series. JOURNAL OF BRITISH STUDIES

McMahon presents a fine account of this tumultuous history in the period of the 20th century's two world wars. [...] The writing is compelling, seamlessly integrating for the reader's delectation the stories of cowards and cads, heroes and buffoons, and smart spies and foolish politicians. Highly recommended. CHOICE

This sober and balanced book is a major contribution not simply to the history of British and Irish intelligence but to all those interested in the Anglo-Irish relationship in all its messy complexity. CONTEMPORARY BRITISH HISTORY

An exemplary study of the strengths and limitations of British intelligence on Ireland from the 1916 Rising to the end of the Second World War. [...] Excellent. DUBLIN REVIEW OF BOOKS
An important book and one that should inspire expansion into other studies. [...] An essential academic study for those interested in the British intelligence war in Ireland from 1916-45. CAMDEN NEW JOURNAL

[A] fascinating new study. [...] McMahon writes lucidly and sensibly on a subject that often attracts fevered treatment, and he makes excellent use of recently released intelligence material in both Irish and British archives. THE IRISH TIMES

This is an engaging and important assessment of a relationship that has many lessons for observers of contemporary Anglo-Irish politics. HIGHGATE AND HAMPSTEAD EXPRESS

Sets a high standard for the rest of the volumes in the series and I can thoroughly recommend it, not just for the light it shines on the work of the British intelligence services but on the wider political and diplomatic world of the period. LOBSTER

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