I’m pleased to welcome a contribution from Patrick O’Sullivan Greene, author of Crowdfunding the Revolution – The First Dáil Loan and the Battle for Irish Independence. His book tells the history of the fight for the revolutionary government’s funds, the bank inquiry that shook the financial establishment, and the first battle in the intelligence war. Patrick, of Killarney, Co. Kerry, is an activist shareholder for almost 20 years, award-winning equity analyst, and qualified Chartered Accountant. He can be reached via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn. MH
Money to Ireland
Michael Collins wanted to move to America in 1916, after spending 10 years in London, because the country offered “a fair chance to get ahead.” Fortunately for Ireland, he instead returned to Dublin to participate in the Easter Rebellion. Three years later he was appointed Minister for Finance in the Dáil government set up in open defiance of the British administration in Ireland. The counter-state government was determined not only to replace the Dublin Castle administration, but to implement its own industrial, financial, and trade policies.
The fledgling government launched an audacious plan to fund the counter-state by raising the equivalent of $35 million today. Half the money was to be raised in Ireland and half in America. Collins took charge of the Loan organisation in Ireland. Nothing was left to chance to ensure the success of the Loan by the young, energetic, and innovative Minister for Finance; 3 million promotional leaflets, 400,000 copies of the prospectus and 50,000 customized letters were printed and distributed throughout the country; full-page advertisements were submitted to national newspapers; a 7-minute promotional film was produced showing Collins seated at a table receiving Loan subscriptions from a who’s who of Irish revolutionary figures.
Despite British attempts to prohibit the Loan, Collins exceeded his target by 50 percent. On Feb. 10, 1920, he wrote to Éamon de Valera – who had gone to America to raise the external part of the Loan – that the British had attempted to suppress the Loan organisation with “determination and savagery.” Dublin Castle had even established a bank inquiry to locate and seize the funds secretly deposited in commercial banks.
The Loan in America initially faced regulatory and self-inflicted organisational setbacks. To such an extent that Harry Boland, who was also in America, wrote to Collins that “the organizing of this bond issue is a tremendous undertaking, and it is my judgement that you are now wanted here.” The temptation on Collins to leave must have been great, but he replied that he had too many responsibilities in Ireland, though he mysteriously added that “there is still only one thing that would take me away, and when the time comes for that, I’m off without delay.”
Although Boland would not get to meet Collins until he returned to Ireland for a visit in the summer of 1920, he did get to see him. A copy of the promotional film had been spirited across the Atlantic. After watching the film, Boland wrote to Collins to poke fun at his good friend: “That film of yourself…selling Bonds brought tears to my eyes. Gee Boy! You are some movie actor. Nobody could resist buying a bond and we have such a handsome minister of finance.”
When eventually the Loan was launched in America and the money needed to be transferred home, Collins was responsible for getting the funds safely and securely into the financial system in Ireland. Of course, he did not do this on his own. Daithi O’Donoghue was Collin’s right-hand man in finance matters. A former high-ranking civil servant dismissed for refusing to take the oath of allegiance, he made the banking arrangements after consulting with Collins. Vera McDonnell, who had come to Dublin in 1917 to study shorthand and typing, had been quickly recruited by Sinn Féin as a stenographer. She prepared the cablegrams and codes for the transfer of the American funds.
Corrigan & Corrigan, solicitors, also played an important role in laundering the Loan funds. The firm acted as a clearing house for particularly large cheques sent from America. A friendly firm of lawyers prepared the paperwork linking the funds to a legacy or some other seemingly legal activity. Corrigan & Corrigan would carry out any formalities that might be necessary and afterwards transfer the money to the custody of the Dáil government. That was only one method of getting the funds to Ireland.
Collins also sent a list of trusted individuals who agreed to receive bank drafts sent from the States. The Irish mission in America organised the issue of the bank drafts with friendly managers. Drafts were issued for an average amount of £14,500 ($1 million today) and were drawn on commercial banks in Dublin and London. The first bank draft was issued by the National City Bank of New York. The draft was for a massive £58,880 ($4M today). Drafts were also issued by Brown Brothers & Co., the Guaranty Trust Company of New York and Kountze Brothers, New York.
Drafts drawn on banks in London were sent to the recipients using the address of the Jermyn Court Hotel in Piccadilly. The hotel was used regularly by those in Ireland on political business in London. Private addresses were also used, including the London home of Erskine Childers, which was one of the first addresses used for the transfer of American funds.
The courier network operating between America and Ireland had been built up over many years. Individuals sent from Ireland on political and intelligence work brought messages and funds back on return journeys. New York and Boston based supporters of the republican movement took jobs on passenger ships above and below deck, to act as couriers and to provide support to those smuggled to America, including de Valera who made the journey as a stowaway.
One of the most successful initiatives of the young government was the establishment of the National Land Bank. A dummy corporation was used to cloak the investment of the Dáil in the new business. After a successful start in early 1920, Collins wanted more of the American Loan injected as capital into the bank. He asked the Dáil to authorise the investment of a further $500,000. The necessary drafts were couriered to Ireland from America.
The First Dáil Loan raised over $5.2 million in America. Plans were made for a second loan of $20 million. The Loan was launched Oct. 15, 1921, and raised $622,720 before being stopped when the treaty was signed two months later.
- Bureau of Military History: Statements of Vera McDonnell (1050), Daithi O’Donoghue (548), Elizabeth MacGinley (860) and Kitty O’Doherty (355).
- UCD Archives, De Valera papers, P150/1125.
- Hart, P. Mick: the real Michael Collins. Penguin, New York. 2006, p. 195.
- Lavelle, P. James O’Mara: the story of an original Sinn Féiner. History Publisher, Dublin, p. 186.
- Mitchell, A. Revolutionary government in Ireland: Dáil Éireann, 1919– 22. Gill and Macmillan, Dublin, 1995, p. 87.
- Michael Collins’ Own Story, Told to Hayden Talbot, Hutchinson & Company, Indiana University, 1923. (“a fair chance to get ahead”).