Buying Russian Hemp During The War Of Independence
By Brian Houlihan
During the War of Independence the Irish Republic sought not only recognition from Russia but also hemp. The elections of December 1918, the first after the 1916 Rising, saw over 100 Sinn Féin TD’s elected. After refusing to take their seats in Westminster the first Dáil met in Dublin and declared an independent Irish Republic on January 21st 1919.
It was this self-proclaimed Republic that fought the War of Independence (1919-1921) which lead to the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the formation of the Irish state. As the fledgling Republic sought international recognition it reached out to Soviet Russia, itself a ‘new state’. During this period the Soviets were seemingly the only state to seriously consider recognition of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic.
Interestingly the Russian Revolution of 1917 had in part been inspired by the 1916 Rising with many of the Russian revolutionaries citing the Irish experience. Roddy Connolly, the son of James Connolly, even attended the Second World Congress of the Communist International in 1920.
In 1920 the two countries took part in a secret loan deal which saw a selection of Russian crown jewels exchanged for $20,000. The jewels would remain in Ireland for three decades before being returned. A draft treaty between the two states was even drawn up. However historian E. H. Carr suggests that “the negotiations were not taken very seriously on either side.”
Patrick McCartan, a Republican politician, was sent to Russia to secure recognition and trade for the Republic. However by this time “the Soviets had gone cold on ties with the Republic for fear of jeopardising trade negotiations with Britain” according to historian Emmet O’Connor.
Despite the cooling in relations Patrick McCartan pushed for trade deals which included the purchasing of Russian hemp. He wrote a letter to a Mr. Weinstein in Moscow on May 13th 1921 outlining some of the possibilities. Concerns were expressed over credit but if guarantees could be assured then in return Ireland “could take flax, hemp, bristles, furs, hides and perhaps other things.”
Ultimately relations between the two countries amounted to very little for decades. In fact it’s quite fascinating to see the fledgling Irish Republic reach out to the Soviets. As within a short period, once the Catholic hierarchy came to prominence, Ireland had limited interactions with Russia beyond denouncing them.
You can read the McCartan letter in full here. There are countless other fascinating documents available on the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy website.