While working on my doctorate in the early 1970s, I had access to the manuscript of a memoir written by David Gray, US Minister (Ambassador) to Ireland from 1940 to 1947. It was so distorted, it was not worth publishing, but it has now been published by the Royal Irish Academy under the title, A Yankee in De Valera’s Ireland.
The files of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the wartime forerunner of the CIA, had not yet been released, so I wrote to David Bruce who had been in charge of the European theatre of the OSS during the war and had visited Dublin to discuss security matters in 1943.
His somewhat circumspect response provided clues between the lines. He seemed to damn Gray with irrelevant praise.
“Mr. Gray — a fine man, and a great authority on foxhunting and sport, about which he had written delightfully and authoritatively — had no previous familiarity with secret intelligence activities, and was somewhat suspicious of them,” Bruce wrote. “If you can locate ‘Spike’ Marlin, you would find him especially knowledgeable about the affairs in which you are interested.”
“The Irish worked with us on intelligence matters almost as if they were our allies,” J. Russell Forgan, Bruce’s deputy, assured me. “They have never received the credit due them.”
The OSS initially selected “Spike” Marlin as agent-in-charge in Ireland. Born Irving Hirsch, into a poor Jewish family in New York City in 1909, he became a Protestant and formally changed his name to Ervin Ross Marlin in 1928.
After working his passage to Ireland the following year, he enrolled at Trinity College, Dublin, where he earned a degree in Celtic Studies, before returning to the United States in 1932. He returned ten years later under the cover of an economic adviser at the American legation.
As Marlin’s reports were transmitted in the diplomatic pouch, Gray insisted on reading them. One of the earliest reports noted that Irish Minister for Posts & Telegraphs Paddy Little was pro-German. Gray demanded to know the source of this information.
Marlin reluctantly identified his source as junior minister Erskine Childers, a future President of Ireland. A few days later Marlin was confronted by an angry Childers, who told him that Gray had complained to the government about Little and went on to commit the appalling indiscretion of citing Childers as the source of the allegation.
Thereafter Marlin refused to divulge his sources, and relations with Gray became distinctly strained.
The Irish quickly realized that Marlin was an OSS agent, and Joe Walshe, Secretary of the Irish Department of External Affairs, suggested that Irish security cooperate directly with Marlin.
The latter wished to avail of the offer, but Gray balked. Hence David Bruce visited Dublin to meet with Walshe and Irish security chiefs — Garda Commissioner Paddy O’Carroll, and Colonel Dan Bryan, head of G2 (Irish Military Intelligence). Bruce was convinced the Irish were serious about helping. Gray wrote to Walshe that Bruce and was “hopeful that some mutually useful arrangement may come out of it.” But he added rather pointedly, “I am not responsible for Mr. Marlin.”
The Irish supplied Marlin with voluminous reports on IRA strength, radio interceptions, airplane and submarine sightings, the names and addresses of people in America to whom German nationals living in Ireland — or pro-German Irish people — were writing, and files on German spies already captured. The information was so detailed that the “Éire Desk” at OSS headquarters in Washington found it necessary to prepare over 4,000 index cards on the individuals mentioned in the reports.
The OSS had already sent another undercover agent to Ireland — Rowland Blenner-Hassett. He was able to dismiss stories of Nazi intrigue, so he felt he was wasting his time in Ireland, especially after the offer to cooperate with Marlin. “So long as the American Government secures all the information its desires about the activities of the IRA in Ireland, it is a matter of indifference how, or by whom, this object is achieved,” Blenner-Hassett argued. Gray wanted him out, too, so he was recalled.
Marlin’s cover as an adviser at the American legation was no longer needed.
“I was relieved of my assignment under Gray,” Marlin told me. “He wanted me out also so we were at last in perfect agreement on one point.”
From April 30, l943 onwards Marlin worked out of London and returned to Dublin only periodically. Between visits, the Irish forwarded material to him in London in the Irish diplomatic pouch.
A third undercover OSS agent, Martin S. Quigley, arrived in Ireland in May and quickly realized Irish authorities were favorably disposed towards the Allies. As a result he was baffled by Gray’s attitude. “He never knew what was really going on, or if he did, he refused to accept the truth,” Quigley concluded.
That summer while Gray was in the United States for consultations, Marlin suggested that the Irish would likely provide the OSS with information from their diplomats in Germany, Italy and France. Carter Nicholas, the head of the Éire Desk at OSS Headquarters in Washington, visited Dublin with Marlin in September 1943 and asked Joe Walshe for such help.
After clearing the matter with the Taoiseach, Walshe read Nicholas and Marlin extracts from messages describing conditions in Germany, Italy, and France. He also agreed to send Marlin future reports of interest.
In the following weeks Marlin supplied questions for Walshe to ask the Irish representatives in Berlin, Rome and Vichy. Walshe then forwarded their replies to Marlin. In effect, Irish diplomats were being used as American spies.
While in the United States Gray met personally with President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He tried to persuade them to invite de Valera to join the Allies. He assured them the Taoiseach would refuse, but London and Washington were not taking any chance of Ireland coming in the war. They also rejected Gray’s suggestion that they ask for Irish bases, as the service chiefs were convinced those would only be a liability.
However, Gray did eventually persuade them to ask for the removal of Axis diplomats from Dublin. The OSS and British Intelligence were satisfied with Irish security, but went along somewhat reluctantly with Gray’s political ploy.
De Valera’s refusal was used in the Allied press to depict him as unsympathetic to the Allied cause. The whole thing was just a political stunt.
After the success of the D-Day landings, Marlin returned to the United States, and the OSS decided to station Edward Lawler in Dublin as liaison with Irish Intelligence.
“We received 100% co-operation from the Irish authorities,” Lawler wrote to me. “The cooperation and information we received from the Irish was every bit as extensive and helpful as it would have been if Ireland had been a full partner with us in the war effort.”
Thus all of the OSS agents in Ireland believed the Irish were fully cooperative with the Allies, but Gray claimed he had “better sources of information.” In his memoir, he argued that de Valera and Walshe secretly schemed for a German victory in the hope that Hitler would end partition.
Of course, he did have different sources. A strong believer in spiritualism, Gray was getting advice from supposed ghosts and he was passing this information on to the White House.
Shortly after arriving in Dublin, he wrote to Roosevelt about “the memories and the ghosts that are here” in his official residence in Phoenix Park, where the late British Prime Minister Arthur Balfour had lived as Chief Secretary of Ireland in the 1880s. Balfour had engaged in séances with the writing medium Geraldine Cummins, would go into a kind of trance and write out messages from supposed ghosts. She began holding séances in the residence for Gray.
On November 8, 1941 Balfour’s ghost supposedly warned Gray about Joe Walshe. “He, from what I can see, is hand and glove with the German Minister,” the message read. “The organization of Fifth Columnists in this country is now complete.” Walshe, the message added, “is the leading
At a further séance on December 2, 1941 Cummins produced a supposed message from the late President Theodore Roosevelt. “I want to tell you,” he supposedly wrote, “that I think Franklin will hold the Japs for a while; at any rate from our country’s point of view. I see no immediate Armageddon for young America, possibly not at all.”
This was the Tuesday before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but Gray’s conviction that he was in touch with those ghosts was not shaken. “Four days after this communication,” Gray wrote to President Roosevelt, “the Japs attacked Pearl Harbor. They had T.R. fooled. I suspect that if these communications come through pretty much as given our friends on the other side don’t know very much more than they did on this side.”
Gray later spent years writing his memoir but then he suddenly abandoned it around 1960, because, he said, the ghost of Franklin D. Roosevelt had advised him forget it.
*T. Ryle Dwyer is author of Behind the Green Curtain: Ireland’s Phoney Neutrality During World War II, which is published in hardback and paperback by Gill & Macmillan.