A biography of Daniel Binchy reveals that the future Irish ambassador to Berlin recognized the influence of Adolf Hitler’s inflammatory oratory long before the Nazi dictator would rise to power. Binchy was one of the first to warn the world of the incredible power Hitler had as an orator.
Daniel Binchy, who would go on to become the Irish ambassador to Berlin between 1929 and 1932, was just a young Irish student when he first spotted Hitler speaking inside a Munich beer hall in 1921, the Guardian reported
In a diary entry about a trip to Munich’s Bürgerbräukeller in November 1921, Binchy writes of a man with a “carefully docked ‘toothbrush’ mustache” giving off an “impression of insignificance.” This man was Adolf Hitler.
However, when the virtually unknown Hitler started to speak, Binchy was shocked at the transformation.
“Here was a born natural orator. He began slowly, almost hesitatingly, stumbling over the construction of his sentences, correcting his dialect pronunciation. Then all at once he seemed to take fire. His voice rose victorious over falterings, his eyes blazed with conviction, his whole body became an instrument of rude eloquence.
“As his exaltation increased, his voice rose almost to a scream, his gesticulation became a pantomime, and I noticed traces of foam at the corners of his mouth.
“He spoke so quickly and in such a pronounced dialect that I had great difficulty in following him, but the same phrases kept recurring all through his address like motifs in a symphony: the Marxist traitors, the criminals who caused the revolution, the German army which was stabbed in the back, and – most insistent of all – the Jews.”
“His purple passages were greeted with roars of applause, and when finally he sank back exhausted into his chair, there was a scene of hysterical enthusiasm which baffles description. As we left the meeting my friend asked me what I thought of this new party leader. With all the arrogance of 21 I replied: ‘A harmless lunatic with the gift of oratory.’ I can still hear his retort: ‘No lunatic with the gift of oratory is harmless.’”
The biography, The Lives of Daniel Binchy: Irish Scholar, Diplomat, Public Intellectual by Prof Tom Garvin, also reveals Binchy’s second encounter with Hitler in Berlin in 1930.
“In his speech, I found no change at all. Allowing for the altered place and circumstances, it was substantially the same address which I had heard in the Bürgerbräukeller. There were the same denunciations, the same digressions – and the same enthusiasm. At the conclusion of his speech the vast throng cheered itself hoarse. The obscure housepainter was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany.”
The book also includes a 1933 article written by Binchy and published in the influential journal ‘Studies,’ warning about the danger of Hitler and totalitarianism.
Binchy would later hold senior positions at University College Dublin, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, and Harvard. He was the uncle of bestselling Irish novelist Maeve Binchy.
* Originally published in 2016, updated in May 2023.