"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
Halliday Sutherland met Eamon de Valera on two occasions. He wrote about these meetings in his 1956 book Irish Journey. This is Sutherland’s account of their first meeting on March 25th 1935:
On the Monday forenoon Mr. de Valera, the Prime Minister, received me at the Government Buildings. I was there at 11 a.m. Four plain clothes detectives guarded the foot of the staircase that led to the Prime Minister’s rooms. Miss Kathleen O’Connell, his private secretary, was at the top of the staircase and I went up. She led me along a corridor and at the far end showed me into a room on the left-hand side. There was no one in the room. It was a large room with three doors. As I laid my hat and overcoat on the table I had the curious impression I was being watched. On looking round I could see no place from which I might be observed. In any case it did not matter. I was unarmed. Miss O’Connell then opened the door on the other side of the corridor and announced me. As the door of this room clicked behind her I noticed there was no handle on the inside.
Mr. de Valera gave me a very friendly reception, He congratulated me on the lecture the previous night which he had been unable to attend. He asked if I represented any newspaper or if our talk was off the record. On hearing that our talk would be private he gave me an arm-chair where I sat facing him in the small room. He sat behind a desk which was in front of the wall next the door. Behind his chair was another door. This had a handle on the inside. These arrangements did not surprise me. At this time there were many fanatics in Ireland who believed they would serve their country by shooting de Valera.
He is a tall, lean, clean-shaven man with strong ascetic features. At this time his Government was concerned about the activities of the I.R.A., the illegal Irish Republican Army. I remarked that one of the consequences of the civil war was that some people thought that every domestic difference should be settled by force.
“Well,” said de Valera, “my arms are buried.”
“I hope, sir, they are rusted.”
He smiled and assured me he would never raise his hand against England. This I believed. He was always a brave and generous enemy. I wondered about the strange fate that had changed the Professor of Mathematics at Blackrock College into a great Irish statesman. His opponents say he is Jesuitical. To prove this they tell an amusing but apocryphal story of his boyhood in Ireland.
When he was ten he and another boy of the same age were once told to buy a loaf of bread and to bring it home. This they did, each carrying a loaf under his ‘oxter’. We have that word in Scotland also. It means the space between the arm and the chest. As they walked home each began eating his loaf. As they neared home the other boy said, “We’ll get into trouble for this.” They walked on. Then he said, “I’ll say you ate mine. You say I ate yours. Then we won’t get into trouble.”
“No,” said de Valera, “we can’t say that. It wouldn’t be true.”
They walked on. Then he said, “I know what to do. We’ll change loaves.”
That evening I returned to England.
From Irish Journey by Dr Halliday Sutherland.
Next post 1 October 2015: Halliday Sutherland’s second meeting with de Valera, in which he hears the true story about the escape from Lincoln Jail.
Click here for Part 2.