Major General James Emmet Dalton MC 18981978

Considering that Emmet Dalton was a Secretary to the Senate, played such a prominent role in the IRA during the Anglo-Irish War, commanded the artillery that attacked the Four Courts, broke the back of the 'Munster Republic' and was with Collins when he was killed at Real na mBlatli it is astonishing that so little information about his life seems to have survived. His name crops up again and again in accounts of Ireland's revolution yet a casual search of

Emmet Dalton Ireland

the internet turns up very little. He left no published memoirs and except for a series of interviews for RTF no biography of Emmet Dalton has yet been written.

Born in the USA on Friday 4 March 1898, Dalton grew up at 8 Upper St Columbus Road, Drumcondra, a solidly middle-class Catholic suburb of Dublin, and was educated by the Christian Brothers at their school in North Richmond Street. The O'Connell School still survives and has an extensive museum commemorating its old boys; however, neither Dalton nor Brendan Finucane - the youngest wing commander in the RAF during World War 11 - receives a mention in it,

Dalton's father was a third-generation Irish-American Republican who had returned to Ireland in 1900 and his family's political activism probably explains why he joined the Dublin Volunteers at their inaugural meeting in 1913 at the tender age of 15 and was actively Involved in smuggling arms by the time he was 16. His younger brother Charlie also joined and went on to become a member of Collins' inner circle.

Much to the chagrin of his father, in 1915 Dalton answered Redmond's call to arms, joining, at 17, the British Army as a temporary 2nd lieutenant in the 7th (Service) (Dublin 1'als) Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF). By 1916 he was attached to the 9th Battalion, RDF, 48th Infantry Brigade, 16th Irish Division under Major-General W.B. Hlckie. Most of the officers and men in this Division were Redmondite Home-Rulers and like Dalton were horrified by the news of the Easter Rising.

Major General Emmet Dalton MC. Director of Operations of the National Army and architect of the Free State victory in the south-west. He was with Collins when he died. (Corbis)

!t was whilst serving with the 9th 'Dubs' that Dalton befriended an old acquaintance of his father, Lieutenant Tom Kettle MP, the 36-year-old Nationalist MP for East Tyrone and Professor of Economics at University College Dublin. It was Kettle who had famously declared that Irishmen should fight 'not for England, but for small nations', a sentiment that Dalton seemed to fully endorse. Kettle hoped that, 'with the wisdom which is sown in tears and blood, this tragedy of Europe |World War l| may be and must be the prologue to the two reconciliations of which all statesmen have dreamed, the reconciliation of Protestant Ulster with Ireland, and the reconciliation of Ireland with Great Britain'.

By the summer of 1916 the 16th Irish Division were fully embroiled in the bloody battle of the Somme. On 9 September 9 RDF attacked the Germans near the village of Ginchy and Kettle, then acting as OC B Company, was shot and killed within sight of Dalton. The fighting around Ginchy was bloody and along with Kettle over 4,314 Irishmen became casualties; 1,167 of them were never to see Ireland again. It was also a battle where heroism went hand in hand with sacrifice. Dalton was amongst those recognized for their courage and was awarded the Military Cross whilst Lieutenant John Holland of the Leinsters won a Victoria Cross.

For the rest of his life Dalton was known as 'Ginchy'. According to his Military Cross citation he 'led forward to their final objective companies which had lost their officers. Later whilst consolidating his position, he found himself with one sergeant, confronted by 21 of the enemy, including an officer, who surrendered when he attacked them.' Later that year King George V presented him with his medal at Buckingham Palace. In many respects it was typical of the courage he demonstrated throughout this military career and such was his pride in the award that on occasion he even wore the ribbon on his NA uniform.

By 1917 Dalton had returned to his old battalion, 7 RDF, 30 Brigade, 1001 Irish Division in Palestine where he first commanded a rifle company and then became OC of a sniping school. By 1918 what was left of 7 RDF along with A/Major Emmet Dalton MC redeployed to the Western Front. Speculation that he once served on the staff of Sir 1 lenry Wilson is unfounded, as is the unsubstantiated innuendo that he was a British spy and shot Collins.

Like thousands of other Irish soldiers he returned to Ireland after the war. Whilst Dalton was 'away at the wars' his brother Charlie was an active Volunteer who became a member of Collins' 'Squad', his hand-picked team of assassins, and was one of the participants in the Bloody Sunday killings of 21 November 1920. It is unclear whether he used the German pistol his brother had given him as a souvenir.

It was probably inevitable, given Charlie's connections and his military experience, that Dalton rejoined the Volunteers on leaving the army. As a disillusioned Redmondite he probably felt that after the 1918 General F.lection the Dail and the IRA best represented the will of the Irish people. He had fought for Ireland during World War 1 and once said that he had no difficulty fighting for Ireland with the British or fighting for Ireland against the British.

Regardless of his personal beliefs Dalton developed a close friendship with Collins and in an interview screened by RTF. on the day he died in 1978 said, '1 loved him. I use no other word. 1 loved him as a man loves another man, with pure love.'

When Sean MacF.oin was captured in March 1921 it was Dalton who led the attempt to rescue him from Mountjoy Gaol. Dressed in his old uniform and leading members of Collins' 'Squad', he had devised a plan that was typically daring and involved a stolen armoured car, British Army uniforms and a lot of luck. Dalton and Joe Leonard, dressed as British officers, managed to hluff their way into the Governor's office on the pretence of moving MacEoin to another prison before they were rumbled and shooting broke out near the prison gate. Although the rescue attempt failed Dalton managed to extract his raiding party intact.

His raw courage as well as his wealth of military experience won him the admiration and trust of both Collins and Mulcahy. His membership of Collins' inner circle was also unusual, as he does not appear to have been a member of the 1RB. His loyalty to Collins was purely personal rather than doctrinal and despite his pedigree as an cx-Hritlsh officer he rose rapidly through the IRA's ranks to command the Active Service Units during the failed attack on the Customs House in May 1921. In addition he became the first Director of Munitions and, by the time the Truce was agreed In July 1921, the Director of Training for the IRA.

When Collins was nominated to go to London as part of the Irish peace delegation Dalton was dismayed that the 'Big Fella? would be negotiating with the British but accompanied him nonetheless as his military advisor and head of security. He felt that the Treaty was the best deal that Ireland could get and true to his loyalty to Collins he came out in support of it.

In January 1922 Dalton became a brigadier in the new NA when his unit was absorbed into the Dublin Guards, Along with J.J. 'Ginger' O'Connell and John Prout who had both served in the US Army, Dalton was one of the few senior officers in the NA with formal military training. When Dalton's troops began shelling the Four Courts on 28 June 1922 he even helped aim and fire the borrowed British guns for their inexperienced crews.

Dalton's real coup de main, however, was his amphibious attack on Cork on 8 August 1922, Michael Hayes told Mulcahy that the attack broke 'all the rules of common sense and navigation and military science'. Without charts and at one point holding a gun to the head of the captain of his ship, the Arvonia, Dalton put ashore 456 men, an armoured car and an 181b gun outside Cork. According to Tom Crofts 'there was panic'

People line the street in Dublin as the funeral procession of Michael Collins passes by on its way to City Hall where he lay in state before burial. 5 September 1922. (Corbis)

People line the street in Dublin as the funeral procession of Michael Collins passes by on its way to City Hall where he lay in state before burial. 5 September 1922. (Corbis)

Emmet Dalton Productions Ireland Film

and, after fighting at Rochestown and Douglas, Cork fell to Dalton on the 9th, making a Saorstat victory almost inevitable. In fact Dalton complained bitterly that the war could have been brought to a close in September 1922 if troops had also attacked overland from Dublin at the same time.

On 12 August the now Major-General Dalton was appointed General Officer Commanding, Southern Command. He announced that it was his avowed aim to restore normality to the city and helped establish a temporary police force until the Garda arrived on 16 September. In late August Collins was in Co. Cork, ostensibly on an inspection tour but also attempting to make contact with leading Republicans to end the war; according to Coogan's biography of Collins, Dalton had been central to this 'peace' process and acted as an intermediary.

When Collins was warned that it was not safe for him to drive around the county he told local NA commander Joe Sweeney that, 'whatever happens, my fellow countrymen won't kill me'. When the l!iA ambushed Collins' convoy on 22 August Dalton had shouted, 'Drive like hell' but Collins contradicted him, Dalton attributed Collins' death to his lack of combat experience: 'if Mick had ever been in a scrap he would have learned to stay down'.

To this day no one really knows what happened at Beal na mBlath but it was obvious that Collins' death affected Dalton. When he returned from his honeymoon in September 1922 his heart was no longer in the fight. He objected to the execution of captured Irregulars and resigned his commission in December to work briefly as the Secretary to the Senate. In a military career that had spanned eight years he had become a retired major-general at 24 on a pension of £.117 per annum.

Despite being an accomplished soldier Dalton had always been interested in the cinema and by the late 1920s was working as a film producer who gained some trans-Atlantic success. In the late 1950s he helped establish the Irish Ardmore Studios where the films The Blue Max, The Spy who Came in from the Cold and The Lion in Winter were filmed in the 1960s.

After 1922 Dalton never held a military appointment again even though Lord Mountbatten offered him the command of an Irish special operations unit in World War 11. Dalton declined, preferring to follow the 'sport of kings' - horseracing - and produce his movies. On his 80th birthday, 4 March 1978, Emmet Dalton died in Dublin, barely commemorated by the Slate he did so much to create.

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Responses

  • jouko
    Why is so little info or talk about emmet dalton. no books wrote about him. ?
    3 years ago
  • Pupa
    Did emmet dalton kill michael collins?
    1 year ago

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