Inward-looking and indifferent are words often applied to mid-twentieth-century Ireland, which shunned the realities of the wider world, and in particular of World War II, to pursue policies of self-sufficiency and neutrality. It is refreshing therefore to discover that in the late 1930s Ireland produced an Institute of International Affairs with a membership dedicated to widening Irish horizons through the discussion of international issues. Although the study group was set up to pursue knowledge and understanding, the political establishment perceived it to be a subversive presence and by the time of its demise in 1950s the Institute had suffered the full rigours of state and church oppression, the blighting effects of cultural nationalism and the personal ire of Eamon de Valera.
Mick McCarthy’s fascinating exploration of the turbulent history of this little-known study group re-creates an era of censorship, military surveillance, communist scares, international diplomacy and espionage, and political and administrative manoeuvrings. Two of the Institute’s more public controversies - the visit of Czech minister-in-exile Jan Masaryk and the Apostolic Nuncio’s walk out during a debate on Yugoslavia - became moments of cultural and intellectual importance in the development of modern Ireland. International Affairs at Home examines these incidents in detail and in so doing enhances our understanding of the tensions at play in a very different Ireland.