University of Limerick
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‘The special combination of qualities and experiences desirable in diplomacy is less frequently found in women than in men’: A study of the entry into and experiences of female diplomats in the Irish Department of External Affairs/Foreign Affairs, 1919-86

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posted on 2023-09-27, 07:58 authored by Ann Marie O’Brien

The above comment, expressed by Irish Minister to The Hague Josephine McNeill, to Secretary for External Affairs, Seán Nunan in 1953, demonstrates a prevalent opinion about female diplomats which were held by men, and evidently some women, which pervaded the Department of Foreign Affairs in the first fifty years of its existence. McNeill was appointed Ireland’s first female head of mission in 1950 and until the 1970s there were few women who held diplomatic status in the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs. Their participation in Irish foreign policy has been overlooked in historical accounts on Ireland’s foreign affairs.

This is the first full study to examine the appointment to and experiences of women in the Department of Foreign Affairs from its creation in 1919 until 1986. It asks two central research questions, firstly, was there a female presence in the Irish foreign service during the period under study, and secondly, did women have an effect on the formulation and implementation of Irish foreign policy? In seeking to answer these questions a gender analysis has been applied to this study. It will locate gender in Irish foreign policy by identifying the appointment of women to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the posts allocated to women and the policy areas in which women were involved. The central argument of this thesis is that women were involved in and participated in Irish foreign affairs throughout the twentieth century. Ultimately, by including these women in the formulation and implementation of Irish foreign policy, this thesis seeks to provide a deeper and fuller understanding of Irish foreign affairs which has hitherto been overlooked in the historical scholarship.



  • Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences


  • Doctoral

First supervisor

Bernadette Whelan

Other Funding information

I wish to acknowledge the financial assistance afforded to me by the award of a Postgraduate Scholarship by the Irish Research Council

Department or School

  • History

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