Stepping onto the world stage

A look at Irish foreign policy in the 1950s

Stepping onto the world stage

The Passport of Joseph Heapes issued in 1951 photography by Máire Uí Éafa

Sandwiched between the Second World War and Swinging Sixties the 1950s tend to be an overlooked decade in history. Yet some of the most profound changes and greatest moments occurred in these 'quite' ten years. Ireland in particular went through significant change.

Ireland today is renowned as a cosmopolitan island that attracts foreign investment and students in equal measure. This hasn't always been the case though and for a great part of the 20th century, while the Irish people emigrated to every corner of the world, the Emerald Isle was largely ignored in international affairs. 

This was particularly true in the wake of the Second World War. A neutral nation in a world at war Ireland became internationally isolated as the belligerents rebuilt in the post-war period and began to square up for the coming Cold War. This period of isolation reached its nadir in the first half of the 1950s.

1955 brought massive change as Ireland became a member of the United Nations. Welcomed in from the cold Ireland found itself back at the table with the US and her western allies. This began a new and interesting chapter in Irish history as the UN took a central position to Ireland's foreign policy.

The full extent of this change in foreign policy would become evident in 1958 when Irish peacekeepers were deployed to the Lebanon. This fundamentally changed the nature of Ireland's neutrality and relationship to the wider world. In the six decades following 1955 Ireland would build its international reputation from an agrarian Atlantic backwater to a world player in technology, film, culture, foreign investment, and the arts.

The latest volume in the Documents on Irish Foreign Policy series collects and analyses the years 1951-57 that so fundamentally changed Ireland's relationship with the wider world. Join Patrick as he talks with a panel of experts about the documents in this publication, the amazing decade they chronicle, and how Ireland was changed as a result.