Diarmuid Fawsitt, An Unusual Diplomat
In September 1919, with the War of Independence raging in the Irish countryside, across the Atlantic the fledgling State had appointed Jerimiah (Diarmuid) L. Fawsitt as Consul General in New York and led the first official Irish Trade Commission. The United States was vital as pressure on the Wilson administration would be vital in achieving legitimacy and the diaspora on the far side of the Atlantic would be both a source of fundraising for the campaign against the British and an important trading partner when Independence was won. The Consulate opened offices located at Suite 404 in 280 Broadway, Manhattan and Fawsitt was the first appointee of the new Dail Eireann.
He was born in Bandon, Co. Cork and made his name as the Secretary of the Cork Industrial Development Association. He forcefully encouraged overseas business to both invest in Ireland and to trade with Ireland. One of his great successes was encouraging Henry Ford to build his first car factory outside the United States in Cork. When DeValera arrived in the U.S. in June 1919, he introduced Ford to DeValera. As a fellow Corkonian he also enjoyed a very close relationship with Michael Collins and was pro-treaty when the peace arrived.
The son of a Cork builder, he joined the IRB in February 1904. In 1911, he married Tipperary born Kathleen Kenny and the couple see eleven children born up to the youngest Ethna in 1931. Fawsitt became President of the Executive of the Volunteers in Cork which he helped found in 1913. He was involved with Sir Roger Casement and helped to fund the arms shipment from Germany in advance of the Easter Rising. In 1915 he was ordered by the British authorities to leave Cork and he travelled across the Atlantic and went on a lecture tour laying the ground work for his appointment as the first Irish Consul in New York in 1919.
Even before his departure for the United States, in January 1919 he received a polite rebuff from the White House after inviting President Woodrow Wilson to visit Cork. He battled hard to improve direct trade between Ireland and the United States and throughout 1919 battled to get a direct shipping route from the East Coast of America to Cork striking a deal with the Moore and McCormack Line. Much of the then trade traveled by ship across the Atlantic to Liverpool and Southampton before being then sent onwards to Ireland. While serving in New York he had several run ins with fellow Irish-American James O’Mara, who complained to Dublin about the extravagance of the Irish consulate in NY and at one stage refused to pay a $32,000 maintenance bill eventually the dispute forced DeValera himself to step in and resolve the issue. In an era where rumour and gossip often had an impact on views, Fawsitt was rumoured at one time to be involved on the orders of DeValera to kill James Larkin while he was in the US. Larkin was seen as an agitator and troublemaker and was now overly welcomed back to Ireland in the early days of the new State.
In August 1920 left the job and returned to Ireland He was officially replaced in October 1921 by Belfast man Joseph Connolly. In 1920 he traveled across the US to San Francisco to take part in the welcoming committee for the controversial Australian Archbishop Daniel Mannix and he wrote a moving obituary in the US newspaper for his former schoolmate the late Thomas McCurtain, the Cork Lord Mayor who had died on hunger strike. Fawsitt was an economic advisor at the Anglo-Irish Treaty negotiations in 1922 and subsequently became an assistant secretary of the Department of Industry and Commerce (1922-23), and in this position played a role in developing the scheme for compensation and reconstruction following the burning of Cork in December 1920
Fawsitt went on to become a leading Judge and he died April 1967 and is buried in Sutton, Dublin along with his wife who pre-deceased him. Their grandson Duncan Stewart is a well-known television personality, while their daughters Sheila, Kathleen and Marie had roles in the 1937 film Some Say Chance.