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Irish diplomat who searched for Russian crown jewels could not locate them

The Russian crown jewels
Cate McCurry

AN IRISH diplomat who went searching for the Russian crown jewels 40 years after they were returned to the Soviet Union said he was not able to locate them, recently released state papers reveal.

Documents made public under the 30-year rule show ambassador to the Soviet Union Tadhg O'Sullivan wrote to a daughter of Harry Boland after she contacted the Foreign Affairs Department about the four jewels.

Eileen Barrington wrote to the foreign affairs minister Gerry Collins in 1988 and 1989 asking if he could make official representation to the USSR in helping to trace the jewels.

She said that she and her sister had never seen the jewels and would like to trace them.

The department said that its embassy in Moscow was carrying out enquiries.

Her father, Harry Boland, brought the Russian crown jewels back to Ireland from the US in 1920 after they were given as security for a loan of 20,000 dollars to a representative of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic.

State papers show that in a letter dated October 27 1920, Mr Boland was authorised to give the Russian government 20,000 dollars on condition it was repaid to the "Irish Republican Government".

The letter was signed by Eamon de Valera.

It emerged that shortly after Mr Boland handed the jewels over to Michael Collins, Mr Collins threw the jewels back to Mr Boland across a table and was reported to have said: "Take them to hell out of that – they are blood-stained anyway."

The jewels were kept at the Boland family home until they gave them to Mr de Valera on November 18 1938.

They remained a closely guarded secret for some 28 years, with the public and many politicians only becoming aware the government had them during the 1948 general election.

After requesting information as to their whereabouts, Mrs Barrington was told by Mr O'Sullivan in June 1988 that he had visited the Kremlin armoury, which included certain imperial regalia, but that he had not seen anything resembling the jewels described in the papers.

She was advised to keep visiting the Soviet Embassy in Dublin.

"Soviet officials rarely do things to oblige individuals, unless they can see what is in it for them," Mr O'Sullivan said.

"If they thought you were somebody who would be likely to visit Moscow and return to Ireland spreading the gospel about Mr Gorbachev's policies, you would get great attention."

State papers also show that the minister for finance considered selling the jewels in 1949.

In a memorandum to the government, it emerged that the jewels were valued by London experts at around £2,000.

In a note, an official said: "The minister for finance has raised the question whether or not the jewels should be disposed of without prior notice being given to the Soviet government. The minister for external affairs does not consider it absolutely necessary to inform the Soviet government beforehand.

"On the other hand, he would see no strong objection to the Soviet government being told in advance, through their ambassador in London and being given an opportunity of redeeming the pledge by repaying the amount of the original advance without interest.

"Considering that, however slight the chances of recovering the full amount of the original advance may appear to be, they should at least be explored, the minister for external affairs is inclined to favour the later alternative, but he would be glad to have the views of the government on the matter."

The High Commissioner J W Dulanty, wrote to the Soviet ambassador to say that if a reply to their request was not sent by August 15, the Irish government would be free to sell.

A letter dated September 13 1949, revealed the Irish government returned the four Russian jewels, through His Excellency the High Commissioner in London, after they repaid their loan of $20,000 by cheque.

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