The Ideal Diplomat?

Women and Irish Foreign Affairs, 1946-90


Ann Marie O'Brien

Hardback €40.50
Catalogue Price: €45.00
ISBN: 978-1-84682-851-5
July 2020. 176pp

“In this fascinating study of the progress of women diplomats from 1946 to 1990, Ann Marie O’Brien charts the many challenges women faced due to internal departmental and external factors, and aside from its focus on women the book also gives a very readable account of the work of the department ... The engagement which O’Brien had from former and current members of DFA staff is illuminating as they described how over time the department developed family friendly policies including co-ordinated transfers during the summer so as not to interfere with childcare and school plans. O’Brien’s analysis is detailed and serves the memory of trailblazing female diplomats well. It is also a stark reminder of the abrupt end which marriage brought to so many female careers in all walks of life. Because of this, women were catching up from 1973 onwards. O’Brien’s study therefore highlights the on-going need to measure, assess and analyze female career progression to ensure equality even today … This study is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of Ireland’s foreign affairs department, particularly the contribution of its female diplomats to the shaping of Irish foreign policy.” Mary MacDiarmada, Irish Literary Supplement, Spring 2021

"Like much else in the study of Irish history of the past century, the contribution made by women to the development of the Irish diplomatic service has been largely overlooked or relegated to an administrative or secretarial role. Irish society for the most part of the twentieth century was dominated by "glass ceilings" and legislative barriers to the advancement of women in the civil and public service ... The foreign service was certainly a male-centred career, however there were women, like Sheila Murphy in 1946, who broke through these "glass ceilings" before 1973 and became, possibly unwittingly, the crucial pathfinders for others to follow with distinction at all levels thereafter ... This book deals with these pioneering women and explores their experiences overcoming societal, professional and operational issues from the time they entered the Department of Foreign Affairs (formerly External Affairs) right up to them attaining diplomatic status. Their contribution to the development of Irish foreign policy and, in many ways, to the ongoing expansion of Ireland's diplomatic footprint around the globe is the focus of Anne Marie O'Brien's excellently researched work. Their story had to be told and now, no study of the history of the Irish diplomatic service can be complete without their story. Highly recommended for students of Irish foreign affairs or international relations and for former civil and public service employees who may have been in the service in the 1970s and 1980s." (Ireland's Genealogical Gazette, Vol. 15. No. 11. November 2020)

“Ann Marie O’Brien’s book on Irish women diplomats is very welcome. The monograph is accessible in style, and seeks to combine an analysis of foreign policy issues, which dominated post-war Irish diplomacy, with the recovery of women’s diplomatic work in these remits from 1946 until 1990 ... the book deserves to be read for its empirical richness.” Harry J. Mace, Oral History, Spring 2021