1965 – Talks between Seán Lemass, Taoiseach, and Terence O’Neill, Northern Ireland Prime Minister, take place in Belfast.

The Taoiseach of Ireland (Sean Lemass) and the Prime Minister of Northern Ireland (Terence O’Neill) meet for the first time since the partition of Ireland in 1922. It was a truly historic meeting that began a thaw in relations between the two states. The meeting at Stormont Castle of two distrustful parties was so momentous and prone to disruption that it was not announced prior to the event. The meeting evoked generally positive reaction in the Republic but caused major problems for O’Neill. While moderate unionists supported talks on non-constitutional issues such as co-operation on tourism, the meeting did not sit well with Protestant fundamentalist like Rev. Ian Paisley who saw it as the start of a sell out. O’Neill paid a reciprocal visit to Dublin in February.

Items discussed in general terms during their meeting included Tourism, Education, Health, Industrial Promotion and Transport. A memo of the meeting written by Department of Finance Secretary T.K. Whitaker noted that “It was accepted that these were illustrations only and that all possibilities of practical co-operation in matters of common interest should be explored.”

Sean Lemass had a strong republican background. Born in Dublin in 1899, he participated in the 1916 Rising, fighting in the GPO (General Post Office). He was also in the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence. He was arrested in 1920 and interned for a year. He joined with De Valera on the anti-treaty side and was in the Four Courts as second in command at the start of the Civil War.

Read T.K. Whitaker Memo on Lemass Visit to Northern Ireland: http://cain.ulst.ac.uk/nai/1965/nai_TSCH-98-6-429_1965-01-14_a.pdf

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