Emmet Dalton MC (4 March 1898 – 4 March 1978) was an Irish soldier and film producer. He served in the British Army in the First World War, reaching the rank of Major. However, on his return to Ireland he became one of the senior figures in the Dublin Brigade of the guerrilla Irish Republican Army which fought against British rule in Ireland.
He was a close associate of Michael Collins. During the Irish Civil War he held one of the highest commands in the pro-Treaty National Army but resigned his command before the war was over. He later founded a film production company and produced a number of notable pictures in the 1950s and 1960s.
James Emmet Dalton was born to James F. and Katharine L. Dalton, an Irish-American father and an Irish mother, in the United States in 1898, but the family moved back to Ireland when he was 2, in 1900. He grew up in a middle class Catholic background in Drumcondra in North Dublin. He was educated by the Christian Brothers at O'Connell School in North Richmond Street. He joined the nationalist militia, the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and the following year, though only 15, was involved in the smuggling of arms into Ireland.
First World War
Dalton joined the British Army in 1915 for the duration of the Great War. His decision was not that unusual among Irish Volunteers, as over 20,000 of the National Volunteers joined the British military on the urgings of Nationalist leader John Redmond. Dalton's father, however, disagreed with his son's decision. Emmet Dalton joined the 7th battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant - part of the 16th (Irish) Division, which contained many Irish nationalist recruits.
During the Battle of the Somme, in September 1916, Dalton was involved in bloody fighting during the Battle of Ginchy, in which over 4,000 Irishmen were killed or wounded. Among the casualties was Tom Kettle, a former nationalist Member of Parliament and personal friend of Dalton's. Dalton was promoted to major and awarded the Military Cross for his conduct in the battle. He was afterwards sent to Palestine, where he commanded a company and then supervised a sniper school. In 1918 he was re-deployed again to France, where he served as a staff officer.
On his demobilisation in 1919, he returned to Ireland. There he found that his younger brother Charlie had joined the IRA and Dalton himself followed suit. He later commented on the apparent contradiction of fighting both with and against the British Army by saying that he had fought for Ireland with the British and fought for Ireland against them.
He became close to Michael Collins - IRA Director of Intelligence - and was involved in the Squad, an assassination unit. On May 14, 1921, he and Paddy Daly led an operation designed to rescue Sean McEoin from Mountjoy Prison using a hijacked British armoured car.
Free State Officer
Dalton followed Collins in accepting the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1922 and was one of the first officers - a Major General - in the new National Army established by the Irish Provisional Government of the Irish Free State. The Treaty was opposed by much of the IRA and Civil War between pro and anti treaty factions eventually resulted.
Dalton was in command of troops assaulting the Four Courts in the Battle of Dublin which marked the start of the war in June 1922. He was behind the Irish Free State offensive of July–August 1922, that dislodged the Anti-Treaty fighters from the towns of Munster. Dalton proposed seaborne landings to take the Anti-Treaty positions from the rear and he commanded one such naval landing that took Cork city in early August. He was critical however, of the Free State's failure to follow up its victory, allowing the Anti-Treaty IRA to regroup and resume guerrilla warfare.
On August 22, 1922, he accompanied Michael Collins in convoy touring rural west Cork. The convoy was ambushed and Collins was killed in the firefight. Dalton had advised him to drive on, but Collins insisted on stopping to fight.
Dalton got married shortly afterwards and in December 1922, resigned his command in the Army. He did not agree with the execution of republican prisoners that marked the latter stages of the Civil War. After briefly working as clerk of the Irish Senate, he left this too to work in the movie industry.
Over the following forty years, he worked in Ireland and the U.S. in film production. In 1958 he founded Irish Ardmore Studios. His company helped produce films such as The Blue Max, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and The Lion in Winter, all of which were filmed in Ireland. His daughter is Irish actress Audrey Dalton.
Emmet Dalton died in Dublin in 1978, on his 80th birthday.
- Peter Cottrell, The Irish Civil War, p. 60
- Cottrell p. 60–61
- Cottrell p. 61
- Cottrell p. 63
- Cottrell p. 63