Lester, Sean, 1929- (Sub-Fonds)

Archive plan context

Information on identification

Title:Lester, Sean
Creation date(s):from 1929
Creation date(s), remarks.:Some notes, correspondence and newspaper clippings were written or added by S. Lester's daugthers at a much later. Some photographs were taken before 1929.

Information on context

Name of the creator / provenance:Lester, Sean 1888-1959
Irish journalist, diplomat and last Secretary-General of the League of Nations

Sean Lester was born on 27 September 1888 in County Antrim, Ireland, where his father was a shopkeeper. The family subsequently moved to Belfast and it is here, that after some years in the Methodist College, S. Lester ended his formal education.

During a first period when he worked in a number of minor jobs, Lester discovered the cause of Irish independence. He joined the Gaelic League, an inspirational cultural organisation, and also the Dungarnon clubs, a young revolutionary group that sought to unite protestant and catholic Irish and to achieve independence for the country. Lester was also sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a small and secret organisation, and became a member of the Irish Volunteers.

In 1909 Lester went into journalism, starting in small provincial newspapers, and finally in the national paper, The Freeman's Journal. Shortly after Ireland's independence was recognised, he joined the newly created Department of External Affairs, as head of the publicity office and subsequently as head of the modest League of Nations section.

Lester's international career began in 1929 when he was sent to Geneva as the Irish Free State's permanent representative to the League of Nations. During the next five years he was called upon to act as chairman of the League's committees on disputes between Bolivia and Paraguay, and between Columbia and Peru. He was Rapporteur to the Council on minority questions and at times, served as acting-president of the Council and the Assembly. He became deeply involved in League activities, this at a time when there was still reason to hope that the institution and dedicated negotiations between Member States could ensure the peaceful solution of international problems.

In 1933 Lester was appointed League of Nations High Commissioner in Danzig with responsibility for ensuring respect for the Constitution of the Free City. During the turbulent period that followed, the German directed National-Socialist Party of Danzig became increasingly violent and confrontational and Lester, as the League's man on-the-spot, was constantly required to deal with violations of the Constitution: banning of political parties, suspension or suppression of opposition press, violence against members of minorities, limitation of church activities, interference in elections, parliamentary restrictions on opposition speakers, etc.

However the League's authority was already declining. Fears of a new conflagration were leading Member States towards appeasement and opposition to any strong League action. For Danzig this meant the end, by mid 1936, of diplomatic measures to maintain democracy in the city and, for Lester, the end of his rear-guard action. The Berlin dominated National-Socialist Party of Danzig was by then in full control.

In 1937, S. Lester took up the duties of Deputy Secretary-General of the League of Nations. He became Secretary-General in 1940, following an unsuccessful attempt of the Secretary-General at the time to bring the League into Hitler's New Order for Europe; he held this post until the dissolution of the League of Nations in 1946.

S. Lester married Elizabeth Ruth Tyrrell in 1920, and they had three daughters.
Collection period:between approx. 1929 and approx. 1947
Administration history:When Lester returned to Ireland in 1947, he brought with him much written material covering his 18 years of service abroad: a diary in various forms, as well as correspondence, texts of talks he had given, reports and documents, and a vast number of press cuttings. (This material joined a pre-1929 collection, not included in the Sean Lester Papers). His intention had been to write up something of his experiences, particularly as High Commissioner in Danzig at a crucial period, and as last Secretary-General of the League of Nations. This intention was not carried out.

The papers were scattered during a number of house-moves after Lester died in 1959. They were placed in various "safe places" of which track was not kept, and the family came to believe that all were lost: the diaries and the voluminous mass of other material. However, over a number of years, in the eighties, all the papers were found, in five batches. They were filed chronologically and constitute the present collection of Sean Lester Papers.

Lester's diary is at the heart of the collection. Entries vary between half a page and 8 pages; at times made on a daily basis, or even more frequently, then nothing for months or more. Altogether they may total 1200 pages. The subjects covered are mainly political events and personalities, some gossipy items, occasionally family affairs and fishing, etc. The whole is unexpurgated.

The diaries come in two parts (mainly because of the time at which they were found).

1. A series of notebooks, hand written, covering the period September 1935 - end of 1946. This part of the diary, when found, was copied for the family, and bound (together with some non diary material, slipped into the note-books).

2. A large quantity of loose-leaf pages, typed by either Lester himself or his secretary, covering the period 1934-1946, thus also overlapping the notebook period in the bound diary. The initial page shows date, often the place where written, and variously headed Private Diary or Extracts from Diary, or Diary-Secret and Confidential, or Semi-Official Diary. The reason for these different inscriptions is not now clear. Many of these diary notes were forwarded to the Secretary-General, or occasionally to other correspondents, some were for Lester's eyes only, or as aide-mémoires for annual reports on his activities.

The remaining papers making up the collection of papers include correspondence, talks given by Lester, a number of reports and documents and a large quantity of press cuttings (many more such cuttings are still in family hands), and miscellaneous material.

All papers, whether diary entries or correspondence, etc., have been filed in chronological order and integrated in the Sean Lester Papers, the only exception being the bound diary, which is available separately.

A chronological detailed list of the 1929-1946 materials has been made and attached to the Sean Lester Papers. This is a rough listing drawn up for family use.
Archival history:A full set of the collection is with the League of Nations Archives, Palais des Nations, Geneva - other sets remain with the family - and is freely available for consultation by researchers. The collection was donated to the Archives over a period of five years, starting in 1980, by Sean Lester's daughters, Dorothy Mary Gageby, Patricia Kilroy and Ann Gorski.

Information on content and structure

Contains also:S. Lester's Diary (1935-1941) consists of two bound volumes.
Vol. I contains a typescript copy of pages 1-753 and a copy of an article on S. Lester published in "UN Special", July 1959;
Vol. II contains photocopies of pages 754-978 (including annexes and an index to the diary).

The collection of Lester papers (including some pages from the diary, private and official correspondence, reports, many press cuttings,relating particularly to the Danzig period when he was targeted by the Nazi press, etc.) covers essentially the period 1929-1946, but also includes some post-retirement material running up to 1959, as well as some photos and family letters.


Entries:  Gdansk (Poland) (Subject\Geographical Descriptors\Europe)
  Lester, Sean (Persons\)

Related units of description

Related units of description:see:
SLP-Pre 1929-P Extract from "The Last Secretary-General", by Douglas Gageby, Town House, Dublin, 1999, 1999 (Document)

SLP-1933-VD (1) League of Nations Document, Information Section, on "Sean Lester", 1933 (Document)

see also:
Pel/Pp191-207/1-44 Pelt, Adrianus, 1920-1970 (Sub-Fonds)




Permission required:None
Physical Usability:Without limits

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