Boland, Frederick H. (1904–85), diplomat, was born 11 January 1904 in Dublin, second son of Henry Patrick Boland (qv) (later senior assistant secretary at the Department of Finance) and his wife Charlotte (née Nolan). He was educated at Merchant Taylors School, London, Catholic University School, Dublin, and Clongowes Wood College, Co. Kildare. His university education began at TCD (BA in ancient classics and legal and political science (1925); LLB (1926)), where he won many prizes. He then attended King's Inns, Dublin, where he won the junior and senior Victoria prizes and a John Brooke scholarship. With a university studentship in classics and a Rockefeller research fellowship in social sciences he studied at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and the University of North Carolina (1926–8).
Boland joined the Department of External Affairs, Dublin, as one of its first two cadets (1929) and was a junior administrative officer (1930–31). An early sign of his potential was his posting to Paris (1932), where he held the post of first secretary until 1934. His reporting skills and astute political analysis were noticed and he returned to Dublin (1934) as assistant principal officer, and, until 1936, headed the League of Nations section of External Affairs.
In 1936 he was transferred to the Department of Industry and Commerce as principal officer and headed (1936–8) the foreign trade section of the department during the height of the trade war with Great Britain. Boland returned to external affairs as assistant secretary in 1938 and held the post until 1946. During the second world war he played a major role in ensuring Ireland's pro-Allied form of neutrality. He was a strong supporter of the Allies and had a good wartime working relationship with British officials. Despite a number of older colleagues also in the running, he was now seen as heir apparent to the incumbent secretary, Joseph Walshe (qv). With Walshe's appointment as ambassador to the Holy See in May 1946, Boland became secretary of the department, a post he held to 1950.
During Boland's tenure, the Department of External Affairs began to increase its power and rank within the civil service. It increased its stature vis-à-vis the Department of Finance, taking control of the state's external economic policies in the aftermath of the world war. Under his supervision, the department also greatly expanded Ireland's foreign diplomatic representation. The immediate post-war years saw him involved in the expansion of the state's foreign policy. Traditionally seen as a period of isolation following wartime neutrality, marked by Ireland's failure to gain admission to the UN in 1946 and refusal to join NATO in 1949, in fact the late 1940s under Boland's influence saw Ireland enmesh itself in the multilateral diplomacy of the period, a move that contributed to the state's redefining its position in the international system in the years before final admission to the UN in 1955. Ireland played a prominent role on the Committee on European Economic Cooperation (Paris, 1947), on which Boland was Irish representative. During his tenure as secretary Ireland took its first steps in involvement in European integration. In 1949 he was in part responsible for Ireland's long-term recovery programme that enabled the state to get loans from the Marshall aid scheme, and in that year Ireland was a founder member of the Council of Europe.
In 1948 the Vatican made Boland knight commander of the order of St Gregory the Great. In 1950 he was honoured with the Swedish Grand Cross of the Order of the North Star in recognition of his work as leader of the Irish delegation to Stockholm (1946) that resulted in air communications and diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Personal differences with his minister, Seán MacBride (qv), led Boland to relinquish the post of secretary in 1950. He held (1950–55) what had become the senior Irish diplomatic posting: ambassador to the court of St James's in London. Boland's diplomatic skills were used to considerable effect to explain the foreign policies of the inter-party government to the British. On Fianna Fáil's return to power in 1951 Anglo–Irish relations assumed a more even footing. Boland was well connected with the Commonwealth Office and the Foreign Office, and his ease of access to British officials allowed him to explain Irish foreign policy in detail and to gain an understanding of British foreign policies in a period where Ireland and Britain were increasingly cooperating as members of multilateral organisations.
On 15 December 1955 Ireland was admitted to the UN. Boland was then appointed permanent representative at the UN (1956) and held the post to 1964. On 23 December 1959 Boland was announced as a candidate for the presidency of the fifteenth general assembly, and on 20 September 1960 was elected president for the 1960–61 session. He had forty-six votes (five more than the necessary minimum) and full US endorsement, and it was the first time that the Soviet Union had voted with the West. This was seen as a tribute to Ireland's independent foreign policy at the UN since 1955. In office, Boland declared the ‘idea of a world order based on justice and the rule of law as the surest guarantee of peace and security’, with the right of every nation to determine its own destiny, in dignity and freedom without outside interference or dictation; he considered it was ‘amongst the principles which inspired the men and women whose efforts and sacrifices made possible the measure of freedom we in Ireland now enjoy’. His presidency coincided with one of the most eventful general assemblies of the cold war. His most famous moment was when he called Nikita Khrushchev to order for calling Franco ‘the hangman of Spain whom the Americans supported’. During debate on the seating of the People's Republic of China he asked Khrushchev ‘to be good enough to cooperate with the chair’. Though Khrushchev hit the speaker's rostrum with his shoe in anger and Boland broke the president's gavel trying to restore order the two men were seen laughing and chatting about the incident some days later. Khrushchev later sent Boland a case of wine as an apology.
When Dag Hammarskjöld, UN secretary general, died during Boland's presidency in September 1961, Boland turned down the post of acting secretary general; he continued as Irish representative to the UN during Ireland's half-term on the security council (1962–3), thus being at the centre of cold-war politics during the Cuban missile crisis. He retired in June 1963. Boland was among the first technocrats in external affairs, an excellent public speaker, and a good linguist, fluent in Irish and French. As one of Ireland's first career diplomats, he had a strong input into the intellectual basis for the foreign policy of Frank Aiken (qv).
After retirement Boland became chancellor of Dublin University (1964–82). He held numerous directorships, being director of Arthur Guinness (to 1979), and of Guinness Peat, John Power & Son, Cement Ltd, the Insurance Corporation of Ireland, the Gresham Hotel, the National Bank, and IBM Ltd. He was also an MRIA (1964), president of the College Historical Society and of the Irish Society for Autistic Children, and chairman of the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace, and of the National Industrial Economic Council. An Irish-speaker, he was a frequent visitor to the Gaeltacht. His hobbies included fishing, reading, and the piano. He died 4 December 1985 at Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital and was buried at Deansgrange cemetery.
He married (1935) Frances Josephine Kelly (qv), an artist from Drogheda, Co. Louth, whom he met while posted in Paris. They had one son, Fergal (b. 1941), and four daughters, Nessa (b. 1939), Jane (b. 1936), Mella (b. 1942), and Eavan (b. 1944). His personal papers are held in TCD.