Dalton, (James) Emmet (1898–1978), soldier, revolutionary, and film producer, was born 4 March 1898 in Fall River, Massachusetts, USA, eldest among seven children of James Francis Dalton, manufacturer's agent, of Oniville, Rhode Island, and Katherine Lee Dalton (née Riley; d. 1957) of Somerset, Massachusetts. James Dalton was active in Irish-American politics before emigrating (1900) with his family to Dublin. They lived at 8 Upper St Columba's Road, Drumcondra, where James Dalton, a strong Redmondite, welcomed nationalist politicians such as Joseph Devlin (qv).
Emmet Dalton was educated at CBS North Richmond St., Dublin, where his fellow students included Seán Lemass (qv) and Brendan Bracken (qv). He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and later attended the Cistercian College, Roscrea, Co. Tipperary. Much to his father's annoyance he joined the British army, with the assistance of Joseph Devlin, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Royal Dublin Fusiliers (1916). At Ginchy, France, he was attached to the regiment's 9th Battalion and served in the next company to Tom Kettle (qv). Awarded an MC, he later served in Palestine before returning to France, where he served until the end of the war.
In April 1919 he was demobilised and returned to Dublin, where he attended the Royal College of Science for a time. Despite feeling hostility towards the 1916 insurgents during his military training, he now joined the IRA and the IRB, encouraged by his brother Charles F. Dalton (below). He quickly won the confidence of Michael Collins (qv) and served as his liaison officer in those areas not governed by martial law. The two men quickly became firm friends and close colleagues. As assistant director of training he was at the heart of GHQ operations during the war of independence.
Described by a contemporary as having many of the hallmarks of a British officer, including cultured accent, debonair manner, and toothbrush moustache, he gained a reputation for nonchalance and daring. These characteristics were often useful, such as on the occasion when the British army raided Dublin Brigade HQ at Gardiner Row while Dalton was meeting Oscar Traynor (qv) and Kit O'Malley in a room upstairs. Dalton suggested that they take their chance in attempting to talk their way out. They descended to the hall, led by Dalton, who proceeded to have a conversation with a young soldier. The situation ended with the soldier saluting Dalton and the three men walking away.
In April 1921 Dalton escorted Sir James Craig (qv) to a meeting with Éamon de Valera (qv) at a safe house in Clontarf, Co. Dublin. The following month Dalton's daring and demeanour were put to use by Collins in an audacious though ultimately unsuccessful plan to rescue Seán Mac Eoin (qv). Dalton and Joe Leonard were to arrive at Mountjoy jail in a British armoured car that had been stolen by Dalton's brother Charlie. However, rather than assault the prison, they were to play the part of the British military and talk their way in. On 14 May 1921 this plan was put into action: Dalton and Leonard arrived at Mountjoy and succeeded in gaining entrance. However, the plan went awry when the driver of the vehicle, who had only recently escaped from Mountjoy, was recognised by one of the prison guards. The escape was foiled and Dalton and the others had to fight their way out. Michael Lynch, who had been anxiously waiting for the group to return, later described how he saw the armoured car come into view with Dalton sitting on the back smoking a cigarette and ‘completely imperturbable although he had only a few moments before undergone an experience that would have driven most men crazy. Let me say at once that his was no pose, no bravado, but sheer unadulterated nerve’ (Michael Lynch, witness statement MS 2217 (1), quoted in Foy, Michael Collins's intelligence war).
On the signing of the truce Dalton was appointed as the assistant chief Irish liaison officer and Dublin brigade liaison officer. In October 1921 he accompanied the treaty delegation to London and was a delegate on the liaison and armed forces sub-committees. Prior to leaving Dublin he had arranged a special squad to protect Collins and had purchased an aeroplane to fly Collins out in an emergency. Accepting the treaty, he became director of military operations in the national army early in 1922. On 26 June he convinced the provisional government to use artillery against the anti-treaty force under Rory O'Connor (qv) in the Four Courts, and in July was made GOC Eastern Command. With the Four Courts in ruins the anti-treaty forces withdrew to Co. Cork and Co. Kerry. Dalton knew that shifting them would be bloody, costly, and prolonged, and to avoid this he persuaded the government to sanction an attack from the sea.
On 7 August he sailed with 500 men from Dublin to Passage West, Cork. Encountering little opposition, Dalton and Tom Ennis had control of Cork city by 11 August. According to Michael Hayes (qv), Dalton took Cork by breaking ‘all the rules of common sense and navigation and military science’. On 18 August Dalton communicated to Collins the peace rumblings he had heard through intermediaries. In furtherance of these Collins visited Cork to arrange meetings with the anti-treatyites, and on 22 August 1922 he was shot dead during an inspection tour of the south-western command with Dalton. Much of the blame for his death was unfairly placed on Dalton, and allegations about Dalton's part abounded. The next day the Hearst newspapers cabled Dalton offering him £1,000 for his story of the incident.
Collins's death, coupled with the strain that Dalton had endured since his time in France, now exerted its toll and he began to drink heavily. Although determined to bring about a peace settlement, Dalton and those who had been close to Collins made little progress in this regard, and militarily Dalton's command floundered. In December the Irish Free State government, sensitive to his predicament, offered him the £1,000 a year clerkship of the seanad, which he accepted, resigning his commission on 9 December 1922. His tenure in the seanad was characterised by absences, and he was forced to resign on 11 December 1925. His absences and resignation can in part be explained by ill health, but the financial strain of his father's debts, of which he was guarantor, proved to be equally debilitating and far more embarrassing.
The 1920s continued this downward spiral for Dalton; such were his reduced circumstances that at one point he was forced to sell Collins's field diary to the government. Before the second world war he worked as a salesman for various firms, and in 1939 he joined Paramount Films in England. During the war he declined an offer to command an Irish special operations unit in the British army, and instead saw the war out as a professional gambler. In 1948 he became Samuel Goldwyn's representative in Britain and Ireland; later he became involved in independent film production and distribution.
Believing there to be a big market for Irish-produced films on American television, Dalton secured the support of the Abbey Theatre to adapt a series of Abbey plays for television. One such film was the low-budget production George Shiels's (qv) Professor Tim (1957), starring Ray McAnally (qv) among others. Buoyed by the response to these films, Dalton and Louis Elliman (qv) persuaded Seán Lemass that there was a future for an Irish film industry. The result was Ardmore Studios in Bray, Co. Wicklow, which provided a first-class film crew, both external and internal locations on a 37-acre site, and three stages at one location. Dalton was the joint managing director of the venture, which was financed by a £217,000 debenture loan from the Industrial Credit Corporation and a grant of £45,000 from the Industrial Development Authority. J. P. Beddy (qv) was at the helm of both the ICC and the IDA at this time.
Initially Ardmore catered for small films produced by Dalton. In addition to this he travelled to the USA to market Ardmore in his role as managing director, and had some success in attracting larger productions. One such film was Shake hands with the Devil (1959), starring James Cagney, which told the story of an American medical student in Dublin during the war of independence. Dalton's own productions included This other Eden (1959), starring English actor Leslie Phillips and Milo O'Shea as well as Dalton's daughter Audrey, who had attended RADA and had appeared in some large-scale productions including Titanic (1953). Dalton's final film with Ardmore, which was not a success, was The Devil's agent (1962), starring Christopher Lee. By 1963 £385,000 (1963) had been advanced for the production of films in Ardmore, with little return. Union problems added to the woes of the venture and in 1963 it went into receivership.
Emmet Dalton married (9 October 1922), in Cork, Alice (d. 1957), daughter of Richard Joseph Shannon, accountant, and Elizabeth Shannon (née Smullen) of Dublin. They had five children and lived at 90 Iona Road, Glasnevin, Dublin, and Plane Tree House, Kensington, London W8. Dalton died on his birthday, 4 March 1978, at 25 Sydney Parade Avenue, Ballsbridge, Dublin.
His younger brother, Charles Francis Dalton (1903–74), revolutionary, soldier, and businessman, was born 29 January 1903 in Dublin. Educated at CBS North Richmond St. to intermediate middle grade, he joined the Irish Volunteers on 6 December 1917 and was later a member of F Company, 2nd Battalion, Dublin Brigade. Despite his youth he became a member of the GHQ intelligence section during the summer of 1920 and an auxiliary member of the IRA active service unit known as ‘the Squad’. When Collins became convinced that British intelligence services were gaining ground he ordered Dalton, who had been trained in intelligence acquisition, and Frank Thornton (qv) to use all sources available to gather as much information as possible on British agents operating in Dublin. Dalton and Thornton spent weeks collating and gathering information, after which they recommended eliminating nearly sixty British intelligence officers at twenty different locations. This made it clear to Collins that one large strike was needed, and resulted in the shooting of fourteen British agents at several locations around the city on 21 November 1920. Dalton was with the group that carried out the shootings at 28 Upper Pembroke St.
In May 1921 he assisted his brother in the unsuccessful attempt to break Seán Mac Eoin out of Mountjoy prison. After the truce he was appointed second-in-command of GHQ intelligence, Oriel House (July 1921). Accepting the treaty, in February 1922 he rose from adjutant to staff captain, and in March 1922 he became lieutenant-commandant. During the civil war allegations of brutality were made against him and he was transferred to staff duties (March–July 1923) before being appointed adjutant of the army air service. As the army was being drastically reduced after the civil war, Dalton was demoted from colonel to commandant (February 1924). As secretary to the executive council of the IRA Organisation (the ‘Old IRA’) he and Maj.-gen. Liam Tobin (qv), acting on behalf of the organisation, delivered an ultimatum to the government, demanding the removal of the army council and the suspension of demobilisation (6 March 1924). In response the government ordered the arrest of Dalton and Tobin, and on 29 March Dalton was forced to resign from the army.
Untrained for anything outside the military life, he worked with his father for a while before establishing himself as a manufacturer's agent at 18 Duke St., Dublin. He wrote With the Dublin Brigade (1929), outlining his role in the war of independence, and in 1930 he was appointed by Joe McGrath (qv) to an executive position in the Irish Hospitals Sweepstakes. Serious illness caused his early retirement but he continued to act in a consultative capacity. He died 22 January 1974 in Dublin, leaving estate valued at £3,441.
He married (24 October 1928) Theresa, daughter of Laurence Morgan of 97 Oxmantown Road, Dublin. They had two sons and one daughter and lived at 63 Eglinton Court and Aisling, Brighton Road, Foxrock.