Dulanty, John Whelan (1883–1955), diplomat, was born at 9 Great Newton Street, Newton, Manchester, on 11 May 1881, the youngest of four children of John Dulanty (born 1844) (at the time spelt ‘Delanty’ and ‘Dulinty’), a builder's labourer from Templemore, Co. Tipperary, and his wife Ellen (née Crowley) born 1847), a charwoman from Leeds of an Irish family. He was educated at Saint Mary's, Failsworth, Manchester, though his full time education ended in 1892 when he began work at G&W Brown, a Manchester cotton mill. Working full time from 1893 at Tootal's Cotton Mill, Newton Heath, he continued his education at night school at the Manchester Municipal Evening School of Commerce, and at Manchester University, where he read law. He was later called to the Bar.
Dulanty worked as a railway clerk in the early 1900s and later in the decade as the assistant registrar of the Manchester School of Technology. In 1908 he was appointed secretary to the board of the faculty of technology and to the dean of that faculty.
Irish politics were always in his background and he was appointed honorary director of the United Irish League of Great Britain by John Redmond (qv). Dulanty was also involved in charitable work, being sometime president of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Manchester and the founder of a parish club for boys in Newton Heath, Manchester. The club developed into the William O'Brien Branch of the United Irish League. In 1908 he supported Winston Churchill's election campaign to secure the North-West Manchester seat. This connection with Churchill was to prove important in Dulanty's later diplomatic career as Irish high commissioner in London. During the second world war, when Churchill held Ireland to be ‘at war but skulking’, the British prime minister considered his erstwhile political ally to be ‘thoroughly friendly to England’, but noted that ‘he acts as a general smoother, representing everything Irish in the most favourable light’ (Gilbert, 143–4). This was one of Dulanty's great strengths as a diplomat.
A contributor to both G. K.'s Weekly and to the Clarion, he had many literary connections, knew W. B. Yeats (qv), and was a friend of G. B. Shaw (qv), Stephen Gwynn (qv), and James Joyce (qv). In 1910 he became educational advisor to Indian students in the northern universities of England. Dulanty was appointed an examiner (higher division) at the board of education in London in October 1913.
Dulanty changed career within the civil service in 1916, when he was appointed chief establishment officer at the Ministry of Munitions in London. In 1918, during Winston Churchill's tenure, he was appointed principal assistant secretary at the Ministry of Munitions. Two years later (1920) Lloyd George appointed him as an assistant secretary at the Treasury. In the same year he refused a British government appointment as treasury remembrancer in Dublin. The civil service was perhaps too constricting an environment for such an able and young administrator. His ability was shown in his being awarded a CBE (1918) and CB (1920).
In August 1920 Dulanty left the British civil service, apparently resigning because of Britain's Irish policy, to become deputy chairman and managing director of Peter Jones Ltd., the retailer. He was busy behind the scenes at the 1921 Anglo–Irish treaty negotiations. In September 1926, following an intervention by Patrick McGilligan (qv), Dulanty left the world of business and joined the Irish civil service, and was appointed Irish trade commissioner in London. The Irish Independent (2 February 1955) wrote of his being ‘one of that brilliant band of Irishmen who were on the establishment of the state attracted to the service of their country at considerable financial sacrifice to themselves’. With his close connections to many top businessmen in the retail world in London, Dulanty was able to promote Irish products face to face.
Replacing James McNeill (qv) as high commissioner in 1930, Dulanty served for twenty years as Irish high commissioner in London. His offices, situated above Piccadilly Circus, were an open house for all interested in Irish affairs. Writers and artists found Dulanty good company, as did politicians and businessmen. In his first years as high commissioner, Dulanty aided the Cumann na nGaedheal government and its minister for external affairs, McGilligan, with the many important developments in the redefinition of dominion status towards full sovereignty in internal and international affairs which arose out of the imperial conference of 1926. His easy manner, genial ways, and quick mind were the components of an unruffled personality. He was always courteous but appropriately barbed, where needs be, without being insulting, and ensured that the Irish position was always swiftly and accurately delivered to the British political establishment from the monarchy through the government to Whitehall.
Dulanty may have feared for his position following the coming to power of Fianna Fáil in 1932. His Redmondite background and British honours might not have endeared him to the republicans of Fianna Fáil. But his Whitehall experience and contacts in the Dominions Office and in the Treasury, especially his friendship with the head of the civil service, Warren Fisher, were valued by Éamon de Valera (qv), and Dulanty played an important and secretive role in Anglo–Irish relations in the 1930s, particularly during the December 1936 abdication crisis and during the negotiation of the April 1938 Anglo–Irish agreements. As high commissioner he represented Ireland at the imperial economic conference and the empire marketing board. In 1935 he was responsible for the coal–cattle pact with Britain. He was Irish delegate to the London naval conference of 1935. On the instructions of de Valera, Dulanty attended the 1937 imperial conference as an observer, taking no formal part in the proceedings.
Dulanty undertook much of his work on the telephone; he was a consummate networker, and being a member of several London clubs he had easy access through smoke-filled rooms to those in the corridors of power. His role as a ‘smoother’ in Anglo–Irish relations continued unabated in the late 1930s. He prepared the way for the April 1938 Anglo–Irish agreements which allowed the transfer of the treaty ports back to Ireland later that year. The destruction of papers and Dulanty's preference for unminuted phone calls and face-to-face meetings meant that much of his important manoeuvring from September 1939, and in particular through the crises of May 1940 to December 1941, has been lost to the historical record. However, during the second world war Dulanty played a vital role in preserving Ireland's wartime neutrality which showed a ‘certain consideration’ for Britain. If his consummate diplomatic skills were tested in these crucial and dangerous years, it never appeared in his official dealings. British politicians, including the prime minister, Winston Churchill, sought conferences with Dulanty to attempt to gain an insight into de Valera's latest actions. When relations between Dublin and London were at their worst, Dulanty remained in close contact with permanent secretaries Sir Edward Harding and later Sir Eric Machtig at the Dominions Office, and he was always available to receive calls from the secretary of state for dominion affairs seeking the latest information on de Valera's policies. He was more than simply an intermediary: he could build bridges across the widest and deepest chasms through friendship, diplomatic skill, his personal wit, and his innate cunning. His natural modesty played down these capacities.
In early 1950 Dulanty was offered a life directorship of the National Bank, which would prevent his remaining in the salaried employment of the Irish state. Despite his not always seeing eye-to-eye with taoiseach John A. Costello (qv), the inter-party government appointed Dulanty Irish ambassador to the UK on 26 July 1950, Ireland having by now left the commonwealth, ‘so that he might have the personal satisfaction of leaving the service with that rank’ (NAI, DT S5669B). He was the first Irish ambassador appointed to the court of St James, and held the post until his retirement in September 1950. On his retirement, in addition to becoming a director of the National Bank he also became a director of McBirney's department store. He did not leave diplomacy entirely, remaining a special counsellor to the London embassy in a personal capacity until 1952. He had served three governments with very differing conceptions of Anglo–Irish relations, but had at all times ensured that their policies and views were impartially executed, developed, and defended in London. Dulanty was awarded an honorary LLD by Leeds University in 1939 and an honorary LLD from the NUI in 1940.
He died 11 February 1955 of a liver complaint after eight weeks in Westminster Hospital, London. His obituary in The Times (12 Feb. 1955) paid him the tribute of being ‘a man who knew both Britain and Ireland from the inside and was loyal to both countries’. His successor as Irish ambassador to Britain, Frederick Boland (qv), said that Dulanty's death was ‘a truly irreparable loss’ (Irish Times, 12 Feb. 1955). Hugh Delargy, a British Labour Party MP, paid Dulanty the tribute that he ‘had every quality an ambassador should have – intelligence, integrity, wit, patience, and superb patriotism’ (ibid.). These qualities were amply born out by Dulanty's wartime service to Ireland. The cardinal archbishop of Westminster presided at Dulanty's funeral, a solemn requiem mass celebrated at Westminster cathedral on 17 February 1955; the Irish government was represented by Gerard Sweetman (qv), minister for finance, and the opposition by its leader, Éamon de Valera.
Dulanty married (7 April 1909) Ann (‘Annie’–‘Nan’) (1885–1952), younger daughter of George Hutton education inspector, of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester (died 1910) and Mary Hutton (nee Ainsworth), from Alton, Staffordshire. They had two sons, Brian and Sean, and two daughters, Clodagh and Aislinn. The National Portrait Gallery, London, holds six photographic portraits of John Dulanty by Howard Coster.