MacWhite, Eoin (1923–72), diplomat and archaeologist, was born 7 September 1923 in Geneva, Switzerland, son of Michael MacWhite (qv), diplomat, and his wife Paula Asta Gruttner Hillerod, a Danish artist. He was born four days before the Irish Free State joined the League of Nations at Geneva, his father having played a central part in that process. Eoin was educated at primary level in the US and at secondary level in the US and in Ireland, at Castleknock College. He entered UCD in 1940 and, after graduating BA (1943, first-class honours in Celtic studies) and MA in archaeology (1944, first class) from the NUI, he was the recipient of an NUI travelling student scholarship. With this scholarship he undertook further postgraduate research at the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford, and Madrid, and the Swedish Institute of Archaeology in Rome. He was awarded a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Madrid in 1947.
Though initially embarking on an academic career and lecturing in UCD for a time, MacWhite chose to enter the public service. When he joined the Department of External Affairs on 1 November 1947, being posted to the consular and trade section, he was one of the generation of brilliant young diplomats who undertook and executed Irish foreign policy from the 1950s to the 1970s. He had himself come in first place out of seventy-three candidates in the entry competition. His contemporaries included Maire MacEntee, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Seán Ronan (qv), and Tommy Woods (qv). It was also the first occasion a father and son worked simultaneously in the Department of External Affairs, as his father was then in the final years of a posting as Ireland's minister to Italy. However, his academic interests continued, and he was the author of Estudios sobre las relaciones atlánticas de la peninsula hispánica en la edad bronce (Madrid, 1951) as well as several scholarly articles on Irish archaeology. He was also an authority on Russian literature, in particular on Russian studies on Irish literature. Elected to membership of the RIA, he was also a member of the RSAI, and the Prehistoric Society of Great Britain, Cambridge, a fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, London, and a member of the Sociedad Española de Antropología, Etnografía y Prehistoría, Madrid.
After eighteen months at Iveagh House MacWhite was appointed third secretary to the Irish high commissioner's office in London in May 1949. Seven months later, in December 1949, he was posted to Rome as a second secretary. His father was now entering his final year as minister to Italy. In May 1951 MacWhite returned to Dublin to serve for a year as a third secretary in the information section at Iveagh House. He moved to Berne in May 1952, and in 1955 returned to Dublin as a first secretary, being in part responsible for Ireland's policy towards the Council of Europe. He was also involved in attempts to increase Dublin's understanding of the political and economic situation in Northern Ireland, being sent on fact-finding missions in the north with his colleague Conor Cruise O'Brien by the minister for external affairs, Frank Aiken (qv). A linguist of ability and one of the few Russian-speakers in external affairs, MacWhite also served as an alternate representative on the Irish delegation to the UN in 1958 and 1959. In January 1960 he was appointed first secretary (from December 1962 counsellor) to the Irish embassy in Paris. The multilateral trend in his career path continued, and he was an observer at the general conference of UNESCO in Paris in 1960 and deputy head of the Irish delegation to the OECD.
MacWhite left Europe for Australia in September 1963, when he was appointed chargé d'affaires in Canberra. With his appointment as ambassador to Australia on 14 May 1964 there ended a fourteen-year deadlock in Irish-Australian relations over whether the Australians would accept credentials signed by the president ‘of Ireland’, as Dublin insisted, or ‘of the Republic of Ireland’, as the Australians desired. From 1965 MacWhite was concurrently ambassador to New Zealand. One of his notable achievements while posted to Canberra was to facilitate the establishment of a department of Celtic studies at the Australian National University.
He returned to Europe in October 1967 to become ambassador to the Netherlands in 1968. While his work generally related to bilateral relations, it must be seen in the context of renewed Irish applications for membership of the EEC in 1967 and 1969. With the commencement of the entry negotiations, MacWhite, and his colleagues in the capitals of the then six members of the EEC, kept member state governments informed of Irish EEC policy and took soundings of those states’ attitudes to Ireland. Eoin MacWhite died in hospital as a result of injuries received in a car crash at Wassenaar, a suburb of The Hague, in the early hours of 31 July 1972. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, on 7 August.
He married (1952) Kathleen Kenny, daughter of a well known Dublin solicitor. They had six children.