Budge Clissmann Irish Times

Irish Times Logo 1997

Privy to developing Irish-German links

Published Sat, Apr 14, 2012, 01:00

ELIZABETH CLISSMANN: ELIZABETH “BUDGE” Clissmann, who has died aged 98, was an eyewitness to many important events affecting Irish-German relations during the 20th century but particularly in the crucial period spanning the 1930s and 1940s.

She counted senior IRA figures among her close associates, including Frank Ryan, Moss Twomey, George Gilmore and Peadar O’Donnell. By the time of her 1938 marriage to German academic Helmut Clissmann (1911-1997), German military intelligence was already forging links with the IRA leadership in Dublin under chief of staff Seán Russell.

Born in Sligo, she studied Irish and French at University College Galway. After graduating in 1933, she spent a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she stayed with the family of Leopold Kerney, a diplomat at the Irish legation. In 1940, Kerney, Budge and her husband Helmut Clissmann were pivotal in getting Frank Ryan, who had fought with the International Brigades in Spain, freed from death row in Burgos prison.

Returning to Dublin from Paris, she sat the Department of External Affairs entrance exam but was not appointed. She told her family she had heard that “de Valera said they could not appoint a woman because the British foreign office had not yet appointed a woman”. A year later, she sat the Department of Finance entrance exam and, as she put it, “was taken on as a token woman”.

In 1931, Helmut Clissmann made his first visit to Ireland as part of the left-wing Prussian Youth League, and was befriended by Frank Ryan, then editing the IRA journal An Phoblacht.

In 1934, Clissmann was sent to Dublin to run the German academic exchange service. Among the Germans studying at Trinity College Dublin in the mid-1930s was Nona Keitel, daughter of Hitler’s wartime army chief of staff, General Wilhelm Keitel. Budge met Nona Keitel socially through Clissmann, who also studied at TCD. Using Budge’s contacts, Clissmann met leading republicans. These contacts proved valuable during the war years when Clissmann worked for a time on the Irish desk at the German foreign office.