Plaque honour sought for ‘thorn’ in Hitler’s side

Rev David Armstrong.
Rev David Armstrong.

The remarkable story of how a Carrickfergus-born diplomat confronted the Nazis in Poland is soon to be told in his home town.

Sean Lester, the last Secretary General of the League Nations, was such a thorn in the side of Hitler before the Second World War the German dictator acted to have him removed from office.

Born in September 1888 to a Woodburn family and baptised John Ernest Lester at Carrickfergus Methodist Church, he is held in the highest esteem in Poland for his endeavours. He was the subject of a BBC Radio Ulster programme last year.

And he was in the thoughts of a clergymen as the borough marked Holocaust Memorial Day. Rev David Armstrong drew attention to the Lester connection with Carrick in an address to the congregation at St Colman’s Church, Kilroot, and penned an article on the subject for the church magazine.

Keen to see even greater recognition afforded locally to the former journalist, Rev Armstrong quoted one historian’s view of Lester to illustrate his point: “‘He was perhaps the greatest Ulsterman to grace the world stage even though most people in Carrickfergus, where he was born, have never heard of him.’”

Moving south, he worked on the Freeman’s Journal of Dublin before rising to prominence after joining the Department of External Affairs of the Irish Free State.

The Dictionary of Ulster Biography (Kate Newman) records that when Lester was appointed High Commissioner of the League of Nations “he protested vehemently against the Nazi persecution of the Jews”.

Rev Armstrong has been in correspondence with Poland-based academic Paul McNamara who is an authority on Lester and has written a book about his time in Danzig (now Gdansk). Pointing out that a council room in Gdansk has been named in Lester’s honour, Rev Armstrong believes a similar honour would be fitting in Carrickfergus.

“A plaque would be very much appreciated. I am so keen to see this through.”

Carrickfergus and District Historical Society is understood to have explored this possibility previously and members attended the unveiling of an Ulster History Circle blue plaque on Ormeau Road, Belfast, where Lester’s father had a grocery store.

Carrickfergus Council’s Good Relations officer Fiona Surgenor is working with colleagues in the exhibitions and museum teams to create an exhibition on Sean Lester to include audio-visual elements as well as photographs and text.

Fiona added: “There will also be a booklet produced which will be made available through the visitors centre. We are at the research stages and are aiming for the launch to be late spring/early summer.”

Lester, a father of three daughters who died in 1959 and is buried in Galway, received the Woodrow Wilson Award and honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland and Trinity College Dublin.