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William Craig-Martin, Ireland's first Trade Commissioner/Honorary Consul to Shanghai

William Craig-Martin, Ireland's first Trade Commissioner to Shanghai, was appointed to this position in 1924 and in January 1925 was made Honorary Consul. Mr Craig-Martin, an insurance broker by profession and resident of Shanghai, became friends with Desmond Fitzgerald and his family while holidaying in Kerry. He was keenly supportive of Ireland's quest for self-determination, not only politically but also economically. It is likely that Craig-Martin came to occupy this position in Shanghai through this personal connection with Desmond Fitzgerald, who became the Minister for the newly-created Department of External Affairs (now the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) in 1922, rather than any overarching foreign or trade policy at the time.

At the time of Mr Craig-Martin's tenure in Shanghai, the city was booming. Its population grew from just 500,000 in 1895 to almost three million by 1925. Shanghai also had the fourth largest port in the world at that time and attracted much of the foreign capital flowing into China.

1925: William Craig-Martin, Ireland's first Trade Commissioner/Honorary Consul to Shanghai

Minister FitzGerald in a letter dated 29 August 1925 to Craig-Martin expressed some concern for the Honorary Consul’s safety in light of a recent workers’ uprising in Shanghai over work conditions in cotton mills particularly given as the Minister remarked that he himself was “…seated in this thoroughly stable well-established and progressive country”. He wryly added that “…the good-humoured irritability of your letter [of 1 July 1925] helps to re-assure me”. He also confirmed that the Irish Free State was actively seeking ways for Irish diplomatic missions to possibly issue passports, and welcomed the issuing of Irish visas in the US. He also updated Craig-Martin on developments at home, including the construction of the Shannon water power scheme and the sugar beet industry.

While Honorary Consul, Craig-Martin gave timely reports on the rapidly evolving political and economic situation in China to the Department for External Affairs and raised the profile of Ireland in Shanghai. His reports were often colourful, humorous and on occasion rather caustic. He assisted Irish citizens in Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia, although his powers were rather limited. He highlighted key concerns of the Irish business community, including the desirability of obtaining Irish passports and other documents from Irish representative offices abroad.

With continued disruption to life experienced in Shanghai, Mr Craig-Martin moved his business interests and his consular office to Beijing in 1928. It would not be until 1979 that formal diplomatic relations were established between Ireland and the People’s Republic of China and in 1999 a Consulate General was established in Shanghai.

The building which housed his former office in Shanghai, No 28 the Bund, is now home to the Shanghai Clearing House.

Looking out from his office in Shanghai in the 1920s across the Huangpu River to nearby farmlands, William Craig-Martin could not have envisaged how Shanghai’s built environment would transform so dramatically within a century, how truly global a city it would become and how the links between Ireland and China, including trade, now exceeding €10 billion annually, would deepen and expand so considerably.

Therese Healy

About the Author

Therese Healy commenced as Ireland's Consul General in Shanghai in September 2015.