That Time James Bond Offended the Irish

Ian Fleming’s fourth book caused consternation at Shannon Free Airport.

"Diamonds Are Forever" was turned into a movie starring Sean Connery (the only acceptable Bond) in 1971. (United Artists)
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When Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale in 1952, his publisher was reluctant to print more than 5,000 copies of the debut novel. But readers loved James Bond, and it’s estimated the series has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

As The Man with the Golden Typewriter (edited by Fergus Fleming—Ian Fleming’s nephew) shows, Fleming received numerous letters about all kinds of details in his books. Fleming was known for the research he put into his Bond thrillers, and in the 1956 Diamonds Are Forever, 007 is asked to investigate a diamond-smuggling ring originating in Sierra Leone. At one point, Bond boards a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser heading for the western coast of Ireland. While in flight, Bond sees a number of frightened passengers, including a green-faced American businessman who clutches a briefcase bearing the tag “MY BLOOD GROUP IS F.” Bond has empathy for the American: “To him this plane is nothing but a giant tube—full of anonymous deadweight, supported in the air by a handful of sparking plugs, and guided to its destination by a scrap of electricity.”

The scene continues for several paragraphs, and Fleming soon received a complaint. Was it from Boeing, taking him to task for calling the Stratocruiser a gigantic tube? No. It was from John G. Ryan, Esq., the Commercial Division Manager of Shannon Free Airport. Mr. Ryan wrote to say that a passage from the book had been read aloud at a staff meeting, and shop merchants were astonished to read that after landing at Shannon, Bond glanced “at the junk in the airport shop,” declaring the brass leprechauns “ghastly,” along with the “furry unwearable tweeds.” Mr. Ryan informed Fleming that the shops did not carry “junk” and were, in fact, known for “beautiful Irish linen, woollen goods and famous Irish tweeds [along with] German Cameras, Swiss Watches and French Perfumes.”

Fleming wrote a reply saying he frequently came through Shannon (where flights between the UK and America stopped to refuel), and on his next trip would like to apologize in person for “my happy-go-lucky references to the goods on offer in your shops.” His postscript, however, ruined everything: “Perhaps by then all the Brass Leprechauns will have been bought up by the G.I.s!”

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