Éamon de Valera (1882 - 1975)

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Nicknames: "Edward de Valera"
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Death: Died in Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
Managed by: Terry Teford Cooper
Last Updated:

About Éamon de Valera

Irish nationalist of Irish and Spanish descent. Joined the IRB (Fenians) in 1913. Commanded Bollands Mills during the 1916 Easter Rising. Court-mashalled and sentenced to death, but repreived. Elected President of a "reformed" Sinn Fein in 1917. Rearrested in 1918, nglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, and was replaced by President Arthur Griffith... --------------------

Éamon de Valera

Éamon de Valera; 14 October 1882 – 29 August 1975) was one of the dominant political figures in twentieth century Ireland. His political career spanned over half a century, from 1917 to 1973; he served multiple terms as head of government and head of state. He also led the introduction of the Constitution of Ireland.

De Valera was a leader of Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain in the War of Independence and of the anti-Treaty opposition in the ensuing Irish Civil War (1922–1923). In 1926, he founded Fianna Fáil, and was head of government from 1932 to 1948, 1951 to 1954 and 1957 to 1959. His political creed evolved from militant republicanism to social and cultural conservatism.

Assessments of De Valera's career have varied; he has often been characterised as a stern, unbending, devious, and divisive Irish politician. Biographer Tim Pat Coogan sees his time in power as being characterised by economic and cultural stagnation, while Diarmaid Ferriter argues that the stereotype of De Valera as an austere, cold and even backward figure was largely manufactured in the 1960s and is misguided.

Early life

De Valera was born in New York City in 1882 to an Irish mother; his parents, Catherine Coll (subsequently Mrs Wheelwright), an immigrant from Bruree, County Limerick, and Juan Vivion de Valera, a Cuban settler and sculptor of Spanish descent, were reportedly married on 18 September 1881 at St. Patrick's Church in Jersey City, New Jersey. However, archivists have not located any such marriage certificate or any birth, baptismal or death certificate information for anyone called Juan Vivion de Valera or de Valeros, an alternative spelling. On de Valera's original birth certificate, his name is given as George De Valero and his father is listed as Vivion De Valero. The first name was changed in 1910 to Edward and the surname corrected to de Valera

There were a number of occasions when de Valera seriously contemplated the religious life like his half-brother, Fr. Thomas Wheelwright, but ultimately did not pursue a vocation. As late as 1906, when he was 24 years he approached the President of Clonliffe Seminary in Dublin for advice on his vocationDe Valera was throughout his life portrayed as a deeply religious man, who in death asked to be buried in a religious habit. While his biographer, Tim Pat Coogan, speculated that questions surrounding de Valera's legitimacy may have been a deciding factor in his not entering religious life, being illegitimate would have been a bar to receiving orders only as a secular or diocesan cleric, not as a member of a religious order.

Juan Vivion died in 1885 leaving Catherine Coll and her child in poor circumstances. Éamon was taken to Ireland by his Uncle Ned at the age of two. Even when his mother married a new husband in the mid-1880s, he was not brought back to live with her but reared instead by his grandmother Elizabeth Coll, her son Patrick and her daughter Hannie, in County Limerick. He was educated locally at Bruree National School, County Limerick and C.B.S. Charleville County Cork. Aged sixteen, he won a scholarship. He was refused entry to two colleges in Limerick but was accepted at Blackrock College, Dublin at the instigation of his local curate. He played rugby there and later during his tenure at Rockwell College, he joined the school's rugby team where he played fullback on the first team, which reached the final of the Munster Senior Cup. De Valera went on to play for the Munster rugby team in the mid-1900s (decade) in the fullback position and remained a lifelong devotee of rugby, attending numerous international matches up to and towards the end of his life despite near blindness. He told the British Ambassador in 1967, " For my part I have always preferred rugby". He also developed an intensely close relationship with the Holy Ghost Order and its Blackrock College school from this time.[citation needed]

Always a diligent student, at the end of his first year in Blackrock College he was Student of the Year. He also won further scholarships and exhibitions and in 1903 was appointed teacher of mathematics at Rockwell College, County Tipperary. It was here that de Valera was first given the nickname "Dev" by a teaching colleague, Tom O'Donnell. In 1904, he graduated in mathematics from the Royal University of Ireland. He then studied for a year at Trinity College Dublin but owing to the necessity of earning a living did not proceed further and returned to Dublin to teach at Blackrock College. In 1906, he secured a post as teacher of mathematics at Carysfort Teachers' Training College for women in Blackrock, County Dublin. His applications for professorships in colleges of the National University of Ireland were unsuccessful, but he obtained a part-time appointment at Maynooth and also taught mathematics at various Dublin schools, including Castleknock College (1910–1911; under the name Edward de Valera) and Belvedere College.

De Valera's children were five sons: Vivion, Éamon, Brian, Ruairi and Terence (Terry), and two daughters: Máirín and Emer. Brian de Valera predeceased his parents.

Early political activity

As a young Gaeilgeoir (Irish speaker), he became an activist for the language. In 1908 he joined the Árdchraobh of Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), where he met Sinéad Flanagan, a teacher by profession and four years his senior. They were married on 8 January 1910 at St Paul's Church, Arran Quay, Dublin.

While he was already involved in the Gaelic Revival, de Valera's involvement in the political revolution began on 25 November 1913 when he joined the Irish Volunteers formed to oppose the Ulster Volunteers and ensure the enactment of the Irish Parliamentary Party's Third Home Rule Act won by its leader John Redmond. After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, de Valera rose through the ranks and it was not long before he was elected captain of the Donnybrook company. Preparations were pushed ahead for an armed revolt, and he was made commandant of the Third Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. He took part in the Howth gun-running.[16] He was sworn by Thomas MacDonagh into the oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood, which secretly controlled the central executive of the Volunteers. He opposed secret societies but this was the only way he could be guaranteed full information on plans for the Rising.

Easter Rising

On 24 April 1916 the Easter Rising began. De Valera's forces occupied Boland's Mill, Grand Canal Street in Dublin, his chief task being to cover the southeastern approaches to the city. After a week of fighting the order came from Patrick Pearse to surrender. De Valera was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to penal servitude for life. It has been argued that he was saved by four facts. First, he was one of the last to surrender and he was held in a different prison from other leaders, thus his execution was delayed by practicalities. Second, the US Consulate in Dublin made representations before his trial while the full legal situation (i.e., was he actually a United States citizen and if so, how would the United States react to the execution of one of its citizens?) was clarified. The fact that the UK was trying to bring the USA into the war in Europe at the time made the situation even more delicate, though this did not prevent the execution of Tom Clarke who had been a US citizen since 1905. Third, when Lt-Gen Sir John Maxwell reviewed his case he said "Who is he? I haven't heard of him before. I wonder would he be likely to make trouble in the future?" On being told that de Valera was unimportant he commuted the court-martial's death sentence to life imprisonment.[20] De Valera had no Fenian family or personal background and his MI5 file in 1916 was very slim, only detailing his open membership of the Irish Volunteers. Fourth, by the time de Valera was court-martialled on 8 May, political pressure was being brought to bear on Maxwell to halt the executions; Maxwell had already told the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith that only two more were to be executed, Seán Mac Diarmada and James Connolly, although they were court-martialled the day after de Valera. His late trial, representations made by the American Consulate, his lack of Fenian background and political pressure all combined to save his life, though had he been tried a week earlier he would probably have been shot.

De Valera's supporters and detractors argue about de Valera's bravery during the Easter Rising. His supporters claim he showed leadership skills and a meticulous ability for planning. His detractors claim he suffered a nervous breakdown during the Rising. According to accounts from 1916 de Valera was seen running about, giving conflicting orders, refusing to sleep and on one occasion, having forgotten the password, almost getting himself shot in the dark by his own men. According to one account, de Valera, on being forced to sleep by one subordinate who promised to sit beside him and wake him if he was needed, suddenly woke up, his eyes "wild", screaming, "Set fire to the railway! Set fire to the railway!" Later in the Ballykinlar internment Camp, one de Valera loyalist approached another internee, a medical doctor, recounted the story, and asked for a medical opinion as to de Valera's condition. He also threatened to sue the doctor, future Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD) and minister, Dr. Tom O'Higgins, if he ever repeated the story.[23] De Valera's latest biographer, Anthony J. Jordan, writes of this controversy, "Whatever happened in Boland's Mills, or any other garrison, does not negate or undermine in any way the extraordinary heroism of Dev and his comrades" After imprisonment in Dartmoor, Maidstone and Lewes prisons, de Valera and his comrades were released under an amnesty in June 1917. On 10 July 1917 he was elected member of the House of Commons for East Clare (the constituency which he represented until 1959) in a by-election caused by the death of the previous incumbent Willie Redmond, brother of the Irish Party Leader John Redmond who had died fighting in World War I. In the 1918 general election he was elected both for that seat and Mayo East. In 1917 he was elected president of Sinn Féin, the party which had been blamed incorrectly for provoking the Easter Rising. This party became the political vehicle through which the survivors of the Easter Rising channelled their republican ethos and objectives. The previous president of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith, had championed an Anglo-Irish dual-monarchy based on the Austro-Hungarian model, with independent legislatures for both Ireland and Britain. This solution would, mutatis mutandis, emulate the situation following the Constitution of 1782 under Henry Grattan, until Ireland was legislatively subsumed into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

Death

Éamon de Valera died in Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock, County Dublin on 29 August 1975 aged 92. His wife, Sinéad de Valera, four years his senior, had died the previous January, on the eve of their 65th wedding anniversary. He is buried in Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery.

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Éamon de Valera's Timeline

1882
October 14, 1882
New York City, USA
1910
December 13, 1910
Age 28
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
1915
1915
Age 32
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
1918
1918
Age 35
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
1975
August 29, 1975
Age 92
Dublin, Dublin City, County Dublin, Ireland
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Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland