Éamon de Valera

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Éamon de Valera
Eamon de Valera c 1922-30.jpg
3rd President of Ireland
In office
25 June 1959 – 24 June 1973
Preceded bySéan T Ó Ceallaigh
Succeeded byErskine Childers
1st Taoiseach
In office
29 December 1937 – 18 February 1948
Preceded byPresident of the Executive Council
Succeeded byJohn A. Costello
In office
13 June 1951 – 2 June 1954
Preceded byJohn A. Costello
Succeeded byJohn A. Costello
In office
20 March 1957 – 23 June 1959
Preceded byJohn A. Costello
Succeeded bySeán Lemass
Personal details
Political partyFianna Fáil (formerly Sinn Féin)
Spouse(s)Sinéad Bean de Valera

Éamon de Valera[1][2] (born with the name Edward George de Valera, English pronunciation: /ˈeɪmən dɛ vəˈlɛɹə/) (14 October 1882–29 August 1975(1975-08-29) (aged 92)) was one of the dominant political figures in 20th century Ireland. Co-owner of one of the Irish Press Newspapers, he served in public office from 1917 to 1973. Several times he was either head of state or head of government in Ireland.

De Valera was a leader of Ireland's struggle for independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. He also led opposition to the anti-Treaty in the Irish Civil War. De Valera was the author of the Constitution of Ireland.

His family[change | change source]

De Valera was born in the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital in New York City in 1882 to an Irish mother; he said that his parents were Catherine Coll Wheelwright, an immigrant from Bruree, County Limerick, and Juan Vivion de Valera, a Spanish-Cuban settler and sculptor, and that they were married in 1881 in New York.

In 1885, after his father's death, de Valera was taken to Ireland by his Uncle Ned. He was brought up by his grandmother Elizabeth Coll, her son Patrick and her daughter Hannie, in County Limerick. At the age of sixteen, he won a scholarship to Blackrock College, County Dublin. In his first year in Blackrock College he was Student of the Year. In 1903 was became mathematics teacher at Rockwell College, County Tipperary. When he graduated in mathematics from the Royal University of Ireland he went back to Blackrock College He taught in many other colleges, including Belvedere college where he taught Kevin Barry, the young Irish republican hanged by the British during the Irish War of Independence.

Early political activity[change | change source]

De Valera was an active gaeilgeoir (Irish language enthusiast). In 1908 he joined the Conradh na Gaeilge (the Gaelic League), where he met Dubhghlas de hÍde, later first President of Ireland, and also Sinéad Flanagan, another teacher who he married on 8 January 1910 at St Paul's Church, Arran Quay, Dublin.

Easter Rising[change | change source]

On 25 November 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers. He was soon elected captain of the Donnybrook company, then commandant of the Third Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. He also joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood, which secretly controlled the central executive of the Volunteers.

On 24 April 1916 the Easter Rising began. De Valera occupied Boland's Mills, Grand Canal Street in Dublin. After the fighting de Valera was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was changed to for life imprisonment. This was because he was not kept in Kilmainham Jail with the first prisoners executed. The delay meant British authorities started to check if he really was an American citizen, and wonder how the United States would react to the execution of one of its citizens.

De Valera's supporters say he showed leadership skills and a great ability for planning. His enemies claim he suffered a nervous breakdown during the Rising.

After imprisonment in Dartmoor, Maidstone and Lewes prisons in England, de Valera and other prisoners were released under an amnesty in June 1917. On 10 July 1917 he was elected member of the British House of Commons for East Clare (the constituency which he represented in Dail Eireann until 1959) in a by-election after MP Willie Redmond died fighting in World War I.

President of Sinn Féin[change | change source]

British newspapers and picture postcards often called the Easter Rising the Sinn Féin rebellion. From 1917 de Valera was president of Sinn Féin. He and the other survivors of the Rising took over Sinn Féin and then turned into a republican party. Arthur Griffith, had wanted an Anglo-Irish "dual monarchy", with an independent Ireland governed separately from Britain, their only link being a shared monarch, like Canada and Britain today.

That had been the way Ireland was governed with the so-called Constitution of 1782 under Henry Grattan, until Ireland joined with Great Britain to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801.

President of Dáil Éireann[change | change source]

Sinn Féin won 73 out of 104 Irish seats in the 1918 general election. A lot more people wanted an independent Ireland after the leaders of the Easter Rising were executed of the 1916 leaders and the threat of conscription. In January 1919, these Sinn Féin MPs, or "TD"s, met in the Mansion House (City Hall), Dublin and formed the First Dáil Éireann (English: Assembly of Ireland).

De Valera was not at this meeting because he had been arrested. He escaped from Lincoln Prison in February 1919, and when he got back to Dublin he replaced Cathal Brugha as Prime Minister Irish: Príomh Aire. The Dáil Constitution passed by the Dáil said that the Príomh Aire was prime minister not head of state.

In September 1919 the British authorities said that The Dáil was illegal. The fighting against Britain escalated into the Irish War of Independence (also called the 'Anglo-Irish War').

President of the Republic[change | change source]

In January 1921, he got back from the United States with a loan of $5,500,000 This made him very popular.

In August 1921 de Valera had Dáil Éireann change the 1919 Dáil Constitution to upgrade his title from prime minister to President of the Republic. He said that as Irish head of state he would not go to the Treaty Negotiations of October–December 1921 because the British head of state, King George V would not be there either.

The Treaty[change | change source]

The Treaty replaced the Republic by a dominion of the British Commonwealth with the King represented by a Governor-General of the Irish Free State. This was just how Canada was governed. Treaty was finally signed on 6 December 1921.

De Valera's opponents said that he did not join the negotiations because he knew that the British would only allow an Irish dominion, not a republic, and did not want to be blamed for giving up the idea of a republic. De Valera said he was angry because the delegates working out the treaty had not asked him before signing the treaty. But at a secret session of the Dáil during the Treaty Debates and publicised in January 1922, his ideas for a treaty included dominion status, the 'Treaty Ports',[3] a veto by the parliament in Belfast, and the king as head of the Commonwealth. Ireland's would pay a share of the imperial debt.[4]

When the Treaty was accepted by 64 votes to 57, de Valera and a large minority of Sinn Féin TDs left Dáil Éireann. He resigned and Arthur Griffith was elected President of Dáil Éireann in his place.[5]

In March 1922, de Valera made an angry speech saying that, if the Treaty was accepted, it might be necessary to "wade through Irish blood" to achieve Irish freedom. Later he said that

the IRA would have to wade through, perhaps, the blood of some of the members of the Government, in order to get Irish freedom

— De Valera, speaking in Thurles

de Valera's enemies said that this was encouraging civil war.

Civil War broke out in late June 1922.

Civil War[change | change source]

Fighting in the Irish Civil War started on 28 June 1922 and ended in May 1923 when the pro-treaty Free State forces beat the anti-Treaty IRA.

De Valera was supposed to be the head of the anti-Treatyites, but he had little power. Usually he had little influence with the IRA Chief of Staff, Liam Lynch. De Valera formed a republican government on 25 October 1922 but it had no real authority and was never like the Dáil governments of 1919–21, which was an alternative government to the British, even running their own courts.

When the IRA's new Chief of Staff called a ceasefire Frank Aiken on 30 May 1923 the government had won. Many republicans were arrested when they came out of hiding and returned home. De Valera was arrested in County Clare and interned until 1924.

The 'empty formula'[change | change source]

De Valera resigned from the presidency of Sinn Féin after losing a vote to accept the Free State Constitution (if the Oath of Allegiance was dropped). In March 1926 he formed a new party, Fianna Fáil (Soldiers of Destiny). Fianna Fáil was successful in elections, but for over a year a it did not take its seats in the Dáil. When a new law made candidates promise to take the oath if elected, de Valera and his TDs took the Oath of Allegiance in 1927. They said the oath was "an empty formula" that is, just words they had to say, they did not have to believe them.

Back in Power[change | change source]

Six years after it was founded Fianna Fáil won 72 seats in the 1932 general election, and had a plurality in the Dáil. That is, it was the largest party but had less than half of all of the seats, which would be a majority. On 9 March Governor-General James McNeill appointed de Valera President of the Executive Council . He abolished the oath and stopped paying money owed to Britain.

De Valera called a general election in January 1933 and won 77 seats, giving him an overall majority. Under his leadership, Fianna Fáil won further general elections in 1937, 1938, 1943 and 1944.

De Valera was his own Minister for External Affairs. He attended meetings of the League of Nations, and was president of the Council of the League on his first appearance at Geneva in 1932. In 1934, he supported the admission of the Soviet Union into the League. In September 1938 he was elected nineteenth president of the Assembly of the League, a tribute to the international recognition he had won by his independent stance on world questions.

De Valera's new constitution – Bunreacht na hÉireann[change | change source]

Éamon de Valera
Timeline 1882–1975
Birth   14 October 1882 in New York.
1885   Sent by his mother to live with her family in Ireland.
1904   Graduates from the Royal University of Ireland.
1908   Joins the Gaelic League.
1910   8 January marries Sinéad Flanagan.
1913   25 November: Joins Irish Volunteers.
1916   24 April: Commander in Bolands Mills during the Easter Rising. Later sentenced to death for participation but death sentence not carried out
1917   Joins Sinn Féin and replaces long-time leader Arthur Griffith as president. Elected MP for East Clare but refuses to take his seat in the House of Commons.
1918   November Elected MP in 1918 general election.
1919   1 April: Elected Príomh Aire (chief minister) of the new Dáil Éireann, the assembly formed by a majority of Irish MPs. Forms his first government. May Travels to the United States to lobby on behalf of the Irish Republic.
1921   July: Irish and British government call truce. October—December: Envoys Plenipotentiary negotiate Anglo-Irish Treaty. December Dáil, against de Valera's advice, approves Treaty. De Valera resigns as president. Seeks re-election but is defeated.
1922–1923   Irish Civil War
1926   March: Leaves Sinn Féin and sets up his own republican party, Fianna Fáil.
1927   Faced with disqualification from contesting elections, takes the Oath of Allegiance and enters Free State Dáil.
1932   Forms his first Free State government.
1937   Enactment of new constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann, becomes Taoiseach for the first time.
1948   Loses power for the first time in the modern Irish state.
1951   Re-elected as Taoiseach.
1954   Loses power for the second time.
1957   Re-elected as Taoiseach for the last time.
1959   Elected as President of Ireland.
1966   Re-elected as President.
1973   Retires from Public Office.
Death   29 August, 1975

During the 1930s, de Valera changed a lot of the Irish Free State constitution.

The Governor-General of the Irish Free State could reserve or deny the Royal Assent to any changes after being advised (ordered) by His Majesty's Government in London. After a legal argument with the British Government the power this was changed to His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State

That meant that de Valera was the only person who could stop a bill becoming law.

De Valera abolished:

When King Edward VIII abdicted (resigned) as King of Ireland de Valera passed two Bills;

  • one took out all mention of the King and Governor-General in the constitution
  • the second said the King's only job was formally sending and receiving ambassadors.

In July 1936, de Valera wrote to King Edward in London saying that he planned to introduce a new constitution. This was only a little different from the Bunreacht na hÉireann (meaning literally the Constitution of Ireland).

The new constitution was not an act of the Dáil but was voted for in a referendum, because de Valera wanted a new start for the new country he was setting up.

Neutrality in World War II[change | change source]

Ireland stayed neutral in World War II, which was called The Emergency in Ireland. Both the possibility of a German invasion and a British invasion were discussed in the Dáil.

But even though de Valera hated Britain, Irish neutrality often favoured the allies:

  • The Irish government weather reportshelped to decide when D-Day should be;
  • British planes from Lough Erne in County Fermanagh flew a shortcut across Donegal to patrol the Atlantic.
  • The German Ambassador's Eduard Hempel radio transmitter was shut down in 1943.
  • Crashed airmen "operational" flights were interned until the end of the war. If the flight was "non-operational" the crew were allowed home. Nearly all Allied airmen were said to be on "non-operational" flights, while German airmen were judged to be on "operational"
  • Roughly 45,000 Irish men voluntarily joined the Allied forces (including Patrick and Tom Clancy, who had also been IRA volunteers).

In May 1945, de Valera visited the German minister in Dublin, to express sympathy over the death of the Führer.[6] Along with President Douglas Hyde, de Valera was the only head of government to do this. De Valera did not visit the American embassy following the death of Roosevelt, as David Gray, the American Ambassador said he would not receive de Valera. All flags were flown at half-mast on Roosevelt's death on de Valera's instructions

Post–war period[change | change source]

After sixteen years in power, Fianna Fáil lost the 1948 election. John A. Costello was Taoiseach of a coalition Government. It was Costello who declared Ireland a republic, making de Valera's friend President Ó Ceallaigh Ireland's head of state. In 1951 de Valera was returned to power but without an overall majority. Many people thought this was his worst government. He spent several months in the Netherlands where he had six operations on his eyes.

Fianna Fáil was defeated again in the 1954 general election, but in 1957 de Valera, won a majority of nine seats. This was the beginning of another sixteen year period in office for Fianna Fáil. But de Valera was only Taoiseach for two years.

In 1959 he was elected President of Ireland, as which he served until 1973. At his retirement at the age of 90, he was the oldest Head of State in the world.

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.

Overview[change | change source]

In his recent controversial biography by Tim Pat Coogan says that his failures are more than his achievements, and that de Valera's popularity fell as Michael Collins's rose.

Garret Fitzgerald summarised[7] his last term as Taoiseach;

Total economic stagnation marked de Valera's last seven years as leader of his party - because all of the chickens of his disastrous commitment to an inward-looking policy of self sufficiency were coming home to roost.

References[change | change source]

  1. His name is frequently misspelled Eamonn De Valera but in fact he never used the second 'n' in his first name (the standard Irish spelling) and always a small 'd' in 'de Valera', which is proper in Spanish names (de meaning 'of').
  2. "Eamon(n)" actually translates into English as Edmond or Edmund. The correct Irish translation of "Edward" is Éadhbhard.
  3. ports in Ireland that the Royal Navy had a right to use
  4. De Valera's Treaty proposals
  5. "www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E900003-001/". Retrieved 2007-04-12.
  6. Duggan, J. P. (2002). Herr Hempel at the German Legation in Dublin 1937-1945. Irish Academic Press. ISBN 0-7165-2757-X.
  7. Garret Fitzgerald, Irish Times, September 16, 2006.

Other websites[change | change source]

Parliament of the United Kingdom (1801–present)
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Willie Redmond
Sinn Féin MP for Clare East
Succeeded by
Constituency abolished
Parliament of Northern Ireland
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Sinn Féin/Independent Republican MP for Down
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Constituency divided
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Sinn Féin/Independent Republican MP for South Down
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Newly created constituency
Sinn Féin Teachta Dála for Clare
Succeeded by
De Valera left Sinn Féin and founded the Fianna Fáil Party
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De Valera was previously a member of Sinn Féin
Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála for Clare
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Seán Ó Ceallaigh
Political offices
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Arthur Griffith
Leader of the Sinn Féin Party
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John J. O'Kelly
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Cathal Brugha
President of Dáil Éireann
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Office of President of Dáil Éireann
President of the Irish Republic
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Arthur Griffith
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