De Valera Observes Anniversary of Easter Rising

De Valera Observes Anniversary of Easter Rising

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Born in New York City in 1882, Eamon de Valera emigrated to Ireland as a child and participated in the Easter Rising against British rule, which began in Dublin on Easter Sunday, April 24, 1916. De Valera was sentenced to death for his participation in the rebellion but escaped execution because of his American birth. In a speech delivered on the anniversary, De Valera recounts the events of the protest.

De Valera Observes Anniversary of Easter Rising - HISTORY

The Bureau of Military History was established by the Minister for Defence and former Officer Commanding Dublin Brigade IRA, Mr. Oscar Traynor, T.D. on 1 January 1947.The objective being ‘to assemble and co-ordinate material to form the basis for the compilation of the history of the movement for Independence from the formation of the Irish Volunteers on 25 November 1913 to the [signing of the Truce] 11 July 1921.

Although the Bureau began its work in 1947, the origins go back to 1944 when Major Florence O’Donoghue, editor of An Cosantóir, suggested that a series of articles on Irish military leaders be published in the journal. This series of articles can be found in An Cosantóir 1945-1946. Following this a plan was drafted by Major O’Donoghue which was approved by An Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, T.D. Subsequent to final approval by the Department of Finance the Bureau of Military History came into being.

Over the following ten years 1773 witness statements (WS), 334 groups of contemporary documents (CD), 42 photographs (P), 12 voice recordings (VR) and a selection of press cuttings (PC) were assembled by the Bureau from a variety of individuals who had been active in the period 1913 - 1921. Some well known contributors to the Bureau, however, the majority of contributors to the Bureau were the ordinary men and women involved in the movement for Independence. The collection covers events such as the Howth Gun-running, 1914 the Easter Rising, 1916 the formation of the first Dáil, 1919 and the outbreak of the War of Independence, 1919.

The Bureau staff included senior army personnel and civilians. Each investigating officer was given intensive training in interview skills and provided with a code of instruction and a chronology of events of the period in order to assist in obtaining a thorough and accurate account of the witnesses’ experience. Their job was to travel throughout the country to gather as much evidence as possible from those involved in the Independence movement. Much of the information was gathered from members of the Irish Volunteers and later the IRA, but other groups including Fianna Éireann, Cumann na mBan, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the Irish Citizen Army, and Clann na Gael are also represented.

Assisting the Bureau staff was an Advisory Committee appointed by the Minister for Defence, chaired by Richard Hayes and including Robert Dudley Edwards, G. A. Hayes McCoy and Theodore W Moody. This committee was comprised of academics and other scholars of Irish history. Its purpose was to offer guidance, oversee progress and deal with general queries which inevitably arose in the course of the work.

The immediate problem facing the Bureau was the fact that the principal leaders of the 1916 Rising had been executed and a good number of Volunteers had died before the establishment of the Bureau. It was therefore decided to focus on surviving officers of Divisions, Brigades, Battalions and Companies which had seen active service. In order to achieve this an information leaflet was compiled and circulated, the Minister for Defence made a radio appeal and notices appeared in the national press. This campaign proved to be highly successful in attracting witnesses including many civilians who wished to place on record how they were affected during the Rising and the War of Independence.

Witness Statements

Detailed instructions were issued to investigating officers, which covered issues such as the taking of evidence, the disclosure of information, communication to the press, accuracy and literary style of witness statements. Gaining an accurate, factual account from the contributors was of paramount importance to the staff of the Bureau.

‘In listening to and recording his story you should keep an open mind. Your aim at all times must be to get from him an objective ,factual record of events based on his own experiences. To that end he should be tactfully questioned on every point, to ensure that what he tells is, in fact, what he knows and not something which he has imagined, read or heard from someone else’ (File S. 851. 10 May 1948)

The Director of the Bureau was aware that personal testimony is subjective and the ability of witnesses to give an accurate account could change over time. Investigating officers were encouraged to gain as true a picture as possible given the circumstances of collecting information after such a long lapse between events.

‘Failing memory will sometimes impart an air of unreliability to what may be a genuine story, and the utmost care must be exercised in such cases. a witness must, under no circumstances, be persuaded to agree to anything which does not accord with his own personal recollection. There must be no attempt to smooth out or adjust a story, in order to make it more plausible or readable.’

In compiling the evidence from the period the Bureau divided its work into three phases the formation of the Irish Volunteers and associated organisations, events that led up to the Rising and the Rising itself and finally focused on the events of the period 1917 - 1921.

Easter Rising commemorations in the early Irish state

W.T. Cosgrave officially opening the newly restored GPO in July 1929. In an eloquent speech he commented on ‘the radically altered political landscape’ and emphasised that ‘the Irish nation was progressing in the path of peace’. (Getty Images)

The 1920s and the restoration of the GPO
In common with today’s Irish government, one of the many issues facing the Cumann na nGaedheal administration was how the anniversary of the Easter Rising should be approached. Despite the fact that W.T. Cosgrave, president of the Executive Council, along with other prominent members of the party like Richard Mulcahy, had fought during the Rising, the government was eager to keep the commemoration ceremonies low-key.

The first official state commemoration was held at Arbour Hill in 1924 and proved to be somewhat of an embarrassment, as the widow of Michael Mallin was the only relative of the executed leaders who attended. After Fianna Fáil was formed in 1926, the government was put under even more pressure, as competing ceremonies were held by rival parties. When the restoration of the General Post Office was completed in July 1929, the government held an in-auguration ceremony, inviting the people who usually attended the annual service at Arbour Hill. During this event a small number of armed troops marched past the building and the tricolour was raised.

Cosgrave has often been characterised as a taciturn leader, but he made use of this opportunity to reflect on the achievements of his government and to present the Irish Free State in a positive light. In an eloquent speech outside the GPO, he commented on ‘the radically altered political landscape’ and emphasised that ‘the Irish nation was progressing in the path of peace’. This event took place just a few months before the Wall Street Crash and Cosgrave was keen to project an image of a modern, prosperous Irish nation. In another carefully staged move he made the first phone call from the GPO, thus demonstrating that the Free State had embraced advances in modern communications. It was only at the end of the speech that the actual events of the Rising were mentioned. Given that Cosgrave’s party had the unenviable task of state-building and reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War, the relative emphases are unsurprising.

Nineteenth anniversary—pageantry and symbolism
Cosgrave’s government may have had some reservations about celebrating the Rising but the succeeding de Valera government had no such qualms. The 1935 commemoration was carefully choreographed in order to present Fianna Fáil as the sole custodian of the 1916 legacy. Despite the fact that the nineteenth anniversary was a date without any particular numerical significance, the government insisted on hosting a relatively large commemoration. On Easter Sunday a re-enactment of the insurrection took place. The ‘republic’ was declared once again and 2,500 veterans of the Rising lined up outside the GPO. According to James Moran,

‘… the 1935 memorial service echoed the anniversary celebration of Russia and France, where post-revolutionary governments re-staged the symbolic battles of the past for modern political advancement’.

De Valera taking the salute at the 1916 silver jubilee commemorations in 1941 outside the GPO. The overtly militaristic nature of the parade projected an image of military strength in the face of threats to Ireland’s neutrality. (British Pathé)

Members of the opposition were only too aware that Fianna Fáil was attempting to use the commemoration in order to gain political capital. In the Dáil, Fine Gael’s Richard Mulcahy asked angrily, ‘Is it still held that the government is not making it a party demonstration?’ Interestingly, David Fitzpatrick has asserted that by this stage ‘neither Fianna Fáil or any other party had yet managed to secure sole custody of the Easter legacy’. It was not for lack of trying.

De Valera clearly attempted to fashion the 1935 ceremony to reflect his vision for the Irish Free State. He was eager to reinforce the image of the new state as conservative and predominantly Catholic. With this in mind, he insisted that members of the Catholic clergy should play an important role in the ceremony. Consequently, on Easter Sunday eight priests stood on the platform outside the GPO. Two open-air Masses were also held, one outside Portobello Barracks and the other at the GPO. The majority of the insurgents had been Catholic, but Patrick Pearse’s concept of the blood sacrifice hardly corresponded with the Vatican’s teachings on suicide. De Valera was an astute politician and would have been aware that this overtly religious ceremony would help to consolidate the relationship between Fianna Fáil and the Catholic Church. By surrounding himself with members of the Catholic clergy on Easter Sunday, de Valera hoped to put an end to any doubts about the party’s piety, especially in the light of the excommunication of some republicans during the Civil War.

Selective memorialisation
Political figures are often keen to emphasise certain aspects of a past historical event whilst conveniently ignoring others that may raise awkward questions for the party concerned. This was clearly the case during the 1935 ceremony. Despite the fact that the leaders of the Rising had been committed to social change, de Valera was careful to avoid any mention of social issues during the commemoration. Significantly, when he unveiled the statue of Cuchulainn it became apparent that only the third paragraph of the Easter Proclamation had been inscribed on the monument. This particular paragraph focused on the national struggle rather than social struggle. James Moran has suggested that in 1935 the government used the anniversary of the Rising in order to deflect attention away from the shortcomings of the party’s domestic policies. By this stage Fianna Fáil had been in power for three years, but despite the party’s electoral promises the Irish people still faced many hardships. Moreover, the Irish Free State was engaged in a trade war with Britain. It could therefore be argued that the re-staging of the Rising was a deliberate attempt by the Irish government to distract people from their everyday concerns. W.T. Cosgrave, who was now the leader of the opposition, warned his rivals that ‘it is not possible to hide these national limitations today or to cover them with a veil lifted from the bronze statue of Cuchulainn’.

Oliver Sheppard’s statue of Cuchulainn. At its unveiling in the GPO in 1935 Éamon de Valera was careful to avoid any mention of social issues and, significantly, only the third paragraph of the Proclamation, focused on the national struggle, was inscribed on the base. (Paula Murphy)

The anniversary of the Rising provided the government with a convenient opportunity to reiterate that Éire was an independent state capable of making her own decisions. As has been the case with many other Easter Rising commemorative services, the government was accused of using the ceremony for its own advantage in 1941. Behind the impressive military parade may well have been an attempt to boost support for the government at a time when unemployment and rural poverty were sweeping the nation.

Alison Martin holds an MA in Irish History from Queen’s University, Belfast.

I. McBride (ed.), History and memory in modern Ireland (Cambridge, 2001).
M. McCarthy, Ireland’s 1916 rising: explorations of history-making, commemoration and heritage in modern times (Surrey, 2012).
J. Moran, Staging the Easter Rising: 1916 as theatre (Cork, 2005).
C. Wills, That neutral island: a cultural history of Ireland during the Second World War (London, 2007).

Local Easter Rising event marks Irish history connection

Among the 300,000-plus people buried at Rochester's Holy Sepulchre Cemetery rests a woman who remains largely unknown locally, but who, in some ways, could be dubbed the mother of modern-day Ireland.

Catherine Wheelwright lived her final years in Rochester, dying in 1932. Buried at Holy Sepulchre, she was the mother of Éamon de Valera, one of the leaders of Ireland's struggle for independence and the third president of the country, serving from 1959 until 1973. De Valera was born in New York City to Wheelwright and a Spanish father.

De Valera's father later abandoned the family she remarried and later moved to Rochester with her husband, Charles Wheelwright, living at 18 Brighton St.

18 Brighton Street, where Wheelwrights lived (Photo: Provided photo)

On Sunday, many in the local Irish community will gather at the cemetery, remembering both Wheelwright and the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, the armed insurrection designed to sever Ireland from British rule. (In Ireland, the anniversary, considered a starting point of the push for independence, is often celebrated during the Easter holiday April 24 is the actual start of the uprising.)

Éamon de Valera was a leader in the uprising, sentenced to death by the British. However, Catherine Wheelwright successfully lobbied for her American-born son to be spared, and he became a political force in the nation for more than half a century.

Wheelwright's time in Rochester and the fact that she is buried here "was known to a few people here but definitely not general knowledge," said Tom O'Connell, chairman of the local Irish history organization, the Col. O’Rorke Memorial Society, which honors an Irish-born Rochesterian killed at Gettysburg during the Civil War.

"This event celebrates the 1916 Easter Rising, which ignited Ireland’s fight for freedom and led to the creation of the Irish Republic," he said. "It can best be compared to our own Fourth of July."

More on the cemetery event and the movie

Among the guests at Sunday's remembrance will be Eamon O'Cuiv, a grandson of de Valera and a great-grandson of Wheelwright. O'Cuiv is an elected official in what is Ireland's equivalent of the U.S. Congress.

For O'Cuiv, this will be his first visit to Rochester, a visit that he says is doubly significant for him because of his ancestral connection and the anniversary of the Easter Rising. The latter event, he said, "has been very huge" in Ireland, especially given that the history is relatively recent.

There are many Irish residents who can tell tales of their relatives fighting for Irish independence — stories heard from the very participants themselves.

"You're still meeting people that knew the people" in the insurrection, O'Cuiv said in a telephone interview.

"We knew that the anniversary of the Rising was coming up," said Timothy Madigan, a St. John Fisher College philosophy professor and the chairman of the college's Irish Studies program. "We thought, 'Why don't we celebrate our local connection because most people don’t know about this.' ''

The cemetery also plans to add a marker noting Wheelwright's historical significance, Madigan said.

Original caption: Eamon de Valera, president of the Irish Free State, and his mother, Mrs. Catherine Wheelwright of Rochester. The picture was taken during a visit of the noted leader in the city in 1927. (Photo: Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York) · Mon, Jun 13, 1932 · Page 1)

A 1937 Democrat and Chronicle story said of Wheelwright and her son, "De Valera made two visits to Rochester. He broadcast a worldwide appeal for peace in 1932, which was heard by his mother shortly before his death. Though more than 3,000 miles from each other, air magic united them for the last time for a period of 15 minutes."

A 1932 news story notes that Wheelwright's funeral was attended by Irish dignitaries.

"Services at Blessed Sacrament Church in Oxford Street were characterized by usual simplicity, despite the presence of dignitaries of church and state," the Democrat and Chronicle story stated. "No eulogies were spoken, no eulogies were needed. In the requiem music of the Mass there was only benediction."

A TV Pageant – The Golden Jubilee Commemorations of the 1916 Rising

Cathal Brennan looks at RTE’s commmorations of the 1916 Easter Rising in 1966.

The 50 th anniversary commemoration for the 1916 Rising was a massive event for the Irish state and local commemorations took place in every county in Ireland. In previous years commemorations of the Rising had been mainly left to groups such as the National Graves Association and other republican organisations. This led to some hostility when the state got so heavily involved.

The state commemorations focused heavily on the idea that this was an opportunity to present Ireland as a modern, successful state to the people of Ireland and internationally.

The 1966 commemorations were intended as a celebration of the Irish state and the role of television was vital

For the first time since independence the Irish economy was steadily growing and wages and living standards were improving. The Taoiseach Seán Lemass presented the commemoration as an opportunity to, ‘further enhance the status of our nation in the eyes of the world, emphasising both our pride in the past and confidence in our future.’ [1] For some, the idea that the Irish nation and the 26 county state were one and the same thing was deeply galling and the elephant in the room at all these events was partition.

The Role of Television

The golden jubilee would stretch the state broadcaster’s resources to its limits. According to Mary E. Daly for many Irish people, ‘the 1916 jubilee was commemorated not by parades or pageants, but on television.’[2] Telefís Éireann was just over four years old but the outside broadcast and film units had already acquired valuable experience in covering major events such as the state visit of President Kennedy to Ireland in 1963 and the Roger Casement funeral in 1965.[3] To supplement TÉ’s own OB unit two additional OB units were hired from an international TV company.[4] .

“While still seeking historical truth, the emphasis will be on homage, on salutation”: Roibéárd Ó Faracháin

Since the beginning of TÉ, producers such as James Plunkett, Charles Scott and Aindrias Ó Gallchóbhair had been conducting interviews with survivors of the 1912 – 22 period and these interviews became invaluable sources while making programmes for the commemoration.[5] More than seventy veterans gave interviews to TÉ either in their homes or in studio.[6]

By 1966, TÉ was providing coverage to 98% of the country. The Irish TAM survey of that year estimated that 55% of homes in the state had a television (77% in urban areas and 37% in rural areas).[7] Many householders also rented televisions for short durations Jack White, the Assistant Controller of Programmes for TÉ, outlined the task facing the station:

‘…we have had to bear in mind that we are dealing with two generations. We are fortunate enough to have amongst us still a good many of the men and women who asserted Ireland’s right to independence on that Easter Monday, fifty years ago They are the first hand witnesses: it is natural we should want to hear them, and that they should be heard. On the other hand, as programme planners we are aware that the great bulk of our audience consists of men and women who were not even born, or were in their infancy, in 1916. Many of them have no clear understanding of the men who created the Rising. Our problem was to bring home to them some sense of the heroic drama of that week.’[8]

Roibéárd Ó Faracháin, the Controller of Programmes for Radio Éireann, summed up his aspirations for the broadcasts by stating:

‘…while still seeking historical truth, the emphasis will be on homage, on salutation, on the high emotion and daring of that week, which not only aroused the moribund mind of Ireland, but afterwards fired that considerable part of the world which until then was sunk in Colonialism.’[9]

‘Comprehensive and Popular’ – Historical programmes on the Rising

RTÉ’s commemoration of the golden jubilee year began with a series of 19 Thomas Davis lectures entitled Leaders and Men of the 1916 Rising on Radio Éireann. The series began on Sunday, the 10 th of January 1966 and sought to not, ‘merely mark the 50 th anniversary of an event but to analyse and reconstruct the minds of the men who, in very different ways, were factors in the making of that event.’[10] The series ran until May and featured some of the most respected historians of the time with F.X. Martin serving as consulting editor.

1965 saw Teleifís Éireann attempt their first history series entitled The Irish Battles. 1966 began with a new television series called The Course of Irish History edited by F.X. Martin and T.W. Moody. The series dealt with Irish history from pre – historic times up to the present and finished with a debate between the contributors involved.

Historian T.W. Moody hoped, ‘the programmes should be as balanced as possible’ and they featured many historians who had taken a critical view of the Rising.

Moody was also a member of the Radio Éireann Authority and the previous year he had expressed his concern that ‘all aspects of the Rising should be taken into account, and it was agreed [by the Authority] that in presenting the clash of idealism and emotions, the programmes should be as balanced as possible.’[11] The series consisted of 21 episodes and was conceived as, ‘a comprehensive, popular introduction to a large and complex subject which will exploit the resources of television in support of the spoken narrative.’ [12] The series was later published in book form.

An advisor on the programme, Maedhbh ní Chonmhidhe, summed up some of the challenges facing the programme makers in adapting historical lectures to the new medium and the need for the technicians and historians to work in the closest harmony to make the programmes a success, ‘We are constantly aware of our other partner, the viewer, who will know with a sure instinct if we have told his story well.’ [13]

RTE’s historical programming for the commemoration was impressive

The range of subjects covered by the these programmes was impressive. The Thomas Davis Lectures included episodes dedicated to the likes of Birrell and Nathan, Redmond and the Parliamentarians, Craig and Carson and the Labour movement. Both series featured many respected historians who had taken a critical, and non – celebratory, view of the Easter Rising.

Another new series to mark the 50th anniversary of the Rising was a collection of 12 historical plays, presented by Michaél Ó hAodha, to reflect the cultural influences that were at work before and after the 1916 period including When the Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh and The Singer by Patrick Pearse.[14] Brian Boydell also composed a cantata called A Terrible Beauty is Born. It was performed by the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra in the Gaiety Theatre and broadcast on RÉ on Easter Monday. Boydell described the invitation as, ‘a tremendous sign of the coming maturity in the country,’ as he was both an Anglo- Irish Protestant and president of the Irish Pacifist Movement.[15]

On the 17th March, Prionsias Ó Couluain presented a feature on the Irish Volunteers and their St. Patrick’s Day parade in Tullamore in 1916. According to Ó Couluain, ‘The St. Patrick’s Day activities of the Volunteers were an important part of the preparation for the Rising at Easter,’ and, ‘a couple of days later they were to take even more aggressive action – in Tullamore in defence of their arms – and it was on this occasion that the first shots of the Rising might have been said to have been shot.’ [16] The Radio Éireann documentary featured interviews with Séamus M. Ó Braonáin (one of the Tullamore volunteers involved in the affray in which an RIC sergeant was injured), Dennis MacCullough, Ernest Blythe and Leon Ó Broin.[17]

Two documentary series drawing heavily on interviews with survivors of Easter Week were On Behalf of the Provisional Government on TÉ and The Week of the Rising on RÉ. On Behalf of the Provisional Government was a profile of each of the seven signatories of the Proclamation containing recollections of family members and comrades who had fought alongside them.

The series was scripted by Owen Dudley Edwards and the narration was provided by Niall Tóibín.[18] The Week of the Rising presented a day to day account of what happened during the Rising with interviews conducted with participants from the RÉ archives together with interviews specially done for the occasion.[19] The series was presented by Proinsias Mac Aonghusa.

The Pageant in Croke park

Teleifís Éireann broadcast two pageants which were specifically written for the golden jubilee commemorations, Seachtar Fear, Seacht Lá (Seven Men, Seven Days) by Bryan McMahon and Tomás MacAnna’s Aiséirí (Resurection). Pageants were a medieval dramatic form that had been particularly popular in Europe at the begining of the 20 th century.[20] The staging of pageants had been used by Patrick Pearse as one of the main cultural activites in his school, St. Enda’s, and revolved around figures from Ireland’s history and mythology, such as Cúchulainn.[21]

Pageants were performed at Croke Park, Dublin and Casement Park, Belfast

Seachtar Fear, Seacht La was commissioned by the GAA and staged in Croke Park on St. Patrick’s Day and again on the following two days.[22] It was also performed in Casement Park in Belfast during Easter week. This was the third pageant McMahon had written for the GAA and he thought it ‘should be written, like the ballad, in broad simple, yet bold strokes.’[23] The cast of almost four hundred included the Artane Boys Band, two other pipe bands, 150 boys from the Dublin County Board and 150 girls from the Dublin Camogie Board.[24]

The special edition of the RTE Guide

Bryan MacMahon also wrote a series of four plays aimed at children about the Rising which were broadcast during Easter week.[25] Aiséirí depicted the struggle for Irish Independence from 1798 to the establishment of the first Dáil in 1919. Among the cast were Micheál Mac Liammóir as the ‘Voice of History’, Ray McAnally as Padraig Pearse and Cecil Sheridan as Jim Larkin.[26]

‘Insurrection’ was a dramatic, news-style reconstruction of the Rising.

Ray McAnally acted as the studio anchor of a news programme that presented daily coverage of the Rising as it unfolded, with TÉ reporters broadcasting on the spot updates of the events and conducting interviews with key participants.[30] McAnally interviewed guests in studio and also used models and street maps to explain to viewers what was happening.[31]

According to Louis Lentin, ‘the style was going to be one of actual reportage: we decided to take you the viewer back to 1916 and present the specific day’s programme as an involved news reportage of the events of that day.’ It was a half hour programme that was broadcast over eight consecutive nights beginning on Easter Sunday.

A scene from Insurrection

Insurrection borrowed this format from the BBC drama Culloden, which was broadcast in 1964 and directed by Peter Watkins.[32] Hugh Leonard was approached to write the script, with Dr. Kevin B. Nowlan of UCD employed as the historical advisor.[33]

Leonard described the assignment as ‘ an invitation no writer in his senses could turn down an opportunity to write a definitive television history of the most improbable insurrection of this or any other century.’[34] Leonard’s script was heavily influenced by Max Caulfield’s The Easter Rebellion, which had been published in 1964.[35]

Insurrection was an enormous undertaking for the young station. The production entailed eight months of work and over three hundred scenes.[36] The large cast of over eighty speaking roles was drawn mainly from the ranks of the Radio Éireann Players and the Abbey Theatre.[37] Hugh Leonard described the daunting task facing the film makers as ‘a near-as-dammit, full scale reconstruction of the Rising, involving months of filming and weeks of studio work… At the beginning, the entire project seemed as gallant and as doomed as the Rising itself.’[38]

The series was produced and directed by Louis Lentin, with the film unit scenes directed by Michael Garvey. Over a period of three months three different film units were in operation.[39] The Defence Forces provided three hundred members for the battle scenes and a further two hundred extras were required for the series.[40] The production also placed a huge demand on the Art and Costume Departments. The designer Alpho O’Reilly, when interviewed for the RTÉ archives in 1989, described locating the original GPO clock from a Board of Works store along with finding clothes, weapons and vehicles that would be appropriate to the period.[41]

Householders had to be persuaded to remove TV aerials and garden ornaments, and modern bus stops and street markings had to be removed or concealed during shoots.[42] Essential locations such as Clanwilliam House were recreated as studio sets while the interior of the GPO was the largest set ever built by Telefís Éireann.[43]

British Lancers charge in 'Insurrection'

The series was a popular and commercial hit in Ireland and Insurrection was sold to the BBC and to ABC in Australia. A shorter one hour edition was broadcast in Canada, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Foreign sales of the programme saw a net income for the station of £8,500.[44] Letter writers to the RTV Guide picked out the drama for special praise[45] According to Roisín Higgins, ‘For many of those who were young during the jubilee, Insurrection is remembered as the most vivid representation of the events being commemorated.’[46]

The Political Background in 1966

The most telling scene for the modern viewer watching the series now is the final scene of the final episode, broadcast on the 17 th April 1966. Ray McAnally is outside Kilmainham Gaol. An ambulance, bringing James Connolly, arrives at the prison. After quoting Pearse, ‘…If our deed has not been sufficient to win freedom, then our children will win it by a better deed.’ A volley of shots ring out and McAnally closes the report by saying, ‘The insurrection is over, or is it?’[47] In the drama McAnally is referring to the War of Independence which is still to come, but for the viewer now it is hard not to watch the clips except through the prism of the Troubles, which broke out just three years later.

For the viewer now it is hard not to watch the 1966 coverage except through the prism of the Troubles, which broke out three years later

The central player in the week’s commemorations was Éamon de Valera. In his dual role as President, and the only surviving commandant of the Rising, he was to the fore in all the events of the week. With a presidential election due shortly after Easter his political opponents worried that the golden jubilee celebrations would, inadvertently or otherwise, become part of the campaign to re-elect President de Valera.[49] In the end de Valera defeated his Fine Gael opponent, T.F. O’Higgins, by 10,000 votes and his prominence during the commemoration certainly didn’t hurt his re-election.

James Plunkett's article on Connolly

The prominence of James Connolly during the week’s commemorations led to a renewed interest in Connolly’s writings and beliefs. TÉ’s Horizon programme had a special edition where Brian Farrell chaired a debate entitled ‘What did Connolly die for?’[50] TÉ producer James Plunket, in an article about the programme, described the misrepresentations of Connolly’s beliefs after his death and wrote that in an interview with an ‘eminent Irishman’ about his relationship with Connolly the interviewee claimed that he had never heard him talk of socialism!

The 1966 commemorations helped to reawaken interest in the socialist thinking of James Connolly

Plunket also wrote about attending a lecture given to American literary students about the Easter Rising where the lecturer told the students that there were six signatories to the Proclamation. According to Plunket, ‘I knew before he went through the list who was going to be left out.’[51] He finished the article by stating that whether, ‘we agree (with Connolly’s socialism) or not is beside the point. He sealed his right against misrepresentation with his life’s blood.’[52]

The republican movement had been turning sharply to the left in this period. 20,000 people took part in the Easter Sunday parade down the Falls Road in Belfast. Representatives from the Belfast Trades Council and the Communist party took part and the main oration was delivered by Seamus Costello on behalf of Sinn Féin. In his speech he blamed capitalism for dividing the working class in the North.[53]

The prominent role of Connolly during the commemorations led many to take an interest in his writings. Lectures and publications on the role of Connolly’s socialism and the Irish Citizen Army appeared[54] and within three years the Labour Party was contesting a general election on the basis that ‘The Seventies will be Socialist’ and ruling out coalition with wither Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael.

A Triumph for RTE and a Troubled Legacy

The men of 1916 as portrayed in 1966 -"to be admired but not emulated".

The coverage of the golden jubilee commemorations was a triumph for RTÉ. Despite the technical and financial limitations they were working under they managed to cover all the major events of the week and news reports also broadcast some of the local commemorations throughout the country. 1966 saw huge resources devoted to Irish history on both radio and television and an invaluable archive of material was built up containing interviews with many of the participants in the rebellion. The station was also able to integrate the Easter Rising throughout the schedules in their music, youth and drama programmes.

Overall RTÉ broadcast over 53 hours of material devoted to the Rising during Easter Week.[55] The popular consciousness of the week was heavily influenced by the broadcasts and people throughout the country could watch and listen to the main events as they took place in Dublin. Television took on a communal function as the novelty of the medium meant many people went to the homes of friends or families or public halls to watch the coverage.

The eruption of the Troubles in 1969 saw many in the south question their attitudes to Irish nationalism and the 1916 Rising. Insurrection was never screened on Irish tv after May 1966

The eruption of the Troubles in 1969 saw many in the south question their attitudes to Irish nationalism and the 1916 Rising. State commemorations of the Rising were quietly dropped in the early seventies and only reinstituted in 2006. Conor Cruise O’Brien, in his 1972 book States of Ireland, argued that the commemorations of 1966 inspired militant republicans and that the methods of 1916, ‘violence, applied by a determined minority,’ could, in their minds, bring about unity.[56]

Many of the rebel songs relating to the period were dropped from RÉ’s playlist and republican folk bands, such as The Wolfe Tones, were no longer asked to perform on RTÉ. After repeating Insurrection once, in May 1966, the station never rebroadcast the series.

The calibre of the history programmes ,and the quality of their contributors, put out during 1966 is a sad contrast to the lack of programming on Irish history in subsequent years. During the Troubles attitudes towards censorship, and coverage of the events in the North, were to become a constant source of controversy within the national broadcaster. RTÉ played a crucial role in people’s perceptions of the comemorations and with the advent of hostilities in the North a repeat of the state and the media joining together to publicly celebrate the revolutionary foundations of the state would not be possible.


Daly, Mary E., O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007).

Hanley, Brian, Millar, Scott, The Lost Revolution (Dublin, 2008).

Higgins, Roisín, Holohan, Carole, O’Donnell, Catherine, 1966 and All That: The 50 th Anniversary Commemorations (Dublin, 2006), History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2.

Lynch, Brian, Through the Eyes of 1916 (Dublin, 2006), History Ireland, Vol. 14, No.2.

Martin, F.X., 1916 – Myth, Fact and Mystery (Dublin, 1967), Studia Hibernia, No. 7.

Augusteijn, Joost, Patrick Pearse: proto – fascist or mainstream European thinker? (Dublin, 2010),

History Ireland, Vol. 18, No. 6,.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1965), 31 December 1965.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 21 January 1966.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 28 January 1966.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 11 March 1966.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 29 April 1966.

RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 20 May 1966.

[1] Irish Independent, 12 February 1966.

[2] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 21.

[3] Lynch, Brian Through the Eyes of 1916 (Dublin, 2006), History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2, p.54.

[4] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p. 5.

[7] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 161.

[8] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p. 5.

[10] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1965), 31 Dec 1965, p. 13

[11] RTÉ Archives, ‘Authority Minutes,’ 30 July 1965.

[15] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p. 25.

[16] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 11 Mar 1966, p. 7.

[20] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 151.

[21] Augusteijn, Joost, Patrick Pearse: proto – fascist or mainstream European thinker? (Dublin, 2010), History Ireland, Vol. 18, No. 6, p. 35.

[22] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 1 April 1966, p.3.

[24] GAA Ard Comhairle, 4 February 1966.

[25] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 1 April 1966, p.15.

[28] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p. 6.

[33] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 157.

[34] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p.6.

[35] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 157.

[38] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 8 April 1966, p.6.

[39] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966), 29 April 1966, p.5.

[40] RTÉ Annual Report, 1967, 7.

[41] Lynch, Brian Through the Eyes of 1916 (Dublin, 2006), History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2, p.56.

[44] NAI DEA, 2000/14/106, RTÉ to External Affairs, 12 May 1966.

[45] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966) 29 April 1966, p. 2.

[46] Daly, Mary, O’Callaghan, Margaret (Ed.s), 1916 in 1966 – Commemorating the Easter Rising (Dublin, 2007), p. 163.

[48] Derry Journal, 29 March 1966.

[49] Higgins, Roisín, Holohan, Carole, O’Donnell, Catherine, 1966 and All That: The 50 th Anniversary Commemorations

(Dublin, 2006), History Ireland, Vol. 14, No. 2, p. 32.

[50] RTV Guide (Dublin, 1966) 20 May 1966, p. 9.

[53] Hanley, Brian, Millar, Scott, The Lost Revolution (Dublin, 2008), p. 55.

[56] Cruise O’Brien, Conor, States of Ireland (London, 1974), p. 143.

Ireland's Easter Rising, a century later

A century ago, Americans were awaiting the latest daily newspaper dispatches about the extraordinary events in Ireland.

Known as the Easter Rising, there was an armed rebellion that started on April 24, 1916 — the day after Easter. It was led by Irish republicans seeking to end centuries of British rule and to establish an independent Irish Republic.

The revolt lasted six days. The British army eventually took control, and most of the rebel leaders were executed, but it began the momentum that eventually led to a free Republic of Ireland in 1922.

“It really marked the beginning of that island’s break from Great Britain,” said Robert Schmuhl, a professor of American studies and journalism at the University of Notre Dame. The Rising was unsuccessful in its execution, but in the aftermath public opinion changed to such an extent that the Irish were able to gain their freedom.

Schmuhl is the author of a new book, “Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising,” published by Oxford University Press.

The book focuses on four key figures related to the Rising, and how Americans and Irish-Americans helped fund and promote the rebellion that led to Irish freedom.

The four figures are: Fenian radical John Devoy, who as an exile and journalist in the United States helped organize the Irish cause American poet Joyce Kilmer, a Catholic convert whose writings on the Rising helped gain public sympathy for the Irish President Woodrow Wilson, who needed Irish-American votes for re-election but didn’t back Irish independence and American-born Éamon de Valera, the only leader of the Rising who wasn’t executed by the British.

In writing the book, Schmuhl studied American newspaper coverage of the Rising and its aftermath. There were comparisons at the time between the Irish rebels and American colonists who took part in the Boston Tea Party or the Battle of Lexington nearly 150 years earlier to gain independence from Britain, he said.

“Irish Americans largely bankrolled the Easter Rising,” Schmuhl said. They contributed about $2.5 million, much of it sent back secretly to Ireland to buy guns and fund publications that were sympathetic to the cause, he said. “Many people think that independence probably would not have occurred without American support.”

Americans closely followed the revolt and its aftermath in newspaper accounts.

“Dublin burns while rebels fight troops” read the banner headline on the front page of the South Bend Tribune on April 29, 1916, five days after the rebellion started. Within a few days, it became clear to Americans that the rising in Ireland was much more serious and bloody than originally thought. The Rising resulted in at least 485 deaths and more than 2,600 people were wounded, including many civilians.

Although editorially not sympathetic to the rebels, the New York Times ran front-page reports about the events in Dublin for 14 straight days after the start of the rebellion, Schmuhl notes.

The British, then in the midst of World War I, were very sensitive to what American newspapers were saying, because the United States was still neutral and not yet involved in the war, Schmuhl said. When the U.S. joined the war, the British wanted the Americans on their side.

De Valera, originally scheduled for execution for his role in the rebellion, instead was given a reprieve by the British.

De Valera came to the United States in 1919 to speak and raise money for the Irish cause. He arrived in South Bend on Oct. 15, 1919, and spoke in South Bend, and at Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College.

At Notre Dame — where the student body was heavily Irish American in those days — he was cheered wildly by about 1,500 students and members of the faculty greeted him cordially, the South Bend News-Times reported at the time.

Notre Dame’s athletic teams had no formal nickname in those days, although they occasionally were called the “Gold and Blue,” “The Ramblers” and, sometimes disparagingly, the “Fighting Irish.”

It wasn’t until 1927, five years after Ireland gained its independence, that Notre Dame formally adopted the “Fighting Irish” as its nickname.

De Valera had a long life and career. He was head of the Irish government several times, and Irish president from 1959 until 1973. He died in 1975 at age 92.

In Ireland, the Rising traditionally is marked each year on Easter weekend, rather than on the April 24 anniversary.

Last month on Easter, thousands of Irish soldiers marched through crowded streets in Dublin on Easter to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Rising. The event featured ceremonies at key buildings seized in 1916, including the General Post Office on O’Connell Street, which served as rebel headquarters during the revolt.

Ronan Fanning: Why is Éamon de Valera so unpopular on both sides of the Irish Sea?

The purpose of Éamon de Valera: A Will to Power is to seek to reconcile a recognition of the catastrophic consequences of de Valera’s petulant rejection of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921-22 with an acknowledgement of that remarkable understanding of state power and foreign policy in 1932-45 that identified him as the man who created a sovereign, independent Irish state. Although it also recognised that de Valera was the most divisive figure in 20th-century Irish history, the reception of the book since its publication a month ago has shown that, despite the passage of a hundred years since the Irish revolution, I underestimated his enduring unpopularity.

But the roots of that unpopularity in Britain – or, more precisely, in England – are quite different from the roots of his unpopularity in Ireland. The English have an innate distaste for de Valera because he personifies an independent Irish national identity, just as they have in innate distaste for de Gaulle (who personifies Free France and the rejection of Anglo-American hegemony) and for Franco and Salazar. Nor is it coincidental that an unapologetically Catholic ethos was then an integral component of the Irish, Spanish and Portuguese states: anti-Catholicism, more frequently covert than overt, is never far beneath the surface of the British view of Europe.

Inveterate English dislike of de Valera was encapsulated in the headlines over the review in the Sunday Times. “Too big for his boots. Hugely egotistical, de Valera believed in two things: nationalism and his own infallibility.” But it was Roy Foster, in a generous and penetrating review in the Spectator, who most elegantly captured this aspect of de Valera when he suggested that the title of one of Anthony Trollope’s novels would have well served as a title for this biography: He Knew He Was Right. That de Valera, in a phrase from the Sunday Times review, was “driven, humourless, arrogant and ascetic” is indisputable. But such self-belief is commonly characteristic of revolutionary leaders seeking to change the course of history.

Another reason why de Valera has always had such a persistently bad press in Britain is because he is so signally fails to fit their stage-Irish stereotype: rumbustious, fun-loving, hard drinking, colourful and larger than life – an image which the British could readily pin on Michael Collins, for example, during the Treaty negotiations but which never fitted the austere and pedantic de Valera. But for his more educated and well-informed British critics the gravest charge against him was his identification with Irish neutrality in the second World War.

The ramifications of Irish independence and its nomenclature, whether independent Ireland was described as the Irish Free State or as a republic externally associated with the British Commonwealth, mattered little to British governments between 1922 and 1938 (when the British transferred the ports that they had retained under a defence annex to the Treaty to Irish control in order to achieve the lowest common denominator of Ireland’s benign neutrality in the coming war). That was the theory but British attitudes in general – and Churchill’s in particular – understandably hardened in practice when de Valera denied the British the use of the ports during the second World War. The persistence of British contempt was well expressed in Nicholas Monsarrat’s bestselling novel, The Cruel Sea, published in 1951: “the cost, in men and ships, added months to the struggle, and ran up a score which Irish eyes a-smiling on the day of Allied victory was not going to cancel”. Contempt was compounded by de Valera’s pedantically grotesque error of judgement when he called at the home of the German envoy to Ireland to offer his condolences on the death of Hitler. That resentment among those old enough to remember the second World War lingers until the present day.

The reasons why de Valera remains so unpopular in Ireland are quite different. Many of them are rooted in his culpability for the Civil War. When Brian Cowen launched the book on October 19th, he argued that the time had come for all political parties to take an ecumenical and dispassionate view of the events of 19 21-22. For some of the Irish reviewers that time, clearly, is not yet.

But the more intriguing causes of de Valera’s present-day unpopularity in Ireland have to do with the discomfort of the younger generation with the Irish State of which he was the pre-eminent founding father. This generation takes for granted sovereignty and the achievement of Irish independence. It also takes for granted the fact that Ireland, uniquely among the European states that achieved independence in the aftermath of the first World War, is the outstanding example of the triumph of democracy and of the stability that flows there from. Although more than half a century has elapsed since de Valera was head of government and it is over 40 years since he stood down as head of state, he still stands indicted for the residual legacy of the socially and economically backward Ireland of the 1950s. He gets no credit for what he did but stands condemned for what he never tried to do.

Yet without de Valera, as I have written in the conclusion to the book, Ireland would never have achieved unfettered independence so quickly and “certainly would not have achieved it before the second World War, the only international crisis that has so far threatened to overwhelm the independence of the state”. Nor does the present generation of pundits give him credit for having thereby spared Ireland “further decades of corrosive and sterile debate on the pros and cons of the British connection” or recognise that it was thanks to de Valera that, by 1972, the Irish people were so self-confident about their own sovereignty that they voted so decisively in favour of diluting that sovereignty by joining Europe.

Sometimes the motives of de Valera’s latter-day critics are more overtly political Eoin Ó Broin’s review in the Sunday Business Post is an obvious case in point. Ó Broin is a Sinn Féin councillor who is also among the party’s most able intellectuals with a number of books to his credit. The titles of two of them tell us as much as we need to know about his point of departure: Sinn Féin and the Politics of Left Republicanism and A Better Ireland: Arguments for a New Republic. “Do we really need another biography of Eamon de Valera?,” he begins by asking. He is at least smart enough to surmise that my intention was to “provide a certain clarity of analysis” albeit that he unsurprisingly finds that analysis unpersuasive.

Why unsurprising? Because on the eve of an election in which Sinn Féin nurtured what now seems the increasingly unrealistic hope of displacing Fianna Fáil as the main opposition party, the last thing they want is a book that might provoke an analysis of de Valera’s achievement and of the role that Fianna Fáil can continue to play in Irish politics.

Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern history at University College, Dublinis, is author of Éamon de Valera: A Will to Power (Faber, £20)

De Valera Observes Anniversary of Easter Rising - HISTORY

Eamon De Valera is the towering figure of Irish history in the 20 th century. A commander of the Easter Rising, the political figure at the head of the early Dail, anti-Treaty hard-liner, Fianna Fail founder, multi-term Taoiseach, leader during World War Two and, finally, head of state from 1959 to 1972.

He had won the position with ease in 1959, taking over 56% of the vote against Sean MacEoin. De Valera taking up the Presidency was not quite the retirement package that it is often portrayed to be, with internal Fianna Fail politics pushing the ageing figurehead strongly to leave “proper” Irish politics to a younger generation by taking up a nominally higher, but less politically important, office.

De Valera was, and has only become more so, a divisive figure, but was still popular in Ireland during his first term. That term was quiet and without major incident, though “Dev” maintained a surprisingly active schedule for a man of his age (77 when he took the office).

Approaching the end of his first term, De Valera agreed to seek re-election. Winning a second term would make him, at 84, the oldest elected head of state in history.

But, there were obvious disadvantages to this. De Valera was growing more infirm and was suffering from severe visual problems, that would leave him blind in his last years. But, he was still active and did not shirk the activities of the office.

Moreover, it was still believed that “Dev”, one of the last major figures of the revolutionary period who was still alive, was still immensely popular in the country. Even further, it was 1966, the 50 th anniversary of the Easter Rising, for which immense celebrations and commemorations were planned, events that De Valera was going to be at the centre of.

It was debatable whether Fine Gael, (for the uninitiated, Ireland’s other major party) would even bother to contest the election, seeing as the result was apparently beyond doubt. But they did eventually commit to a candidate.

Their choice was Tom O’Higgins, a TD from the constituency of Laois-Offaly. Aged 50, O’Higgins was a major figure in the party, but the most that was expected of him in 1966 was to put up a respectable electoral performance. Tom was a nephew of Kevin O’Higgins, an opponent of De Valera’s during the Civil War.

With the campaign starting, Fianna Fail turned to one of its rising stars to be the manager of De Valera’s re-election bid. Charles J. Haughey would become as notable a figure in years to come as De Valera had been, but that was still all ahead of him in 1966.

Haughey believed that he had an easy task ahead of him, but still recognised the weaknesses of “Dev”. Side by side, the ageing President would look poor next to the more youthful O’Higgins, whose campaign was hitting the theme of “social justice” with some success, while O’Higgins himself was drawing comparisons to John F. Kennedy.

Haughey solution was to limit De Valera’s exposure as much as possible, declaring that campaigning was beneath the President’s dignity, a poor excuse that fooled little. But Haughey had other motives for such a decision. Knowing that the national broadcaster, RTE, was obliged to provide balanced coverage between all candidates during political reporting, he was able to limit the amount of time given to the O’Higgins campaign by Ireland’s only television station.

However, he was still able to get coverage for De Valera out of the confines of the Presidential campaign, since he was involved in all of the Easter Rising anniversary events that year, which were well covered by RTE.

But Haughey’s campaign backfired somewhat. National newspapers had no restrictions on their coverage, and the majority, some annoyed at Haughey’s tactics, began to favorably report on O’Higgins and criticise De Valera. The Irish Times in particular was fully in support of the Fine Gael campaign, pushing hard for the voters of Ireland to reject the old nation that De Valera was seen to represent.

De Valera, for his part, had a deep distrust of Haughey, made worse during the campaign. He was quoted on one occasion of stating his opinion that Haughey would “destroy” the party in future and disliked the tactics the future Taoiseach employed. On the other side, O’Higgins was running a vibrant campaign, travelling further and meeting more voters then the President.

Haughey may have seen the way things were going, as, on the day before the election, he pushed Fianna Fail to increase milk prices in order to greater secure the votes of the agricultural community, who were deeply opposed to the sitting government at the time.

De Valera won the election by the skin of his teeth. Little more than 10’000 votes separated him from O’Higgins, 1% of the tally. The Fine Gael challenger had won in 14 of 38 constituencies, including all of Dublin. From being in a position where it was seen almost as a formality, the 1966 Presidential election had been an inch away from producing the greatest shock in Irish political history, only Dev’s performance in rural areas saving him. Whether it was dissatisfaction with De Valera himself, the age difference, the tactics or just the way politics was going in Ireland, the result was almost a quasi-defeat for Fianna Fail, somewhat of a humiliation.

De Valera saw out his final term and retired, dying in 1975. Haughey went through numerous, ahem, challenges in future years, but would eventually become a multi-term Taoiseach, albeit one that has a somewhat infamous reputation in modern Ireland. O’ Higgins would become a deputy leader of Fine Gael, and run again in 1973 where, despite now being a favourite, he lost out to Erskine Childers.

Why does this episode teach us about the Presidency? Little about the office itself, though it offers a stark warning on the dangers of presumption. De Valera had weaknesses, politically, and allowed his campaign to be led in the wrong direction by Haughey. O’ Higgins was desperately unlucky at the final count. Elections are never things to take lightly, as “Dev” nearly found out to his cost.

To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the archive.

Recalling the spirit of the Easter Rising

On the table as I write lies a dirty orange canvas-covered copy of a 1937 Left Book Club edition of The Irish Republic by Dorothy Macardle, which I inherited from my grandfather. The battered spine is very familiar from my childhood, when it had a prominent place on the shelf of an old bookcase in our family ‘front room’, along with a small collection of historical, literary and devotional works. Though he left school at the age of 12, my grandfather had clearly pored over Macardle’s 1,000 pages and the book bears his unmistakable pencil-marked page references and underlinings.

Subtitled ‘a documentary chronicle of the Anglo-Irish conflict and the partitioning of Ireland, with a detailed account of the period 1916-1923’, The Irish Republic presents, according to the author’s foreword, ‘an account of the Irish Republican struggle from the view-point of an Irish Republican’. A full-page photograph of Eamon de Valera, veteran of the 1916 Easter Rising and subsequently president of the Irish Republic, faces the frontispiece, and he commends Macardle’s account in a preface (though, given that the book could fairly be described as a hagiography, ‘the Long Fellow’ has the cheek to insist that the author’s ‘interpretations and conclusions’ are ‘in many cases… not in accord with my views’).

Though Macardle’s work is not referenced in James Heartfield and Kevin Rooney’s Who’s Afraid of the Easter Rising? 1916-2016, a penetrating reflection on the controversies surrounding the Dublin revolt of 1916 as its centenary year approaches, it has some claim to be the defining text in what came to be seen as the mainstream nationalist tradition against which subsequent generations of historians have turned their critical, and often polemical, energies. In fact, that tradition was neither as strong nor as mainstream as has often been supposed. Indeed, The Irish Republic was one of few accounts of the earlier period that expressed any sympathy for the republican project. Furthermore, later historians of that tradition tended to be, like Macardle, of the non-academic ‘practising history without a licence’ sort. Overall, it cannot be said that any authoritative historical orthodoxy about 1916 ever developed.

As Heartfield and Rooney persuasively argue, though a number of non-academic historians (C Desmond Greaves, TA Jackson, Peter Berresford Ellis) have endorsed the republican cause, a nationalist historiography has never achieved academic respectability in Ireland (still less in Britain). Though historians, such as Owen Dudley Edwards and Roy Foster, Owen Morgan and Paul Bew, may have been hailed as iconoclastic and innovative in relation to what they regard as a republican orthodoxy, in reality ‘anti-national history is the mainstream’. Hence Heartfield and Rooney rightly insist that ‘historical revisionism is not a very useful term’, noting in passing that nationalist critics such as Desmond Fennell and Seamus Deane ‘pay too high a price’ when they accept the ‘anti-revisionist label’.

The cliché that the Irish are perversely preoccupied by the burden of ‘too much history’ pervades contemporary commentary on the 1916 anniversary. Indeed, as Heartfield and Rooney recall, the same criticism was made of de Valera by British negotiators in the 1930s and of Irish Taoiseach Charles Haughey by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s (the latest volume of Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher reveals that even British civil servants were shocked at their prime minister’s ignorance of Irish history). The celebration of anniversaries is widely blamed for fanning the flames of new insurgencies, from the commemoration of the centenary of 1798 United Irishman Revolt in the decade before the Easter Rising, through successive commemorations of 1916, most notably the 50th anniversary events that were followed (though some three years later), by the eruption of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. But, as Heartfield and Rooney comment, although ‘historical observance is… important to all kinds of movements’, such events do not in themselves have a ‘motivating power’.


Operation Barbarossa: the most barbarous conflict in history

Michael Crowley

‘Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?’, was the famous rhetorical question posed by WB Yeats in 1937, shortly before his death, reflecting on the influence on the ‘revolutionary generation’ of 1916 of Cathleen Ni Houlihan, his 1902 play (written jointly with Lady Gregory) in which ‘Mother Ireland’ incites rebellion and martyrdom. Northern poet Paul Muldoon later offered a pithy rejoinder: ‘The answer is “Certainly not”. / If Yeats had saved his pencil-lead / would certain men have stayed in bed?’ Heartfield and Rooney agree, insisting that nationalist revolts in Ireland have been provoked by current experiences, not historical memories and literary inspiration. In recent decades in Northern Ireland, ‘crowds were not really driven by ghosts of Pearse and Connolly, but by discrimination in work, housing, policing and government’.

One of the recurrent themes in the mainstream repudiation of the legacy of the Easter Rising is that it legitimised a cult of violence in Irish political life. This is most potently symbolised in the invocation by Padraic Pearse, one of the rising’s leading propagandists, of the necessity for a ‘blood sacrifice’ in the cause of founding a new nation. But, as Who’s Afraid…? documents, the notion of ‘blood sacrifice’ in the cause of national redemption was not, in the early twentieth century, peculiar to Irish revolutionaries. It was a tragically universal response to the existential moral and political crisis that culminated in the carnage of the First World War – the crucial, though often neglected, context within which the Easter Rising took place. Furthermore, the conviction that ‘blood sacrifice’ is a prerequisite for the foundation of nations is not confined to Ireland: ironically, nowhere is it more deeply established than in Britain, where the celebration of past military glories, from Agincourt through Trafalgar to the D Day landings and the Battle of Britain, permeates the national culture.

Critics of the leaders of the Easter Rising deny the democratic legitimacy of their actions, pointing to the popularity of the moderate nationalists led by John Redmond, who hoped to trade some form of devolved home rule in return for their support for Britain in the First World War (in which, it is worth recalling, vastly more Irish people perished than in the entire course of conflicts in Ireland from 1916 through to 1923). It was Andrew Bonar Law, the leader of the Conservative Party, who in 1912 supported mass paramilitary loyalist resistance to a Home Rule Bill passed by the British parliament, declaring that ‘there are things stronger than parliamentary majorities’. The immediate suspension of plans for home rule – and the imposition of draconian censorship and other repressive measures – at the start of the First World War confirmed the subordination of Irish national aspirations to the imperatives of British imperialism. The exigencies of war gave Irish republicans little alternative but to revolt – and the popular response, confirmed at elections in Ireland in 1918, and in the wider impact throughout the British Empire and beyond (the subject of a fascinating chapter in Who’s Afraid…?), confirmed the legitimacy of their actions.

In a recent debate with Heartfield and Rooney in London, Belfast historian Paul Bew, formerly associated with the political wing of the ‘Official’ IRA, latterly adviser to the Unionist Party and recently ennobled as a cross-bench peer, argued that, rather than being fearful of the impending centenary of 1916, leading Irish politicians on both sides of the border regarded it more in the spirit of an appointment with the dentist rather than as a date with historical destiny. It is true, as Heartfield and Rooney point out, that controversies surrounding past anniversaries of the Easter Rising have exposed the bad faith of the Dublin establishment, which claims the legitimacy of the nationalist tradition while accepting the subordinate relationship with Britain that was consolidated with the partition of Ireland in the 1920s and persists up to the present. For Bew, the ‘success’ of the Easter Rising – reflected in the role of some of its protagonists, personified by de Valera, in subsequent Free State governments – resulted in decades of stagnation, poverty and emigration (the consequences were worst of all for Northern Catholics). But it is more appropriate to regard these developments as a result of the failure of the rising, reflecting the weakness of both middle-class and working-class support for the challenge to British imperialism. The result was ‘a carnival of reaction’, as the rising’s distinguished socialist leader James Connolly had anticipated if partition was enforced.


Éamon de Valera was born on 14 October 1882 in New York City, the son of Catherine Coll, who was originally from Bruree, County Limerick, and Juan Vivion de Valera, described on the birth certificate as a Spanish artist born in 1853 in the Basque Country, Spain. [5] [6] He was born at the Nursery and Child's Hospital, Lexington Avenue, a home for destitute orphans and abandoned children. [7] His parents were reportedly married on 18 September 1881 at St Patrick's Church in Jersey City, New Jersey, but archivists have not located any marriage certificate or any birth, baptismal, or death certificate information for anyone called Juan Vivion de Valera (nor for "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. Although he was known as Edward de Valera before 1901, a fresh birth certificate was issued in 1910, in which his first name was officially changed to Edward and his father's surname given as "de Valera". [8] [9] As a child, he was known as "Eddie" or "Eddy". [10]

According to Coll, Juan Vivion died in 1885 leaving Coll and her child in poor circumstances. [11] Éamon was taken to Ireland by his uncle Ned at the age of two. When his mother remarried in the mid-1880s, he was not brought back to live with her, but was reared by his grandmother, Elizabeth Coll, her son Patrick and her daughter Hannie, in Bruree, 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 not successful in enrolling at two colleges in Limerick, but was accepted at Blackrock College, Dublin, at the instigation of his local curate. [12]

He played rugby at Blackrock and Rockwell College, then for the Munster rugby team around 1905. He remained a lifelong devotee of rugby, attending international matches even towards the end of his life when he was nearly blind. [13]

At the end of his first year at 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. [14] It was here that de Valera was first given the nickname "Dev" by a teaching colleague, Tom O'Donnell. [15] 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 teaching, this time at Belvedere College. [16] In 1906, he secured a post as a teacher of mathematics at Carysfort Teachers' Training College for women in Blackrock, 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. [17]

There were occasions when de Valera seriously contemplated the religious life like his half-brother, Fr. Thomas Wheelwright, but ultimately he did not pursue this vocation. As late as 1906, when he was 24 years old, he approached the President of Clonliffe Seminary in Dublin for advice on his vocation. [18] De Valera was throughout his life portrayed as a deeply religious man, and in death asked to be buried in a religious habit. 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 priestly orders, but not to becoming a lay member of a religious order. [19]

As a young Gaeilgeoir (Irish speaker), de Valera became an activist for the Irish 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.

The couple had five sons: Vivion (1910–1982), Éamon (1913–1986), Brian (1915–1936), Rúaidhrí (1916–1978), and Terence (Terry 1922–2007) and two daughters: Máirín (1912–1984) and Emer (1918–2012). Brian de Valera predeceased his parents.

Early political activity Edit

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. The organisation was 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 branch. 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. [20] 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. [21]

1916 Easter Rising Edit

On 24 April 1916, the Easter Rising began. Forces commanded by de Valera occupied Boland's Mill [22] on Grand Canal Street in Dublin. His chief task was to cover the southeastern approaches to the city. After a week of fighting, the order came from Pádraig Pearse to surrender. De Valera was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to penal servitude for life.

De Valera was among the few republican leaders the British did not execute. [22] It has been argued that his life 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 (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?) while the full legal situation was clarified. The UK was trying to bring the US into the war in Europe at the time, and the Irish American vote was important in US politics. [22] 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. [23] De Valera had no Fenian family or personal background and his MI5 file in 1916 was very slim, detailing only his open membership in the Irish Volunteers. [24] 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 British Prime Minister H. H. 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. [25]

De Valera's supporters and detractors argue about his bravery during the Easter Rising. His supporters claim he showed leadership skills and a capacity for meticulous 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 TD and Minister, Dr. Tom O'Higgins, if he ever repeated the story. [26] The British reportedly, however, considered de Valera's forces the best-trained and best-led among the rebels. [22] 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". [27]

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 as the Member of Parliament (MP) 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. [28] But because most other Irish rebellion leaders were dead, in 1917 he was elected President of Sinn Féin, [22] 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. [29] 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.

President of Dáil Éireann Edit

Sinn Féin won a huge majority in the 1918 general election, largely thanks to the British executions of the 1916 leaders, the threat of conscription with the Conscription Crisis of 1918 and the first-past-the-post ballot. They won 73 out of 105 Irish seats, with about 47% of votes cast. 25 seats were uncontested. On 21 January 1919, 27 Sinn Féin MPs (the rest were imprisoned or impaired), calling themselves Teachtaí Dála (TDs), assembled in the Mansion House in Dublin and formed an Irish parliament, known as Dáil Éireann (translatable into English as the Assembly of Ireland). The Ministry of Dáil Éireann was formed, under the leadership of the Príomh Aire (also called President of Dáil Éireann) Cathal Brugha. De Valera had been re-arrested in May 1918 and imprisoned and so could not attend the January session of the Dáil. He escaped from Lincoln Gaol, England in February 1919. As a result, he replaced Brugha as Príomh Aire in the April session of Dáil Éireann.

In the hope of securing international recognition, Seán T. O'Kelly was sent as envoy to Paris to present the Irish case to the Peace Conference convened by the great powers at the end of World War I. When it became clear by May 1919 that this mission could not succeed, de Valera decided to visit the United States. The mission had three objectives: to ask for official recognition of the Irish Republic, to float a loan to finance the work of the Government (and by extension, the Irish Republican Army), and to secure the support of the American people for the republic. His visit lasted from June 1919 to December 1920 and had mixed success, including a visit to Fenway Park in Boston in front of 50,000 supporters. [30] One negative outcome was the splitting of the Irish-American organisations into pro- and anti-de Valera factions. [31] He met the young Harvard-educated leader from Puerto Rico, Pedro Albizu Campos, and forged a lasting and useful alliance with him. [32] It was during this American tour that he recruited his long-serving personal secretary, Kathleen O'Connell, an Irish emigrant who would return to Ireland with him. [33] In October 1919, he visited the University of Notre Dame campus in Indiana, where he planted a tree and also laid a wreath by the statue of William Corby. He toured the university archives and spoke in Washington Hall about the cause of Ireland in front of twelve hundred students. [34] [35]

De Valera managed to raise $5,500,000 from American supporters, an amount that far exceeded the hopes of the Dáil. [36] Of this, $500,000 was devoted to the American presidential campaign in 1920, helping him gain wider public support there. [37] In 1921, it was said that $1,466,000 had already been spent, and it is unclear when the net balance arrived in Ireland. [38] Recognition was not forthcoming in the international sphere. He also had difficulties with various Irish-American leaders, such as John Devoy and Judge Daniel F. Cohalan, who resented the dominant position he established, preferring to retain their control over Irish affairs in the United States.

While American recognition for the Republic had been his priority, in February 1921, De Valera redirected Patrick McCartan from Washington to Moscow. McCartan was told by Maximn Litvinov, that the opportunity of recognition and assistance had passed. The Soviet priority was a trade agreement with Britain (signed in March). In June the British government (with a view to both domestic and American opinion) published the proposed treaty between the Dáil government and the Soviets, and related correspondence. [39]

Meanwhile, in Ireland, the conflict between the British authorities and the Dáil (which the British declared illegal in September 1919), escalated into the Irish War of Independence. De Valera left day-to-day government, during his eighteen-month absence in the United States, to Michael Collins, his 29-year-old Minister for Finance. De Valera and Collins would later become opponents during the Irish Civil War. [40]

President of the Republic Edit

In January 1921, in his first appearance in the Dáil, after his return to a country gripped by the War of Independence, de Valera introduced a motion calling on the IRA to desist from ambushes and other tactics that were allowing the British to successfully portray it as a terrorist group, [41] and to take on the British forces with conventional military methods. This they strongly opposed, and de Valera relented, issuing a statement expressing support for the IRA, and claimed it was fully under the control of the Dáil. He then, along with Cathal Brugha and Austin Stack, brought pressure to bear on Michael Collins to undertake a journey to the United States himself, on the pretext that only he could take up where de Valera had left off. Collins successfully resisted this move and stayed in Ireland. In the elections of May 1921, all candidates in Southern Ireland were returned unopposed, and Sinn Féin secured some seats in Northern Ireland. Following the Truce of July 1921 that ended the war, de Valera went to see Prime Minister David Lloyd George in London on 14 July. No agreement was reached, and by then the Parliament of Northern Ireland had already met. It became clear that neither a republic, nor independence for all 32 counties, was going to be offered Lloyd George told de Valera he could "put a soldier in Ireland for every man, woman and child in it" if the IRA did not immediately agree to stop fighting. [42] In August 1921, de Valera secured Dáil Éireann approval to change the 1919 Dáil Constitution to upgrade his office from prime minister or chairman of the cabinet to a full President of the Republic. Declaring himself now the Irish equivalent of King George V, he argued that as Irish head of state, in the absence of the British head of state from the negotiations, he too should not attend the peace conference called the Treaty Negotiations (October–December 1921) at which British and Irish government leaders agreed to the effective independence of twenty-six of Ireland's thirty-two counties as the Irish Free State, with Northern Ireland choosing to remain under British sovereignty. It is generally agreed by historians that whatever his motives, it was a mistake for de Valera not to have travelled to London. [43]

Having effected these changes, a boundary commission came into place to redraw the Irish border. Nationalists expected its report to recommend that largely nationalist areas become part of the Free State, and many hoped this would make Northern Ireland so small it would not be economically viable. A Council of Ireland was also provided in the Treaty as a model for an eventual all-Irish parliament. Hence neither the pro- nor anti-Treaty sides made many complaints about partition in the Treaty Debates.

Anglo-Irish Treaty Edit

The Republic's delegates to the Treaty Negotiations were accredited by President de Valera and his cabinet as plenipotentiaries (that is, negotiators with the legal authority to sign a treaty without reference back to the cabinet), but were given secret cabinet instructions by de Valera that required them to return to Dublin before signing the Treaty. [44] The Treaty proved controversial in Ireland insofar as it replaced the Republic by a dominion of the British Commonwealth with the King represented by a Governor-General of the Irish Free State. The Irish delegates Arthur Griffith, Robert Barton, and Michael Collins supported by Erskine Childers as Secretary-General set up their delegation headquarters at 22 Hans Place in Knightsbridge. It was there, at 11.15 am on 5 December 1921, that the decision was made to recommend the Treaty to Dáil Éireann the Treaty was finally signed by the delegates after further negotiations which closed at 02:20 on 6 December 1921.

De Valera baulked at the agreement. His opponents claimed that he had refused to join the negotiations because he knew what the outcome would be and did not wish to receive the blame. De Valera claimed that he had not gone to the treaty negotiations because he would be better able to control the extremists at home, and that his absence would allow leverage for the plenipotentiaries to refer back to him and not be pressured into any agreements. Because of the secret instructions given to the plenipotentiaries, he reacted to news of the signing of the Treaty not with anger at its contents (which he refused even to read when offered a newspaper report of its contents), but with anger over the fact that they had not consulted him, their president, before signing. His ideal drafts, presented to a secret session of the Dáil during the Treaty Debates and publicised in January 1922, were ingenious compromises but they included dominion status, the Treaty Ports, the fact of partition subject to veto by the parliament in Belfast, and some continuing status for the King as head of the Commonwealth. Ireland's share of the imperial debt was to be paid. [45]

After the Treaty was narrowly ratified by 64 to 57, de Valera and a large minority of Sinn Féin TDs left Dáil Éireann. He then resigned and Arthur Griffith was elected President of Dáil Éireann in his place, though respectfully still calling him 'The President'. On a speaking tour of the more republican province of Munster, starting on 17 March 1922, de Valera made controversial speeches at Carrick on Suir, Lismore, Dungarvan and Waterford, saying that: "If the Treaty were accepted, [by the electorate] the fight for freedom would still go on, and the Irish people, instead of fighting foreign soldiers, will have to fight the Irish soldiers of an Irish government set up by Irishmen." At Thurles, several days later, he repeated this imagery and added that the IRA: "..would have to wade through the blood of the soldiers of the Irish Government, and perhaps through that of some members of the Irish Government to get their freedom." In a letter to the Irish Independent on 23 March de Valera accepted the accuracy of their report of his comment about "wading" through blood, but deplored that the newspaper had published it. [46]

De Valera objected to the statement of fidelity that the treaty required Irish parliamentarians to take an oath of allegiance to the King. He also was concerned that Ireland could not have an independent foreign policy as part of the British Commonwealth when the British retained several naval ports (see Treaty Ports) around Ireland's coast. As a compromise, de Valera proposed "external association" with the British Empire, which would leave Ireland's foreign policy in her own hands and a republican constitution with no mention of the British monarch (he proposed this as early as April, well before the negotiations began, under the title "Document No. 2"). Michael Collins was prepared to accept this formula and the two wings (pro- and anti-Treaty) of Sinn Féin formed a pact to fight the 1922 Irish general election together and form a coalition government afterwards. Collins later called off the pact on the eve of the election. De Valera's opponents won the election and civil war broke out shortly afterwards in late June 1922. [47]

Civil War Edit

Relations between the new Irish government, which was backed by most of the Dáil and the electorate, and the anti-Treatyites under the nominal leadership of de Valera, now descended into the Irish Civil War (June 1922 to May 1923), in which the pro-treaty Free State forces defeated the anti-Treaty IRA. Both sides had wanted to avoid civil war, but fighting broke out over the takeover of the Four Courts in Dublin by anti-Treaty members of the IRA. These men were not loyal to de Valera and initially were not even supported by the executive of the anti-Treaty IRA. However, Michael Collins was forced to act against them when Winston Churchill threatened to re-occupy the country with British troops unless action was taken. When fighting broke out in Dublin between the Four Courts garrison and the new Free State Army, republicans backed the IRA men in the Four Courts and civil war broke out. De Valera, though he held no military position, backed the anti-Treaty IRA or "Irregulars" and said that he was re-enlisting in the IRA as an ordinary volunteer. On 8 September 1922, he met in secret with Richard Mulcahy in Dublin to try to halt the fighting. However, according to de Valera, they "could not find a basis" for agreement. [48]

Though nominally head of the anti-Treatyites, de Valera had little influence. He does not seem to have been involved in any fighting and had little or no influence with the military republican leadership – headed by IRA Chief of Staff, Liam Lynch. De Valera and the anti-Treaty TDs formed a "republican government" on 25 October 1922 from anti-Treaty TDs to "be temporarily the Supreme Executive of the Republic and the State, until such time as the elected Parliament of the Republic can freely assemble, or the people being rid of external aggression are at liberty to decide freely how they are to be governed". However, it had no real authority and was a pale shadow of the republican Dáil government of 1919–21, which had provided an alternative government to the British administration.

In March 1923, de Valera attended the meeting of the IRA Army Executive to decide on the future of the war. He was known to be in favour of a truce but he had no voting rights and it was narrowly decided to continue hostilities. [49] The leader of the Free State, W. T. Cosgrave, insisted that there could be no acceptance of a surrender without disarming. [50]

On 30 May 1923, the IRA's new Chief of Staff Frank Aiken (Lynch had been killed) called a ceasefire and ordered volunteers to "dump arms". De Valera, who had wanted an end to the internecine fighting for some time, backed the ceasefire order with a message in which he called the anti-Treaty fighters "the Legion of the Rearguard", saying that "The Republic can no longer be successfully defended by your arms. Further sacrifice on your part would now be in vain and the continuance of the struggle in arms unwise in the national interest and prejudicial to the future of our cause. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic. Other means must be sought to safeguard the nation's right." [51]

After this point many of the republicans were arrested in Free State round-ups when they had come out of hiding and returned home. De Valera remained in hiding for several months after the ceasefire was declared however, he emerged in August to stand for election in County Clare. Making a campaign appearance in Ennis on 15 August, de Valera was arrested on the platform and interned at Arbour Hill prison until 1924.

After the IRA dumped their arms rather than surrender them or continue a now fruitless war, de Valera returned to political methods. In 1924, he was arrested in Newry for "illegally entering Northern Ireland" and held in solitary confinement for a month in Crumlin Road Gaol, Belfast.

During this time, de Valera came to believe that abstentionism was not a workable tactic in the long term. He now believed that a better course would be to try to gain power and turn the Free State from a constitutional monarchy into a republic. He tried to convince Sinn Féin to accept this new line. However, a vote to accept the Free State Constitution (contingent on the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance) narrowly failed. Soon afterwards, de Valera resigned from Sinn Féin and seriously considered leaving politics.

However, one of his colleagues, Seán Lemass, convinced de Valera to found a new republican party. [52] In March 1926, with Lemass, Constance Markievicz and others, de Valera formed a new party, Fianna Fáil (The Warriors of Destiny), a party that was to dominate 20th-century Irish politics. [53] While Sinn Féin still held to an abstentionist line, Fianna Fáil was dedicated to republicanising the Free State from within if it gained power.

Having attracted most of Sinn Féin's branches due to Lemass' organisational skill, [52] the new party made swift electoral gains in the general election on 9 June 1927. In the process, it took much of Sinn Féin's previous support, winning 44 seats to Sinn Féin's five. It refused to take the Oath of Allegiance (portrayed by opponents as an 'Oath of Allegiance to the Crown' but actually an Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State with a secondary promise of fidelity to the King in his role in the Treaty settlement). [54]

The oath was largely the work of Michael Collins and based on three sources: British oaths in the dominions, the oath of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and a draft oath prepared by de Valera in his proposed treaty alternative, "Document No. 2"). De Valera began a legal case to challenge the requirement that members of his party take the Oath, but the assassination of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (deputy prime minister) Kevin O'Higgins on 10 July 1927 led the Executive Council under W. T. Cosgrave to introduce a Bill on 20 July [55] requiring all Dáil candidates to promise on oath that if they were elected they would take the Oath of Allegiance. Forced into a corner, and faced with the option of staying outside politics forever or taking the oath and entering, de Valera and his TDs took the Oath of Allegiance on 12 August 1927, though de Valera himself described the Oath as "an empty political formula". [56]

De Valera never organised Fianna Fáil in Northern Ireland and it was not until 7 December 2007 that Fianna Fáil was registered there by the UK Electoral Commission. [57]

In the 1932 general election Fianna Fáil secured 72 seats and became the largest party in the Dáil, although without a majority. Some Fianna Fáil members arrived at the first sitting of the new Dáil carrying arms, amid fears that Cumann na nGaedheal would not voluntarily surrender power. However, the transition was peaceful. [58] De Valera was elected President of the Executive Council (Prime Minister) by the Dáil by a vote of 81–68, with the support of the Labour Party and Independent politicians, and took office on 9 March. [59]

He at once initiated steps to fulfill his election promises to abolish the oath and withhold land annuities owed to the UK for loans provided under the Irish Land Acts and agreed as part of the 1921 Treaty. This launched the Anglo-Irish Trade War when the UK in retaliation imposed economic sanctions against Irish exports. De Valera responded in kind with levies on British imports. The ensuing "Economic War" lasted until 1938. [60] [61]

After De Valera had urged King George V to dismiss McNeill as Governor-General, the King suggested an alternative course of action: that McNeill, instead, carry on a while longer as viceroy and only then resign, which he did on 1 November 1932. Subsequently, a 1916 veteran, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, was appointed Governor-General. To strengthen his position against the opposition in the Dáil and Seanad, de Valera directed the Governor-General to call a snap election in January 1933 and de Valera's party won 77 seats, giving Fianna Fáil an overall majority. Under de Valera's leadership, Fianna Fáil won further general elections in 1937, 1938, 1943, and 1944.

De Valera took charge of Ireland's foreign policy as well by also acting as Minister for External Affairs. In that capacity, he attended meetings of the League of Nations. He was president of the Council of the League on his first appearance at the league in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1932 and, in a speech that made a worldwide impression, appealed for genuine adherence by its members to the principles of the covenant of the league. 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, [62] a tribute to the international recognition he had won by his independent stance on world questions. [63]

De Valera's government followed the policy of unilaterally dismantling the treaty of 1921. In this way he would be pursuing republican policies and lessening the popularity of republican violence and the IRA. De Valera encouraged IRA members to join the Irish Defence Forces and the Gardaí. He also refused to dismiss from office those Cumann na nGaedheal, Cosgrave supporters, who had previously opposed him during the Civil War. He did, however, dismiss Eoin O'Duffy from his position as Garda Commissioner after a year. Eoin O'Duffy was then invited to be head of the Army Comrades Association (ACA) formed to protect and promote the welfare of its members, previously led by J.F. O'Higgins, Kevin O'Higgins's brother. This organisation was an obstacle to de Valera's power as it supported Cumann na nGaedheal and provided stewards for their meetings. Cumann na nGaedheal meetings were frequently disrupted by Fianna Fáil supporters following the publication of the article: No Free Speech for Traitors by Peadar O'Donnell, an IRA member.

The ACA changed its name to the National Guard under O'Duffy and adopted the uniform of black berets and blue shirts, using the straight-armed salute, and were nicknamed the Blueshirts. They were outwardly fascist and planned a march in August 1933 through Dublin to commemorate Michael Collins, Kevin O'Higgins, and Arthur Griffith. This march struck parallels with Mussolini's march on Rome (1922), in which he had created the image of having toppled the democratic government in Rome. De Valera revived a military tribunal, which had been set up by the previous administration, to deal with the matter. O'Duffy backed down when the National Guard was declared an illegal organisation and the march was banned. Within a few weeks, O'Duffy's followers merged with Cumann na nGaedhael and the Centre Party to form United Ireland, or Fine Gael, and O'Duffy became its leader. Smaller local marches were scheduled for the following weeks, under different names. Internal dissension set in when the party's TDs distanced themselves from O'Duffy's extreme views, and his movement fell asunder. [64]

Fianna Fáil having won the 1937 election held the same day as the plebiscite that ratified the constitution, de Valera continued as President of the Executive Council until 29 December 1937, when the new constitution was enacted. On that date, de Valera's post automatically became that of Taoiseach which was a considerably more powerful office. Notably, he could advise the President to dismiss Ministers individually – advice that the President was bound to follow by convention. The old Executive Council had to be dissolved and reformed en bloc if its President wanted to remove a Minister. Additionally, he could request a parliamentary dissolution on his own authority. Previously, the right to seek a dissolution was vested with the Council as a whole.

In social policy, de Valera's first period as Taoiseach saw the introduction (in 1947) of means-tested allowances for people suffering from infectious diseases. [65]

Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement Edit

With the new constitution in place, de Valera determined that the changed circumstances made swift resolution to Ireland's ongoing trade war with the UK more desirable for both sides — as did the growing probability of the outbreak of war across Europe. In April 1938, de Valera and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Anglo-Irish Trade Agreement, lifting all duties imposed during the previous five years and ending British use of the Treaty Ports it had retained in accordance with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The return of the ports was of particular significance, since it ensured Irish neutrality during the coming Second World War.

Constitution of Ireland Edit

During the 1930s, de Valera systematically stripped the Irish Free State constitution – a constitution originally drafted by a committee under the nominal chairmanship of his rival, Michael Collins – of features tying Ireland to the United Kingdom, limiting its independence and the republican character of its state. De Valera was able to carry out this program of constitutional change by taking advantage of three earlier modifications of constitutional arrangements. First, though the 1922 constitution originally required a public plebiscite for any amendment enacted more than eight years after its passage, the Free State government under W. T. Cosgrave had amended that period to sixteen years. This meant that, until 1938, the Free State constitution could be amended by the simple passage of a Constitutional Amendment Act through the Oireachtas. Secondly, while the Governor-General of the Irish Free State could reserve or deny Royal Assent to any legislation, from 1927, the power to advise the Governor-General to do so no longer rested with the British government in London but with His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State, which meant that, in practice, the Royal Assent was automatically granted to legislation the government was hardly likely to advise the governor-general to block the enactment of one of its own bills. Thirdly, though in its original theory, the constitution had to be in keeping with the provisions of the Anglo-Irish Treaty as the fundamental law of the state, that requirement had been abrogated a short time before de Valera gained power.

The Oath of Allegiance was abolished, as were appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The opposition-controlled Senate, when it protested and slowed down these measures, was also abolished. In 1931, the British Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which established the legislative equal status of the self-governing Dominions of the then British Commonwealth, including the Irish Free State, to one another and the United Kingdom. Though a few constitutional links between the Dominions and the United Kingdom remained, this is often seen as the moment at which the Dominions became fully sovereign states.

De Valera, in his capacity as Prime Minister of His Majesty's Government in the Irish Free State, wrote in July 1936 to King Edward VIII in London indicating that he planned to introduce a new constitution, the central part of which was to be the creation of an office de Valera provisionally intended to call President of Saorstát Éireann (Irish: Uachtarán Shaorstát Éireann), which would replace the Governor-General. [66] De Valera used the sudden abdication of Edward VIII as King to pass two bills: one amended the constitution to remove all mention of the monarch and Governor-General, while the second brought the monarch back, this time through statute law, for use in representing the Irish Free State at a diplomatic level. With the implementation of the Constitution of Ireland (Irish: Bunreacht na hÉireann), the title ultimately given to the president was President of Ireland (Irish: Uachtarán na hÉireann).

The constitution contained reforms and symbols intended to assert Irish sovereignty. These included:

  • a new name for the state, "Éire" (in Irish) and "Ireland" (in English)
  • a claim that the national territory was the entire island of Ireland, thereby challenging Britain's partition settlement of 1921
  • the removal of references to the King of Ireland[67][68] and the replacement of the monarch's representative, the governor-general, with a popularly elected President of Ireland, who takes "precedence over all other persons in the State and who shall exercise and perform the powers and functions conferred on the President by this Constitution and by law" [69][70]
  • recognition of the "special position" of the Catholic Church
  • a recognition of the Catholic concept of marriage which excluded civil divorce, even though civil marriage was retained
  • the declaration that the Irish language was the "national language" and the first official language of the nation although English was also included as "a" second official language
  • the use of Irish language terms to stress Irish cultural and historical identity (e.g., Uachtarán, Taoiseach, Tánaiste, etc.)

Criticisms of some of the above constitutional reforms include that:

  • the anti-partition articles needlessly antagonised Unionists in Northern Ireland, while simultaneously attracting criticism from hardline republicans by recognising the de facto situation.
  • similarly, the recognition of the "special position" of the Catholic Church was inconsistent with the identity and aspirations of northern Protestants (leading to its repeal in the 1970s), while simultaneously falling short of the demands of hardline Catholics for Catholicism to be explicitly made the state religion.
  • the affirmation of Irish as the national and primary official language neither reflected contemporary realities nor led to the language's revival
  • though the King was removed from the text of the constitution, he retained a leading role in the state's foreign affairs, and the legal position of the President of Ireland was accordingly uncertain there was also concern that the presidency would evolve into a dictatorial position
  • elements of Catholic social teaching incorporated into the text, such as the articles on the role of women, the family and divorce, were inconsistent both with the practice of the Protestant minority and with contemporary liberal opinion

As Bew concludes, in the constitution of 1937, de Valera was "trying to placate left-wing Republicans with national phrases and pious people with expressly Catholic bits [and] patriarchal Catholicism." [71]

The Constitution was approved in a plebiscite on 1 July 1937 and came into force on 29 December 1937.

The Emergency (World War II) Edit

By September 1939, a general European war was imminent. On 2 September, de Valera advised Dáil Éireann that neutrality was the best policy for the country. This policy had overwhelming political and popular support, though some advocated Irish participation in the War on the Allied side, while others, believing that "England's difficulty is Ireland's opportunity", were pro-German. Strong objections to conscription in the North were voiced by de Valera. [72] In June 1940, to encourage the neutral Irish state to join with the Allies, Winston Churchill indicated to de Valera that the United Kingdom would push for Irish unity, but believing that Churchill could not deliver, de Valera declined the offer. [73] [74] The British did not inform the Government of Northern Ireland that they had made the offer to the Irish government, and De Valera's rejection was not publicised until 1970. The government secured wide powers for the duration of the Emergency, such as internment, censorship of the press and correspondence, and the government control of the economy. The Emergency Powers Act lapsed on 2 September 1946, though the State of Emergency declared under the constitution was not lifted until the 1970s. [75] [76] This status remained throughout the war, despite pressure from Chamberlain and Churchill. However, de Valera did respond to a request from Northern Ireland for fire tenders to assist in fighting fires following the 1941 Belfast Blitz.

Persistent claims that de Valera sent a personal note of congratulation to Subhas Chandra Bose upon his declaration of the Azad Hind (Free India) government in 1943, [77] have been shown to be inaccurate, and largely a misrepresentation by Japanese consular staff in Dublin of a statement by a small and unofficial Republican group unconnected to the Irish government. [78]

Controversially, [79] de Valera formally offered his condolences to the German Minister in Dublin on the death of Adolf Hitler in 1945, in accordance with diplomatic protocol. [80] This did some damage to Ireland, particularly in the United States – and soon afterwards de Valera had a bitter exchange of words with Winston Churchill in two famous radio addresses after the end of the war in Europe. [81] De Valera denounced reports of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as "anti-national propaganda" according to Bew, this was not out of disbelief but rather because the Holocaust undermined the main assumption underlying Irish neutrality: moral equivalence between the Allies and the Axis. [82]

The de Valera government was reputedly harsh with Irish Army deserters who had enlisted to fight with the Allied Armies against the Axis. [83] The legislation in question was the Emergency Powers (No. 362) order which was passed in August 1945. On 18 October 1945, Thomas F. O'Higgins moved to annul the order. [84] He did not condone desertion, but felt that the order was specifically harsh on those deserters who had served in the Allied forces. General Richard Mulcahy also spoke against the Order, disagreeing with the way in which it applied to enlisted men and not to officers. It was revoked with effect from 1 August 1946, [85] but was in effect continued by section 13 of the Defence Forces (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1946. [86]

Opposition leader: 1948–51 Edit

After de Valera had spent sixteen years in power without answering the crucial questions of partition and republican status the public demanded a change from Fianna Fáil government. In the 1948 election, de Valera lost the outright majority he had enjoyed since 1933. It initially looked as if the National Labour Party would give Fianna Fáil enough support to stay in office as a minority government, but National Labour insisted on a formal coalition agreement, something de Valera was unwilling to concede. However, while Fianna Fáil was six seats short of a majority, it was still by far the largest party in the Dáil, with 37 more TDs than the next largest party and rival, Fine Gael (the successor to Cumann na nGaedheal). Conventional wisdom held that de Valera would remain Taoiseach with the support of independent deputies.

This belief came to nought when (after the final votes were counted) the other parties realised that if they banded together, they would have only one seat fewer than Fianna Fáil, and would be able to form a government with the support of at least seven independents. The result was the First Inter-Party Government, with John A. Costello of Fine Gael as its compromise candidate for Taoiseach. Costello was duly nominated, consigning de Valera to opposition for the first time in 16 years. The following year, Costello declared Ireland as a republic, leaving partition as the most pressing political issue of the day. [87]

De Valera, now Leader of the Opposition, left the actual parliamentary practice of opposing the government to his deputy, Seán Lemass, and himself embarked on a world campaign to address the issue of partition. He visited the United States, Australia, New Zealand and India, and in the latter country, was the last guest of the Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, before he was succeeded by the first Indian-born Governor-General. [88] In Melbourne, Australia, de Valera was feted by the powerful Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix, at the centenary celebrations of the diocese of Melbourne. He attended mass-meetings at Xavier College, and addressed the assembled Melbourne Celtic Club. [89] In Brisbane, Australia, at the request of the influential and long serving Archbishop Duhig de Valera laid the foundation stone for the new High School building at Marist Brothers College Rosalie. [90] In October 1950, just thirty years after his dramatic escape from Lincoln Gaol, he returned to Lincoln and received the freedom of the gaol. [91] The Anti-Partition of Ireland League of Great Britain marked the occasion with a dinner in his honour and the toast was 'Anglo-Irish Friendship'. [92] A key message in de Valera's campaign was that Ireland could not join the recently established North Atlantic Treaty Organization as long as Northern Ireland was in British hands although Costello's government favoured alliance with NATO, de Valera's approach won more widespread support and prevented the state from signing the treaty. [87]

Final years as Taoiseach Edit

Returning to Ireland during the Mother and Child Scheme crisis that racked the First Inter-Party Government, de Valera kept silent as Leader of the Opposition, preferring to stay aloof from the controversy. That stance helped return de Valera to power in the 1951 general election, but without an overall majority. His and Fianna Fáil's popularity was short-lived, however his government introduced severe, deflationary budgetary and economic policies in 1952, causing a political backlash that cost Fianna Fáil several seats in the Dáil in by-elections of 1953 and early 1954. Faced with a likely loss of confidence in the Dáil, de Valera instead called an election in May 1954, in which Fianna Fáil was defeated and a Second Inter-Party Government was formed with John A. Costello again as Taoiseach. [93]

On 16 September 1953, de Valera met British Prime Minister Winston Churchill for the first and only time, at 10 Downing Street. (The two men had seen each other at a party in 1949, but without speaking). He surprised the UK Prime Minister by claiming that if he had been in office in 1948 Ireland would not have left the Commonwealth. [94]

It was during this period that de Valera's eyesight began to deteriorate and he was forced to spend several months in the Netherlands, where he had six operations. In 1955, while in opposition, de Valera spoke against the formation of a European Parliament and European federalism, noting that Ireland "did not strive to get out of that British domination [. ] to get into a worse [position]". [95]

Like the first coalition government, the second lasted only three years. At the general election of 1957, de Valera, then in his seventy-fifth year, won an absolute majority of nine seats, the greatest number he had ever secured. This was the beginning of another sixteen-year period in office for Fianna Fáil. A new economic policy emerged with the First Programme for Economic Expansion. In July 1957, in response to the Border Campaign (IRA), Part II of the Offences Against the State Act was re-activated and he ordered the internment without trial of Republican suspects, an action which did much to end the IRA's campaign. [96]

De Valera's final term as Taoiseach also saw the passage of numerous reforms in health and welfare. In 1952, unemployment insurance was extended to male agricultural employees, child allowances were extended to the second child, and a maternity allowance for insured women was introduced. A year later, eligibility for maternity and child services and public hospital services was extended to approximately 85% of the population. [65]

While Fianna Fáil remained popular among the electorate, 75-year-old de Valera had begun to be seen by the electorate as too old and out of touch to remain as head of government. [97] At the urging of party officials, de Valera decided to retire from government and the Dáil and instead seek the presidency of Ireland. He won the 1959 presidential election on 17 June 1959 and resigned as Taoiseach, Leader of Fianna Fáil and a TD for Clare, six days later, handing over power to Seán Lemass.

De Valera was inaugurated President of Ireland on 25 June 1959. [53] He was re-elected President in 1966, aged 84, until 2013 a world record for the oldest elected head of state. [98] At his retirement in 1973 at the age of 90, he was the oldest head of state in the world. [97]

As President of Ireland, de Valera received many state visits, including the 1963 visit of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. Five months later de Valera attended the state funeral for Kennedy in Washington, D.C. and accompanied a group of 24 Defence Forces cadets who performed a silent drill at his grave site. [97] In June 1964, he returned to Washington, D.C. as the second President of Ireland to address the United States Congress. [99]

In 1966, the Dublin Jewish community arranged the planting and dedication of the Éamon de Valera Forest in Israel, near Nazareth, in recognition of his support for Ireland's Jews. [100]

In January 1969, de Valera became the first President to address both houses of the Oireachtas, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Dáil Éireann.

In 1969, seventy-three countries sent goodwill messages to NASA for the historic first lunar landing. These messages still rest on the lunar surface and de Valera's message on behalf of Ireland stated, "May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the Moon will enable him, also, to secure peace and happiness upon the Earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction." [101]

Éamon de Valera died from pneumonia and heart failure in Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock, Dublin, on 29 August 1975, aged 92. [102] His wife, Sinéad de Valera, four years his senior, had died the previous January, on the eve of their 65th wedding anniversary. His body lay in state at Dublin Castle and was given a full state funeral on 3 September at St Mary's Pro-Cathedral, which was broadcast on national television. Over 200,000 people reportedly lined the three-mile funeral route from Dublin city centre to Glasnevin Cemetery. [103] He is buried in Glasnevin alongside his wife and son Brian.

De Valera's political creed evolved from militant republicanism to social and cultural conservatism. [4]

Ireland's dominant political personality for many decades, de Valera received numerous honours. He was elected Chancellor of the National University of Ireland in 1921, holding the post until his death. Pope John XXIII bestowed on him the Order of Christ. He received honorary degrees from universities in Ireland and abroad. In 1968, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), [3] a recognition of his lifelong interest in mathematics. He also served as a member of the Parliament of Northern Ireland (for Down from 1921 to 1929 and for South Down from 1933 to 1937), although he held to the republican policy of abstentionism and did not take his seat in Stormont.

De Valera was criticised for ending up as co-owner of one of Ireland's most influential group of newspapers, Irish Press Newspapers, funded by numerous small investors who received no dividend for decades. [104] De Valera is alleged by critics to have helped keep Ireland under the influence of Catholic conservatism. [105] De Valera rejected, however, demands by organisations like Maria Duce that Roman Catholicism be made the state religion of Ireland, just as he rejected demands by the Irish Christian Front for the Irish Free State to support Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. [106]

De Valera's preoccupation with his part in history, and his need to explain and justify it, are reflected in innumerable ways. His faith in historians as trustworthy guardians of his reputation was not absolute. He made many attempts to influence their views and to adjust and refine the historical record whenever he felt this portrayed him, his allies or his cause inaccurately or unfavourably to his mind, these could often mean the same thing. He extended these endeavours to encompass the larger Irish public. An important function of his newspaper group, the Irish Press group, was to rectify what he saw as the errors and omissions of a decade in which he had been the subject of largely hostile commentary. [107]

In recent decades, his role in Irish history has no longer been unequivocally seen by historians as a positive one, and a biography by Tim Pat Coogan alleges [108] that his failures outweigh his achievements, with de Valera's reputation declining while that of his great rival in the 1920s, Michael Collins, is rising.The most recent work on de Valera by historian Diarmaid Ferriter presents a more positive picture of de Valera's legacy. [109] Bertie Ahern, at a book launch for Diarmaid Ferriter's biography of de Valera, [4] [110] described de Valera's achievements in political leadership during the formative years of the state:

One of de Valera's finest hours was his regrouping of the Republican side after defeat in the civil war, and setting his followers on an exclusively peaceful and democratic path, along which he later had to confront both domestic Fascism and the IRA. He became a democratic statesman, not a dictator. He did not purge the civil service of those who had served his predecessors, but made best use of the talent available.

A notable failure was his attempt to reverse the provision of the 1937 Constitution in relation to the electoral system. On retiring as Taoiseach in 1959, he proposed that the Proportional Representation system enshrined in that constitution should be replaced. De Valera argued that Proportional Representation had been responsible for the instability that had characterised much of the post war period. A constitutional referendum to ratify this was defeated by the people. One aspect of de Valera's legacy is that since the foundation of the state, a de Valera has nearly always served in Dáil Éireann. Éamon de Valera served until 1959, his son, Vivion de Valera, was also a Teachta Dála (TD). Éamon Ó Cuív, his grandson, is currently a member of the Dáil while his granddaughter, Síle de Valera is a former TD. Both have served in ministries in the Irish Government.

Critics complain that de Valera's duplicity and betrayal of the Treaty process and his rejection of agreed upon democratic procedures led to civil war and nearly destroyed Ireland at birth. Liberals decry his conservative social policies and his close relationship with the Catholic bishops.

Bill Kissane writes that his devout Catholicism, his rejection of material ostentation, his determination to revive the Irish language, and his inability to comprehend Protestant Ulster's fears of Catholic domination make him a representative of his generation in southern Ireland. [111]

Catholic social policy Edit

Éamon de Valera led his party Fianna Fáil to adopt conservative social policies, since he believed devoutly that the Catholic church and the family were central to Irish identity. He added clauses to the new Constitution of Ireland (1937) to "guard with special care the institution of marriage" and prohibit divorce. His constitution also recognised "the special position" of the Catholic Church and recognised other denominations including the Church of Ireland and Jewish congregations, while guaranteeing the religious freedom of all citizens. However, he resisted an attempt to make Roman Catholicism the state religion and his constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion. His policies were welcomed by a largely devout, conservative and rural electorate. [111] The unenforceable articles in the constitution which reinforced the traditional view that a woman's place was in the home further illustrate the direction in which Ireland was moving. An act of 1935 prohibited the importation or sale of contraceptives. The most rigorous censorship laws in western Europe complete the picture. [112]

The specific recognition of Roman Catholicism was deleted by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (1973) and the prohibition of divorce was removed by the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland (1996). Nevertheless, the Irish Supreme Court declared in 1973 that the 1935 contraception legislation was not repugnant to the Constitution and therefore remained valid. [113]

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