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Éamon de Valera ( ) (born George De Valero) (14 October 1882 – 29 August 1975) was one of the dominant political figures in 20th century Ireland. His political career spanned over half a century, from 1917 to 1973; he served multiple terms as head of government and head of state, and is credited with a leading role in the authorship of the present-day Constitution of Ireland.

De Valera was a significant leader of Ireland's struggle for independence from the United Kingdommarker, and the anti-Treaty opposition in the ensuing Irish Civil War (1922-1923). In 1926, he founded Fianna Fáil, which continues to be the largest political party in Ireland. Over the years, the principal element of his political creed evolved from militant republicanism to social and cultural conservatism.

De Valera was also the co-owner of The Irish Press, a newspaper supportive of Fianna Fáil.

Assessments of De Valera's career have differed sharply. One school of thought, represented by De Valera's biographer Tim Pat Coogan, sees his time in power as being characterised by economic and cultural stagnation. Other writers, such as the historian Diarmaid Ferriter, have presented a more complex and nuanced assessment of his legacy.

His family

De Valera was born in the New York Nursery and Child's Hospital in New York City in 1882 to an Irish mother; he stated that his parents, Catherine Coll (subsequently Mrs Wheelwright), an immigrant from Bruree, County Limerickmarker, and Juan Vivion de Valera, a Cuban or Spanish settler and sculptor, were married on 18 September 1881 at St. Patrick's Church located within the Greenville Section of Jersey City, NJ. However, exhaustive trawls through church and state records give no birth, baptismal, or death certificate information for anyone called Juan Vivion de Valera or de Valeros, an alternative spelling. The historian Sean Murphy has listed the long-term search for facts about Mr de Valera, allowing that he may have come from New Mexicomarker, and was perhaps returning there at the time of his death.

On de Valera's original birth certificate, his name is given as George De Valero and his father is listed as Vivion De Valero. The first name was corrected in 1910 (possibly 1916) to Edward and the surname to de Valera.

There were a number of occasions when de Valera seriously contemplated the religious life like his half-brother, Fr. Thomas Wheelwright. Yet he did not do so, and apparently received little encouragement from the priests whose advice he sought. Éamon de Valera was throughout his life portrayed as a deeply religious man, who in death asked to be buried in a religious habit. While his biographer, Tim Pat Coogan, speculated that questions surrounding de Valera's legitimacy may have been a deciding factor in his not entering religious life, being illegitimate would have been a bar to receiving orders only as a secular or diocesan cleric, not as a member of a religious order.

Juan Vivion died in 1885 leaving his widow and child in poor circumstances. Éamon was taken to Ireland by his Uncle Ned at the age of two. Even when his mother married a new husband in the mid-1880s, he was not brought back to live with her but reared instead by his grandmother Elizabeth Coll, her son Patrick and her daughter Hannie, in County Limerick. He was educated locally at Bruree National School, County Limerick and Charlevillemarker Christian Brothers School, County Corkmarker. At the age of sixteen, he won a scholarship to Blackrock Collegemarker, County Dublinmarker. It was at Blackrock Collegemarker that de Valera began playing rugby. Later during his tenure at Rockwell College, he joined the school's rugby team where he played fullback on the first team, which reached the final of the Munster Senior Cup. De Valera was a close friend of the Ryan brothers at Rockwell who played on Ireland's Triple Crown-winning team in 1899. De Valera went on to play for the Munster rugby team in the mid 1900s in the fullback position and remained a lifelong devotee of rugby, attending numerous international matches up to and towards the end of his life despite near blindness. He also developed an intensely close relationship with the Holy Ghost Order and its Blackrock College school from this time.

Always a diligent student, at the end of his first year in Blackrock Collegemarker 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 Tipperarymarker. It was here that de Valera was first given the nickname "Dev" by a teaching colleague, Tom O'Donnell. In 1904, he graduated in mathematics from the Royal University of Ireland. He then studied for a year at Trinity College Dublinmarker but owing to the necessity of earning a living did not proceed further and returned to Dublinmarker to teach at Blackrock Collegemarker. In 1906, he secured a post as teacher of mathematics at Carysfort Teachers' Training College for women in Blackrockmarker, County Dublin. His applications for professorships in colleges of the National University of Ireland were unsuccessful, but he obtained a part-time appointment at Maynoothmarker and also taught mathematics at various Dublin schools including Castleknock Collegemarker (1910–1911) under the name Edward de Valera and Belvedere Collegemarker where he taught Kevin Barry, an Irish republican executed for his part in an ambush of British Soldiers during the Irish War of Independence.

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

Early political activity

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

While he was already involved in the Gaelic Revival, de Valera's involvement in the political revolution began on 25 November 1913 when he joined the Irish Volunteers formed to oppose the Ulster Volunteers and ensure the enactment of the Irish Parliamentary Party's Third Home Rule Act won by its leader John Redmond. After the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, de Valera rose through the ranks and it was not long before he was elected captain of the Donnybrookmarker company. Preparations were pushed ahead for an armed revolt, and he was made commandant of the Third Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. He was sworn by Thomas MacDonagh into the oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood, which secretly controlled the central executive of the Volunteers.

Easter Rising

On 24 April 1916 the rising began. De Valera occupied Boland's Mill, Grand Canal Street in Dublinmarker, his chief task being to cover the south-eastern approaches to the city. After a week of fighting the order came from Patrick Pearse to surrender. De Valera was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to penal servitude for life. It has been argued that he was saved by two facts: firstly, he was held in a different prison from other leaders, thus his execution was delayed by practicalities; had he been held with Patrick Pearse, James Connolly and others, he probably would have been one of the first executed; and secondly, his American birth delayed his execution, while the full legal situation (i.e., was he actually a United States citizen and if so, how would the United States react to the execution of one of its citizens?) was clarified. The fact that Britainmarker was trying to bring the USA into the war in Europe at the time made the situation even more delicate. Both delays taken together meant that, while he was next-in-line for execution, when the time came for a decision, all executions had been halted in view of the negative public reaction. Timing, location, and questions relating to citizenship may have saved de Valera's life.

De Valera's supporters and detractors argue about de Valera's bravery during the Easter Rising. His supporters claim he showed leadership skills and a meticulous ability for planning. His detractors claim he suffered a nervous breakdown during the Rising. According to accounts from 1916 de Valera was seen running about, giving conflicting orders, refusing to sleep and on one occasion, having forgotten the password, almost getting himself shot in the dark by his own men. According to one account, de Valera, on being forced to sleep by one subordinate who promised to sit beside him and wake him if he was needed, suddenly woke up, his eyes "wild," screaming, "Set fire to the railway! Set fire to the railway!" Later in the Ballykinlar internment Camp one de Valera loyalist approached another internee, a medical doctor, recounted the story and asked for a medical opinion as to de Valera's condition. He also threatened to sue the doctor, future Fine Gael TD and minister, Dr. Tom O'Higgins, if he ever repeated the story.

After imprisonment in Dartmoormarker, Maidstonemarker and Lewesmarker prisons, de Valera and his comrades were released under an amnesty in June 1917. On 10 July 1917 he was elected member of the British House of Commonsmarker for East Clare (the constituency which he represented until 1959) in a by-election caused by the death of the previous incumbent Willie Redmond who had died fighting in World War I. In the 1918 general election he was elected both for that seat and Mayo East. From 1917 he was president of Sinn Féin, the party which had wrongly been credited by the British for the Easter Rising and which the survivors of the Rising took over and then turned into a republican party. The previous president of Sinn Féin, Arthur Griffith, had championed an Anglo-Irish "dual monarchy", with an independent Ireland governed separately from Britain, their only link being a shared monarch. That had been the situation with the Constitution of 1782 under Henry Grattan, until Ireland was subsumed into the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker in 1801.

President of Dáil Éireann

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. Such was the level of support for the party, 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 Housemarker in Dublin and formed an Irish parliament, known as Dáil Éireann (translatable into English as the Assembly of Ireland). A ministry or Aireacht 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 Lincolnmarker Gaol in February 1919. As a result he replaced Brugha as Príomh Aire in the April session of Dáil Éireann. However, the Dáil Constitution passed by the Dáil in 1919 made clear that the Príomh Aire (or President of Dáil Éireann as it came to be called) was merely prime minister - the literal translation of Príomh Aire - not a full head of state.

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 the 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. He met the young Harvard-educated leader from Puerto Rico, Pedro Albizu Campos and forged a lasting and useful alliance with him.De Valera managed to raise a sum of $5,500,000 from American supporters, an amount that far exceeded the hopes of the Dáil. Of this, $500,000 was devoted to the American presidential campaign in 1920 which helped him gain wider public support there. In 1921 it was said that $1,466,000 had already been spent, and it is unclear when the net balance arrived in Ireland. 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.

Meanwhile in Ireland, conflict between the British authorities and the Dáil (which they declared illegal in September 1919) escalated into the Irish War of Independence (also called the 'Anglo-Irish War'). The Long Fellow (or An t-Amadán Fada, another of de Valera's nicknames, given to him because of his great height, meaning the Long Fool) left day to day government, during his eighteen month absence in America, to Michael Collins (The Big Fellow), his twenty-nine year old Minister for Finance and rival.

President of the Republic

In January 1921, at his first Dáil meeting 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, 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 U.S. 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 Irelandmarker. Following the Truce of July, 1921 that ended the war, de Valera went to see David Lloyd George in London on 14 July. No agreement was reached, and by then the parliament of Northern Irelandmarker had met.

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. Having done so, 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 much complaint about partition in the Treaty debates. They all expected it would prove short-lived.

Anglo-Irish Treaty

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. However, 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 Treaty delegates Arthur Griffith, Robert Barton, and Michael Collins supported by Robert Erskine Childers as Secretary General set up their delegation headquarters at 22 Hans Placemarker in Knightsbridgemarker. It was there, at 11.15am on 5 December 1921, that the decision was made to recommend the Treaty to the 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 with 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.

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 Suirmarker, Lismore, Dungarvanmarker and Waterfordmarker, 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 Thurlesmarker, 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. De Valera's detractors claim that this was an incitement to the civil war that developed. His supporters say that de Valera was lamenting the fact that the British had managed to divide Irish nationalists with the Treaty, but the text was inevitably a compromise as Sinn Féin was not in a position to dictate its terms.

De Valera's major problem with the Treaty was twofold. First, he objected to the statement of fidelity that the treaty required Irish parliamentarians to take to the King. Second, he 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 Irish general election, 1922 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.

Civil War

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 Courtsmarker building 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.

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. 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 in a famous speech 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. Military victory must be allowed to rest for the moment with those who have destroyed the Republic".

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 was arrested in County Claremarker and interned until 1924.

Founding of Fianna Fáil and entry into Free State Dáil

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 Newrymarker for "illegally entering Northern Ireland" and held in solitary confinement for a month in Crumlin Road Gaolmarker, Belfastmarker. After narrowly losing a vote of the Sinn Féin party to accept the Free State Constitution (contingent on the abolition of the Oath of Allegiance), de Valera resigned from the presidency of the party and in March 1926, with Seán Lemass, Constance Markievicz and others, formed a new party, Fianna Fáil (The Warriors of Destiny), a party that was to dominate twentieth century Irish politics. The party made swift electoral gains but refused to take the Oath of Allegiance (spun 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. The oath was actually 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). The party began a legal case to challenge the requirement that it take the Oath, but the assassination of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (deputy prime minister) Kevin O'Higgins led the Executive Council under W. T. Cosgrave to introduce a Bill 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 in 1927.

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

President of the Executive Council

In the 1932 general election Fianna Fáil secured 72 seats and became the largest party in the Dáil, although without a majority. Its members arrived at the first sitting of the new Dáil carrying arms, as they assumed that like them the former government would not accept the will of the people. However the transition was peaceful. De Valera was appointed President of the Executive Council (Prime Minister) by Governor-General James McNeill on 9 March. He at once initiated steps to fulfil his election promises of abolishing the oath and withholding land annuities owed to Britain for loans provided under the Irish Land Acts and agreed as part of the 1921 Treaty. This launched the Anglo-Irish Trade War when Britain 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 and caused much distress, impoverishment and severe damage to the Irish economy.

On his advice the appointment of James McNeill as Governor-General was terminated by King George V on 1 November 1932 and a 1916 veteran, Domhnall Ua Buachalla, was appointed Governor-General in his place. Thus another symbol of monarchical authority was virtually removed. To strengthen his position against the opposition in the Dáil and Seanad, de Valera called a general election in January 1933 and won 77 seats, giving him an overall majority. Under his leadership, Fianna Fáil won further general elections in 1937, 1938, 1943 and 1944.

De Valera took charge of Ireland's foreign policy as well by acting as his own 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 Genevamarker 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 Unionmarker into the League. In September 1938 he was elected nineteenth president of the Assembly of the League, a tribute to the international recognition he had won by his independent stance on world questions.

De Valera's government followed the policy of 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 Free State army and the Gardaí. He also refused to dismiss from office those Cumann na nGaedhael, 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 brother. This organisation was an obstacle to de Valera's power as it supported Cumann na nGaedhael and provided stewards for their meetings. Cumann na nGaedhael meetings were frequently disrupted by Fianna Fáil supports 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. They adopted the uniform of black berets and blue shirts, used the straight armed salute and were nicknamed 'The Blueshirts'. They were outwardly fascist; however, they did not engage in extreme violence and supported democracy. They planned a march in 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 by staging a march. O'Duffy backed down when de Valera issued the threat that all members of the National Guard would be arrested by the specially employed troops, Broy's Harriers, named after Garda Commissioner Eamon Broy. Smaller local marches were scheduled for the following week. De Valera then banned the ACA permanently in 1933.

De Valera's new constitution

During the 1930s, de Valera had systematically stripped down the Irish Free State constitution that had been drafted by a committee under the nominal chairmanship of his great rival, Michael Collins. In reality, de Valera had been able to do that only due to three reasons. First, though the 1922 constitution originally required public plebiscite for any amendment beyond 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 in theory the Governor-General of the Irish Free State could reserve or deny the Royal Assent to any legislation, in practice the power to advise the Governor-General so to do as and from 1927 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, in theory the Constitution had to be in keeping with the provisions of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the fundamental law of the state. However, that requirement had been removed only a short time before de Valera gained power. Thus, with all the checks and balances that had been provided to preserve the Treaty settlement neutralised, de Valera had a free hand to change the 1922 constitution at will.

He did that emphatically. The Oath of Allegiance was abolished, as were appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Councilmarker. The opposition-controlled Senate, when it protested and slowed down these measures, was also abolished. And finally in December 1936, de Valera used the sudden abdication of King Edward VIII as king of his various realms including King of Ireland to pass two Bills; one amended the constitution to remove all mention of the King and Governor-General, while the second brought the King back, this time through statute law, for use in representing the Irish Free State at diplomatic level.

In 1931, the British parliament had passed the Statute of Westminster, which established the legislative equal status of the self-governing dominions of the British Empire, including the Irish Free State, and the United Kingdom. Though many 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. In July 1936, de Valera as constitutionally the King's Irish Prime Minister, wrote to King Edward 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, which would replace the governor-generalship. The title ultimately changed from President of Saorstát Éireann (Uachtarán Shaorstát Éireann) to President of Ireland (Uachtarán na hÉireann), but it still remained the central feature of his new constitution, to which he gave the new Irish language name Bunreacht na hÉireann (meaning literally the Constitution of Ireland).

The text of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland is available as amended to 2004.

The constitution contained a number of 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;
  • a new, popularly elected "President of Ireland" to replace the British monarch and his representative, the Governor-General;
  • recognition of the "special position" of Roman Catholicism, which had for most of Britain's rule in Ireland been suppressed and discriminated against;
  • a recognition of the Roman Catholic concept of marriage which excluded civil divorce;
  • 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, Rialtas, Dáil, Seanad, etc.); and

Criticisms of some of the above constitutional reforms include that:

  • the anti-partition articles needlessly antagonised Unionists in Northern Irelandmarker, 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 - though the religious articles were praised by some Protestants and Irish Jews at the time) while simultaneously falling short of the demands of hardline Catholics and the Church 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

Ireland was declared a Republic on 18 April 1949 by Taoiseach, John A. Costello. The state adopted an official description, the Republic of Ireland while keeping its name, Ireland. In doing so Ireland left the Commonwealth. The last constitutional links to the United Kingdom had finally been cut, ironically not by the revolutionary de Valera.

Neutrality in World War II

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, following traditional Republican doctrine, were pro-German. 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 finally lapsed on 2 September 1946, though the State of Emergency declared under the constitution was not lifted until the 1970s.

This status remained throughout the war, despite pressure from Chamberlain (who offered de Valera a united Ireland in return for military assistance) and Churchill. However, de Valera did respond to a request from Northern Ireland for fire tenders to assist in fighting fires following the Belfast Blitz.

Infamously, and against the advice of some advisers, de Valera formally offered his condolences to the German Minister in Dublin on the death of Hitler in 1945, in accordance with diplomatic protocol. 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.

Post–war period

Having spent sixteen years in power, Fianna Fáil was replaced in 1948 by the first First Inter-Party Government with compromise candidate John A. Costello as Taoiseach and the Declaration of Ireland as a republic, which left only partition. De Valera, as leader of the opposition, embarked on a world campaign to raise the issue of partition. At no time prior to or during World War II or afterwards did De Valera ever send the Irish Army over the border into Northern Irelandmarker to end partition and bring about a de facto 32 county Republic. He visited the United States, Australia, New Zealand and India, and in the latter country, was the last guest of the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten of Burma before the handover of Indian independence. In Melbournemarker, Australia, he was feted by the powerful Catholic Archbishop Daniel Mannix, at the centenary celebrations of the diocese of Melbourne. He attended mass-meetings at Xavier Collegemarker, and addressed the assembled Melbourne Celtic Club.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 consistent support for Ireland's Jews.Returning to Ireland, during the Mother and Child Scheme crisis that racked the First Inter Party Government, de Valera kept a dignified silence as Leader of the Opposition, preferring to stay aloof from the controversy. In 1951 de Valera was returned to power but without an overall majority. 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.

Fianna Fáil was defeated again in the 1954 general election. However, 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 , he ordered the internment without trial of Republican suspects, an action which did much to end the IRA's campaign.

De Valera remained as Taoiseach until 1959, handing over power to Seán Lemass.In the same year, he was elected President of Ireland, as which he served until 1973.He was re-elected President in 1966 aged 84,still a world record for the oldest elected Head of State. At his retirement at the age of 90, he was the oldest Head of State in the world.

In 1969, seventy three countries sent goodwill messages to NASAmarker 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."

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


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 and in 1968 was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS), 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), though he held to the Republican policy of abstentionism and did not take his seat in Stormont. He retired from the Presidency in June 1973, having served for fourteen years, the longest period allowed under the Constitution.

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. De Valera is alleged by critics to have helped keep Ireland under the influence of Catholic conservatism, though that is explained by the large role Catholicism has played in Irish history. De Valera rejected, however, fundamentalist Catholic 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 that the Irish Free State support Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

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.

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 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.Bertie Ahern described in a book launch, the achievements of de Valera's 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.

Popular culture

  • De Valera was portrayed by Alan Rickman in the 1996 film Michael Collins, which depicted the events surrounding Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain.
  • In the 1990s RTÉmarker television show Nighthawks, de Valera would sometimes emerge from a fridge at the back of the set and attempt to stop the interviews that were taking place. This deep-chilled portrayal was intended to symbolise his reputation as an austere figure at odds with modern Ireland. At one point, the de Valera character attempted to order a "Mick Collins" from a barman character - "one shot, then hit the road".


The following governments were led by de Valera:

See also


  1. His name is frequently misspelled Eamonn De Valera but in fact he never used the second 'n' in his first name (the standard Irish spelling) and always a small 'd' in 'de Valera', which is proper in Spanish names (de meaning 'of').
  2. "Éamon(n)" actually translates into English as Edmond or Edmund. The correct Irish translation of "Edward" is Éadhbhard.
  3. Notable New Yorkers - Eamon de Valéra "Eamon de Valera was born in New York City on 14 October 1882. About one month later, Dr. Charles Murray reported the birth to the City's Health Department. The Doctor recorded de Valera's first name as George. In 1910, de Valera's mother Catherine applied to the Health Department to amend her son's birth certificate. She filled-out a new birth certificate indicating her son's name first name was "Edward." Her application was approved and a new certificate was pasted over the original certificate. Both are on file in the New York City Municipal Archives."
  4. Ferriter, Diarmaid. Judging Dev: A Reassessment of the Life and Legacy of Eamon De Valera. ISBN 1904890288
  5. Ancient Order of Hibernians History
  6. "Eamon de Valera's father" 2006
  7. Proinsias Mac Aonghusa Quotations from Éamon de Valera page 89 (1983) ISBN 0-85342-684-8.
  8. RHS Bibliography – Farragher, Sean. 'Éamon de Valera and Blackrock, 1898–1921'.
  9. Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow (Hutchinson, London, 1993) hardback. pp.69-72. ISBN 009175030X
  10. J.J. O'Kelly (Sceilg) A Trinity of Martyrs, Irish Book Bureau, Dublin; pp.66-68. "Sceilg" was a supporter of de Valera in 1922.
  11. Constitution of Ireland
  12. From 1922 the name of the state was the Irish Free State, which changed to Ireland in the 1937 Constitution. See Names of the Irish state.
  13. Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow, London: Arrow, 1993, p.639.
  14. D. F. Bourke, A History of the Catholic Church in Victoria, Melbourne: Catholic Bishops of Victoria, 1988, p.299; D. J. O'Hearn, Erin go bragh - Advance Australia Fair: a hundred years of growing, Melbourne: Celtic Club, 1990, p.54
  15. Sunday Times, 31 October 2004 p3; RTÉ broadcast on 2 November 2004.
  16. Tom Garvin Preventing the future; why Ireland was so poor for so long. (Dublin 2004) passim; ISBN 0-7171-3771-6
  17. "Obsessive Historian: Éamon de Valera and the policing of his reputation" Murray, Patrick. December 2001
  18. Coogan, Tim Pat de Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow ISBN 0099958600 ISBN 978-0099958604
  19. Ferriter, Diarmaid Judging Dev: A Reassessment of the Life and Legacy of Éamon De Valera ISBN 1904890288

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