Saturday, March 17, 2012

Éamon de Valera

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

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

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

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

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

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 Ireland. 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 Ireland 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. It is generally agreed by historians that whatever his motives, it was a mistake for de Valera not to have travelled to London.

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.

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