de Valera, Eamon

de Valera, Eamon
orig. Edward de Valera

born Oct. 14, 1882, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Aug. 29, 1975, Dublin, Ire.

Irish politician and patriot.

Born in the U.S. to a Spanish father and an Irish mother, at age two he was sent to live with his mother's family in Ireland when his father died. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers and in 1916 helped lead the rebels in the Easter Rising. He was elected president of Sinn Féin in 1918. Repudiating the treaty that formed the Irish Free State because it provided for the partition of Ireland, he supported the republican resistance in the ensuing civil war. In 1924 he founded Fianna Fáil, which won the 1932 elections. As prime minister (1932–48), he took the Irish Free State out of the British Commonwealth and made his country a "sovereign" state, renamed Ireland, or Éire. He proclaimed Ireland neutral in World War II. After twice serving again as prime minister (1951–54, 1957–59), he became president of Ireland (1959–73).

De Valera, c. 1965

Courtesy of the Irish Embassy; photograph, Lensmen Ltd. Press Photo Agency, Dublin

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▪ president of Ireland
original name  Edward De Valera  
born Oct. 14, 1882, New York, N.Y., U.S.
died Aug. 29, 1975, Dublin, Ire.
 Irish politician and patriot, prime minister (1932–48, 1951–54, 1957–59), and president (1959–73). An active revolutionary from 1913, he became president of Sinn Féin in 1918 and founded the Fianna Fáil Party in 1924. In 1937 he took the Irish Free State out of the British Commonwealth and made his country a “sovereign” state, renamed Ireland, or Éire. His academic attainments also inspired wide respect; he became chancellor of the National University of Ireland in 1921.

Early life.
      De Valera's father, who was Spanish, died when the boy was two. He was then sent to his mother's family in County Limerick, Ireland, and studied at the local national school and at Blackrock College, Dublin; he graduated from the Royal University, Dublin, and became a teacher of mathematics and an ardent supporter of the Irish-language revival. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers, which had been organized to resist opposition to Home Rule for Ireland. In the anti-British Easter Rising in Dublin (1916), he commanded an occupied building and was the last commander to surrender. Because of his American birth, he escaped execution by the British but was sentenced to penal servitude.

      Released in 1917 but arrested again and deported to England in May 1918, de Valera was acclaimed by the Irish as the chief survivor of the uprising and was elected president of the revolutionist Sinn Féin (“We Ourselves”) Party, which won three-quarters of all the Irish constituencies in December 1918. After a dramatic escape from Lincoln Jail in February 1919, he went in disguise to the United States, where he collected funds. He returned to Ireland before military repression ended with the truce of 1921 and appointed plenipotentiaries to negotiate in London. He repudiated the treaty that they signed to form the Irish Free State, however, because it accepted the exclusion of Northern Ireland and imposed an oath of allegiance to the British crown.

Rise to power.
      When Dáil Éireann (the assembly of Ireland) ratified the treaty by a small majority (1922), de Valera supported the republican resistance in the ensuing civil war. William Thomas Cosgrave's (Cosgrave, William Thomas) Irish Free State ministry imprisoned him; but he was released in 1924 and then organized a Republican opposition party that would not sit in the Dáil. In 1927, however, he persuaded his followers to sign the oath of allegiance as “an empty political formula,” and his new Fianna Fáil (“Warriors of Ireland”) Party then entered the Dáil, demanding abolition of the oath of allegiance, of the governor-general, of the Seanad (senate) as then constituted, and of land-purchase annuities payable to Great Britain. The Cosgrave ministry was defeated by Fianna Fáil in 1932, and de Valera, as head of the new ministry, embarked quickly on severing connections with Great Britain. He withheld payment of the land annuities, and an economic war resulted. Increasing retaliation by both sides enabled de Valera to develop his program of austere national self-sufficiency in an Irish-speaking Ireland, while building up industries behind protective tariffs. In 1937 the Free State declared itself a sovereign state, as Ireland, or Éire, conceding voluntary allegiance to the British crown.

      De Valera's prestige was enhanced by his success as president of the Council of the League of Nations in 1932 and of its assembly in 1938. The menace of war in Europe induced British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, in 1938, to conclude the “economic war” with mutual concessions. Britain relinquished the naval bases of Cobh, Berehaven, and Lough Swilly. In September 1939 de Valera proclaimed at once that Ireland would remain neutral and resist attack from any quarter. Besides avoiding the burdens and destruction of war, he had brought temporary prosperity, and he retained office in subsequent elections.

      In 1948 a reaction against the long monopoly of power and patronage held by de Valera's party enabled the opposition, with the help of smaller parties, to form an interparty government under John A. Costello (Costello, John A). But this precarious coalition collapsed within three years, ironically, after declaring Ireland a republic by formal law, an act de Valera had avoided. De Valera resumed office until 1954, when he appealed unsuccessfully for a fresh mandate, and Costello formed his second interparty ministry. No clearly defined difference now existed between the opposing parties in face of rising prices, continued emigration, and a backward agriculture. De Valera claimed, however, that a strong single-party government was indispensable and that all coalitions must be weak and insecure. On this plea he obtained, in March 1957, the overall majority that he demanded. In 1959 de Valera agreed to stand as a candidate for the presidency. He resigned his position as taoiseach (head of government) and leader of the Fianna Fáil Party. In June he was elected president and was reelected in 1966. He retired to a nursing home near Dublin in 1973 and died there in 1975.

      De Valera's career spanned the dramatic period of Ireland's modern cultural and national resurgence. As an anticolonial leader, a skillful constitutionalist, and a symbol of national liberation, de Valera dominated Ireland in the half century following the country's independence.

Denis Rolleston Gwynn

Additional Reading
Biographies include Earl of Longford (Frank Pakenham Longford) and Thomas P. O'Neill, Eamon de Valera (1970), written with de Valera's collaboration; Constantine FitzGibbon and George Morrison, The Life and Times of Eamon de Valera (1973), combining biography with a history of Ireland, extensively illustrated; T. Ryle Dwyer, Eamon de Valera (1980); and Tim Pat Coogan, De Valera (1993). John Bowman, De Valera and the Ulster Question, 1917–1973 (1982), is a positive reevaluation of his career.

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Universalium. 2010.

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