Today in Irish History: 1975
Death of Eamon De Valera, a man who probably more than anyone shaped the culture of Ireland (good and bad) for almost fifty years. He was a man loved by his supporters but distrusted and hated by those who blamed him for the Irish civil war.
Although born in Brooklyn, New York, “Dev” had an almost mystical and spiritual belief about an Ireland that he wanted to exist. De Valera is famous for something he never said, an Ireland of “maidens dancing at the crossroads,” but in a 1943 interview he did say "The ideal Ireland that we would have, the Ireland that we dreamed of, would be the home of a people who valued material wealth only as a basis for right living, of a people who, satisfied with frugal comfort, devoted their leisure to the things of the spirit – a land whose countryside would be bright with cosy homesteads, whose fields and villages would be joyous with the sounds of industry, with the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens, whose firesides would be forums for the wisdom of serene old age.”
De Valera was one of the leaders of the 1916 Rising and only avoided execution because of his American citizenship and/or the general revulsion about the execution of the 1916 leaders. He was an immensely astute (manipulative) politician and a natural leader of the Sinn Fein TDs elected in the 1918 election.
At this time his standing amongst his fellow TDs is evidenced by his being elected President of the first Dail Eireann (Irish Parliament) by a unanimous vote. During the War of Independence, he spent many months in the United States drumming support and finance for the Irish cause.
Being Ireland's most experienced and astute negotiator, it is not clear why he did not get directly involved in the Treaty negotiations in London. Instead, he sent Michael Collins to negotiate on behalf of the Irish people. The signing of the Treaty on Dec 6th provided legislative autonomy for twenty six counties of Ireland, but resulted in the partition of Ireland and the foundation of the state of Northern Ireland. De Valera refused to accept the January 1923 vote of Dail Eireann approving the Treaty. And so the divide brought Ireland into a bloody war, but this time it was Irishman against Irishman in a vicious and sad conflict.
De Valera and the anti-Treaty-ites were forced to call a halt to their campaign in May 1923. (It Is worth noting that the various campaigns conducted by the IRA throughout the rest of the 20th century derive from their lack of acceptance of this surrender or of the Treaty vote. The IRA never accepted the legitimacy of either government in the North or the Republic.)
Disillusioned with Sinn Fein and its abstentionist policies, De Valera founded Fianna Fáil in 1926. In order to take his seat in the Dail in 1927, he accepted the oath of allegiance (to the English crown) stating it to be but an empty formula. Fianna Fail came to power in 1932 and dominated the Irish political landscape for most of the century.
In 1959, after 33 years at the head of Fianna Fáil, Eamon de Valera resigned as leader and Taoiseach and was elected President of Ireland (succeeding Sean T. O’Kelly), a position he held until 1973.
Éamon de Valera died in Linden Convalescent Home, Blackrock, Co. Dublin on 29 August 1975 aged 92. His wife, Sinéad de Valera, four years his senior, had died the previous January, on the eve of their 65th wedding anniversary. He is buried at Dublin's Glasnevin Cemetery.