de Valera, Eamon

views updated May 14 2018

de Valera, Eamon

President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, taoiseach (prime minister), and president of the Republic of Ireland, Eamon de Valera (1882–1975) was born on 14 October in New York and raised near Bruree in County Limerick. In 1908 he joined the Gaelic League, where he met his future wife, Sinéad Flanagan. He joined the Irish Volunteers in 1913 and commanded the Boland's Mills garrison during the 1916 Rising. Although he was sentenced to death, his sentence was commuted, and he was released from prison in June 1917. De Valera was subsequently elected Sinn Féin MP for East Clare and in October, the president of the party and of the Volunteers. Interned in May 1918, de Valera escaped from Lincoln prison. He returned to Dublin briefly and was elected president of the First Dáil, the separatist parliament established by Sinn Féin MPs in January 1919, before beginning a propaganda tour of the United States, which lasted until December 1920.

Following the truce in the Anglo-Irish war in July 1921, de Valera met Lloyd George in London but did not join the Irish delegation to the treaty negotiations of October through December 1921. He subsequently rejected the treaty, leading the opposition in the Dáil debates and trying to gain support for his own scheme of "external association." When the Dáil endorsed the treaty, de Valera resigned his presidency and during the Civil War (June 1922–May 1923) he remained political leader of the antitreaty forces. Unable to wean Sinn Féin away from abstentionism, de Valera founded a new constitutional republican party, Fianna Fáil, in 1926. Fianna Fáil entered the Dáil in 1927 and came to power after the general election of 1932.

Initial fears that the Fianna Fáil commitment to republican principles and social reforms would undermine the democratic nature of the state proved unfounded. De Valera's administration was both constitutional and conservative, and during his period in office he took harsh measures to confront threats from both the right-wing Blueshirt movement and the IRA. Furthermore, although de Valera articulated strong opposition to partition throughout his career, he took few practical steps to end it.

Once in office, de Valera undertook a fundamental revision of the treaty. The office of the governor-general, the king's representative, was undermined; the contentious oath of allegiance to the Crown was abolished; and a series of constitutional changes reduced the scope of Westminster authority. In 1936, following the abdication of King Edward VIII, the remaining references to the Crown were removed from Irish law. By this time the 1922 constitution, based on the treaty settlement, had been dismantled and in 1937 de Valera introduced a new constitution.

De Valera made judicious use of foreign policy as a means of furthering Irish claims to independent nationhood, acting personally as minister for external affairs. He inherited both a temporary seat on the council of the League of Nations and the revolving presidency. His first speech to the League in September 1932, criticizing it for failing to protect weaker nations, attracted world attention and launched de Valera's career as a respected international statesman, and in 1938 he served as president of the Assembly of the League. His adherence to a "small nations" policy served to distance him from the British presence at the League, but it also reflected a sincere belief in the League ideal. This commitment led to criticism at home when he refused to adopt policies consistent with the views of the Catholic Church. He applauded League sanctions against Italy following the invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) in 1935, supported the admission of the USSR to the League in 1934, and adhered to the Nonintervention Agreement during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).

Throughout the 1930s de Valera pursued cultural and economic as well as political self-determination. His promotion of Gaelic and Catholic values was more overt, if more pragmatic, than his predecessors' and whereas his social policies were somewhat more liberal, they were countered by the effects of promoting a self-sufficient and labor-intensive economy through the adoption of high tariffs. His policy of withholding annuities payable to the British government under the treaty led to a tariff war that furthered both his economic and political goals. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1938, which resolved the "economic war," also transferred control of the naval ports retained by Britain under the treaty to the Dublin government, a development that allowed de Valera to pursue a policy of neutrality during the World War II.

De Valera remained in power until 1948 and was returned to office again between 1951 and 1954 and in 1957. His chief political goals had been achieved by 1945, and future administrations were less vigorous and beset by economic crises. In 1959 he resigned as taoiseach and was elected to the presidency. Despite his age and virtual blindness, de Valera served two terms as president. He retired, in his ninety-first year, in 1973 and died on 29 August 1975.

SEE ALSO Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921; Civil War; Collins, Michael; Constitution; Declaration of a Republic and the 1949 Ireland Act; Gaelic Catholic State, Making of; Griffith, Arthur; Lemass, Seán; Media since 1960; Neutrality; Newspapers; Political Parties in Independent Ireland; Politics: Independent Ireland since 1922; Presidency; Sinn Féin Movement and Party to 1922; Struggle for Independence from 1916 to 1921; Primary Documents: The Anglo-Irish Treaty (6 December 1921); "Time Will Tell" (19 December 1921); Republican Cease-Fire Order (28 April 1923); "Aims of Fianna Fáil in Office" (17 March 1932); "Failure of the League of Nations" (18 June 1936); From the 1937 Constitution; "German Attack on Neutral States" (12 May 1940); "National Thanksgiving" (16 May 1945)


Coogan, Tim Pat. De Valera: Long Fellow, Long Shadow. 1993.

Earl of Longford, and Thomas P. O'Neill. Eamon de Valera. 1970.

Edwards, Owen Dudley. Eamon de Valera. 1987.

Susannah Riordan

de Valera, Eamon

views updated May 23 2018

de Valera, Eamon (1882–1975). The dominant figure in Irish politics for over 40 years despite, or perhaps because of, his aloof, ascetic personality. De Valera was born in New York, reared in Co. Limerick, and was originally a mathematics teacher. He came to advanced nationalism through the Irish Language Movement and Volunteers. His rise to leadership was due to his being the last surviving commandant of the Easter Rising. Following release from internment in early 1917, he led a broad-based Sinn Fein coalition, and master-minded the move towards a moderate self-determination policy which successfully challenged the Irish Parliamentary Party. Arrested May 1918, de Valera escaped from Lincoln gaol in February 1919, and became president of the Dáil. He spent most of the Anglo-Irish War seeking recognition of the Irish Republic and financial backing in the USA. After the truce in July 1921, de Valera became chief negotiator in Dáil ranks but controversially absented himself from the peace conference, October–December. Opposing the Anglo-Irish treaty, he advanced external association as an alternative. He strove to avoid the drift to civil war but was rendered impotent by the force of military opposition to the treaty. Marginalized during the civil war, he recovered the leadership amongst republicans after the conflict, aided by being imprisoned until 1924. Splitting from Sinn Fein and the IRA and their Dáil abstentionist policy, he formed Fianna Fail Party, entering the Dáil in 1927. After winning the 1932 election he followed a treaty reform policy, abolishing the oath of allegiance to the British crown and ceasing payment of land annuities to Britain. The constitution of 1937 epitomized his social and cultural conservatism. De Valera followed popular neutrality policy in the Second World War, despite intense British and American opposition. Defeated in elections 1948 and 1954, but Taoiseach again 1951–4 and 1957–9, he withdrew to the presidency 1959–73. By the 1960s his policies appeared anachronistic in a rapidly evolving modern European state, leading to an increasingly unsympathetic portrayal of his career. J. J. Lee commented that de Valera would have made a leader beyond compare in the pre-industrial world. De Valera himself said: ‘I was meant to be a dyed-in-the-wool Tory or even a Bishop, rather than the leader of a Revolution.’

Michael Hopkinson

De Valera, Eamon

views updated May 29 2018

De Valera, Eamon (1882–1975) Irish statesman, taoiseach (1932–48, 1951–54, 1957–59). De Valera was active in the Irish independence struggle and, after the Easter Rising (1916), was elected president of Sinn Féin while imprisoned in England. He opposed William Cosgrave's Irish Free State ministry and founded Fianna Fáil in 1924. He defeated Cosgrave in 1932. In 1959, De Valera became president of the republic. He retired in 1973.

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