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Eamon De Valera and the Rebirth of Independent Ireland.

When Eamon De Valera?s died in 1975, Ireland lost its most successful and most prominent patriot and nationalist. In his life, he played many roles: a dedicated teacher, statesman, president of Eire and Ireland, Prime Minister, soldier and provocateur. He is probably best remembered for his part in the 1916 Easter Rebellion and the civil war that divided Ireland from 1922-23, but did much more since then. De Valera was probably the most constant influence on modern Irish politics. His political activities started in 1913 and sixty years later, in 1973, he finally stepped down from what had been a very public life. De Valera played a very important part in the birth of independent Ireland and helped to shape modern-day Ireland. He had Ireland?s best intentions at heart but unfortunately, he did not have the support necessary to enact the changes that probably would have benefited Ireland. He was tireless, compromised little but made the best of all situations. Although a catholic, he was religiously tolerant and tried to keep a unified Ireland.

Edward De Valera was born in New York City on October 4, 1882. His mother was an Irish immigrant and his father was originally from Spain. When his music teacher father died in 1885, the three-year-old Eddie was sent with an uncle to live with his grandmother in Ireland. His name became gaelicized to the Irish equivalent of Edward: Eamon. Young Eamon progressed easily through school, he excelled best in mathematics . He became a teacher, moving from one position to another at various schools and colleges. His growing interest in the Irish language led him to join the Gaelic League, which he did so in 1908. It was there that he meant Sinead Flanagan and two years later they were married. They were so committed to the renewed use of the Irish language that they had their wedding ceremony done in Irish, even teaching the priest his lines.

Politically, Home Rule, which meant repeal of the Act of Union and the establishment of a separate Irish parliament in Dublin, passed in 1914. It did not solve the problems with Protestant Ulster, and that topic was excluded and unsettled. The Protestant were very much against Home Rule and an Ulster Volunteer Force was formed in 1913. North Ireland Ulstermen drilled openly and were supported by the local British military officials. De Valera joined the National Volunteer movement in 1913 because he felt that it would take the efforts of everyone in Ireland in order to secure her independence. Home Rule was suspended when World War I broke out, and Britain initiated a draft. De Valera stood with the minority who refused to fight for any country but Ireland, England was outraged because enlistment in Ireland was low, and conscription was protested. This was his first of many breaks with the mainstream Irish politicians and leaders, who tried to get along with Britain and urged enlistment. While sitting out the war, he joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB, a forerunner of the IRA) a choice that would lead him to take part in the Easter Rebellion.

On April 21, 1916, a vessel under the guise of a neutral merchant ship made an attempt to land arms and ammunition in Ireland. The New York Times reported that this ship, the Auld and a German submarine were found off the coast of Ireland by an English ship. The captain of the ship sank it to prevent the arms from being seized, but the damage was done. The mastermind behind this was Sir Roger Casement, a philanthropist who had exposed serious corruption in rubber plantations in Africa. The same Sir Roger was also a supporter of Home Rule and had instigated German forces to help agitate England while the war was going on. This involvement was damaging to the Irish because of German unpopularity during the war. The arms were meant to arrive before the Easter Rising and would have been helpful, they included five thousand Mauser rifles and a million rounds of ammunition.

The Easter Rising doomed most of Ireland?s leadership because all the leaders knew it would fail because of poorly armed but well-trained Irish forces. England was a world power and the Irish knew they were no match for artillery or tanks. It was sure to fail as a military coup but succeed only as an ideal. Everything went as planned because the revolt lasted only a few days. On Easter 1916, 1600 Volunteers and Citizens’ Army people turned out in Dublin, which held all military activity–there were no actions taken elsewhere. The Irish Republic was declared as forces led by Padraic Pearse seized the General Post Office in Dublin. De Valera was in charge of defending the approach to Dublin from Kingstown at Westland Row railway station, which is where the Black and Tans had their barracks and approach by the British was anticipated . He placed what few men he had along this route and set up his headquarters in Boland’s flour mill. De Valera’s natural leadership and commanding presence enabled him to maintain order and present a defensive front with under one hundred poorly trained, poorly armed, though enthusiastic soldiers. Pearse was forced to surrender on Saturday, and Sunday De Valera marched his men out to lay down their arms.

The leaders of the Easter Rising, who had signed the Republican Proclamation and those who had led units during the fighting were all put to death for treason. Ironically, De Valera was saved because technically he was a United States citizen, therefore he could not be executed for treason. England was not eager to anger the US because they had US support in World War I and a few Americans involved in the rebellion were either imprisoned or shipped off. His sentence was made life imprisonment rather than capital punishment. People hissed the captured rebels in Dublin, but the British, by executing the 15 “martyrs” and arresting 3500 others, turned people to the Irish rebels. They were released just over a year later, and on his return, De Valera began what would become a long and distinguished career in the politics of Ireland. Had it not been for his involvement and the death of the other leadership, De Valera may have been fated to live a quiet life of scholarship and teaching.

In prison, the surviving members of the Easter Rising had decided to organize “for the sake of the Republic” and De Valera was elected as their spokesman. De Valera , with Arthur Griffith, convinced people to work politically rather than rise again, It was here that De Valera became dedicated to the idea of an Irish Republic and nothing less. He was the leader of Sinn Fein, the party created in 1908 by Arthur Griffith. He was elected to Parliament and voted President of Sinn Fein and the Irish Volunteers. The success of Sinn Fein worried the British and so they concocted a conspiracy concerning the Irish and the Germans?going back to the sinking of the Auld. Claiming Sinn Fein was involved, they rounded up all the leaders of the party and imprisoned them. Therefore, on May 17, 1918, De Valera found himself in another prison.

While De Valera was in Lincoln Jail, Michael Collins ran Sinn Fein. De Valera?s escape from Lincoln was plotted and the circumstances surrounding this event could fill a volume, making very good suspenseful reading. De Valera was needed at the Treaty of Versailles where he was to try to get the sympathies of Woodrow Wilson. De Valera escaped on February 3, 1919 and when the British just released the rest of the prisoners, it became a moot point to further any prosecution. He was re-elected President of Sinn Fein and threw all his energy into gaining support for Irish independence. The Paris convention was considered to concern the outcome of the war only and Ireland was left out.

Just a few months after returning to Ireland, De Valera left for America to raise funds. He traveled around the U.S. and with the help of powerful Irish-Americans, was able to raise in excess of 5 million dollars. While he was overseas raising money for the cause, Collins led the fighting against the English. Using hit and run guerrilla tactics that would symbolize the IRA, he made the British negotiate. The delegation sent to gain independence for Ireland was led by Michael Collins. The proposed treaty by the English called for the removal of all troops from Ireland, the establishment of an Irish Free State and their own government. In return Ireland had to swear fealty to the king of England and Ulster would remain in the United Kingdom. At first, the delegates held out, but under pressure from British threats of renewed fighting, they broke down and signed, without consulting Dublin and De Valera. This treaty divided Ireland, and began a civil war. On one side was Collins and the supporters of the Irish Free State. They believed that the treaty was the best they were going to get, and that Ireland should take it. De Valera opposed the treaty from the start. He claimed it was not what the people wanted; it was not independence and unity. More importantly, there could be no independence without unity and therefore, and he would not advise that the Daile pass the treaty. Despite, his own efforts and those of his supporters, the treaty was ratified by a vote of 64 to 57.

During the civil war that went on from July, 1922 to May, 1923, De Valera re-enlisted in the Republican cause as a private and took no part in controlling the actions of the Republican forces. Although Michael Collins was killed in an ambush, the Free state forces slowly ground down the Republicans with the support of British weapons and artillery. All attempts at compromise and peace failed. Only the surrender of the men fighting for the Republic would end the fighting, the Provisional Government run by the Free State supporters would accept nothing less.

With their situation worsening daily, the Republican Army finally gave in and ended the civil war. On August 12, 1923, Eamon De Valera was imprisoned for the third time in his life, this time by his own countrymen. As with his other periods of incarceration, this one was relatively short, only eleven months.

Following his release, De Valera again set about working for the Republican cause with Sinn Fein. Unfortunately, internal power shifts while he was in prison had changed the face of Sinn Fein. It would not participate in Free State government and De Valera felt that this stance would only be counter-productive. In response in April of 1926 he founded a new party, the Fianna Fail. This new party was dedicated to the Republican cause, but was determined to effect changes from the inside. His fame and experience propelled him to the presidency of the executive council of the Irish Free State and it was there that he was able to oversee the rewriting of the Irish constitution. This was 1937 and in that same year Eamon De Valera was elected prime minister of Ireland, a position he held until 1948.

At the same time as his Fianna Fail was gaining support throughout Ireland, De Valera spent several years working as a member of the League of Nations. He was committed to the idea of the League so that nations could work together to promote peace and prosperity. He was president of the League of Nations council in 1932 and then in 1938 he served as president of the assembly. . De Valera did so with distinction and pride. Later in 1938, he told the world through the medium of the League, that:

Why cannot the Peace Conference which will meet in Europe when the next conflict has decimated the nations and disaster and exhaustion have tamed them into temporary submission?why cannot this conference be convened now, when calm reason might have a chance to bring the nation into friendly cooperation and a lasting association of mutual help?

Of course this plea would fail. O?Neil claims that De Valera was imperative in the growth and success of the United Nations. In September, 1938, De Valera was elected President of the Assembly again. This was amazing; De Valera had won recognition out of proportion to the size of his country. He had walked a path separate from that of the major superpowers and was successful in obtaining his goals, especially in that moment of major crisis.

During World War II, Ireland remained neutral, though supportive of the British. De Valera, though not an isolationist, supported a neutral stance because as a small nation, Ireland had “everything to lose and nothing to gain.” Through out the war there was almost constant pressure from both Britain and the U.S. for Ireland to give up its neutrality, but throughout Ireland led by De Valera remained firm.

The leadership and presence of Eamon De Valera was so much that from 1937 to 1959 only two 3-year terms passed when he was not Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, he sought to bring Ireland forward industrially, educationally and socially. He introduced tariffs and supported Irish factories to reopen. New agriculture methods were introduced. Although a devout Catholic, he refused to support any anti-Protestant legislation, and he earned the respect of both Catholics and Protestants for his fairness. In 1959, he was elected president and served two 7-year terms, despite of his near blindness.

Through out his life Eamon De Valera fought for Irish unity and independence and although he never saw his dream of a united Ireland, the consecration, emotion, fairness and courage with which he stood for what he believed in was imperative to Ireland?s success as a nation. North Ireland peace talks still continue.


Annotated Bibliography

Foster, R. F., Modern Ireland 1600-1972. New York: Penguin, 1989.

This book also focuses on four hundred years of British opression of the Irish. This is a interesting book to read and it provided some great insights for an argument on the Irish rebellion.

Mansbach, Richard W., ed. Northern Ireland, Half a century of Partition. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1973.

This book is a compilation of Newspaper articles and journals concerning the split of the Island of Ireland into Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This should be very insightful and informative to the contents of the paper I am researching.

McCaffrey, Lawrence, The Irish Question: Two Centuries of Conflict. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1995.

This book discusses the economic, religious and social conflicts between the Irish and the English, and discusses the oppression of the Irish for four hundred years. This book is an excellent source on the subject of the causes of the Easter Uprising.

O?Conner, Ulick, The Troubles: Ireland 1912-1922. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975.

This book is an event-by-event account of the Irish rebellion of the early 20th century. This is a well-researched, well-documented history of the event.

Strauss, Erich, Irish Nationalism and British Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.

This book focuses on the political differences of the two islands and the social problems these differences caused. This book provides helpful facts and figures to be used in an argument.

Ward, Alan J., The Easter Rising: Revolution and Irish Nationalism. Arlington Heights: AHM Publishing Corporation, 1980.

This book highlights the centuries-old tension between the Irish and the English. It also covers the events as the happen, and then is concluded by an argument of the long-term effects of the 1916 Easter Uprising.

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