The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Eamon de Valera

Eamon de Valera (born Edward George de Valera, Irish name Éamonn de Bhailéara (October 14, 1882August 29, 1975), was an Irish politician, best known as a leader of Ireland's struggle for independence from Britain in the early 20th Century, and the Republican opposition in the ensuing Irish Civil War.

At various times a mathematician, teacher and a politician he served as Irish head of government on three occasions, as second President of the Executive Council (original name for the prime minister) and the first Taoiseach (prime ministerial title after 1937). He ended his political career as President of Ireland, serving two terms from 1959 until 1973. Eamon de Valera was also the Chancellor of the National University of Ireland from 1922 until 1975.

Revered and despised in equal measure throughout Ireland, during his lifetime and posthumously, Eamon de Valera is generally regarded as the most influential person in the history of 20th Century Ireland.

Since the foundation of the state a de Valera has always served in Dáil Éireann. While Eamon de Valera served until 1959, his son, Vivion de Valera, was a TD between 1945 and 1981. His grandchildren, Éamon Ó Cuív and Síle de Valera, are currently members of the Dáil, with both having served in the government as a Minister.

President of Ireland
Éamon de Valera (1882-1975)
Rank: 3rd
Term of Office: June 25, 1959 - June 24, 1973
Number of Terms: 2
Predecessor: Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh
Successor: Erskine Hamilton Childers
Date of Birth: Saturday, October 14, 1882
Place of Birth: Manhattan, New York City
Date of Death: Friday, August 29, 1975
Place of Death: Dublin, Ireland
First Lady: Sinéad Bean de Valera
Profession: Politician, teacher, mathematician
Nominated by: Fianna Fáil (1959 & 1966)
Other candidates: Fine Gael (1959): Sean MacEoin

Fine Gael (1966): Tom O'Higgins


Born in New York City in 1882 to an Irish mother, he stated that his parents, Kate Coll and Juan Vivion de Valera were married in 1881 in New York. However exhaustive trawls through church and state records by genealogists and by his most recent biographer, Tim Pat Coogan (1990) have failed to find either a church or civil record of the marriage. Furthermore, no birth, baptismal, marriage or death certificate has ever been found for anyone called Juan Vivion de Valera or de Valeros, an alternative spelling. As a result, it is now widely believed by academics that deV (to use his nickname) was illegitimate. While this fact might seem irrelevant to 21st century eyes, one result of illegitimacy in the late 19th/early 20th century was that one was barred from a career in the Roman Catholic Church. Éamon de Valera was throughout his life a deeply religious man, who in death asked to be buried in a religious habit. There are a number of occasions where de Valera seriously contemplated entering the religious life like his half-brother, Fr. Thomas Wheelright. Yet he did not do so, and apparently received little encouragement from the priests whose advice he sought. In his biography of de Valera, Tim Pat Coogan speculated as to whether rumours surrounding de Valera's legitimacy may have been a deciding factor.

Whatever his parentage, de Valera was taken to Ireland at the age of two. Even when his mother married a new husband in the mid 1880s, he was not brought back to live with her but reared instead by maternal relatives in County Limerick. He was educated locally at Bruree National School and Charleville Christian Brothers School. At the age of sixteen he won a scholarship to his beloved Blackrock College, County Dublin.

Always a diligent student he won further scholarships and exhibitions and in 1903 was appointed professor of mathematics at Rockwell College, County Tipperary. He graduated in mathematics in 1904 from the Royal University of Ireland (RUI) and then went back to Dublin to teach at Belvedere College. In 1906 he secured a post as professor of mathematics at Carysfort Teachers’ Training College for women in Blackrock, County Dublin. His applications for professorships in colleges of the National University of Ireland were unsuccessful, but he obtained a part-time appointment at Maynooth and also lectured in mathematics at various Dublin colleges.

Early political activity

An intelligent young man, he became an active gaeilgeoir (Irish language enthusiast). In 1908 he joined the Ardchraobh 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 January 8, 1910 at St Paul’s Church, Arran Quay, Dublin.

While he was already involved in the cultural revolution de Valera's involvement in the political revolution began on November 25, 1913 when he joined the Irish Volunteers. He rose through the ranks and it wasn't long until he was elected captain of the Donnybrook company. Preparations were pushed ahead for an armed rising, and he was made commandant of the Third Battalion and adjutant of the Dublin Brigade. He was sworn by Thomas MacDonagh into the oath-bound Irish Republican Brotherhood, which secretly controlled the central executive of the Volunteers.

Easter Rising

Eamon de Valera in the 1930s
Eamon de Valera in the 1930s

On April 24, 1916 the rising began. de Valera occupied Boland’s Mills, Grand Canal Street in Dublin, his chief task being to cover the south-eastern approaches to the city. After a week of fighting the order came from Pádraig Pearse to surrender. de Valera was court-martialled, convicted, and sentenced to death, but the sentence was immediately commuted to penal servitude for life. It was speculated that he was saved from execution because of American citizenship. That is technically incorrect. He was saved by two facts. Firstly, he was held in a different prison from other leaders, thus his execution was delayed by practicalities; had he been held with Padraig Pearse, James Connolly and others, he probably would have been one of the first executed. Secondly, his rumoured American citizenship caused a delay, while the full legal situation (i.e., was he actually a United States citizen and if so, how would the United States react to the execution of one of its citizens?) was clarified. The fact that Britain was trying to bring the USA into the war in Europe at the time made the situation even more delicate. Both delays taken together meant that, while he was next-in-line for execution, when the time came for a decision, all executions had been halted in view of the negative public reaction; so timing, location and questions relating to citizenship saved de Valera's life.

The Easter Rising showed up a number of contrasting aspects of Éamon de Valera's personality. On the one hand, he showed leadership skills and a meticulous ability for planning. Yet during his command he also experienced what in hindsight was seen as a form of nervous breakdown, so embarrassing that its occurrence was hidden by those who had been with him in 1916 all through his lifetime. In fact the details of his erratic and emotional behaviour only came to light, thanks to a recent biography.

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