Éamon de Valera

Eamon de Valera - Public domain
Eamon de Valera - Public domain

Eamon de Valera (1882-1975) is an Irish politician who played a major role in the creation of the Irish Free State. Considered the father of the Free Nation of Ireland, this American-Irishman worked deeply for the Irish nationalist cause and would later devote the rest of his political career to the creation and development of the Irish Republic.

Biography of Éamon de Valera

A childhood spent between New York and Dublin

Éamon de Valera was born on 14 October 1882 in New York City to a well-to-do family, already rather politicised. After brilliant studies, De Valera became a mathematics teacher and devoted the rest of his time to his passion for rugby and Irish Gaelic culture.

De Valera soon found himself juggling New York and Dublin, and finally decided to pursue a political career in Ireland, at a particularly troubled time when anti-British sentiment was growing stronger and stronger. He then joined the Irish Republican Brotherhood (or IRB) and defended the Irish nationalist movement alongside great figures such as Michael Collins and James Connolly.

Together, the latter then decide to take up arms and foment a rebellion: The Easter rising.

From the Easter rising in 1916 to his Nomination to Sinn Féin

The Easter rising in 1916 was therefore one of the most important uprising attempts in Irish history. In spite of the efforts devoted to this rebellion, the uprising still ended in failure, and many leaders of the movement were executed. Luckily, however, De Valera escaped the uprising because of his American nationality. He is then imprisoned successively in the prisons of Dartmoor, Maidstone and Lewes.

From his cell, he continued his struggle despite the prison bars and was elected as a member of parliament for Sinn Féin. In 1919, De Valera and other party members created the Dáil Éireann, a revolutionary parliament representing Irish nationalists. Eamon De Valera was appointed prime minister of the Dáil and escaped from Lincoln prison a few months later.

From the Irish War of Independence to the Civil War

August 1921 is for De Valera the date on which he changed the Irish Constitution to become President of the Republic of Ireland. He encouraged Irish nationalists to take up arms, and plunged Ireland into a particularly deadly War of Independence (1919-1921).

But the latter plunged London into an indelicate position and London proposed to the nationalists the signing of the Treaty of London on 21 December 1921. De Valera, then President of the Dàil, asked Michael Collins to go and negotiate the Treaty in the British capital.

When Michael Collins returned, the Irish nationalists split into two groups: the pro-treaty and the anti-treaty. Eamon De Valera is also dissatisfied with the Treaty, considering this independence as partial and insufficient, to the detriment of Northern Ireland, still under British domination. Faced with this situation, De Valera then joined the anti-treaty camp, thus opposing Michael Collins.

This conflict then engenders a real Irish Civil War in which the pro-treaty and anti-text opponents clash in a fratricidal conflict. The War lasts 2 years, and ends in the victory of the pro-treaties, helped by their advanced military equipment provided by the British themselves.

Faced with this bitter failure, De Valera was then re-imprisoned in 1923 until 1924, and then released at the end of the conflict, like all opponents of the Treaty. A new era began, when De Valera resigned himself and decided to devote himself to politics in the Republic of Ireland. He then put in place new measures to develop the Irish political landscape, now free from the British presence.

Eamon De Valera creates the Fianna Fàil, and is elected president of Ireland

In 1926, he created a new political party, Fianna Fàil, and was appointed head of the Taoiseach (the Irish government) from 1932 to 1948. In 1937 he submitted his draft Republican Constitution and was elected President of the General Assembly of the League of Nations, which enabled him to protect Ireland from the Second World War.

He was then reappointed Chief Taoiseach from 1951 to 1954.

1959 was the year he was elected President of Ireland. He held office until 1973, when he retired and died in 1975.

Even today, De Valera is still considered a great figure of the Irish nationalist struggle that contributed to the creation of the Irish Free State and the Irish Republic… Very popular in the minds of the Irish people, he remains as a high political figure, famous for his strong ideas and his deep commitment to the Irish cause.