Tag Archives: Eamon De Valera

Ballot & Bullet: Remembering Dev and Danny Boy

Two July 1917 events in the west of Ireland shaped the county’s struggle for independence from Britain. A century later, however, both seem to have be mostly forgotten, prompting criticism from at least one historian.

The first and most significant event was the election of Sinn Féin candidate Éamon de Valera in County Clare. The by-election was called to fill the seat left vacant when Irish Parliamentary Party member Willie Redmond was killed in World War I. The IPP represented the late 19th century effort to secure limited domestic autonomy for Ireland, called home rule. de Valera, one of the rebels of the 1916 Easter Rising who was released from prison in June 1917, belonged to the new generation of Irish republicans seeking a clean break from Britain, even if it required violence ahead of politics.

As John Dorney explains on The Irish Story website:

His victory marked a decisive breakthrough for the Sinn Féin party and the beginning of the eclipse of the constitutional nationalists of the Irish Parliamentary Party. The following year, 1918, Sinn Féin, headed by de Valera, won a crushing victory in a general election and early the following year, declared independence, leading the Irish War of Independence.

The post also features Dorney’s 35-minute podcast interview with Clare historian Pádraig Óg Ó Ruairc, who details the election and sets the context for this period between the Rising and the War. It’s a great listen.

O Ruairc raises the second event toward the end of the interview. While celebrating Dev’s victory in Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, local man Daniel Scanlon was shot and killed by an officer of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Scanlon belonged to the Irish Volunteers, at the time transitioning to the Irish Republican Army. O Ruairc describes Scanlon’s death as one of the first of the War of Independence. (Read an account in the Bureau of Military History Witness Statement of William McCabe, page 3.)

The 100th anniversary of Scanlon’s death and Dev’s election appear to have been largely ignored by the Irish government and media. The historian complains:

We hear a lot talk from politicians about how important this period of our history is commemorated … As far as I can see the 100th anniversary of this guy’s death was not commemorated.  … This period of history is passing us by because the government’s official Decade of Centenaries [1912-1922] was disbanded after the last election a year ago, after the big 2016 centenaries. … It’s an indictment of the Decade of Centenaries that it was four years long; we went from 1912 to 1916 and then we stopped. I think what we are going to see for the rest of the Decade of Centenaries is that stuff that happened outside Dublin is not [considered] important. … It will be left to the people that always commemorate it, local historians, relatives, with not much state support behind it.

In fairness, the official Decade of Centenaries website does note de Valera’s by-election win in its 1917 timeline. He is hardly forgotten in Ireland, given the large role he played as the 26 counties became the Irish Free State and eventually the Republic. By 1963, the elder statesman was still on the scene to welcome John F. Kennedy to Ireland.

Scanlon, who was 24 in 1917, is easier lost in the Irish revolutionary period. The RIC officer charged with his death was soon acquitted. It also should be remembered that Scanlon’s death came 15 months after another Ballybunion native, Patrick Shortis, 26, was killed during the Rising in Dublin.

Both of these rebel deaths catch my attention since my grandfather emigrated in 1913, at age 19, from the same village. He joined several cousins and other North Kerry immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The city’s daily newspapers carried numerous stories about de Valera’s victory, but not a word of Scanlon’s death that I can locate.

Both Shortis and Scanlon are remembered with small plaques on the sides of buildings in Ballybunion. A bronze statue of de Valera stands outside the courthouse in Ennis, Co. Clare, where his 71 percent to 29 percent ballot victory was tabulated a century ago.

The level of attention generated by last year’s 1916 centenary events would be hard to sustain over a decade. Through the end of 2018, there will continue to be more focus on the events of World War I. But O Ruairc has a point about the general decline of interest in historical events from the period between the Rising the start of the War of Independence.

The memorial to Daniel Scanlon in Ballybunion.

Is Leo Varadkar Ireland’s first post-Catholic leader?

Leo Varadkar has secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party and is now in line to replace Enda Kenny as Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister.

Much is being made of the fact that Varadkar is openly gay and just 38, making him the Republic’s youngest leader. He is also the son of an Irish mother and Indian father. (Remember that Éamon de Valera, who spent several terms as Irish leader over a long stretch of the 20th century, was the American-born son of an Irish mother and Spanish father.)

The New York Times and other media noted that Varadkar comes to power two year after Irish voters approved same-sex marriage. The Times barely conceals its glee that Ireland “has rapidly been leaving its conservative Roman Catholic social traditions behind” and that Varadkar, though raised Catholic, does not practice the faith.

The U.K. Independent used a similar “once-staunchly Catholic country” formulation in its lead story, while initial coverage from RTE, BBC, NPR, CNN, The Guardian and other outlets did not mention religion.

Leo Varadkar is the new Fine Gael leader. Image from RTE.

Writing in The Irish Times, Miriam Lord observed that Fine Gael voters:

…patted themselves on the back for not making a big deal of the fact that Leo Varadkar is a gay man or that his father is an immigrant from India. Because it isn’t a big deal. Smiling at the way news outlets all over the world were announcing Catholic Ireland’s “first gay prime minister” when, sure, nobody paid a blind bit of difference to that at home, because why would they?

But, she concluded, “it was this very indifference to ‘origins and identity’ that made them feel very, very proud.”

Varadkar’s confirmation as taoiseach is expected–but not assured–later this month. He has said that he is committed to holding a referendum next year on whether to repeal the constitutional ban on abortion, which has already bolstered the secular narrative of a post-Catholic Ireland.

Irish history professor Ronan Fanning dies

Ronan Fanning, professor emeritus of modern Irish history at University College Dublin and the author of several books, died 18 January at age 75.

In 2015, Fanning published A Will to Power, a biography of Éamon de Valera, one of the most complicated and controversial figures of Irish revolutionary history. His Introduction included this anecdote:

By a strange coincidence my father died on the same day as Éamon de Valera, 29 August 1975, some hours before him. He was buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, again on the same day, less than one hundred yards away from where de Valera was buried an hour later in the republican plot. I was reminded on that morning that de Valera would remain as divisive a figure in death as in life. A family friend, who knew that my father was never an admirer of de Valera … said to me at his graveside as the undertaker was hurrying us out to make way for the state funeral, ‘What’s the first thing your father will say to St. Peter when he sees him? “There’s another Irishman, a long fellow, coming up after me and he’ll cause havoc if you let him in!”

Ronan Fanning is to be cremated at Glasnevin. Below, he speaks about British policy in Ireland after the 1916 Easter Rising.

Irish Ambassador reflects on 1916 centennial in U.S.

When Anne Anderson became Irish Ambassador to the U.S. in 2013, planning for the 1916 Easter Rising centennial commemoration in America was one of her early diplomatic duties.

“We knew 1916 would have huge resonance in the U.S., more than anywhere outside of Ireland,” Anderson told a 15 December Irish Network D.C. audience. “The road to the Rising and its aftermath have very big connections to Irish America.”

Ambassador Anne Anderson, left, interviewed by Fionnuala Sweeney of The Cipher Brief.

The Embassy faced several challenges, such as teaching a new generation of Irish Americans about an event more familiar to their parents and grandparents, and also reaching beyond the 30 million U.S. residents of Irish heritage, “not just those already part of the family,” Anderson said.

Cultural events, such as the three-week “Ireland 100” festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., were blended with more historically-focused examinations. The Embassy tracked more than 300 events across the U.S. “that we knew about,” Anderson said, including many “absolutely organic, grassroots” 1916 gatherings outside big Irish hubs such as New York and Boston.

“People were motivated by a sense of joy in their Irishness,” Anderson said. “The brand that Ireland has is extraordinarily positive.”

In the U.S., as in Ireland, the 1916 centennial commemoration required sensitivity to British and unionist perspectives, Anderson said. There were no attempts to “airbrush history.”

This year’s experiences will inform future commemorations as Ireland and Irish America move through the “Decade of Centenaries,” which extends until 2022, and includes the 100th anniversaries of the War of Independence and partition of the island.

“We are looking at what is most significant in the U.S.,” Anderson said, such as Eamon de Valera’s 1919-1920 fundraising tour in America. “But we always felt the biggest year in America would be 1916 (2016).”

The revolution will be colorized

A 90-minute documentary tells the story of Ireland’s struggle for independence from Home Rule to Civil War through beautifully colorized newsreel and photos.

British Pathé is offering online subscription access to “Revolution in Color” for $8 a month. It is narrated by Allen Leech, who played Branson, the Irish nationalist chauffeur on television’s “Downtown Abbey.”

“When you watch black and white, you are detached from the personalities and the history,” said director Martin Dwan. “There is something about color that triggers empathy with people.”

British Pathé, one of the world’s largest newsreel archives, attempted to make a similar film in 1935. It was blocked by Éamon De Valera’s Irish government at the time, in part because of the violence of the Civil War period, according to The Irish Times.

Watch the trailer:

Visiting Glasnevin, part 2: More Irish heroes

DUBLIN~Here are gravestones of leading characters from the late 19th/early 20th century struggle for Irish independence. From top to bottom: Charles Stewart Parnell, Éamon de Valera, John Devoy,  Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa and Michael Collins.

Many, many other political heroes, plus more than 1.5 million regular Irishmen and Irishwomen, are buried at this historic cemetery.

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U.S.-Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day: 1916-2016 (P2)

This blog series focuses on U.S.- Irish relations at St. Patrick’s Day over the past 100 years. Since this is the centennial of the Easter Rising, I’m looking at 1916 and each 25 years afterward: 1941, 1966 and 1991. I’m also writing a post on St. Patrick’s Day 1976, the year of the American bicentennial.

Part 2: The Rising’s 25th anniversary & Ireland’s neutrality

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt did not recognize St. Patrick’s Day 1941 with any Irish guests or events, according to his official calendar. But with the war in Europe now in its second year, Ireland was certainly on the president’s mind nine months before the Pearl Harbor attack.

Roosevelt knew the U.S. would enter the conflict sooner or later. On March 15, 1941, he told the annual dinner of the White House Correspondents Association:

Upon the national will to sacrifice and to work depends the output of our industry and our agriculture. Upon that will depends the survival of the vital bridge across the ocean—the bridge of ships that carry the arms and the food for those who are fighting the good fight. Upon that will depends our ability to aid other Nations which may determine to offer resistance. Upon that will may depend practical assistance to people now living in Nations that have been overrun, should they find the opportunity to strike back in an effort to regain their liberties and may that day come soon! This will of the American people will not be frustrated, either by threats from powerful enemies abroad or by small, selfish groups or individuals at home.

Perhaps of note to Irish and Irish-Americans who heard the speech or read accounts of it, Roosevelt said:

The world has no use for any Nation which, because of size or because of military might, asserts the right to goosestep to world power over the bodies of other Nations or other races. We believe that any nationality, no matter how small, has the inherent right to its own nationhood. (My emphasis.)

At the time, Roosevelt, U.S. Ambassador to Ireland (since April 1940) David Gray and other American officials were frustrated with Ireland’s position of neutrality in the war. The U.S. and Britain wanted access to Irish ports and airfields. On St. Patrick’s Day 1941 (two days after Roosevelt’s speech) Irish leader Eamon de Valera addressed the Irish people and America in a radio broadcast.

“A small country like ours that had for centuries resisted imperial absorption, and that still wished to preserve its separate national identity, was bound to choose the course of neutrality in this war,” he said.  “It has taken an effort of centuries to win back the independence we have got. We are determined that it shall not be lost again.”

On March 18, Gray wrote to Roosevelt from Dublin. He opened by saying “we are very full of your speech made the other night at the White House Correspondents dinner.” Then he complained about de Valera:

“He cannot get out of this self-centered dream world and realize that the lrish will be goose-stepping if Britain goes down. …  This running a government on hatred of another country is a  very dangerous thing and is bound to land him on the scrap heap eventually.”

The struggle over Irish neutrality would continue through the war years. All of Roosevelt’s Irish-related correspondence for 1941 and other years is available online.

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Roosevelt shortly after re-election to his third term in 1940.

In New York City, County Roscommon native Father Edward Flanagan supported Ireland’s neutral stance in a St. Patrick’s Day homily commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Easter Rising. In Washington, D.C., Irish-Americans gave “serious thoughts to the present situation of their ancestors’ homeland,” The Washington Post reported. Rev. Dr. Tracy John Ellis compared the barbarism of St. Patrick’s fifth century Europe to the “barbarism on the loose” in 1941 Europe.

Very Rev. Ignatius Smith of Catholic University told several hundred men gathered at the Mayflower Hotel for the annual Society of Friendly Sons of St. Patrick banquet that “subjugated nations can learn from Ireland that they are never really conquered as long as they are determined to be free.” The Post‘s reporting is silent as to whether he mentioned the Rising anniversary or offered an opinion about Irish neutrality.

The growing militarism of the day was visible elsewhere in Washington as the Irish War Veterans Post 17 conducted a ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, and also laid a wreath at the statue of Commodore John Barry (a Wexford man) in Franklin Park.

Alan Rickman, portrayed Dev, dies at 69

Alan Rickman, the British actor who 20 years ago portrayed Éamon de Valera, died 14 January at age 69.

The Irish Times said Rickman’s “delicious, purse-mouthed take” on the American-born Irish leader in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins (top) “could hardly have been less flattering if the old fixer (bottom) had horns sprouting from his temples.”

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Forecasting the fate of Fianna Fáil in 2016

Less than a year remains until the next national election in Ireland, which must be called by 3 April 2016. It will be the first general election since 2011, when angry voters ousted the governing Fianna Fáil party from power following the bust of the Irish economy.

Lately, there’s been a wavelet of political analysis in Ireland and the U.S. about Fianna Fáil’s prospects for next spring. But before speculating about the future, a little about the past. Fianna Fáil was founded by Éamon de Valera in the split from Sinn Féin following Ireland’s bitter civil war. Fianna Fáil were the anti-Treaty crowd. The pro-Treaty side, represented by Michael Collins, evolved into Fine Gael, Ireland’s second largest party.

A recent opinion piece in the Irish Independent further explained:

Fianna Fáil was founded in 1926 and has been in government 61 of the 79 years since, 13 times as a minority government or in coalition. Throughout that period Ireland has moved from a poor and rural, deeply conservative Roman Catholic country to become urbanised, industrialised, hi-tech, one of the leading economies in Europe, and on the verge of voting for same-sex marriage. (We’ll see about that come 22 May.)

The Independent suggests Fianna Fáil get credit for what’s gone right as well as what’s gone wrong. It says some of the anger directed at the party is softening, “which should come as no surprise as the economy lifts and people return to their daily affairs with something more of a spring in their step and the promise of a few quid in their pocket. The great irony is that as the economy lifts under the stewardship of Fine Gael and Labour, on a plan drawn up by Fianna Fáil, so too will the fortunes of Fianna Fáil rise, just as the cause and effect of austerity has damned them all too.”

At Irish Central, John Spain takes the opposite view, writing “at the moment the party appears to be going nowhere, condemned to the political wilderness by a population still very angry at what Fianna Fáil did to the economy and the country. In spite of faint hopes of a revival due to widespread unhappiness at some of the things the government has been doing, the outlook for Fianna Fáil remains grim.”

Here’s more coverage:

  • At the Slugger O’Toole portal, founding editor Mike Fealty offers this analysis of Fianna Fáil.
  • Hugh Linehan at The Irish Times, joined by other political pundits, did a recent podcast on the party’s fate.
  • And below, a Late Late Show interview with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin:

Remarks of former taoiseach stir debate over Home Rule, revolution

UPDATE:

Some thoughtful pieces have been added to the debate: Ronan Fanning writes on why it is unwise to commemorate the September 1914 Home Rule Bill. Stephen Collins says that Bruton’s proposal deserves serious consideration. Both are good reads.

ORIGINAL POST:

Former taoiseach John Bruton has stirred up debate in Ireland by insisting that it’s better to note the centenary of Home Rule, this September, than the 1916 Easter Rising and subsequent War of Independence.

Such armed revolutions would have been “completely unnecessary,” Burton says, if Ireland had stuck to the parliamentary path. In public comments and a post on his website, Bruton argues:

Ireland could have achieved better results, for all the people of the island, if it had continued to follow the successful non violent parliamentary Home Rule path, and had not embarked on the path of physical violence, initiated by the IRB and the Irish Citizen Army in Easter Week of 1916.

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Others disagree, among them (no surprise here) Gerry Adams. He was quoted in The Irish Times as saying:

For the record, the 1916 Rising was a seminal event in Irish history, a decisive blow in the struggle for Irish freedom. It is incredible that a former taoiseach – a position that would never have existed but for the Easter Rising and the [Black and] Tan War – would denigrate the sacrifice of the participants and their families in this way.”

And here’s a more detailed op-ed by Éamon Ó Cuív, a grandson of Irish-American republican leader Éamon de Valera.