The long arc of Éamon de Valera’s political career comes into special focus this week through the convergence of two anniversaries, 50 years apart.
One hundred years ago, de Valera sailed to America as a stowaway aboard the SS Lapland. For 18 months he packed stadiums and convention halls to rally Irish America to the cause of independence in the homeland. Fifty years later, as president of the 26-county Republic of Ireland, de Valera delivered a different message to the cosmos with the help of two U.S. astronauts who landed the spaceship Eagle on the moon.
Greetings from 71 other heads of state were also etched onto the silicon disc, about the size of a U.S. 50 cent coin, left on the lunar surface. The text of de Valera’s salutation, written in Irish, is translated:
May God grant that the skill and courage which have enabled man to alight upon the moon will enable him also to secure peace and happiness upon the earth and avoid the danger of self-destruction.
A few days later, de Valera sent a conventional cable to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the tenth American leader to occupy the White House since Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Ireland, I send you our sincerest congratulations and our unbounded admiration for the courage and skill of astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, and for the wonderful teamwork of all the others who made the landing possible. May God grant that the astronauts will return safely home and that this great achievement will contribute to the peace and happiness of mankind in the ear which has been opened.
The astronauts did return safely, but peace has not been secured and we have not avoided the danger of self-destruction. As for de Valera’s legacy, it remains under historical review.