Books

Was Éamon de Valera Ireland’s Franco?

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

A highlight of this year’s Dublin Theatre Festival was the Rough Magic Theatre Company’s production of The Train, a musical by Arthur Riordan and Bill Whelan. Political theatre at its wittiest and craziest, it told the story of the fledgling Irish Women’s Liberation Movement’s publicised trip in 1971 to Belfast to buy contraceptives, ostentatiously importing these banned Satanic devices back into the Republic, where the law obeyed the writ of the Catholic church. Watching it, one was reminded of the sheer extent of theocracy in Éamon de Valera’s Ireland (he remained president till 1973, having been Taoiseach for most of the period from 1932 to 1959), and the long journey from those days to this year’s equal marriage referendum. Ronan Fanning’s crisp, economical but deeply thought-provoking biography anatomises de Valera’s influence, and reminds us just how transformed the country is since his heyday.

Fanning lays great emphasis on de Valera’s difficult early life, heavily disguised in the official biography — which was more or less dictated by the man himself to his supine and complaisant hagiographers (prominent among them Lord Longford). He was born to an Irish servant-girl and an obscure Spaniard in New York in 1882, and his parents were soon separated. His father died and his mother sent the two-year-old child back to relations in County Limerick, more or less rejecting him forthwith.

Fanning’s description of ‘engineering a separation’ is well put. The boy’s early years on a tiny and impoverished farm were miserable, but he pulled himself out of it by the traditional Irish route of education, managing to get to the elite Holy Ghost Fathers’ Blackrock College, where he was blissfully happy; he stayed there for holidays rather than returning to Limerick, and in many ways it remained the emotional centre of his life.

Marked out to be an academic or a priest, his involvement in Gaelic League activities in the early years of the new century led him into the paramilitary nationalist volunteer movement — and also into matrimony, as he fell in love with and married his Irish teacher. But he was not prominent in nationalist politics until 1916, when he commanded a garrison in the Easter Rising. He had joined the secret Irish Republican Brotherhood shortly before, but was never comfortable with taking the oath, as it conflicted with his devout Catholicism. Here as elsewhere, however, he would find devious and sophisticated routes to rationalise apparent contradictions, in a spirit closer to Jesuits than Holy Ghosts.


As practically the only unexecuted 1916 leader (he survived principally because he was unknown, as Fanning pithily judges), he emerged from jail the acknowledged leader of the rapidly radicalising Sinn Féin movement. Tall, ascetic, dignified, and with a gift for leadership as well as a charismatic force of will, his dominance was not universally welcomed. A long visit to the USA in 1919–20 sowed seeds of discontent, which may have prefigured the traumatic disagreement over the Anglo-Irish Treaty that ended the guerrilla war of independence in 1921.

De Valera led the dissidents who refused to accept the (slightly detached) Commonwealth status given to the new Irish Free State under the terms of the Treaty — even though it essentially differed very little from ideas he had floated beforehand. But his near-inexplicable refusal to join the delegates who went to London to negotiate it, and Arthur Griffith’s and Michael Collins’s disastrous decision to sign it without referring the terms back to Dublin, ushered in a savage civil war, with de Valera on the losing side. From the political wildernes s he negotiated his way back via Fianna Fáil, the political party he founded in 1926 — a manoeuvre also requiring fancy footwork about taking an oath, this time acknowledging the British monarch as head of the Commonwealth. Six years later he entered his long period of dominance, ruling Ireland hand-in-glove with the Catholic hierarchy: an Irish Salazar or Franco.

Fanning points out, fairly, that there were many achievements to de Valera’s credit in the period 1932–48, in terms of foreign policy and taking a firm line with subversive activities from his old IRA colleagues; despite Ireland’s wartime neutrality and the longstanding mutual antipathy between Churchill and himself, he also managed Anglo-Irish relations skilfully. The stability of Irish society owed something to his autocracy, though he did nothing to stem the emigration to better opportunities abroad and very rarely even acknowledged it. Instead, Fanning astutely establishes that de Valera himself remained obsessed by the disastrous aftermath of the Treaty, and the need to believe that he had behaved correctly and defensibly.

This is not his biographer’s belief, nor can it withstand the fair-minded, forensic but damning verdict here — that he rejected the Treaty not because it was a compromise, but because it was not his compromise, and must bear responsibility for the subsequent ‘wading through blood’ (his own phrase). Jealousy of Collins and dislike of Griffith may also have played a part, but de Valera never admitted to moral failings. Time and again an inability to accept the ideas or achievements of others recurs, along with an odd punctilio and pedantry — notoriously so when he paid a visit of condolence to the German Legation after Hitler’s suicide. Yet as is clearly shown here, he had been firmly if covertly on the Allied side during the war, weighting Irish neutrality very much to the British advantage, and eschewing the pro-German and Anglophobic attitudes of many of his political (and diplomatic) colleagues.

Similarly his affections lay with rugby rather than Gaelic football, and he sustained a warm relationship with Trinity College, then seen as a bastion of Anglo-Irish values. But his dream of a devoutly Catholic, rural, unmaterialist Ireland, where the hierarchy had every right to dictate social legislation, persisted — along with similarly unrealistic anti-Partition crusades, contradicting his private admissions that Northern Unionists were not going to be persuaded into the Republic, and could not be compelled by force of arms. A very different line would be taken on both of these issues —material gain, and the Northern question — by Charles Haughey, and Fanning recounts evidence that de Valera clearly saw him as a malign influence on Fianna Fáil.

That disgraced figure would reign over a very different Ireland in the late 20th century: a period when, as Trollope remarked of 1870s Britain,

dishonesty magnificent in its proportions, and climbing into high places, became at the same time so rampant and so splendid that there seemed to be reason for fearing that men and women would be taught to feel that dishonesty, if it can become splendid, will cease to become abominable.

De Valera cannot be blamed for this, though his own honesty was variable and self-serving — he could never admit the impropriety of his control and ownership of the powerful Irish Press empire, for instance.

This judicious, well-researched, elegantly written and admirably succinct biography might, in fact, have taken another Trollope reference for its title: He Knew He Was Right. We are not told what the then president thought of the radical Irishwomen storming the customs barriers with pills and condoms in 1971, but I think we can guess. And it presaged the end of his era.

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £17, Tel: 08430 600033. Roy Foster’s many books on Ireland include Luck and the Irish, Modern Ireland, The Irish Story and a two-volume life of W.B. Yeats.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
  • MacRiada

    “A vast number emigrated during de Valera’s rigid theocracy”

    Between 1921 and 1930, 550,000 people emigrated from Scotland (this actually exceeded the entire natural increase) and constituted one-fifth of the total working population of Scotland.

    So, was Eamon de Valera ruling Scotland also?

    How often do we hear British publications such as this, seeking to pour scorn on Ireland’s early decades and the people who were trying to undo the legacy of British mismanagement (When Ireland joined the Union it had a population of 8 million -it was less than half that by the 1920s -do historians refer to this period as a “rigid” theocracy -don’t be absurd! such language is to be heaped upon others, so that in time certain words go hand in glove.

    After 26 counties of Ireland left the UK -in the years that followed, 550,000 Scots had to emigrate from their homes. So let’s not pretend it would have been different for Ireland had it stayed.

    What is different is that Ireland exists today as one of the leaders in the new industrial revolution -because it is independent.

    Comparing de Valera (a democrat) with Franco (a dictator) might appeal to large section of the British media, but it’s a bit daft.

    • John Cronin

      Good point re Scotland. However, Dev’s total economic illiteracy or even interest in the subject (which was shared by most of the revolutionary leaders) was undoubtedly a factor in the economic backwardisation of the country. As Prof Joe Lee of UCC pointed out, Ireland in 1918 had the fifth or sixth per capita income in Europe: the Land Laws, the decline of landlordism, the Congested Districts Act, the relatively advantaged situation brought about in irish agriculture by the First World War, when ireland was able, as an agricultural economy, to take advantage of the fact Continental imports to Britain were ruled out – when the nasty evil imperialist expliotative Brits pulled out in 1922 they left an economy which was basically pointing in the right direction.there was a rising Catholic business and professional middle class, a police force which was 80% Catholic, a judiciary which was 40% Catholic with a Catholic Chief Justice: Ireland in 1958 was, with the exception of Portugal, the poorest country in Europe. De Valera has to take a large part of the blame for this. My family who all had to move to England, did not refer to it as “The Devil Era” for nothing.

      • John P Hughes

        The population movements in Great Britain between 1919 and 1939 involved people seeking work (or better work) and their families from the North of England, the West of Scotland and South Wales into the English Midlands and London and the South East. These resulted from the decline in the Victorian-era heavy industries and in coal mining and the growth in modern manufacturing and services which tended to happen in the South and the Midlands. Particular examples were exploitation of iron ore from ironstone in the limestone belt and the construction of the steelworks at Corby. Well-known is how Slough was established as a modern manufacturing centre and many moved from South Wales where pits had been closing. The motor industry was focussed on the West Midlands (and Oxford) and people moved to work there.
        People moving to better jobs and prospects within their own country has always happened and always will. Post-1945 there have been ‘industrial policies’ which seek to counteract economic forces by influencing location of industry. These can work in cases of large employers (eg Nissan at Sunderland) but not for ordinary businesses or ‘start-ups’. Today the largest generation of new small businesses remains London, the South-East, South-West and East Anglia.

        It is also worth remembering that Scots had long-established links with Canada – they created the country, essentially – so a flow of emigrants across the Atlantic was continual.

    • Richard

      I am interested to know how you think these two events were linked, the secession of Ireland and the emigration of Scots. Surely there was a lot of emigration from all over to the US in those days, caused by the desire to seek a better life in the US, which was looking for new people?

      • MacRiada

        Richard…they are examples of two countries both of whom were once in the UK.

        One left

        One stayed

        (are you keeping up so far? 🙂

        The British media likes to say Ireland would not have suffered mass emigration if it had stayed in the UK (this is often repeated -it is classic received opinion).

        What my comparison with Scotland (the country that stayed) shows is that this is false. Scotland suffered mass emigration in the 20th century even though it stayed in the UK.

        However, Scotland did not gain Ireland’s international voice, or its enterprising culture, or the independence that has led it to the forefront of the new industrial revolution.

        • Richard

          Interesting, thank you. I have not read such articles in the British media, but that does not mean anything. I am interested: do we know in what fields the emigrants were working? I imagine not much information on that was kept. Do you know what effect Ireland’s secession had on its status with regard to the Imperial tariffs were ? For example, if you emigrated to a country like South Africa at that time, you could trade with the UK at a preferential tariff rate, and presumably with lower production costs. If Ireland were deprived of Imperial markets, and if it had more entrepreneurs, that might initiate emigration for different reasons than Scots emigration.

          I have been curious about the return investment of Irish from abroad, especially the USA, in galvanising the Irish economy. For instance, companies like Dell, and so on. There seems a great desire among people with even a tiny amount of Irish ancestry in the US to engage with Ireland, which might be absent for those of Scottish identity?

          Another thought is that with the removal of civil service Imperial appointments, the Irish were deprived of those opportunities, and so a great need for entrepreneurship arose. This is a bit like Afrikaners in South Africa: during apartheid days, the overwhelming majority of them of working age were civil servants. When that avenue was removed, they began to become more entrepreneurial, and have become more successful at that. Scotland remained able to work in the Empire until its disbandment in the 1960s, and so are probably now where Ireland was in the 1960s in that regard, playing catch-up.

    • John P Hughes

      The population movements in Great Britain between 1919 and 1939 involved people seeking work (or better work) and their families from the North of England, the West of Scotland and South Wales into the English Midlands and London and the South East. These resulted from the decline in the Victorian-era heavy industries and in coal mining and the growth in modern manufacturing and services which tended to happen in the South and the Midlands. Particular examples were exploitation of iron ore from ironstone in the limestone belt and the construction of the steelworks at Corby. Well-known is how Slough was established as a modern manufacturing centre and many moved from South Wales where pits had been closing. The motor industry was focussed on the West Midlands (and Oxford) and people moved to work there.
      People moving to better jobs and prospects within their own country has always happened and always will. Post-1945 there have been ‘industrial policies’ which seek to counteract economic forces by influencing location of industry. These can work in cases of large employers (eg Nissan at Sunderland) but not for ordinary businesses or ‘start-ups’. Today the largest generation of new small businesses remains London, the South-East, South-West and East Anglia.

      • John Cronin

        But the other complicating factors in Ireland were the phenomenal birth rates (my pa was one of seven, my ma one of twelve) the desperate desire to get away from the priests the religious craziness which stifled any native entrepreuneurial activity, the lack of any kind of basic infrastructure, the fact that any jobs which were available went exclusively to the sons of MPs or councillers etc etc etc

        • MacRiada

          “the priests the religious craziness which stifled any native entrepreneurial activity”

          Get real John, if it wasn’t for the priests, the people emigrating would not even have had an education.

          “the lack of any kind of basic infrastructure”

          I think you need to examine why this was the case John.

        • kevinlynch1005

          High birth rates, sure, but child mortality rates on a par with the third world. That wasn’t fixed until the late 1940s.

    • sidor

      De Valera was indeed a democrat, of the same kind as Hitler whose great admirer he was.

      • John Cronin

        De Valera was almost exclusively responsible for the Irish Civil War, which claimed 4000 lives, and has left a legacy of hatred and bitterness which still exists today in Ireland between the Fianna Fail/ Fine Gael tribes. He knew perfectly well that Collins and Griffith were gonna have to come back to Ireland from London with a compromise: it just wasn’t HIS compromise. He knew that there was going to be have to be some sort of meeting of minds. His most important pcychological problem was his intense hatred of Collins; whom he recognised as his moral and intellectual superior. His egotism, his corruption (The Irish Press Group media group in Irelend was owned by his family -did you know why? Cos he stole a large chunk out of the Irish-American gifts to “The Oirish Cause” and put it into the family’s personal acc)
        As he said himself (shortly after saying “We will wade knee deep through brothers blood”) also said: “When History judges us, it will be at my expense as opposed to Collins.”
        Lloyd George said to Michael Collins: “I have just signed my political death warrant.”
        Collins grunted and said ” That’s nothing. I’ve just signed my physical death warrant.”

        • Ken

          It is indeed unfortunate for both countries that the wrong parties survived the consequences of those actions.

    • Ralph

      Franco had the common sense to distance himself from the Nazis after all the horrors of their regime came to light, de Valera didn’t. The Republic deserved so much better than the likes of Eamon de Valera.

      • MacRiada

        Distance himself?

        Ralph, they were never close.

      • Lawrence James.

        He did not distance himself. He was cautious as whether the Nazis would win, and was frightened if he plumped for Hitler he would face a war with Britain which, sensibly, would have done all within its power to re-open the Civil War. The rat lurked in his hole.

        • Ralph

          Or the rat made the right decision.

    • Ned Costello

      “How often do we hear British publications such as this, seeking to pour scorn on Ireland’s early decades “. I’m sorry, but “the publication” is doing no such thing, it has merely offered a review, you should take issued with the book’s author, an Irishman?

      • MacRiada

        “but “the publication” is doing no such thing”

        Rubbish.

        They choose the articles to print -and they have been choosing them according to their views for a very long time…

  • Colin

    “Comparing de Valera (a democrat) with Franco (a dictator) might appeal to large section of the British media, but it’s a bit daft.”

    A democrat, maybe, but he did have a soft spot for the odd dictator, I’m thinking Hitler, here.

    What, too inconvenient? The reality is, he was a ridiculous, backward, Charles Hawtry looking, little tw@t.

    • GUBU

      De Valera was at least six foot tall – by the standards of the time, hardly little. Whether or not he was a ‘tw@t’ is another matter. I can certainly think of a number of historians who would agree with you, though they put it more politely.

      I would have thought comparison with De Gaulle would have been more appropriate, given that De Valera presented himself as embodying a ‘certain idea’ of Ireland, much in the way the General did of France.

    • MacRiada

      De Valera didn’t sign the Munich Agreement, giving Hitler a small country as a gift (do you know who did?).

      As President of the League of Nations in the 1930s he wanted the League to act against Fascist Italy during its invasion of Abyssinia. Britain could have closed the Suez canal, but didn’t bother -the again a European country ruling African people wasn’t considered wrong in Britain at the time…

      De Valera understood the motivations of the big powers -and their hypocrisy.

      His constitution has stood the test of time (I believe it is one of the oldest extant written constitutions in the world). When it was enacted in 1937 it established Ireland as one of the few democratic republics in Europe -at a time when most of Europe was Fascist, Communist or backward Imperialist.

      It was the first written constitution to make an express reference to the jewish faith in its Article on Religious Freedoms -a pointed rebuttal of what was taking place elsewhere in Europe at the time.

      However De Valera represents an Ireland that stood up to Britain and her hypocrisy and for that, even decades later, the British media will forever seek to denigrate him.

      • GUBU

        Ireland did not become a Republic until 1949.

        • MacRiada

          What is a Republic -you will find the answer in the 1937 constitution

          • GUBU

            Indeed.

            Although until 1949 ‘Ireland’, as it was then officially known, was still formally linked to the British Commonwealth.

            Under De Valera…

        • kevinlynch1005

          You are technically correct. It was however a republic in all but name from 1937.

      • carl jacobs

        De Valera didn’t sign the Munich Agreement, giving Hitler a small country as a gift (do you know who did?).

        De Valera refused to help in the Battle of the Atlantic when another country was standing alone as the only barrier between Hitler and the end of Western civilization in Europe. Which other country would that be?

        As President of the League of Nations in the 1930s he wanted the League to act against Fascist Italy during its invasion of Abyssinia.

        How noble of De Valera to send the soldiers of other countries to war. Vicarious virtue is a splendid thing, don’t you think? BTW, this would be the same De Valera who couldn’t find the will to declare war on Germany when Ireland’s survival depended upon the survival of Great Britain, correct? The De Valera who was hedging his bets against German victory? That De Valera?

        I thought so.

        Ireland. The only country I know that punished soldiers for the crime of “Desertion to Go and Fight the Enemy.”

        • MacRiada

          “How noble of De Valera to send the soldiers of other countries to war.”

          He was prepared to send Ireland’s, and let’s not overlook the action that could have been taken but wasn’t: closing the suez to Italian ships.

          As I say, talking about invading and subjugating African people is a bit of a fly in the ointment to all this talk of “Western Civilization” and fighting for freedom etc.,

          “Ireland. The only country I know that punished soldiers for the crime of “Desertion to Go and Fight the Enemy.”

          Then you don’t know much about Military Law do you?

          “De Valera refused to help in the Battle of the Atlantic”

          You mean the country chose neutrality -democracies usually follow the will of the people.

          Nevertheless, de Valera leaned that neutrality heavily in favour of the Allies (for Propoganda purposes the British government always played down this contribution -as they despised Ireland’s sovereignty -ironic really.

          • carl jacobs

            Then you don’t know much about Military Law do you?

            No, I guess I don’t. Well, unless you count the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to which I was subject when I served in the military. But other than that…

            Sure it was desertion in a legal sense. I admit that. The really serious crime is called “Desertion in the Face of the Enemy.” That’s what happens when soldiers flee to avoid fighting. It’s another name for cowardice. But here we have soldiers deserting so they can fight the enemy. Those men are the only redeeming grace for Ireland in the whole of WWII – those and thousands who simply left Ireland to fight Hitler under the flag of the hated King.

            He was prepared to send Ireland’s

            What, both of them?

            There were two countries that could actually do something about Italy in Abyssinia – France and England. Neither had any interest in doing so. Without their participation it really didn’t matter what other nations would or wouldn’t offer.

            Let’s not overlook the action that could have been taken but wasn’t: closing the suez to Italian ships.

            Some of it was self-interested as you suggest. Much of it was European politics related to the rise of Germany and fear of alienating Italy. So, yes, the British could have done something. But the decision to go to war is always a political decision. Always. Britain had other more important things to worry about.

            You mean the country chose neutrality-democracies usually follow the will of the people

            Is that what you call it these days? “Following the will of the people.” That’s not the phrase I would choose. What was the thinking? If Ireland stays neutral, and England wins, then well and good. But if Ireland stays neutral, and England loses, then perhaps the Germans will treat us better? Or was it simply the fact that half the population of Ireland wanted Hitler to win, even if it meant becoming a N@zi puppet state? The was no possibility of principled neutrality in Ireland’s case. Germany wouldn’t have left Ireland alone.

            Nevertheless, de Valera leaned that neutrality heavily in favour of the Allie

            Yes. In 1943. And 1944. And 1945. After the direction of the wind was clearly distinguishable. Where was he in October 1940 when the Royal Navy need forward bases for the Battle of the Atlantic? Where was he when the U-Boats were sinking British ships faster than Britain could make them?

            There is no excuse for Ireland’s behavior during that war. None. To stand aside and let Britain fight alone when the survival of Britain meant the survival not just of Ireland but of European civilization – that was just craven. And all the Brits wanted was access to the ports.

            Please don’t tell me about shortages in Ireland during the war. The Irish received the priority they deserved.

          • MacRiada

            “What, both of them?”

            That explains you and Anglo Irish relations in a nutshell!

            Heroes when they fight for Britain -to be sneered at when in the uniform of their country. Which of course is the point, Britain didn’t accept Ireland’s neutrality because it didn’t accept it had sovereignty.

            It wanted the ports, not because it needed them (because it didn’t, it had Northern Ireland and the convoys had to take a northerly route) no, Churchill wanted them because, he wanted them full stop, war or no war.

            Ireland’s contribution to the British war effort started far earlier than 1943.

            Ireland provided Britain with a secure food supply throughout the war.

            The Irish merchant navy suferred many casualties.

            In addition to the tens of thousands that joined (and no restrictions were placed upon civilians to do so) tens of thousands more work in the factories and farms.

            The Irish government gave the RAF a base in Foynes and the RN had an armed tugboat they were allowed to operate from a base in Cork. The Irish government set up a coastal watching service and gave the info to the British, the Donegal Corridor etc., etc. The British were allowed to set up a radar station in Cork and Donegal. The list goes on.

            I note you avoided the question about Britain not closing the suez!

            Wise

          • carl jacobs

            That explains you and Anglo Irish relations in a nutshell!

            The comment – “What, both of them?” – was a reference to the size and capability of Ireland’s Military in 1935. It really didn’t matter if de Valera offered forces or not. Such an offer was entirely symbolic. Ireland’s military couldn’t have fought the common cold.

            I note you avoided the question about Britain not closing the suez!

            I didn’t think I avoided that question. So then let me be more direct. Britain was much more concerned about driving Italy into Hitler’s camp than it was about the war in Abyssinia. It had no intention of fighting a war in any case. Political considerations like this always influence decisions to go to war. Collective security a la the League of Nations is a mirage. States will not sacrifice perceived national interest for it.

            That explains you and Anglo Irish relations in a nutshell!

            Heroes when they fight for Britain -to be sneered at when in the uniform of their country.

            Not likely. I’m not British. This isn’t about fighting for Britain. It’s about Ireland cynically hanging the Brits out to dry when the battle hung in the balance. The Brits win, and Ireland gets a free ride. The Brits lose and Ireland hasn’t antagonized their new European masters too much.

            [Long list of stuff that allegedly justifies Ireland staying neutral in the war against Hitler]

            I’m surprised you didn’t mention returning interned aircrews.

            Ireland walked the fine line of helping Britain enough to forestall its fear of being invaded. But what Britain really needed was forward basing of destroyers early in the war. No ASW out of Ireland. The most important battle of the war to Britain was the Battle of the Atlantic. Ireland could have helped. It didn’t. It remained “neutral.” It provided a tug. It provided a flying boat connection to the North American continent. It provided coast watchers. It just didn’t provide what England needed most. Help keeping the supply lines open.

            The war passed Ireland by. Eventually Ireland’s neutrality didn’t matter anymore. But the memory lingers.

            Roosevelt’s response was publicly restrained (voters and all that), but privately his anger and scorn for Irish neutrality was as apparent as Churchill’s. In fact, I know of no issue where the two were more tightly in tandem—at least until the very end.

            http://www.winstonchurchill.org/publications/finest-hour/43-finest-hour-145/2036-churchill-proceedings-that-neutral-island

      • David Booth.

        And signing the book of condolences at the German Legation after Hitler committed suicide, what was all that about?

      • John Cronin

        Apart from anything else, de Valera was also a thief. As I said above, how did a son of the poor farming classes get to own a national newspaper? Well, by siphoning off money that came from the Irish Americans, that’s how: his utterly useless grandchildren are all prominent in Irish life today: for no other reason than their name.

  • Doctor Crackles

    United Ireland as part of a United Kingdom. The elusive goal destroyed by the Great War. The destruction of patriotic Ireland and its heroes, such as Tom Kettle, is perhaps the greatest tragedy of this period. The removal of these great men from Irish political life allowed the lesser men of Sinn Fein like De Valera to take control of Ireland and drive it into obscurity, while we in Britain have been denied its vigorous contribution.

  • John Cronin

    Some of my relatives went out to fight for Franco….
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blueshirts

  • sidor

    An interesting connection:

    http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-129-004.aspx

    Didn’t it happen fatal for JFK?

  • logdon

    Or was Eamon de Valera Ireland’s Charles Hawtrey?

    We must be told and where does that leave Sid James?

    Probably Carrying on up the Taoiseach.

  • John P Hughes

    Roy Foster’s interesting review does not cover the position of Eamon de Valera on Ireland’s departure from the Commonwealth in 1949. Fianna Fail was in opposition from 1948 to 1951. The Fine Gael Taoiseach, John Costello, announced that Ireland would leave the Commonwealth when on a visit to Canada in 1948. Costello’s Coalition Cabinet had not been consulted, but once announced it could not be reversed. See details in the wikipedia entry on John Costello at
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Costello
    In a TV documentary on Irish history many years ago, one former politician of the time said that Eamon de Valera would not have made the same move. De Valera had established the 1937 Constitution which both created a President and kept Ireland in the Commonwealth. He would not have taken Ireland out of the Commonwealth, the witness said, because it meant the end of any hope of Reunification of Ireland – keeping Ireland in the Commonwealth would have kept the door open.
    It is worth remembering that it was in November 1949 that India passed an Act to create itself as a Republic, having been under a Governor-General from 1947. It became a Republic within the Commonwealth in January 1950. The Indian declaration of a Republic established the principle that the Commonwealth could include Republics (the Irish status having been cloudy after 1937).
    Thus if John Costello had not been in power or had not decided on the move he took, it is quite possible that Ireland’s position as a Republic in the Commonwealth would have been normalised after 1950. One can imagine that while de Valera would have stayed silent during the reign of King George VI, the ascent to the throne of Elizabeth II in early 1952 could have changed matters and made staying in the Commonwealth acceptable to most voters.
    Whether de Valera’s papers (or remembered comments) reveal his personal opinions on Ireland leaving the Commonwealth in 1949 and its effect on the hope of re-unifying the island may not be in Fanning’s book, but other writers must have examined the subject.

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