Reach for your Smelling Salts: I’ve come to praise de Valera not to bury him! Part 1 – by Donal Kennedy

They say that if a man is to hang in the morning it concentrates  his mind.

In May 1916, Eamon de Valera wrote to his friend Mick Ryan, one of two legendary Triple Crown winners, with whom he had played rugby when teaching at Rockwell College-

“Just a line to say I played my last match last week and lost. Tomorrow I am to be shot-so pray for me – an old sport  who unselfishly played the game.”

Dev like most of the condemned prisoners, was reprieved and within weeks. General Maxwell who had ruthlessly crushed the Insurrection wrote that the Insurgents had achieved more for Ireland in a week than the Irish Parliamentary Party had done in forty years.

His sentence commuted to penal servitude for life, Dev, the Senior surviving Insurgent Officer, risked a flogging when he ordered his fellow prisoners to attention to salute Eoin MacNeill, Chief of Staff of The Irish Volunteers who had countermanded the order to mobilise on Easter Sunday, which had been made without his knowledge.

 Many of the insurgents wanted to ostracise MacNeill, but Dev wanted to unite Ireland’s forces then and for the rest of his long life. Conciliation rather than conflict was his preferred approach.

Disappointed with the signing of the disastrous document in London in December 1921, Dev did not condemn those that signed it. In the 1930s he appointed  Patrick Lynch, the Redmondite he had defeated in the East Clare by- election in 1917 as Attorney General. He appointed Fionan Lynch an old comrade who had been a Cumann na nGael Minister after the split, as a Judge. His personal affairs were handled by Unionist Solicitors in Dublin and his son Terry took Articles with them. He never descended to personal abuse of Lloyd George or Churchill but stood up to both of them.

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the 1930s, mainly by British writers, The conduct of Britain and France at the League of Nations is deplored by them all. The name de Valera does not appear at all.

But de Valera, as President of the League’s Council and later as theLeague’s  Assembly was probably the greatest figure associated with it. He merely insisted, in vain, that all its member nations should honour its covenant and explained that failure to do so would result in a major war.

In 1935 he declared that the Irish people did “not want to be dragged into any European or other wars.”

The same year he said “If the Covenant is not observed as a whole for all and by all, then there is no Covenant”.

In 1936 –“All the small States can do, if the statesmen of the greater states fail in their duty, is resolutely to determine that they will not become the tools of any great Power”

Dev never took tea with Mussolini, lunch with Lockheed, nor Supper with Krupps nor did he lecture at Princeton. He was nobody’s Fool, nor even an O’Toole.


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