Eamonn de Valera played a key role in Ireland’s recent history. De Valera was one of the leaders in the failed 1916 Easter Uprising. He was also president of Sinn Fein from 1917 to 1926 and was to become prime minister and president of an independent Ireland. Eamonn de Valera was born in 1882 in New York. His mother was Irish and his father was Spanish. Though de Valera was born in America, he was educated in Ireland and became a mathematics lecturer at Maynooth.
De Valera developed a passionate love of Ireland and hated what he considered to be the English domination and control of the island. He joined Sinn Fein and as a battalion commander for the Irish Volunteers fought at Boland’s Hill in the Easter Uprising of 1916. He was captured and put on trial. De Valera was sentenced to death but this was commuted to imprisonment on account of the fact that he was born in America. He served one year in Lewes Prison in Sussex. De Valera returned to Ireland in 1917 and he became president of Sinn Fein. He immediately started to resist the rule of London and as a result he was arrested. De Valera was sent to Lincoln Prison. He escaped from jail in 1919 and went to America. Here he spent a year and a half touring the country in an attempt to raise money for Sinn Fein and what he considered to be the issue of Irish independence. His efforts were very successful and de Valera raised over £1 million for the cause. A lot of this money went into the newly formed Irish Republican Army (IRA – formed in January 1919).
By 1922, Ireland had effective independence but this was not enough for de Valera. He objected to the way Michael Collins had accepted dominion status for the Free State believing that this did not give Ireland true independence. De Valera believed that Collins and all those who had accepted the 1921 agreement had betrayed all those who had died fighting for true independence. There were many who supported de Valera and the newly created Free State descended into civil war that lasted into 1923.
In 1926, de Valera decided that it was in the interests of Ireland to accept the new Irish parliament (the Dáil) and he founded a new political party called Fianna Fáil which served as an opposition party from 1926 to 1932. In 1932, Fianna Fáil was elected to power in a coalition with Labour politicians. De Valera was to remain Ireland’s prime minister for 16 years. During this time he did what he could to totally cut Ireland from any form of British linkage. In June 1937, Ireland introduced a new constitution which introduced a new democratic and sovereign state of Eire. After years of internal turmoil, de Valera kept Eire neutral during World War Two. Fianna Fáil lost the 1948 general election but won the 1951 one. De Valera was returned to the prime minister’s office until 1954. He was prime minister again from 1957 to 1959. In 1959, he stood for and won Eire’s presidential election – an election he won again in 1966. De Valera was the first Irish leader to address America’s Congress (June 1964) and he gained considerable prestige abroad. De Valera retired from politics aged 90 in 1973. He died in 1975.