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Eamon De Valera

Eamon de Valera was born in Manhattan, New York, on 14th October 1882. His father was Juan de Valera, a Spaniard who had studied to be a sculptor but due to ill-health he had reverted to teaching music. In September 1881, Juan de Valera had married Kate Coll from Knockmore, near Bruree, Co. Limerick, a young girl who had emigrated to America two years earlier. His father died when de Valera was only two years old and his mother decided that her son would be better off at home in Ireland. She sent him to be reared by his grandmother, Elizabeth Coll, who lived in a labourer’s cottage at Knockmore.

De Valera attended the national school at Bruree and from there went to the Christian Brother’s School at Charleville. He walked the seven miles there and back everyday since the Coll’s could not afford a bicycle. At 16, he won a scholarship to Blackrock College, Co. Dublin. He went on to become a professor of mathematics and lectured part-time at Maynooth and various Dublin colleges. At school and later he was a keen rugby player.

In 1908, he joined the Gaelic League, the beginning of his life-long devotion to Irish. One of his teachers was Sinead Flanagan, herself a teacher and four years his senior. They fell in love and were married in January 1910. De Valera joined the Irish Volunteers at their first meeting in 1913. He took part in the landing of guns from the Asgard in July 1914. He commanded the Boland’s Mills garrison during the 1916 rising. After the surrender he was sentenced to death, but later it was decided to sentence him to life imprisonment instead. In prison, de Valera began to show his leadership qualities. De Valera was released from prison in June 1917 and was elected Sinn Fein deputy for East Clare. At the Sinn Fein Ard-Fheis in October 1917, de Valera was elected President of the party and at the end of the same month he was elected President of the Irish Volunteers. When the British Government proposed to extend conscription to Ireland in early 1918, de Valera led the successful opposition to this proposal. On 17 May 1918, De Valera was arrested and deported for internment to England, where he was to remain up to February 1919.

While he was in jail he was elected for East Clare in the general election. On 21 January 1919, the assembled deputies met in the Mansion House, Dublin, and formally set up the Government for the Irish Republic. After his escape from Lincoln Jail on 3 February 1919, de Valera returned briefly to Ireland and was elected President of the Dail.

Early in June 1919, he travelled to the U.S.A. to seek financial and political support for an independent Ireland. He returned to Ireland in December 1920 to take his place as the President of Ireland. From the very start the Dail had to face a number of serious problems, the lack of experience of the new government. The War of Independence was raging at this time with the regular British forces being assisted by the “Black and Tans”. The “Black and Tans” were ex-army men brought into Ireland to assist the British in the War of Independence. A truce was declared on 11 July and negotiations were opened with the English Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and his government leading up to the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 6 December 1921. The Treaty was accepted in the Dail on 7 January 1922 with 64 in favour and 57 against. As an opponent of the Treaty, de Valera tendered his resignation to the Dáil. Arthur Griffith was elected President in the place of de Valera.

During the Civil War of 1922-1923 between the pro-Treaty Provisional Government under Michael Collins and its opponents, de Valera supported the anti-Treaty Republicans. An ‘Emergency Government’ was formed by the Republicans with de Valera as president. In May 1923 the Republicans called a cease fire and resistance ended. De Valera was arrested on 15 August 1923, under the Public Safety Act, as he was about to make a speech at Ennis and was imprisoned until July 1924. Despite this, Clare elected de Valera top of the poll in the general election on 27 August 1923. De Valera continued to represent Clare for the rest of his active political career.

As part of the Anglo-Irish Treaty which ended the War of Independence all members of the Oireachtas were obliged to take an oath of allegiance (swear loyalty) to the King of Great Britain. Towards the end of 1925, de Valera and the I.R.A. found that they were on opposite sides on this issue and Sinn Fein was split in two. De Valera had made remarks which suggested that if the oath were removed, he would sit in Dail Eireann. In March 1926, he resigned as President of Sinn Fein over this issue and decided to launch a new party.

In May 1926 at a meeting in Dublin, de Valera founded a new political party called Fianna Fail. The aims of the party were:

  1. A united Ireland as a Republic.
  2. To restore the Irish Language and develop the Irish culture.
  3. To develop a social system where there is an equal opportunity for all.
  4. To have a fair system of land distribution in Ireland.
  5. To make Ireland as self-sufficient as possible, with a proper balance between agriculture and other industries.

In November 1926, Fianna Fail held its first Ard-Fheis and de Valera was elected President of the new organisation. In the general election of June 1927, his party won 44 seats and Cumann na nGaedhael won 47 seats which was a large drop for them.

When de Valera and his fellow Fianna Fail deputies arrived at Leinster House, they were refused permission to take their seats unless they first took the oath. They then retired and Cumann na nGaedhael formed the government.

Fianna Fail, however, continued to campaign for the removal of the Oath. In order to spread their ideas, the Fianna Fail party founded a daily newspaper, the Irish Press, in September 1931.

Fianna Fail, supported by the Labour Party, formed a Government in 1932, having earlier overcome their objections to the Oath by simply signing a book containing the oath, which they declared an “Empty Formula”. In office, the party finally removed the oath by legislation in 1933.

On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland and began the Second World War. On 2 September in Dail Eireann, de Valera declared that the 26 counties would remain neutral. This policy was generally accepted. Many people, while disliking the Nazi regime in Germany, still distrusted Britain and resented the partition of Ireland.

The war years became commonly known in Ireland as “The Emergency”. Each person was given a special ration-book due to the shortages of everyday items. The post-war years brought continued economic problems with rising prices, emigration and growing unemployment. This did not make de Valera and his government very popular.

When a sudden general election was called by de Valera in 1948, Fianna Fail gained only 68 seats out of 147 and the anti-Fianna Fail parties came together to form a coalition government.

In June 1959, he was elected President of Ireland. He received many visitors including Presidents Charles de Gaulle and John Kennedy. He was re-elected President in 1966 at the age of 83. He received honorary degrees from universities in Ireland and abroad. After 14 years as president (the longest time allowed), he retired from office in June 1973.

Eamon de Valera died on 29 August 1975 at the age of ninety-two. He was buried in Glasnevin cemetery after a state funeral.

As a T.D. for Clare for a period of some forty years, de Valera was a familiar figure in the County. His Election Campaigns were highlights in the political life of the area over this time while his regular attendance at local events, such as the County Show, kept him in the public eye. Depending on one’s political leanings, de Valera either generated immense support or active hostility from the Clare Electorate.

This car is a 1947 Plymouth Dodge, registration number ZH 1333. Originally maroon in colour, the car was manufactured by the Chrysler Corporation in Detroit, U.S.A. It is 226 inches long, 75 inches wide and 66 inches high. Weighing approximately 2 tons, the car can seat 8 people plus the driver. It was purchased new for Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh during his term of office as President of Ireland. Sean T. Ó Ceallaigh personally drove the car for 12 years, until his presidential term ended in 1959. In 1959 Eamon de Valera purchased the car for his own personal use, and had it painted black. Although he continued to use the official Rolls Royce on formal state occasions, President de Valera often drove the Dodge to political functions around the country and regularly drove the car around County Clare. In 1988 the Dodge was presented to Clare County Council by Dr. Eamon de Valera and Ann de Valera on the wishes of their late sister, Margaret. This specially-built display garage was sponsored by Syntex Ireland Ltd. (now Roche Ireland Ltd.), and officially unveiled by President Mary Robinson in 1992. In 2011, Councillor P.J. Ryan, Clare County Council, generously gave of his time and expertise to restore the Dodge, which was very much a part of Clare’s social and political history. Original Whitewall tyres and a six-volt battery were sourced from America, and repairs were made to brakes, exhaust, steering and bodywork. David Browne, of John Browne’s Auto Bodyshop in Cratloe, generously assisted with restoring the bodywork.

Interview with Cllr. P J Ryan on the Mooney Show, RTÉ, 5th May 2011, regarding the restoration of the car. Mooney audio is courtesy of RTÉ Radio Libraries and Archives.

"Meeting at Ennis, County Clare, applauds Fianna Fail leader's fighting speech in open air."

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De Valera's car on parade.

De Valera's Car on parade in Ennis. Click to enlarge.

President de Valera’s farwell tour 1966.
President de Valera’s farwell
tour 1966. Click to enlarge.

President Robinson at the wheel of former President de Valera’s car c.1991.
President Robinson at the wheel of former President de Valera’s
car c.1991. Click to enlarge.