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All Things Irish - Eamon de Valera

Updated on March 15, 2013

An Irish American Returns to Ireland

Ireland has a long history of its people emmigrating abroad. Political opression, economic change and famine have all played a role in convincing the Irish that they needed to leave their homeland if they hoped to have a better life.

This mass exodus of people from Ireland over the centuries has not only resulted in Irish surnames being common in many countries around the world but has also resulted in many famous people and national heros in nations other than Ireland having an Irish surname.

While the flow of people was mainly one way from Ireland to the rest of the with the rest of the world being the beneficiary of the courage and talent that flowed from Ireland, there is at least one memorable instance of an Irish child born in the Irish Diaspora in America who returned to Ireland, alibet with a Spanish surname, where he was active in the Irish Independence movement and later served terms as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and as President of the Irish Republic.

                                            Eamon de Valera (1882 - 1975)
Eamon de Valera (1882 - 1975)
                             Grave of Eamon de Valers in Glasnevin Cemetery
Grave of Eamon de Valers in Glasnevin Cemetery

An American born to a Spanish Father and Irish Mother

On October 14, 1882 a young child, with the decidedly un-Irish name of de Valera. Eamon de Valera was born in New York City. His mother, Kate Coll, was a poor immigrant from Ireland who had married a Spanish artist named Juan de Valera. However, young Eamon did not remain long in the U.S. as, following his father's death in 1885, his mother sent him back to the village of Bruree in County Limerick, Ireland to be raised by her mother, Elizabeth Coll, who still lived there. He was raised in Bruree and went on to receive a scholarship to Blackrock College then to the National University in Dublin where, following his graduation, he took a job teaching mathematics in 1904.

In 1910, de Valera married Sinead Flanagan with whom he had five sons and two daughters. In 1913 he joined the Irish Volunteers, a militant group that wanted home-rule for Ireland. He rose quickly in the ranks and this led to his involvement in the famous Easter Uprising in 1916 where he was the last commander to surrender following that failed uprising. He and 16 of his fellow leaders were sentenced to death for their participation in the uprising. However, fate intervened and de Valera's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment at the last minute. The first of the executions resulted in massive outrage around the world, including within England itself. Also, because of his birth, de Valera was an American citizen and England probably did not want any more bad publicity in the United States where she was working diligently to get us to join in World War I on her side.

A general amnesty a year later in 1917 resulted in de Valera regaining his freedom. He continued to work for Irish independence and ended up being arrested again in 1918. Sentenced to prison in England, de Valera ended up being elected to the British Parliament but he refused to serve as his goal was independence for Ireland from England, not representation for Ireland. In 1919, using a key smuggled to him in a cake, he escaped from prison and made his way to the United States where he spent the next year and a half traveling the country raising money for the Irish cause. He proved to be an apt fund raiser, raising $6 million for the Irish cause.

Returning to Ireland in 1921, he was sent to England as a part of the delegation negotiating for Irish independence. However, he left the delegation before it concluded the draft treaty because it excluded the six counties in the North from the new Irish state and required an oath of loyalty to the English Crown by the Irish. During the civil war that followed he and his supporters, who wanted full independence, were defeated and he was again sent to prison, this time by the new government in Ireland. Released a year later, he formed a new party, Fianna Fail, which won election in 1932 and elected de Valera as Taoiseach (Prime Minister). As the head of the government, de Valera and his party began a five year struggle to break completely from England. At great economic cost to Ireland, the de Valera government finally won in 1937 and adopted a new constitution that declared Ireland to be a sovereign nation free of ties to England.

Eamon de Valera remained active in politics for the rest of his life, winning election as President in 1959 and again in 1966. Having served the maxim time allowed for President in Ireland, de Valera retired from politics in 1973 at the end of his second term as President. He was 90 years old. In 1975, at age 92 and a few months after his wife Sinead's death, Eamon de Valera died in a Dublin nursing home. He and his wife are buried in the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.

Hear Recording of Eamon de Valera Giving a St. Patrick's Day Message

St. Patrick's Day Message from Eamon de Valera (probably given during World War II). Click here to listen to recording in Library of Congress. Below is the text of the speech.

St. Patrick's Day Message

Sons and daughters of the Gael, wherever you be today, in the name of the motherland, greetings. Whatever flag be the flag you guard and cherish, it is consistent with your highest duty to link yourselves together to use your united strength to break the chains that bind our sweet sad mother -- and never before have the scattered children of Eire had such an opportunity for noble service. Today you can serve not only Ireland but the world.

A cruel war and a more cruel peace has shattered the [generous] of soul. Apathy mocks the high minded, and heartless cynicism points the way of selfishness. We the children of Eire, that has endured for ages the blight of war and the disappointment of peace, who have had the cup of the fruition of hope dashed from our lips in every decade and have not despaired, whose temper has never soured but who have always looked forward for the good in tomorrow. The world needs what we can give it today.

Once before, our people gave their souls to a barbarian continent and led brute materialism to an understanding of higher things. It is still our mission to show the world the might of moral duty, to teach mankind peace and happiness in keeping the law of love, doing to our neighbor what we would have our neighbor do to us. We are the spear point of the hosts in political slavery. We can be the shaft of dawn for the despairing and the wretched everywhere.

And those of our race, citizens of this mighty land of America whose thought will help to mold the policy of the leader among the nations, how much the world looks to you this St. Patrick's Day, hopes in you, trusts in you. You can so easily accomplish that which is needed. You will have only to have the will -- the way is all clear. What would not the people of the old land give for the power which is yours. May God and St. Patrick inspire you to use it and to use it well.

© 2007 Chuck Nugent


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      13 years ago

      great site its really useful for every one!

      and for prison break episodes check out

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      13 years ago

      I think this website is great. Its good for kids for their schoolwork. Great website!

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      Jason Menayan 

      14 years ago from San Francisco

      I remember him from "Michael Collins", about 10 years ago. Thank you for filling in the gaps.


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